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The FJ-09: Yamaha’s other sport-touring bike

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Just 72 hours after returning from the launch of the 2016 Yamaha FJR1300, I found myself behind the handlebar of Yamaha’s “other” sport-touring machine, the FJ-09. Timing, as they say, is everything.

I had managed to rack up a little over 12,000 miles on my personal Triumph Tiger 800 XCx over the past few months and the ol' gal was due for a check-up. While I normally perform my own maintenance, the Tiger’s service manual called for a one-time camshaft timing adjustment. As I was unfamiliar with this one-off procedure, I decided to let the good folks of Martin Moto up in Boyertown, Pa., handle it.

While there are closer Triumph dealerships in the Philly area, Martin is far enough away to make for an enjoyable ride through the country. In addition to a friendly and knowledgeable staff, they usually have coffee and cookies available for customers to enjoy, and as it turns out, a loaner bike program for scheduled motorcycle services.

In my case, they swapped my Triumph’s key for that of a new leftover 2015 Yamaha FJ-09. I have yet to decide if this is a thoughtful way to attract service customers to their rural dealership or an ingenious marketing scheme to get folks to buy new bikes. Either way, it was working.

Yamaha FJ-09 Dash

With the FJ-09's key in hand, I immediately turned off traction control, clicked through to the “A” riding mode, and tore off down a country road with about as much concern for personal safety as Robert Johnson had for his soul upon meeting the Devil at those famed crossroads in Mississippi.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this is not to be confused with a “First Ride” review of the FJ-09. Sean already wrote that back in 2014 when the FJ-09 was released. Rather, this is just one man’s musings on three days spent with the FJ-09 and thoughts on how it compares to Yamaha’s other sport-touring option, the FJR1300, which was still fresh in my mind.

The FJR is big, comfortable and easy. There is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of riders are looking to burn rubber over big miles while still being able to walk fully erect at the end of the day without the help of Advil.

However, for those of you who, like me, are gluttons for punishment, there is the FJ-09, a lightweight, powerful, sport-touring machine that leans heavily toward the “sport” side of the scale. It features an aggressively abrupt throttle, minimal wind protection, torque that will launch the front wheel toward the sky with ease, a stiff sport suspension, and brakes so strong the FJ-09 will teach you how to perform a stoppie, even if you aren't actually trying to learn how.  

Philadelphia Navy Yard Yamaha FJ-09

If these two bikes were animals, the FJR would be an ostrich, big, heavy, and fast. The FJ-09 would be a hummingbird. A deranged, pissed-off, petrol-sucking hummingbird darting from branch to branch faster than the eye can follow.

Of course you can always leave traction control engaged, tame the power delivery by switching to “Standard” or “B” drive mode, and soften the suspension for a more “civilized” experience with the FJ-09. If that kind of thing is your cup o’ tea then “Cheerio!” to you my friend. That’s the beauty of versatility in the modern age. Personally, I prefer coffee to tea and I enjoyed the fully caffeinated version of FJ-09.

Taking the long way back to Philly, I learned how much this bike loves the two-lane blacktop of the Pennsylvania countryside. As it attacked the whoops and hollers, the 847 cc Crossplane triple acted as if it were ferociously trying to outrun itself. Cresting hills, the FJ-09 would launch itself over the other side like a big cat pouncing on its prey. On one particular railroad crossing, I accidentally found myself with both wheels off of the ground as if I were casually running laps around a motocross track, instead of riding home for supper.

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha FJ-09

Back inside city limits, the FJ-09 felt like a caged beast. While I really enjoyed the FJ’s light weight and nimble handling during my daily commute through Philadelphia, she always felt like she wanted to go faster. The FJ-09 is a modern-day mechanical version of White Fang. It could survive in the city, but it belongs in the wild.

After three short days, I returned the FJ-09 and picked up my Tiger with a freshly balanced crankshaft and headed home. The Tiger’s throttle immediately felt too smooth. The long-travel WP suspension soaked up bumps too well. The bike as a whole felt too comfortable. All of a sudden there seemed to be a lack of urgency that I never noticed before.

Don’t get me wrong. My Tiger is a great bike, as is the FJR1300. There is just something about the FJ-09. It has a certain immediacy about it. It’s not the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden, it’s not the fastest, and it’s not the smoothest. I got beat up at highway speeds and at the end of a full day I was a bit stiff and sore. But it was all worth it. It is one of the most grin-inducing machines I have ridden.

Philadelphia Navy Yard Yamaha FJ-09

As I mentioned in the FJR1300 article, Lemmy prefers riding big bikes, big miles and I am sure there are a lot of riders out there who will agree with him. For those of you looking for comfort and refinement in Yamaha's lineup, there is the FJR. If you prefer a bit more adrenaline and don't mind sacrificing a few creature comforts to get it, Yamaha has the FJ-09.

Coming to the end of a long sport-touring ride reminds me of getting to kick off your shoes after spending the entire night dancing at the prom. Both bikes make for great dancing partners. What type of dancing do you prefer? The FJR will waltz you down the highway with sophistication while the FJ-09 will have you hanging out in the back parking lot with a boom box blaring Metallica and encouraging you to bang your head.

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