Champagne ride from Yamaha at a Pepsi price

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 08:10 03/08/2013
Yamaha FJR 1300A.
Fairfax NZ

YAMAHA FJR1300A: It only needed some simple tweaks to put it back on the shopping lists of those looking for an affordable, state-of-the-art, fully-dressed tourer.

Yamaha FJR1300A.
Fairfax NZ
LINKED STOPPERS: Very good at hauling the beast down from speed.

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Yamaha learnt a hard lesson in 2012 about the need to stay committed to new research and development.

YAMAHA FJR1300A
Engine: 1298cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected DOHC parallel-four, 107.5kW (144bhp) at 8000rpm, 138Nm at 7000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, shaft drive.
Chassis: Aluminium diamond frame with double-sided alloy swingarm, 48mm telescopic front forks with 135mm of travel and rear monoshock with preload adjustment and 125mm of travel.
Price: $26,995.
Hot: Huge improvement to the already-good FJR1300 adds up to more than the sum of the changes; new electronics are well calibrated and there only when you need them.
Not: New screen snuffs out wind noise so completely that the dominant sound when riding is now the FJR's final drive gear whine; Velcro luggage straps lose their grip.
The bike maker had pruned back its R&D budget heavily in 2008 in response to what it thought would be a short, sharp financial shock, and virtually went into hibernation. Four years later, that strategy had left it with a range of aging, and in many cases, grossly expensive, motorcycles, and the company's revenues fell by an alarming 72 per cent during 2012.

So consider 2013 to represent something of a revival for Yamaha, if not yet an outright comeback. A sleeping giant has awoken, and it's promising to build more new models than ever in its history during 2014.

Against this backdrop, the new FJR1300A sports-tourer could well be a metaphor for the company that made it. It too, has been resting on its laurels for the past five years, and although the FJR aged gracefully over that period, it wasn't long before the likes of BMW and Triumph started poaching its customers with newer, sexier products.

Big touring bikes and cruisers comprise 80 per cent of motorcycle sales in the USA, arguably the first of Yamaha's export markets to see some light at the end of the financial crisis. So it's no surprise that Yamaha's biggest news for 2013 is an upgraded FJR, as such a product fits both current corporate strategy and global market conditions.

It also helped that the FJR only needed a series of simple tweaks to put it back on the shopping lists of those looking for an affordable, state-of-the-art, fully-dressed touring bike again, pleasing those tight-fisted folk in charge of the corporation's coffers.

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Said yen-counters signed off new injection moulding machine tooling that allowed Yamaha's designers to update the look of the FJR with a new fairing that offers better weather protection while sharpening the bike's sense of style.

The powertrain wasn't broken, but Yamaha fixed it anyway with new intake and exhaust systems, and a ride-by-wire throttle that allows two riding modes (Sport and Touring), plus the fitting of cruise control and traction maintenance intervention.

Other changes include lighter, more efficient catalysts, direct-plated Nikasil sleeveless cylinders, a more sheltering power-adjustable windscreen, LED riding lights and turn-signals, and the fitting of 30-litre panniers and handlebar heaters as standard equipment.

Best of all, all these improvements will cost FJR consumers absolutely nothing. Five years ago, the 1300 cost $27,995 sans luggage system, mitt warmers, and cruise/traction/adjustable throttle. This year, you get all that desirable extra stuff on a better-looking bike that costs $26,995. Seems the days of over-priced Yamahas are well and truly over, so it's certainly time to crack open that bottle of the good stuff, Kevin.

For this bike is a champagne ride at a Pepsi price. Sure, far more expensive tour-de-forces like the BMW K1600GT and R1200RT are technically and dynamically superior, but only incrementally so.

I rode over 800km on the FJR and there wasn't a single moment during that extensive two-day tour when it didn't feel a mildly impressive machine.

At times, like when giving it squirt to overtake slower traffic on a state highway in top gear, it felt almost the equal of the overachieving six-cylinder 1600 from Bavaria. What's more, the chassis and running gear felt more than capable of keeping up with any pace supplied by the superbly-smooth and potent 144bhp inline four-cylinder engine.

The new linked stoppers, perfect for all those American riders who usually prefer to use foot pedals only, hauled the bike down so effectively that I never noticed its 304kg fully-fuelled heft. Ditto when bombing down sinuous back roads, leaning the bike from right-side peg feeler to left-side centre-stand tag with such light handlebar input. If you asked me to identify the weight of the FJR without the benefit of a set of racecar scales, I'd say that weighs 275kg at the most. Supple suspension and relatively nimble steering certainly help disguise the mass.

The FJR and I were doing that tour so easy and stress-free, that I decided a detour around several North Island west coast harbours via a series of convoluted and corrugated gravel roads would take us both out of our comfort zones. The bike simply ate those rough roads up, while I never broke a sweat thanks to the softer power delivery of the ''Touring'' throttle mode, and the beautifully-timed arrival of crash-saving cavalry like the ABS anti-locking and traction control systems.
 
The Yamaha isn't perfect: the adjustable cross-straps securing luggage in panniers sometimes undo themselves, and the huge bevel gear in the middle of powertrain that allows a transverse engine to drive a shaft, whines more vocally than a losing America's Cup skipper.

However the new FJR is quite possibly the best touring bike that anyone can buy for less than $30,000, and a powerful sign of the great things that are yet to come from its manufacturer.

Yamaha FJR1300A

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