Lemmy likes to ride big miles on big bikes while I like to ride big miles on small(ish) bikes.
Lem usually shakes his head as we head out on a road trip. He’s usually on some type of Ultra-Super-Road-King-Glide of a beast, while I have an inappropriate amount of gear strapped to the back of a bike putting out a bit more power than a Honda Grom, with about the same amount of touring sensibility. As I clicked the new 2016 Yamaha FJR1300 into gear and headed for the hills, the first thought that came to mind is that with this bike’s compact feel, it is probably one of the few “big” bikes we could both see eye-to-eye on. That doesn’t happen often.
For 2016, Yamaha has made some fresh updates to this perennial favorite that first hit the U.S. market in 2003. The good folks at Yamaha made sure to point out that these were evolutionary changes, not ground-up revolutionary ones. Things like the addition of a sixth gear to the transmission, a redesigned gearbox, a new slipper and assist clutch, LED headlights, turn signals, and tail lights with a facelift to match, as well as cornering lights on the ES version. Yamaha did a nice job of updating this bike while preserving the overall soul of the beast that has made it a favorite for so many riders looking to tackle long distances with a combination of comfort and speed.
Riding the FJR1300
To launch the new FJR, Yamaha set us up with a two-day ride through the mountains north of Phoenix. We got to tackle some of the best sport-touring routes that Arizona has to offer, with a solid mix of old desert highways and two-lane blacktop twisting through the hills outside of Jerome as we made our way to Sedona.
Over two days, I managed to rack up nearly 500 miles on the FJR1300. While hardcore Iron Butt riders may scoff at such a performance, that's an above-average amount for these organized press intros and it was enough to get a feel for some of the changes made for 2016.
The FJR1300 is available in two versions for 2016, the standard or “A” package, with an MSRP of $16,390, and the ES version, which upgrades to an electronically adjustable suspension and new LED cornering lights for an additional $1,600. I got a chance to ride both versions, and while I am excited to chat about the differences between the two, I am itching to first discuss the updates to the transmission.
While many FJR riders thought the old five-speed was just fine, many long-distance riders considered the absence of a sixth gear a glaring omission on a bike designed to tackle big miles in comfort and style. Yamaha finally agreed and gave the FJR an upgraded six-speed gearbox.
Personally, I was surprised how rarely I found myself in sixth gear. Hammering down the Beeline highway, leaving Phoenix in the rear-views, I was more comfortable cruising in fifth gear around 75 mph and spinning just over 4,000 rpm than I was bumping up into sixth. Sixth is geared as a very tall overdrive, and unless you're rolling around 80 mph, it’s almost overkill.
I suppose a lot of this depends on where you prefer to hold engine speed. A lot of the other guys and gals along for the ride raved about the sixth gear. Yamaha claims a 10 percent reduction in engine speed in top gear and if you’re the type looking for the best fuel performance possible, this will appeal to your conservative sensibilities. For those of you who prefer sacrificing mpgs for a bit more power on tap, click down into fifth.
More impressive than the addition of a sixth gear was the redesign of the transmission itself. I found the upgraded separate-dog transmission with helically cut gears, redesigned gearbox, and addition of a slipper and assist clutch to be the real story here.
My explanation in our video probably is not the most elaborate considering I was thinking in the moment so I want to give a more thorough rundown of the changes made. Yamaha redesigned the gearbox with new helical gears replacing the old straight-cut gears. You then have revised dog gears that cut down on space as they move to engage the selected gear as you can see in the illustration above. This allowed Yamaha to add a sixth gear without changing the cases or making the engine wider. Yamaha also claims that the combination of the new dog engagement and slipper and assist clutch allows for smoother shifts and lighter clutch feel while cutting down on noise. I can attest to the smooth shifts (especially aggressive downshifts) and light clutch.
The gear ratios were also changed. I was afraid that the taller first and second gears would leave the new FJR stumbling around town while wearing out my left hand. Pulling into Prescott for lunch, we hit heavy traffic and I got really intimate with first gear. It seems that no one works in Prescott on Thursdays; they just drive around basking in their air-conditioned cars. The revised gearing handled low-speed stop-and-go traffic with ease and my hand wasn't worn out from excessive clutch pull.
As day turned to night, I kicked it up a few gears and headed across Arizona 89A toward Sedona. As I paused for a video stop outside of Red Rock State Park, twilight began to set in. The new LED headlights, as well as the cornering lights found on the ES, worked fantastically. The road in front of me was set ablaze in a brilliant white light. Through the corners, the extra three cornering LEDs on the ES light up at 7, 11, and 16 degrees of lean angle respectively. These aren't going to have you tearing around corners as aggressively as you would during the day, but they clicked on systematically and allowed for a much better range of vision through the corners.
The LED lights sit in updated front and tail sections of the FJR. This facelift gives the bike a more modern look. A bit more sinister in my opinion, hinting to the world that in spite of its refined image, it still has a brawler of an engine under those fairings.
Up before the dawn, I enjoyed getting to watch the sun rise over the red rocks while I sipped my coffee and waited for the others to wake. We left Sedona early enough to beat the morning traffic and were able to flex all 1298 cc of the unchanged inline-four powerplant. The engine offers up solid midrange and top-end power, but feels a bit lazy in the lower end of the rev range. There was a noticeable buzz in the handlebars and seat kicking up around 4,500 rpm. This didn’t bother me when riding a bit more aggressively, but had me shifting up a gear when rolling down the highway at a more relaxed pace.
Yamaha’s YCC-T throttle-by-wire system allows riders to choose between two modes, sport and touring. Unlike the rider modes found on the FZ-09 and FJ-09, which alter overall engine output, these modes only affect throttle response. While I found the overall fueling to be relatively smooth and well sorted out, I would have enjoyed a bit more “snap” out of the sport mode.
The YCC-T throttle also allows for traction control and electronic cruise control. The cruise control worked great, holding the bike at speed on the open road to give my right hand a rest. The only thing I didn’t like is that there is a noticeable lag in throttle response when adjusting the speed with cruise control engaged.
The semi-linked braking system is unchanged for 2016 and the FJR slows down fast with big, four-piston Nissin monobloc calipers up front with an individual set of pads for each pair of pistons. Those front calipers contain three pairs of 34 mm pistons and one smaller pair of 22.5 mm pistons. The front lever controls the three larger sets of pistons in the front calipers. The rear brake pedal controls the remaining smaller fourth pair of pistons (shown in red in the diagram above) up front as well as the rear caliper. ABS is standard.
I paired up with Dirck Edge of MotorcycleDaily.com to swap between the standard and ES versions of the FJR to give both suspensions a try. The base version sports an updated KYB suspension for 2016 while the ES remains unchanged from ’15. Stopping for coffee at the Mile High Grill in Jerome, we discussed the different characteristics of the two setups. We agreed that the standard version gave more immediate feedback from the tires while the ES version tended to mask the road's imperfections a bit more.
I can see the ES appealing to riders looking for a plush, comfortable ride, while the standard version is better suited for the sportier side of sport-touring. While we didn’t have time to tweak any of the settings on the base version, the ES allows riders to make adjustments for compression and rebound damping, as well as preload, with the push of a button.
In addition to being able to select between Soft, Standard, and Hard for the bike's damping rate, riders can also select between seven levels of micro adjustability within each of these settings. These settings are applied to compression and rebound damping for the front fork as well as rebound damping in the rear shock. There is no way to separate the amount of damping between the front and rear or between compression and rebound. If you choose "Standard," that setting is applied to the compression and rebound damping in the front fork as well as the rebound setting for the rear shock. Preload affects only the rear shock and has four settings to accommodate the load. At 205 pounds (with about 10 pounds of gear in the bags), I found that one helmet with a suitcase (third most rigid setting) worked well for me.
Multiply three base settings by seven micro levels by four preload settings and you get 84 available combinations. I wonder if this is perhaps too much adjustability. I would imagine for riders looking at the ES version simplicity is the name of the game. Yamaha might be bordering on “diner syndrome” setting in for riders not looking to worry about suspension adjustment.
A revised dash layout for 2016 allows easy navigation of the technology carried in the FJR’s computer. Whether you are adjusting your heated grips, windshield height, or suspension settings, controls at your left hand navigate through a screen on the right side of your dash. When Yamaha was discussing this during the presentation, it sounded intimidating and confusing. After about five minutes on the bike, however, I found the system to be rather intuitive.
I think what surprised me the most was the overall ergonomics of the FJR. When I first sat on the bike, I didn’t like the feel. The bars felt too tall and too narrow. I imagined this would prove to be uncomfortable over long miles and the grips would be too high to provide solid input through the twisty stuff. I was wrong.
It only took about 30 miles with the bike for me to realize that I was actually quite comfortable. I was surprised at how little input was needed to get the FJR to go where I wanted it to go. For a bike that weighs 635 pounds, it handled itself relatively well through the corners and felt stable and planted on the highway.
Stuff to change
Our final stop of the day was at the Rock Springs Café for milkshakes. A little old lady sat behind an old-time ice cream counter scooping real ice cream into tumblers and making fresh shakes for sweaty customers. I sat in the shade with my chocolate shake and contemplated my two days with the FJR1300.
My main complaint was with the saddle. After a 100-mile stretch on the bike, I was ready to stand up on the pegs for some relief. But that’s an easy fix. I would also be interested to see if I could get a revised throttle map from an aftermarket tuner for a bit more of an aggressive response, at least in sport mode. I think it’s great that the FJR includes color-matched bags as standard, but if I were going to tackle some real distance with this bike I would need additional luggage. There was barely enough room in the two bags to carry my gear for a three-day ride, let alone if I had an accomplice with me. Adding the top box would be a must.
When I realized I'd come to the end of my list of relatively simple additions or alterations before even finishing my milkshake, it was clear Yamaha has done a good job updating this bike. Like I said in the beginning, the changes are evolutionary, building upon a foundation Yamaha has been developing and tweaking for years. And the original bike was a success to start with.
There is a reason this bike is a top pick for the Iron Butt riders in the audience. The changes for 2016 make this an even more accomplished big bike to tackle big miles.