Wrap-up: Yamaha FJR1300AE

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INTRO

Mr Lewis checked out the FJR 1300 AE during its launch.

Photo: Riles and Nelson

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that by the time we returned our long-term FJR1300AE, we hadn’t even quite managed to surpass the 10,000 km mark. Nothing to do with the bike, more a combination of a late delivery to us in June followed by the usual CMG chaos during the summer months.

Thankfully we did manage to get the FJR out on a couple of decent tours; one to the east coast (about 1,200 km) and then a final fling down to North Carolina, which notched up a face saving 4,300 km.

We covered the introductory launch in May and will be posting the tours just before spring springs. For now, we figured it would be a good time to write up what we thought about the bike with impressions garnered during our tenure.

Worthy of note is that the new 2006 AE is identical* to the 2006 A (the standard) model, which saw a revamp over the 2005 model. So, most of what we’ve learnt can be applied to both models.

*err, except for the auto-clutch, heated grips and an extra 4 kg of course.

ENGINE

New venting keeps hot air away from rider.

Image: Yamaha

There’s not much that isn’t to like about Yamaha’s inline 1300cc motor. It winds up like a sportbike when you want to get fruity, but chugs along all day on the meaty torque if you’re just in happy-to-tour mode. What surprised me was how rare I actually wound it up. In fact I usually chugged along below 5,000 rpm 99% of the time! Oh dear, am I getting old and sad? (no need to answer that one).

One of the main rider complaints from the previous model had been excessive heat from the motor, coming out directly to the rider and giving them a right royal roasting. Yamaha has addressed this by curving the rad and adding new air scoops to help direct the heat of the motor past the rider. There are also two louvers at the side that can be adjusted for more heat deflection (more info on the Yamaha US site).

If you put your hand down to the faring side vents, you can feel a significant amount of heat, but that’s the only way I could feel it. Of course, I ended up doing the big tour in October when I would have really liked a bit of extra heat, but it appears that previous issues have been addressed.

You should get into the 400s before you find yourself at the side of the road waiting for help.

The overall gearing has been lowered over the previous model. Not by much, but enough to reduce rpms for a more relaxed cruise and yet still keep passing torque on tap. I did find that if you needed to do a quick pass, 4th gear ensured that you had all the power you needed. If you wanted added giggle-factor, then 3rd would supply it in spades.

Fuel economy averaged out at 17.45 km/L (5.73 L/100km). The best I got was 19.39 with a worst of 15.94, though oddly I had noted that both were achieved on a highway at a steady 130 km/h. Hmmm.

The reserve warning light would tend to come on (kms start to count down) when there was about 100 km to go, and the total average range was a very usable 435 km. And did I mention that you can use regular 86 octane fuel?? Wish I’d read that before I did the long tour and refilled on premium …

Okay, we all know how lovely the power is, but what about the auto-clutch, the feature that makes the AE unique?

AUTO-CLUTCH

Paddle shifter (see arrow) is push for down, pull for up. Omhhhh.

Photo: Yamaha

The first thing you have to get your head around is the lack of clutch lever. Initially I’d find myself coming to a stop and grabbing for something that wasn’t there. Then there’s also the added mind-melt of having two options to change gear – the bar mounted paddle shifter and the more conventional foot lever (which is actually just a switch as well).

The paddle shifter – push to downshift and pull to gear up – is not exactly intuitive, and I’d invariably see the revs hit the limiter as I hit down when I really wanted up. I eventually set a mantra of up is toward me. I am a higher being and so if I want to go higher I go towards me … Omhhhhh.

Like most things, you do get used to it, but after a few months I invariably opted to use the foot shifter, which did the same thing but didn’t require any chanting in the process. The only time I ended up using the paddle was during some high-speed twisties when I wanted to keep my toes on the pegs and away from the asphalt – an added bonus being very quick shifting.

Getting back on and making a very, very slow getaway is a sure sign of fifth gear starting …

Despite Yamaha’s work to make the whole thing as seamless as possible, using the paddle on hard acceleration would tend to result in a jerkier change than when using the foot, although this again was due to the unfamiliarity of the thing. Even without a clutch lever, the familiar action of changing gear with a foot lever meant that I’d automatically pause the throttle as I changed, making for a smooth transition.

Other oddities included a tendency to come to a stop in too high a gear. I’m not quite sure why I did this, but it happened a lot. Interestingly the AE would do its best to modulate the clutch in order to get you going again, the only visual protest being a flashing gear indicator, telling you that this gear is not an appropriate one to set off in! 5, 5, 5, 5 … Ooops, my bad. I wonder what the life expectancy of a clutch is on the AE?

Where the auto-clutch really doesn’t work (and this to me is its only major issue) is just off idle. It’s the on-board computer that decides at what rpm (1300 FYI) and just how the clutch is going to be used to get from standstill to crouched-go. I don’t think there was one instance when it actually did it exactly how I would have.

This is what the AE was made for.

You do get somewhat used to it, but it makes u-turns very tricky (lots of paddling of the feet) and – as can be testified by the mechanic who replaced the rear tire and spun the bike around trying to get it out of the workshop – does not give you the right control when you’re dealing with reduced traction situations.

However, there is one big benefit of the AE (and the one it was designed to meet after all) and that is the ease at which it copes with stop-and-go traffic. Getting stuck in the mess of Montreal’s rush on the 40 after a long day’s ride returning from the east coast and I was ecstatic to be able to shunt along with the cages, no clutch required, no increasingly sore left hand. If you find yourself in this stuff on a regular basis, then likely all the negative issues will melt away as soon as the traffic comes to a stop.

Want to know more about how the auto clutch works? Very good, you should check out the page on the Yamaha US site.

CHASSIS

A severely pretzeled front wheel brings on the shimmies.

Photo: Riles and Nelson

The AE is not exactly a light bike at 268 kg (+ 4 kg over the standard A model), which puts it slap bang between Honda’s ST1300 (+ 20 kg) and BMW’s new K1200GT (- 20 kg). Still, it’s light enough to be flickable when required, albeit with a bit more muscle than a sports bike.

Handling is excellent … well, until I hit a pothole in Quebec (quelle surprise!) and then followed that up with nailing a large chunk of 2 x 4 in New York State. This had the effect of introducing a significant bar shimmy that started at 70 km/h, hit its peak at 85 and then disappeared at 100 km/h. Fortunately, a firm grip and/or keeping above 100 km/h seemed to keep the issue at bay.

It was only once I had the rear tire changed down in North Carolina that I saw exactly why the FJR was misbehaving. After the 2 x 4 incident there was a definite dent showing in the front rim, so I asked the mechanic if he would slap it onto the dynamic balancer and try his best to balance the effect out.

It’s never a good sign when the mechanic calls you in to take a look at something.

It’s famous. Would have been nice to have round wheels …

Sure enough the pretzeled front wheel spinning in front of me did not look good at all. Oh, and the rear’s a bit bent up too. Sometimes I find it’s better to be ignorant of such things (and this was definitely one such time), but a strict timetable meant that waiting a few days for a replacement was not an option. Unfortunately for me, the next day was also supposed to include a ride down Deal’s Gap Dragon’s Tail. Hmmm, maybe this was not the time …

The stock tires never gave me cause for any concern, the rear expiring around the 7,000 km mark. The front made it all the way to 9,000 kms, but at 7,000 kms it was looking rather cupped, and had the front wheel not been so deranged, I would have been tempted to replace it along with the rear.

The suspension is just about perfect. Although it comes with the usual array of options, I tended to just stick with the handy H (hard) or S (soft) lever to adjust the rear suspension. I generally ended up sticking with S if I was solo and without luggage, cranking it up for a passenger and/or a load of luggage.

I was born in the Yorkshire version. I almost died at the Tennessee one! Well, embarrassed myself at least.

Braking is likewise nigh on perfect. There’s plenty of power in the front binders and the linking of the rear to one of the front pots (new for 2006) only adds to the rear’s effectiveness. However, what I really liked is the new ABS. It’s a very subtle system but it meant I never locked a wheel once.

The real test came in Harrogate, Tennessee, when my attention was checking out a diner to my right rather than the unfolding chaos ahead caused by a tractor-trailer swerving across two lanes and the subsequent mass jamming on of brakes.

I looked forward with just enough time to see the back end of a Beetle stopped a few yards ahead of me. I grabbed the front as hard as I could, and swerved to the right edge of said Beetle. Turns out I didn’t need to swerve as the front binders pulled me to a stop before that and the ABS kept it all under control in the process.

Okay, now I needed to use the diner’s washroom.

ERGOS

2006 signifies the first year for an adjustable seat for the FJR. Trouble is it only has a two-position adjustment with a range of 20 mm. That gives you a max height of 825 mm, which is acceptable, but another 20 mm would have been ideal for my lanky self as I still felt a tad cramped in the knees. Still, an adjustable seat is the right way to go, now if they could get it a little softer then we’d be laughing (well, I would). I found that the addition of Flossy the sheepskin enabled 10 hour days in the saddle no problem. Sans sheep and you could cut that in half.

Talking of adjustables, the handlebars can be moved fore and aft by 11 mm. The standard (middle position) was fine, although I did try them at the furthermost points to see if that had any effect. Not really noticeable would be the answer, but again, adjustability is always a good option to have.

New 2006 screen goes higher but is still an inch or two too short.

Photo: Yamaha

This year also sees a bigger (electrically adjustable) screen. It’s 25 mm taller and slightly closer to the rider, with a total range of 136 mm. Oddly, I found that uppermost position tended to create turbulence and noise. There was a sweet spot about midway, although putting it at its lowest was not too bad (linear flow) unless at highway speeds. Yamaha, and a whole host of aftermarket companies do make taller screens for the FJR, which I would recommend to anyone 6’ or over.

And finally, what sport-tourer would be complete without heated grips? Well, the standard model doesn’t get them as standard, but our AE did. They’re quite fancy too with a variable controller to adjust heat as required. I once found myself at -1¾C (measured by the ambient temperature gauge on the clocks) in the Kentucky mountains, and would have been fooked had it not been for the heated grips and my trusty electric vest.

The bottom line regarding the FJR’s ergonomics is that although I’d like to have a bit more legroom and a slightly softer seat, there are few bikes out there that I can ride consistently for 10-hour days and still feel even remotely fresh at the end of the day. That might not say a lot for some of you, but it does for me and my increasingly cranky bod.

BAGS & BITS

Bags are Pamela-ized.

Photo: Riles and Nelson

For 2006, Yamaha has moved the bags closer to the centreline by 50 mm, making the arse end less Tim-Horton’s-server and more Pamela Anderson. They’re still 30 litres capacity and well designed internally to allow for maximum filling (a knee and full body weight helping out if required). Attachment and detachment was relatively easy, though I did have some choice words trying to get the hooks to align on some cool early morning starts.

Overall styling is still the best in the sport-touring world as far as I’m concerned. It’s been given a bit of an edgier look for ’06, but the whole package works together (even with the bags off).

CONCLUSIONS

If I had to put my money down on an FJR I have to confess that I’d go for the standard clutch model over the AE.

To auto or not to auto? That is the question.

Photo: Riles and Nelson

Although the AE is a very good bike – and Yamaha has done a very good job at executing the idea – the only real advantage to it is in stop-and-go traffic. After all, on a hot day after a long ride it’s a godsend to have the auto-clutch option when you hit the traffic jams as you return to the big city.

Sure, Yamaha isn’t necessarily aiming the AE at me in particular; the whole reason for its existence is because they realized that a large chunk of their FJR riders use the bike for the daily commute. This is where the auto-clutch is at its best.

The ideal situation would be the AE version that retained the clutch lever and a sensor to let the computer know when the rider wanted manual control. The result could be a very slick changing bike, with a super light clutch and the option to go completely auto when you do inevitably hit the rush hour traffic.

What wouldn’t be to like about that?


OPTIONS

Yamaha offers the following options for the FJR:

Topcase (39 litres and colour matched) $715.95 – $746.95 (depends on colour)
Matching passenger backrest (to topcase) $177.73
Handguard visor (not sure what it does) $264.95
Taller shield (for the + 6 footers) $359.95
Foot shield (fills gap at fairing near feet) $324.95
Heated grips (standard on the AE) $455.95

LINKS

Yamaha sites (to FJR bits):

Canada – www.yamaha-motor.ca
US – www.yamaha-motor.com

Owners’ forums:

www.fjrforum.com
www.fjr1300.info
www.fjrtech.com
www.fjrowners.com

Join the conversation!