"Please, please, please, please, YESSSSS!"
Those were my exact thoughts as I let out the clutch for the first time on the new 2015 Yamaha FJ-09. Why?
As anyone who regularly reads our site knows, I have a love/hate relationship with the Yamaha FZ-09, which uses the same engine and frame as the new FJ-09. The FZ's combination of power, torque, price, and the level of thought that went into its creation blew my mind at its initial launch, but I often refer to it as the "most fun bike that's always trying to kill me," given its snatchy throttle and terrible suspension.
So the first thing I wanted to know is whether Yamaha improved the throttle response on the FJ-09. Fortunately, the surprise was pleasant.
When I came home from the launch of the FZ-09 around 18 months ago, I told the guys at Yamaha that if they fixed the fueling and suspension and gave it an upright riding position and some wind protection, they would have created a bike that had no direct competition and a bike I would buy. They did exactly that with the 2015 Yamaha FJ-09.
The 2015 Yamaha FJ-09 borrows a lot from its naked brother. The mechanicals of the 847 cc three-cylinder engine are completely unchanged, as are the frame, fork, and brakes. This means the FJ-09 should make the same 115 horsepower and 65 foot-pounds of torque.
Yamaha did, however, take our concerns about the throttle seriously, and the FJ-09 comes with re-worked fuel maps to help smooth out the ride. It also comes with traction control (which can be turned off) and ABS as stock. It has three riding modes: A (most aggressive), Standard, and B (best for dodgy conditions).
The internals of the suspension have also been completely re-worked. The fork springs are now progressive units, which get more firm as they're engaged. Yamaha claims the compression damping has been increased by one and a half times, and the rebound by two and a half times. The rear shock is the same unit, but Yamaha increased the compression damping by two and a half times and doubled the rebound.
Yamaha made a whole range of changes to the FJ to make it more distance-worthy. The subframe was increased by 130.6 mm to make room for the new seat, which now is split for rider and passenger. The seat is both wider and more flat, and is adjustable to gain 15 mm more height. Yamaha also re-shaped the seat so it has a more rounded edge, compared to abrupt edge found on the seat of the FZ-09.
The riding position is more upright than the FZ's. The handlebars are now 20 mm higher, 17 mm closer to the rider, and 40 mm wider than the bars on the FZ. You can adjust them by rotating the stalks, which will give you 10 mm more room. The entire front end of the FJ is new, from the windscreen (adjustable by 30 mm), to the LED headlights, and the hand guards.
Other improvements for touring include a fuel tank that holds 4.8 gallons, 1.1 gallons larger than the FZ's, which gives the FJ a range of about 180 miles, and Dunlop Sport Max D222 Roadsmart II tires for increased tire life.
The instrument panel is all-new, and its dual-screen display offers all of the information you could want, while also making it easy to scroll through menus or engage things like the heated grips. The heated grips on the models we rode are optional accessories, but I was quite pleased to learn that the grips come wired to plug directly into the bike's wiring harness and, once you've done so, are operated through the bike's onboard computer system. The entire setup feels like an OEM inclusion, and not some afterthought.
The hard panniers are available as an additional option. To add them to the bike, you'll need the saddlebag mounts ($93.99), saddlebags ($399.99 each), and a lock set ($79.99) for a grand total of $973.96. I don't know if it's the total price or just the way they lay each item out as a separate charge, but figuring out the pricing left a bad taste in my mouth as I kept realizing each number I saw wasn't the final price. I will say that the bags were nice in quality, were easy to operate, and didn't leak during our wet ride. The low-slung exhaust allowed the bags to be made narrower (75 mm narrower than on the FJR1300) and the same size and shape on both sides.
Testing the Yamaha FJ-09
To test the FJ-09, Yamaha took us on a 200-mile loop through the mountains near Santa Barbara, making our way over to the I-5 freeway, and then coming down the Grapevine grade. Our day started cold and wet. Unfortunately, that meant that the best part of our ride, Highway 33, would be spent on wet roads, dodging oil spots and debris washed onto the road by the rain. Trying to look nice for a photo while avoiding the oil slick in the turn and not sliding into our lovely camera guy made things... interesting.
Despite all that, it was clear from the first time I let out the clutch that the FJ-09 was what I hoped it would be. Fueling is much better across the board, allowing you to make inputs to the throttle both mid-turn or from a stop without the jerky motions brought about by the FZ. I spent most of the morning in B mode and was impressed by how much fun I was still able to have.
While I expected to engage the traction control a bunch, the rear only tried to step out on me once. The Roadsmart IIs actually gave me really nice grip despite the poor conditions. They felt great leaned over, wet or dry, and even didn't feel completely like race slicks when we hit a few flooded muddy areas of tarmac on top of the mountain.
The back side of the mountain, as we cut over to the Grapevine, had some really nasty roads, paired with some tight turns and elevation changes, and the still-somewhat-soft suspension felt much like that of the FZ when asked to take all of these factors into account. Not that this is necessarily a negative. Keep in mind I'm riding a $10,500 sport-touring bike, and not a KTM 1190 Adventure R. There was bound to be a limit, and this was it.
As you'll notice from the video review, most of our day was flummoxed by bad weather, slow riders, and slower drivers who refused to let us pass. Luckily, we made it back to the hotel in time for me to take one last solo run up Highway 33 to film some point-of-view GoPro shots for the video. After spending most of my day riding a bike slowly, I was pretty eager to see just what the FJ could really do as I rode up the hill with the sun setting behind me.
While the bike is still not perfect, it's very, very good (again considering price and purpose). Conditions were still a little dirty and wet, so I didn't feel great about really hammering these roads in A mode, but both it and Standard feel worlds better than the FZ-09 I rode a few months back. More importantly, the suspension feels like a completely different motorcycle. You couldn't pay me enough money to get me to try to hang off the FZ, for fear it would buck me off should I need to make any additional inputs, but the FJ just begs for it. Just 22 minutes and 35 seconds after I left the parking lot, I pulled back up to where the bikes were staged. The bike handler said, "I'd ask what your thoughts were, but your face says it all."
The FJ-09 stands alone in its class — a true, multi-purpose bike that's good for riding around town, traveling long distances, or enjoying the twisties. Last year, I fell in love with the Kawasaki Versys for its abilities to be a great commuter and all-around bike and still pull touring duty. The FJ-09 is all of that, with the addition of almost double the horsepower, 50 percent more torque, and way more smiles.
Both the fueling and suspension are vastly improved and, while not perfect, will be much more appropriate for a larger percentage of riders. I look forward to tinkering with the suspension settings when we get a unit in for longer testing.
The entire package has been well thought out. Everything from the new seat to the new instrument panel are improvements, and making things like the heated grips operable through the onboard menu systems is a really thoughtful touch.
Aesthetically, the FJ is a nice-looking motorcycle. Part of me can't wait to see what it will look like with the front windscreen removed and a fender eliminator kit. Seriously, how long are companies going to let Ducati get away with being the only brand to find an alternative for that rear license plate hanger?
I really appreciate that Yamaha isn't trying to claim the FJ is part of the adventure bike market. Just because you sit upright doesn't mean a bike needs to be able to go off road and, by not attempting to claim such abilities, Yamaha was better able to outfit the bike for the on-pavement duty that people are actually going to use it for.
There is still an abrupt difference between on and off throttle, especially in the A and Standard riding modes. While it isn't as intense as with the FZ, and doesn't make mid-turn inputs feel unsafe, it will be a little jarring for new riders. If I were to buy an FJ, I'd probably still get a Power Commander.
The suspension is still slightly on the soft side for my taste. That fits with the bike's touring abilities, and most people who buy the FJ-09 for everyday riding, commuting, or trips probably won't care, but those of you who really want to enjoy this bike's sporty nature may still want to address the suspension.
Located between the little guide on the bottom of the left foot peg and the center stand, the side stand is tough to get at and put down. No, this isn't a big deal, but yes, I thought about it every one of the 25 times we had to stop for one reason or another. I actually would have preferred Yamaha make the center stand an optional add on.
The closest competitors are the Kawasaki Versys and Suzuki V-Strom. The Versys 1000 LT costs $12,799, comes with panniers, and weighs 550 pounds. Its 1,000 cc four-cylinder engine makes 125 horsepower and 75 foot-pounds of torque.
The V-Strom 1000 is available in two trims. They only list the weight for the regular version, which weighs 500 pounds. The V-Strom has an MSRP of $12,699 while the V-Strom Adventure (which comes with hard bags) will run you $13,999. Its 1,000 cc twin engine makes 95 horsepower and 76 foot-pounds of torque.
The next closest competitor is the Triumph Tiger 800 XR, which starts at $11,399. The Tiger weighs 470 pounds and its triple engine makes 95 horsepower and 58 foot-pounds of torque. Hard panniers will be made available sometime next year, but pricing has not been released.
The FJ-09 is physically smaller and lighter than all of those bikes. It has the best power-to-weight ratio, and is by far the cheapest at $10,490 ($11,464 if you factor in the hard saddlebags).
I'm a huge fan of what Yamaha is doing these days. Between the FZ-07, upcoming R3, Star Bolt, and new R1, I think Yamaha is doing the best job of seeing the holes in the current motorcycle market and creating products to fill them. The FZ-09 is already Yamaha's best-selling motorcycle, but I would expect that's about to change. The FJ-09 is better at pretty much everything, including going fast, given that its updates help you access and use all that power better and more safely. Between this bike and last week's launch of the Ducati Scrambler, buyers have two excellent new options that bring a ton of value for their money.
If your touring often includes a passenger or you need more bells and whistles, like an electronically controlled windscreen or cruise control, you may need to look at something bigger, but be prepared to spend 50 percent more for those luxuries. But, if you're looking for something that's great for around town and daily riding, will capably take you across the country, and will still be sportbike-level fun in the twisties — look no further.