2005 Sport Touring Comparo
BMW R1200RT :: Buell Ulysses :: Honda ST 1300 :: Honda Interceptor ABS :: Yamaha FJR1300
This year, the staff at MO decided to take passengers along, as we know many of you frequently carry passengers, or at least purchase a sport-touring rig with passengers in mind. It's hard to get a spouse behind a $15,000 purchase he or she won't want to ride on, after all.
After rounding up our guests, we pointed our steeds towards the California coastline for a trip to San Francisco. This trip is a common test for Sport Tour shootouts, for good reason. It provides all the roads you might encounter anywhere, from flat, straight, boring interstate crammed with rush-hour traffic to deserted, twisty two-lane roads along the cliffs not unlike the ones you see in car commercials, mostly because they are the roads used in car commercials.
"...The subjective test of which motorcycle the tester would actually buy if he had a real job..."
After over one thousand miles of varying pavement, we got back to MO and reviewed our notes.
We decided to evaluate the bikes in four categories: passenger comfort, handling prowess, touring capability (a combination of rider comfort, range and cargo capacity/ease of use), and the subjective test of which motorcycle the tester would actually buy if he had a real job and could afford such a thing.
We awarded points based on how the tester ranked the bike in each category: six for first place, four for second, three for third, two for fourth, and one sympathy point for fifth place.
So now, after almost 5,000 evaluation miles, we present, in descending order, the contestants in our 2005 Sport Touring comparison.
Fifth Place: Yamaha FJR1300 ABS
"I'm not coming out!" Gabe's shrill voice emanated from the MO washroom, where he had locked himself in. This was an issue because MOMaven Ashley J Hamilton had just ridden her bicycle from Santa Monica and had to pee very badly. Gabe had run out of valium earlier in the day and was worried about angered FJR1300 owners -- who tend to be bitter, middle-aged firearms enthusiasts -- breaching the security system at the MO compound.
The FJR1300 defeated all comers last year handily and now finished a distant last, with just 57% of the points the winner garnered. What gives?
There is no question: the FJR is an outstanding motorcycle. Let's start with the motor. The overbuilt, 1,298CC liquid-cooled engine is both smooth and tourquey. Sean declared it "easily the fastest bike in this group." Pete called it "incredibly powerful", and Gabe loved the way it feels like it "pulls hard in any gear, at any RPM, without shuddering, buzzing or breaking a sweat."
The MO dyno revealed 127 HP and 91 foot-pounds of torque at the rear wheel. Even though these numbers are down a bit from the 2004 we tested, (possibly due to this FJR being a German market bike) this is enough power for even the most jaded moto-journalist.
Clutch and gearbox garnered praises as well, adding to Yamaha's building reputation for Swiss watch-like reliability and build quality. "Flawless shifting and clutch" opines he-of-a-billion-shifts Pete, and Gabe loved the "buttery" feeling from the gearbox.
We enjoyed the R1-derived brakes, which delivered wicked good stopping power and feel, as well as ABS seamless enough to be described as "flawless" by Gabe.
"We all loved the handling, too: "rock solid", said Pete, and Sean lauded the FJR's ability to stop and turn like the slightly lardy sportbike that it is."
Gabe loved the way the FJR "flows" in and out of turns, aided by its rigid chassis, stout suspension and wide, tall bars. Those bars add to what was basically a pretty comfy ride.
So what's the problem? The FJR is lacking the character to overcome the nits and flaws our testers noted. Both Sean
and Pete didn't like the footpeg to saddle relationship: And that sporty chassis comes at a price for the passenger too: Natalie complained it was "less roomy than the BMW and cramped, at least with Sean aboard." Also, engine heat coming out from under the tank and fairing and roasting delicate bits was noticeable when the ride went inland and the outside air temperature rose.
In this company, the FJR's stellar handling manners are a bit outmatched. Even though Gabe and Pete liked the FJR's neutral and light steering, Sean was more critical, noting that the BMW and Buell were better handling, without the FJR's higher center of gravity and slower steering response.
Finally, we all couldn't help but notice that once the rider got the windscreen at just the right angle, shutting the bike off would reset the screen to it's "down" position.
It's a nit indeed, but today's ST buyers are demanding folks, and this type of thing could be a deal-breaker with the nav system and seat warmer crowd. The FJR needs to be better next year to move to its deserved place, and we hope the 2006 additions of electric grips, standard ABS and electric bar-mounted paddle shifter (!) will get it there.
The FJR certainly has a lot going for it: rock solid handling (a close second to the VFR in terms of over-all handling performance), an incredibly powerful motor, flawless shifting and clutch and powerful but linear brakes. Unfortunately, as I ride more or get older, I want a little more from a bike that has "touring" somewhere in its description. What I mean by that is a windscreen that I don't have to reset every time I turn the bike off as well as a little more wind protection, better ergonomics with respect to foot peg to saddle relation (my knees would get stiff after a couple hours of non-stop riding) and maybe a little more detail in the cockpit (ambient air temperature perhaps?). There really isn't too much that's "wrong" the FJR rather it's nit-picking. In fact one could say that the FJR is the perfect blend of the VFR and the ST 1300: Great engine and handling with just enough rider and passenger comforts to go on a long weekend trip.
"The FJR certainly has a lot going for it ..."
One drawback to note on the FJR was what seemed like an inordinate amount of heat that would creep up from the engine and unfortunately spend most of its time circulating around my crotch area. For anything other than a cold evening ride home this would quickly become an annoyance.
The FJR is easily the fastest bike in this group, able to walk off and hide from the others in a straight line. It also stops and turns well enough. That extra speed will come in handy for shortening the time spent in its less-comfortable saddle which suffers from a seat-to-peg relationship that's just a bit too tight for my long inseam. Its adjustable windscreen is nice touch, but it'd be a whole lot nicer if it would stay where you put it after you switch off the bike.
Some would say the FJR is "rock solid" and a close second to the Interceptor for overall handling honors. I say they're overlooking quite a bit of the FJR's slower transitional responses, greater weight and much-taller center of gravity. I also believe that the Buell Ulysses and possibly the BMW R1200RT can out handle the FJR when the going gets twisty. I also feel the need to complain about the heat that gets blown onto your right thigh. It provides a nice warm spot on a cool evening, but any other time, it just plain cooks your inner leg and the thought of spending a long day in its saddle while touring Death Valley? Well, let's just say I'd rather eat dirt.
Ok, so why am I bagging on the bike that's won every MO Sport Touring comparo that it's participated in? I guess it's because the FJR suffers from appliance-itis. Its engine note is less than inspiring and its over-achieving output simply isn't enough to overcome this inline four's basic lack of character. I'm sorry Yamaha, you make great bikes and the FJR is no exception. But it just doesn't "do it" for me anymore.