Yamaha’s original FJR1300 firmly took the Sport Touring category by the scruff of the neck when, to much acclaim in 2003, it enabled a European-style Japanese sport/tourer to be purchased by the American public, albeit on a special order basis. The FJR was a phenomenal success and quickly garnered a reputation for being a spectacular touring- and sport-friendly package, featuring a 145 hp inline-four engine, wrapped in an alminum chassis. With an electrically adjustable windshield, shaft final drive, a comfortable and upright riding position, and covered in a good-looking aerodynamics package, the FJR was an excellent compromise for those long distance riders who also had sporting aspirations in their blood. Clearly more sport-oriented than touring, the strong engine and neutral handling converted many buyers who would have otherwise been on less aggressive, more conservative mounts.
But, there were niggles, and this year Yamaha aggressively addressed them. The fairing has been completely redesigned to channel engine-heated air away from the rider. This is a truly welcome improvement; I had no problem whatsoever with cooked limbs, even in the Southern California summer heat. Riding towards the quaint town of Julian (near San Diego, see our May/June 2006 issue), I also appreciated the slightly taller windscreen and broader, more comfortable seat, which is adjustable for different height riders. The final drive ratio is now taller, which drops engine revs in all five gears, and this is especially noticeable in the top ratio, as the engine is much less busy while cruising. Monster torque is available, as before, so acceleration performance feels unaffected.
As the road twisted into long, sweeping turns, the same sporting handling was as readily apparent as with the preceding edition. With a slightly longer swingarm, the new model is a little less twitchy, but still turns in with the same quick but neutral feel; once on line the bike is planted and confidence inspiring. A little indiscretion from me on an uphill right-hander at speed forced me to dial in more lean-angle, while simultaneously coming off the throttle a bit in mid-turn; the bike responded without drama. Braking is beautifully balanced, thanks to the linked system; the bike stays nicely composed, even when braking hard and turning in. The binders are predictable and powerful, adding up to a more confidence inspiring ride.
The most apparent difference between previous generations of FJR and the 2006 is on the AE electric shift model. However, do not mistake the electric shifting option for an “automatic”; this mechanism is merely replacing the rider’s need to use the clutch; all shifts still have to be made by the rider at the appro-priate times, either by left thumb or foot. In fact, exactly the same transmission parts are present on both machines—and that includes the usual clutch. The handlebar clutch lever is absent, so a system of servo-type devices take on the job of engaging and disenga-ging the clutch. (Click image to enlarge)
In order to move away from standstill, it is necessary to increase engine revs slightly until you feel the clutch bite. Then, it is safe to increase power strongly enough to accelerate away. This is not the same as your automobile’s fluid torque converter that enables you to simply throttle hard immediately from a standstill. No, this motorcycle requires an almost two-stage process to make the getaway smooth. However, once underway, on-throttle power shifts can be made with ease and perfection. There are two gear-change actuators; one is the conventional foot lever and the other is a trigger switch on the left handlebar that is pulled to shift up and pushed with the thumb to shift down.
It is an interesting system that works extremely well at speed. On one particularly fast section of road, while tucked in behind the windscreen, I found it fun, as well as easier and quicker, to perform full-throttle up-shifts using the trigger, compared to the traditional clutch/footshift method. It is awesome—real Formula 1 stuff. Downshifts are accompanied by a computer fired throttle blip and, again, they work seamlessly. The only time I really found the system awkward was when performing low-speed maneuvers, such as pulling into parking lots or executing U-turns. In these situations the workaround on the AE is application of the front brake and power in chorus. (Click image to enlarge)
Despite its upsides, my personal preference, as a rider with decades of experience, would be to stick with convention rather than the auto-clutch system. That is not to decry the Yamaha idea. It truly works very well. A potential buyer should sample both models, then base his purchasing decision on the type of riding he is likely to be doing, while taking into account his level of experience. Simply because of its ease of use the new electric-shift/auto-clutch option will probably appeal to a more casual rider, opening up sport-touring to a whole new audience of enthusiasts who otherwise might steer clear of this type of machine. Wisely, the standard shifting/clutching model is still being offered for those not attracted to the new technology; kudos to Yamaha for giving us that choice and executing it so well.