Test ride: 2019 Yamaha FJR 1300

Pity the poor Sport-Tourer – there aren’t many of them left. They’ve been usurped by Adventure-Tourers, which are more capable and definitely more cool, loaded down with round-the-world accessories outside the local Starbucks.

There are the two Kawasakis – Concours 14 and H2 SX – and the BMW R1250 RT, the Suzuki Hayabusa and that’s about it, except for the Yamaha FJR 1300 that we’ll take a look at here. No more Honda ST or Triumph Trophy. The Gentleman’s Express is a dying breed. Maybe there aren’t many gentlemen left.

Or perhaps it’s because most riders are looking for something else. We don’t need Ton-up Tourers in North America, which is what the Brits call bikes like these. (Over there, if you’re riding at 100 mph or 160 km/h, then you’re “doing the ton, mate” and you can do that all day long on the Autobahn or many other European highways. Good luck holding that on the 401, or Interstate 10.) Instead, we have Gold Wings and Star Ventures and UltraGlides and the like for the superslab, which often make more sense.

And on the curvy backroads, most of us don’t need 300 kg freighters that handle like they’re on rails. We want sport bikes and light tourers, like Gixxers and Tracers and Monsters. And for those who want everything, there are the adventure bikes: the Super Teneres and GSs and Africa Twins that are comfortable all day long, whatever the road.

So where does this leave a solid and dependable bike like the Yamaha FJR 1300?

The Yamaha FJR 1300, taking a break from laying down the miles.

Generally, its owner will probably be a bit older and probably a bit more discerning. He (and it will almost always be a he) will want something very fast that doesn’t draw attention to itself, something very comfortable for his aging butt and shoulders, and something very simple to maintain.

The FJR fits this bill to the letter. It’s a shaft-driven, 291-kg rock of a bike that’s designed to swoop you off to the mountains and then sweep you around the curves. There’ll be no throttle cracking at the lights or knee dragging on the corners, but if you’re riding from Winnipeg to Vancouver, as one does, then you’ll want to take the scenic route.

There’s room in those bags for Mark’s XXL helmet, but not much more. Slimmer bags are available as a $1,700 (!) option.

Yeah Yeah – What’s under the fairing?

The FJR has been around a looooong time. It debuted in 2002 and when it came onto the Yamaha Canada press fleet back then, I was the first person to sign it out, making a heroic (and stupid) Saddlesore 1,000-in-1 ride to Chicago. This would also make me the first journalist responsible for dropping an FJR, though it wasn’t actually me – my buddy Tim, the official photographer of our ludicrous venture, tipped it over in a parking lot while posing it for pictures. Oops.

It’s had lots of tweaks and updates since then, but nothing major since a new transmission, clutch and lights in 2016. The engine is a super-smooth 1,298 cc four-cylinder, but it now has a six-speed transmission, squeezed into the same space as the old five-speed thanks to helical-cut cogs. The clutch is a slipper system and super-light on the fingers, though this bike makes enough power that you don’t need to do much shifting. There’s no claimed horsepower figure (a Google search suggests 143 hp) but it’s torque that’s important and that peaks at 102 lb-ft. at 7,000 rpm. Redline is a relaxed, under-stressed 9,000 rpm. That’s relaxed for the engine, of course, not the rider – you’ll be hanging on for dear life at those revs.

Note the easily accessible black oil filter, just ahead of the sensible shaft drive. Long-distance riders love this bike.

The LED lights were also updated for 2016, and they feature a neat cornering system that kicks in with three extra lights to each side on top of the main lamp. One comes on with a leisurely 7 degrees of lean, the next at 11 degrees, and the third at 16 degrees, each pointing where you’re going. It’s a cool feature, but to be honest, I didn’t notice it until somebody pointed it out. After that, of course, I noticed it Every. Single. Time.

The other biggest change is the electronic suspension, which is adjusted by pushing sequences of a button on the left handlebar. This is a bigger deal for Canadian riders than Americans. Yamaha Canada used to sell both the regular bike (without electronic suspension and cornering lights) and the ES bike (as U.S. dealers still do with a $1,600 US premium for the ES), but now we only get the more expensive ES model. And it is expensive, at $19,699 before freight and taxes and any accessories.

The fork is adjustable every which way, and the front brake is linked to the rear with a dedicated pair of pistons

But what’s it like to ride?

The FJR’s party trick is its electrically-adjustable windscreen, which can be lowered for around town, partly raised for most riding, and pushed straight up for sitting on the boring interstate. This is also its downfall: it will never quite be right, and no matter how many years you own your FJR, I guarantee you’ll still be twiddling that windscreen up and down at every change in roadway.

The problem is not just that when it’s straight up, it looks pig-ugly, like a separate piece of plastic designed to block your wind blast with no integration at all. It’s that even at full block, it’s not tall enough for me, at a smidge under 6 feet tall. I wanted an extra couple of inches. (And who doesn’t? –Ed.). I had to slouch forward to stop the wind whacking my helmet. In fairness, the Kawasaki Concours 14 and the BMW 1250 RT are both exactly the same. Only the new Honda Gold Wing raises its screen high enough to block the wind for me without having to look through it. There is a taller aftermarket screen available (for an extra $250), but it would be nice to be able to buy it as part of the cost of the new bike.

Also, when the screen is straight up for highway riding, there’s enough suction from it that I was pulled forward into the bars, and after a while, that was a strain on my wrists. A first-world problem, for sure, but it’s another reason why that screen will be going up and down like a gigolo’s jeans whenever you’re out for a rip.

There are two seat heights of 805 mm and 825 mm, easily adjusted under the broad saddle, and the handlebars adjust to three different positions. There’s plenty of room to move around, too, and change your position on the footpegs, but you probably won’t want to. Just as well. The FJR has a yuge 25-litre tank that will carry you 400 km between fill-ups, but it’ll be expensive when you do stop: it needs premium fuel, which I found surprising for such a low-stressed engine. In fairness, my Harley Low Rider also takes premium fuel, and it’s about as low-stressed as they come.

What you probably won’t be fiddling with on the fly is the electronic suspension, because you’ll probably set it and forget it. There are three basic settings of Soft, Standard and Hard for the damping, each of which can be tweaked to seven different levels of rebound and compression for the front fork, and rebound in the rear shock. On top of that, there are four settings for the preload of the rear shock, to accommodate the weight of an extra passenger or luggage. (This shows as one helmet, two helmets, and a briefcase with either, as it’s displayed on the antiquated traditional-looking LCD gauge).

Not the greatest picture with all that glare and reflection, but it’s not the greatest instrument panel.

Then again, for the extra money you pay in Canada for this fancy suspension, maybe you will adjust it every time. My buddy Dave probably would, but he’s pretty anal about these things; me, I’m usually whatever, it’s close enough.

Another thing to adjust is the ride mode (choice of Sport and Tour), but all this does is mute the throttle response on the Tour setting. Apparently. I tried it once, then put it back on Sport and left it there.

One of the few things you can’t adjust are the clever linked brakes. The front lever works three pairs of brake pistons at the front, while the rear pedal works the rear brakes and also a single, smaller set of brake pistons at the front. This just helps keep everything under control without having to think about it. I found the brakes to be plenty strong enough under all circumstances, with no surprises.

Should you get one?

That comes down to money and the ride itself, which is smooth and predictable, even at hellacious speeds. The electronic cruise control is simple to set and forget on the highway, and traction control helps cover your ass if you should do something foolish.

In the curvy bits, the FJR doesn’t like sudden changes, so you should look well up the road and set up for the corner comfortably in advance (as always -Ed), but this is a heavy bike and that’s hardly a surprise. All the big sport-tourers are like that. After all, load them up as they’re intended and you could be hurtling more than half-a-tonne of you and your generously-proportioned partner – yes, I’m talking to you – up the highway, expecting the bike to acquiesce to your every whim. Which it will, within the laws of physics.

About to break from its pause, the FJR 1300 has many miles still to go.

Maybe this is its downfall, though: it’s a bit too smooth and predictable. It doesn’t have the brute power of the (more expensive) H2 SX or Hayabusa, though it doesn’t look as dated as the Concours 14, and it doesn’t have the optional heated seat and navigation amenities of the (more expensive) BMW. Yet it’s still a $20,000 motorcycle. It doesn’t have the excitement of a naked bike, the flexibility of an adventure tourer, or the unmitigated comforts of a Gold Wing or Star Venture TC.

But it does have more power than you can use, more comfort than your aging bod really needs, and enough things to adjust along the way to keep your mind active well into retirement. No wonder FJR owners love their bikes.

9 thoughts on “Test ride: 2019 Yamaha FJR 1300”

  1. Interesting how time affects value. In 2003 the FJR listed for $17,500 (just short of $23,000 in adjusted 2019 dollars). Now with added electronic adjust suspension, USD forks, extra cog in the gearbox, better lighting and braking, cruise control and more torque, etc the list price is $19,700.

  2. Nice to see a write-up on the FJR. I’m on my third one, a 2016 without the electronic suspension because the standard setup works fine. There is a lever to set when I carry a passenger/luggage. It is still the best sport tourer out there, lower and lighter than the Concours and less expensive than the Beemer. The handling is terrific, performance great, and it is comfortable over longer rides. I have a standard (XSR900), a streetfighter (Tuono V4), and a tourer, and I love them all but the FJR is my all-round favourite. That’s why I’m on my third one.

  3. I’ve enjoyed Mark’s reviews in the past. I was going to forward this to my wife who is on her second FJR, but the blow back I would get on this chauvinistic article would make her unbearable to live with. Try harder next time. Cross country touring is not just for old Men.

    1. If she’s as over-sensitive as you, that’s probably for the best.
      I’ve read the article, and other than an innuendo from the editor, the worst I can find is “He (and it will almost always be a he)…”. Well, it’s just the truth. Women are a fairly small % of riders, and very few buy and ride something this size. I see few of this kind of bike as it is, and have never seen a woman riding one.

  4. At some point I was hoping Yamaha would renew this aging design into something worthy of its great predecessor the FJ1100. A fantastic (for the time) sport tourer. But nope that’s no longer what Yamaha is about I guess.

    So I bought a Ducati Multistrada instead.

  5. I have a 98 RT 1100. I refuse to test ride newer bikes because I like my bike, it is my bike, paid for in full and still provides a thrill every time I lift a leg over it.
    … Now please stop showing me that Triumph scrambler 1200.

  6. Yeah, but the RT1250 with the typical accessory load ordered by the dealers here (and let’s be honest, desired by most buyers) pushes the price of one of those up around $30,000. That’s a lot of dough.

    I picked up a lightly used ’08 RT this year. The FJR was under consideration, too, although ultimately I decided I would rather have the lighter weight of the RT.

    Anyway, for me these types of bikes are all about being able to tour in reasonable comfort, and still be sporty enough to have fun on twisty roads when you get there. I also considered a new V-Strom (no cruise control), Tracer GT (too small for long distance comfort), and a number of others, like the KTM 1290s (too spendy for me, and lingering questions about reliability and dealer support).

    I’ll be 52 this year. But I had a ’96 Concours for several years back in the late 90s, and I’ve always remembered it fondly, despite its issues (weight, heat). I’m enjoying the RT so far, though its low speed (below 30 km/h or so) drivability is poor.

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