Photos by Yamaha Motors and Matt Filion unless otherwise by specified
While down in Alabama for Yamaha Motors Canada launch last week, we brought you the world’s first ride of the new R3. But that wasn’t the only bike that came out of the Yamaha trailer that week. The R1, R1M, T-Max and FJ-09 were also available and Editor ‘Arris and Costa Mouzouris did their best to try them all.
‘Ere’s Editor ‘Arris’ take on the new FJ-09 …
Although the FJ-09 is a new model it is heavily based on the FZ-09, geared further towards touring/backroad exploring with more upright ergonomics, a comfortable and adjustable seat (with passenger grab rails), adjustable screen, wider bars, a larger tank, and (gasp) a centrestand.
The motor is an 847 cc, four valve per cylinder, inline triple with a 120 degree crank spacing and 1,2,3 firing order. Balancer shafts are added to help smooth out vibration. The mapping (also available as a free upgrade for the FZ-09) has been changed to soften the initial snatch in Standard and Rain riding modes on first generation FZs.
In order to keep you from wadding the bike with either too much throttle or brake, there’s switchable Traction Control and ABS, though Yamaha were keen to point out that the brakes are not linked. NOT linked. Got it? Good, because there will be a test later.
USD forks up front and a single shock in the rear are preload and rebound adjustable (though not easily accessible for the rear – more on that later) and double disc brakes with monobloc 4-piston calipers do the main stopping business up front.
The frame is cast aluminum and the subframe is designed to accept the company’s accessory bags (that are fine but on the small side and were a tight squeeze for my laptop bag).
Yamaha could claim the FJ-09 as an Adventure bike. Yes it’s got 17 inch wheels that IMHO make it what they say it is; a sport touring motorcycle, but the rest of the industry reckons that height is all you really need for adventure, so it would fit right at home by that definition.
The sign says Talladega National Forest and points down a narrow side road that heads straight for the hills I’d been eying up for the last half hour. I haul on the FJ’s front brake, which bites hard and scrubs off enough speed for me to roll with the signage.
It’s got more of a driveway feel to it than a road, essentially a wide lane in many places, optimistically divided in half by a faded yellow line. But instead of a short stint through someone’s front garden, this driveway heads for the hills, rolls and yaws into them and keeps going … and going (see video below for armchair simulation).
After an hour of being frustrated on the main highway, the FJ-09 has found its ecstatic place. Its wide bars, tight chassis and copious torque from the 847 cc triple allows me to flip-flop through the hills with not just ease, but pure pleasure.
The three cylinders offer the torque that four lack along with the surging whizz that a twin is unable to offer. As a result I pull quickly out of the copious corners and then dash in a short burst across the short straights, before a firm grasp of the front brake lever brings everything back to sanity as the road drops off the ridge and into yet another little valley.
It’s on roads like this that a rider can get careless, slip off the thin channel of asphalt and into the treacherous brush and inert trees that surround me. But the FJ exudes confidence. No element of it gives me cause for concern, the brakes, the tires, the suspension, the chassis, the delivery. I think right, I go right. I want to be at the next corner, there’s a roar, a thrust and I’m there. It is an extension of myself and together we dance around the brown brush and speckled green trees of the Talladega National Forest.
This is a stark contrast to the highway slog that got me here. Although Yamaha are marketing the FJ-09 as a sports touring machine, it felt … impatient. Don’t get me wrong, the FJ could cruise all day at 150 km/h if asked to do it, it’s just that it does so with a hint of frustration, almost as if it wasn’t in its natural habitat.
For starters there’s what I can only describe as a low “grumble” through the pegs. Three cylinders lack an element of smoothness that you get with a four and though the vibration is not annoying, it is noticeable, especially when accelerating. It’s a little weird, because on that endless driveway it just added to the experience, but on the highway it impinges, like a crying child at the back of a plane.
Then there’s the ergonomics. After my rather cramped day on the new R3, getting on the new FJ-09 was an exercise in space. To reuse the plane analogy it was like getting out of economy and into first class – you can suddenly stretch into your surroundings. While this is perfection for someone like me (at 6’ 4”), it comes at a price with a tall-for-the-class seat height of 845 mm – and that’s on the low setting. You can raise that to 860 mm, which of course I did. Ah, luxury.
This is all good (for me) but the upright position and wide bars puts you in the wind. My FJ was fitted with a taller accessory screen, which helped to keep the wind off my body but also added a touch of turbulence around my head. Not much, but it jostled my helmet at higher speeds and added to the noise. When I rode one with the standard screen the next day, although it allowed more wind past, I preferred it. It looks much better too.
But I feel like I’m nitpicking here. The FJ-09 does a good touring machine make – it can do highway just fine, but it does gnarly beautifully.
This leaves just one aspect of the FJ-09 that I haven’t covered; gravel Although Yamaha push it as a sport tourer, with its tall suspension, high mount and wide bars, it does feel awfully much like an adventure bike. And I couldn’t help but wonder how it would behave when the surface got a bit loose.
As luck would have it, when the driveway that has no end actually does end I notice that in reality it continues, but in gravel format.
I take the leap, turn off the traction control and immediately realize that I should have paid more attention during the tech meeting about riding modes. “A – Standard – B”. What does that mean?* I keep it in standard and attack the hard packed gavel, testing throttle, brake and lean with caution until I get a feel for it.
She likes it but the suspension is too harsh over the ripples and when I stop to soften it up at the rear I realize that tools are required, something I had thought had been superseded by adjustable knobs over a decade ago.
* I actually did a bit of research (believe it or not) and A is for Sport, Standard is, well, Standard and B is the Rain setting. Not sure why it couldn’t just say that but I’m sure if you own one you’ll get your heads around that pretty quick.
While I’m on the subject, Yamaha have altered the mapping for the non sport ride modes and it shows. In so much as Sport mode does offer a visceral extra dose of power, but it loses a certain subtlety in the process. Just coming on the throttle it’s a little jerky and the delivery thereafter a little rougher. As a result I tended to keep it in Standard mode which offers more than enough oomph.
Obviously the gnarlier the better for the FJ-09. Ideally with some straight sections to open it up, but the more you have to throw it about, the better. The high seat and grunt would also do very well in urban traffic as you get to see over everything and then squirt through the gaps when they appear.
It will do (easy) gravel but would need some suspension tuning to cope comfortably. We’ll see if Yamaha realize the potential of the adventure platform in the future, though they’ll need to find some ground clearance, suspension range and (hopefully) laced/larger wheels.
And finally, comfortable as it is, highway touring is doable, just don’t stay too long on the multilane, it’ll get grumpy. Having said that, I would take the FJ over any inline four in a second – the triple character is such a joy when you get off the beaten path.
This is a bit of a tough one as what characteristics do you look at in order to draw comparable models? For me it’s the triple motor of the FJ-09 and so we took a look through the CMG Buyer’s Guide for other triples close to 900 cc.
The result is MV Agusta’s 800 Brutale and a couple of Triumphs – the Street and Speed Triples (see comparo chart below).
The closest capacity wise is the Brutale at 50cc less. Despite this, the Brutale has more power and almost as much torque and comes across on the sporty side with a tighter wheelbase, bigger brakes and a shorter stance. It’ll also cost over $4k more.
The Triumphs comes in 20% either side of the FJ’s 847 cc capacity with corresponding performance variations as well, but like the MV, err more towards sporty characteristics than the FJs nod to touring. I’d say the 1050 cc Speed Triple is the closest and ramps up the hooligan factor at the not unreasonable additional cost of a little over $3k.
It would appear that Yamaha have slid the FJ-09 in as a value option (the warranty is half the others too) but with touring abilities, although the taller seat (good for me, though not all riders) may be the ultimate buying factor for most. At $10,999 – only $500 more than US, which is pretty good considering the current exchange rate — for close to a litre bike, the FJ-09 is definitely an accessible option for those looking for a thrilling competent and flexible-use machine.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.