If it ain’t broke… (Yamaha FJR 1300 A)

GET INTO a conversation with an FJR owner and sooner or later you’ll end up in the sixth gear debate. Owners have been discussing it for years and while many would clearly prefer a six-speed gearbox, Yamaha has stuck to five cogs. But that doesn’t mean the bike has stood entirely still.

Engine revisions have boosted power by a modest 3bhp, but along with the bike’s other changes it’s enough to have made a positive difference to this, the FJR 1300 A. Let’s start with the engine. Below 5,000rpm the bike feels like it needs a poke with a sharp stick, especially in the more relaxed ‘T’ riding mode which feels so sedate I wonder how many riders will actually use it.

The S mode is noticeably swifter to respond and above 5,000rpm it’s responsive and eager, with predictable and instantaneous throttle response. Snicking up to the top of the gearbox on the open road I’m surprised to find I don’t really miss a sixth gear. I’m trundling along at considerably faster than I should be, and the rev needle’s hovering at 4,500rpm with the same amount still to go until the redline.

Yamaha defends its decision by pointing out that the FJR pulls with roughly the same revs in 5th gear as a rival BMW bike does in 6th, and the gear ratios have been chosen for real flexibility. I roll towards a roundabout in top. The revs have dropped to just 1,000rpm and still I can glide effortlessly around at 20mph without a splutter from the 1298cc four-cylinder engine

Snaking through hillsides, switching between third and fourth gears for the endless tight turns, the FJR is rewardingly quick as long as you keep the revs high enough. The shaft drive is particularly smooth and unobtrusive and although I quite enjoy being ‘involved’ in a ride, I wonder if some customers would prefer a tad more low-down punch to suit that laid-back gearing.

Moving to the suspension it’s a fine line between finding plushness and making a bike too soft. The FJR does bounce if you ride ‘like you think you can win this one’, but that’s to be expected and the payoff is cushioning suspension that feels quite luxurious over imperfect roads at normal pace. It’s a comfortable ride, there’s no mistake. My behind and legs know when they’ve spent a few hours in the saddle but again, it’s all par for the course, especially when I’m riding with the seat on its lowest setting.

The FJR doesn’t flick with the same sporty litheness as Triumph’s Trophy 1200 – a key rival. It tends to roll into corners – and it needs pressure applied to its bars to do so. It’s not until I ride this second bike that the rather odd significance of the seat height becomes apparent. The 825 mm setting makes the bike feel heavier to turn and the handling is instantly more fluid with the saddle at the lower 805 mm height.

There is minimal turbulence and noise from the new windscreen even for tall riders, although it’s not as protective as the Trophy’s. It is frustrating not to have instant access to adjust it though. The one menu switch gives you the three options to choose from: adjusting the windscreen, heated grips or accessing the general information. Any choice you make is displayed on the screen and if you want to choose another option, you need to return to the menu and scroll though it again.

It’s also a shame that Yamaha don’t recommend using the standard panniers and the optional extra 50-litre top box together as it would presumably exceed the load capacity. Surely that’s a major design flaw? It’s no problem if you like riding solo, but your pillion will have to travel light. The passenger space is comfortable but it’s not as roomy as other bikes in the sector.

While we’re comparing, though, the FJR is equipped with cruise and traction control as standard, which is very nice on a bike like this. The brakes are perfect for the job and the cruise control works very well given the space to use it. The glove compartment on the left side of the inner fairing is adequate and it locks when you turn the ignition off.

The 2013 FJR is an improvement over the current model and it’s actually cheaper. The finish is spot-on and the build quality is reassuring for a bike that’s designed to take you far from home, but the handling feels heavier than some rivals’ and it isn’t as punchy in the lower revs in spite of its improved engine. The luggage capacity limitations are an issue, too.

The traction control, cruise control and ABS make it safer and more convenient, the engine’s revisions give it a sportier ride and it’s far more stylish than before. It’s just like the latest smartphone; it’s the same, only better.
Model: Yamaha FJR 1300 A: £12,900 on the road (TBC).
Engine: 1,298cc, liquid cooled, in-line 4-cylinder
Power: 144bhp @ 8,000rpm.
Torque: 101.8lb.ft @ 7,000rpm.
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft drive.
Kerb weight: 289kg
Seat height: 805 or 825mm
Tank capacity: 25 litres
Colours: Magnetic Bronze, Frosted Blade, Midnight Black
Contact: www.yamaha-motor.eu/uk