2014 BMW R1200RT vs. 2014 Yamaha FJR1300ES Comparison Test
Thanks to increased rider interest in long-distance travel over trips to the local watering hole, we are entering a golden age of motorcycle touring.
Even better, that refocusing of riding priorities is happening at a time when sophisticated electronics are truly coming into their own as indispensable motorcycle components.
Both of the 2014 motorcycles in this comparison — the BMW R 1200 RT and Yamaha FJR1300ES — are touring bikes with impressive heritages. The RT approaches the sport-touring market from a purely touring perspective, while the FJR has roots in the luggage-free 1980s FJ1100 superbike.
As times change, allegiances change. With the departure of the K 1300 GT, the R 1200 RT steps into the breach as BMW’s mid-size sport-tourer. This coincides with a new semi liquid-cooled motor that unapologetically offers 125 horsepower to its owner and high-tech active suspension that encourages sporting behavior on twisting back roads.
Introduced in America in 2003 and in its third iteration, the Yamaha FJR1300 has lost none of its enthusiasm in the canyons and wide-open roads. The inline-four is a muscular beast that has approximately 145 horses at 8000 rpm (just 250 rpm later than the BMW twin) and plenty of torque.
This year, the FJR1300ES gets user-configurable electronic suspension, though that is a far cry from the Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment that is part of the Premium Package on the BMW we are setting it against.
Now, you may complain that the RT is getting an advantage by being fitted with the Premium Package. Rest assured, if Yamaha offered such an upgrade, the FJR would be enjoying it — but it does not. We rewarded BMW’s willingness to indulge the consumer with the latest technology by outfitting the RT accordingly, and we suspect most RT purchasers will take advantage of that same opportunity.
Setting the table, we have the technologically savvy little guy going up against the bigger brute, with the intention of finding out which one we like when we know our tour is not just going to be long, but also conducted at a fast pace.
2014 BMW R1200RT
Redesigned from the ground up, the 2014 BMW R 1200 RT is as refined as one might expect given its 35-year lineage. It is now powered by the latest wasserboxer engine that debuted on last year’s GS.
There is an immediate sense of distant familiarity, yet all cues point to new features and performance. Acceleration is rapid and accompanied by a deep twin-cylinder exhaust note. The RT revs smoothly and quickly to the 9000 rpm redline in all gears. An impressive 92 ft/lbs of torque prods this 604-pound (claimed wet) bike to speed.
The air-/oil-/water-cooled powerplant is the result of BMW’s efforts to modernize the 90-year old design, making it relevant for 2014 and onward. It produces a peak of 125 horsepower from 1170cc and, with a heavier flywheel, is better than ever.
Engine vibrations are hardly noticeable; when you raise the power windscreen and set the cruise control, the miles pass effortlessly. At six-feet tall, I experienced no buffeting or forward push within the cockpit and the handlebars are not too high.
The RT doesn’t hesitate to switch from straight-line duty to cornering on the edges of its Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT tires mounted on cast aluminum wheels. The profile perfectly matches the bike’s handling potential; when pitched into a fast corner the RT is neutral and likes to power out of turns.
Corner entry, even when slightly overcooked, inspires confidence and the new chassis is stiffer. The unusual Telelever/Paralever suspension design remains and utilizes BMW’s Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension system (part of the Premium Package installed on the test bike) that offers the rider a wide range of setup choices. Traction control is always on, and adjustments to it are linked to changes in the power modes—Road, Rain, and Dyna(mic). This all adds up to a luxurious, but sporty, ride.
I sampled about every imaginable type of road and condition and found the RT to be a true road superiority vehicle. While the Yamaha FJR1300ES is faster, quicker in turns, and easy to leave in just one gear (4th) for most canyon riding, those attributes alone do not tell the whole story. It is the RT’s complete package that is so compelling. It is an endearing machine and, often, the one to which others are compared.
The new six-speed transmission rivals any Japanese box for effortless gear changes. The throws are short and the hydraulic clutch actuation is soft and smooth, and the clutch is now serviced through the front of the motor.
The radial-mounted Brembo brakes with braided lines and ABS encourage aggressive braking and repeated hard usage, even when two up. Initial bite is excellent and two fingers are all that is ever needed. Front and back brakes are linked and operate together seamlessly.
The Fully Loaded version of the Reise-Tourer has a few options beyond the Premium Package, including a quick-shifter called Gear Shift Assist Pro.
It yields clutch-less up-shifts at any speed, as well as smooth clutch-less downshifts. Activate Central Locking with either the key, a dedicated switch on the right grip, or by using the electronic key fob button that also activates the anti-theft alarm system.
The rider’s ergonomic triangle was lowered by nearly an inch from last year, so BMW no longer offers the low suspension option. There are two seat height positions that are identical to the FJR’s, plus an optional low seat at 30 inches.
The seat’s front section has been narrowed, and the handlebars lowered accordingly. Front and rear seats are also longer. The upright position, combined with the long seat and perfect bar height, make this one of the most comfortable rides to date.
The RT cockpit is modern with a color display that is easy to read and well organized, and is available with or without the optional BMW Navigator V GPS sourced from Garmin.
Optional is a satellite-ready audio system with all the usual features. Through the intuitive Menu switch and BMW-exclusive Multi-Controller wheel on the left grip, one is able to access all system functions including suspension, seat and grip heaters, tire pressure, GPS, and an extensive trip computer.
The new bodywork gives the RT a more streamlined look, aerodynamic profile and better rider protection from wind and weather. The fit and finish are industry leading.
During our review, we averaged 35 to 40 mpg. With its 6.6-gallon fuel tank the range will be near 250 miles, and the gas station is visited a bit less frequently than the FJR, which has the same capacity tank, but is a bit thirstier.
A Premium Package feature we found interesting is Hill Start Control. When activated by a firm squeeze of the front brake at a stop, HSC allows easy uphill starts without the threat of the bike rolling backward.
Not everyone appreciates the Boxer motor, Telelever front suspension, or BMW’s unorthodox approach to engineering. However, a rider with an open mind and a taste for a highly capable, sophisticated, and refined machine will be well rewarded by the 2014 BMW R 1200 RT.
– Jonathan Handler
2014 Yamaha FJR1300ES
With a heritage dating back 30 years to the first FJ1100, the 2014 Yamaha FJR1300ES is no slouch when it comes to evolutionary progress. A favorite here at Ultimate MotorCycling, the latest generation of the renowned FJR adds electronically adjustable suspension to a growing array of technological rider assistance.
That is not to say the FJR1300 is riding on the cutting edge of computerization. Compared to the BMW R 1200 RT with the Premium Package, the FJR is almost a Luddite. Yet, its simplicity has its own allure, as the focus is less on bells and whistles than it is on muscularity and agility.
While the Premium RT gets the impressive active suspension that constantly and stealthily adjusts to road conditions, the FJR’s ES is rider-controlled, changing with the flick of an index finger and thumb.
After you manually alert the FJR to how many people and how much luggage the bike will be carrying, it is a matter of selecting one of three settings — Soft, Standard, and Hard. These adjustments affect fork damping, along with preload and damping in the linkage-assisted shock.
In the real world of riding, the three damping settings will satisfy most of us. Within them, there is some allowance for fine – tuning—seven settings for each choice — though I found that persnickety level of involvement unnecessary for sport-touring. When on the freeway, Soft gives you that magic carpet ride. For sightseeing on back roads, Standard is sufficiently firm to prevent wallowing, yet still compliant enough on road irregularities to keep you isolated from abrupt hits.
The liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four is a defining presence for FJR owners. In many ways, the smooth and fast powerplant is why you buy the bike. The 9000 rpm redline is fairly conservative, though there’s enough buzzing in the pegs to remind you to shift before the soft rev limiter kicks in.
There is no question that the FJR1300ES indulges those of us who want to “tour” at a faster pace. The two-position D-mode gives you a choice of power deliveries — Standard and Sport. Most of the time, Standard is more than adequate, as the motor is no slouch in that mode. However, when it comes time to switch into the Hard suspension setting, the Sport power mode is a natural choice.
Dive-bombing through the mountains is pure pleasure when going all-in for performance. Feel free to get aggressive with the throttle—traction control (no adjustment, just on or off) derived from MotoGP experience works on the ignition timing, fuel injection volume, and throttle valve opening to keep the rear wheel from lighting up.
The aluminum frame and front end is adequately rigid, and the FJR pretty much goes where you point it. Bridgestone Battlax BT-023s allow you to heel the Yamaha over until the peg feelers begin to scrape without squirming, or any other protestations. This open-class sport-tourer inspires confidence—perhaps a bit too much.
When riding hard, it is easy to forget that the bike weighs a claimed 644 pounds wet. Unfortunately, you will be reminded when you overcook a turn and it comes time to change direction quickly.
The Unified Braking System with ABS will do its job. Actuate the hand brake lever and you get six of eight pistons grasping the twin discs; add the foot pedal and you get the rear disc plus two additional front pistons. The FJR slows down predictably and aggressively, though when that’s not enough, you will find out how hard it can be to wrestle a big sport-touring machine through an unexpected decreasing radius turn.
Out on the open road, the FJR1300 has enough power for you to cruise at as high a speed as you like. Use the thumb switch to put the electronically controlled windscreen in the up position and you enjoy good wind protection. Roomy ergonomics are a big plus, even though it’s not quite as upright as the RT.
There is a bit of a buzz from the motor, but at 65 mph it is turning over only 3500 rpm, so a sixth speed doesn’t really seem practical. That’s not enough to keep you from running through the 6.6-gallon tank (same as the RT) marginally faster than the boxer twin. Cruise control operates intuitively and effectively.
As a pure tourer, the FJR’s bags are noticeably shallower than the RT’s, so you will have to run the accessory top box for longer trips. Heated grips are just a couple of switch actuations away, and the old-school LCD menu gives you all sorts of pertinent information, such as ambient air temperature and remaining range.
At its heart, the 2014 Yamaha FJR1300ES is committed to the sporting end of the sport-touring spectrum. Excellent ergonomics, power, and handling make it a joy to ride fast and, and when you make it to the motel, the FJR’s bags and your lack of sore body parts will remind you why you bought the bike.
– Don Williams
This was one of those comparisons where the test riders were always happy. Whichever bike you were on, you liked, yet you didn’t mind switching for a stint. That speaks more to the versatility of the BMW R 1200 RT and Yamaha FJR1300ES than anything else.
The go-fast guys gravitated toward the FJR and they unanimously preferred the speedy, great-handling Yamaha. Aficionados of technology will have an easy choice — the computer-like RT with the Premium Package has bells, whistles, and every other instrument at its disposal. For the rest of the test riders, it was a bit more complicated.
The RT was prized for its comfort, sophistication, and contentment — you can ride it confidently at a good clip and, although 125 horses isn’t anything to sneeze at, the delivery of the power is always friendly thanks to the heavy flywheel and lack of a sport power mode.
Take the FJR for a spin, and it’s all about the motor and handling. Click the inline-four into the Sport mode and it takes off, and it has the handling for the average rider to easily harness the additional power, even without dynamic suspension. When you want to cut back the pace and enjoy the scenery, it’s a comfortable machine with a great seat.
Were Yamaha to offer something like BMW’s various upgrade packages, the FJR1300ES might be a runaway winner in this comparison. However, the Yamaha FJR1300ES does not, and the BMW R 1200 RT Fully Loaded alone has the capability of coddling you as you hustle through the twisties, and for many sport-tourers, that’s exactly the type of treatment they demand.
Given this marked separation, you are charged with the enviable task of self-assessment so you can select the motorcycle that best suits your riding style and expectations.
Riding Style (BMW R1200RT)
- Helmet: Schubert C3 Pro
- Eyewear: Persol Classics PO3021S
- Jacket: BMW Venting
- Gloves: BMW Pro Summer
- Pants: BMW Allround
- Boots: BMW Pro Touring 2
Riding Style (Yamaha FJR1300ES)
- Helmet: Arai Vector-2 Hawk Red
- Jacket: AGV Sport Solare
- Gloves: AGV Sport Aeromesh
- Pants: AGV Sport Willow
- Boots: Sidi Fusion Air
Photography by Don Williams
2014 BMW R1200RT vs. 2014 Yamaha FJR1300ES Photo Gallery