2016 Yamaha FJR1300ES Review
Sport-touring has always been a neglected segment in the motorcycle world. The emergence of the Adventure genre has further marginalized that sport-tourer, as adventure bikes are certainly close cousins with capabilities that you will not find on a strictly tarmac motorcycle.
However, many ADV riders never touch the dirt, and that group may want to take a closer look at the latest in pure-street sport-touring bikes. At the same time, if you are a sport-oriented rider, but don’t feel the need to push 10/10ths, and have the urge to comfortably ride more of the world than a 100-mile radius around your garage, sport-touring motorcycles eagerly await your attention.
Yamaha has been offering FJ sport-tourers since the 1984 FJ1100. The FJ quickly grew to 1200, before being replaced by the FJR1300 in 2002. Since then, Yamaha has gently evolved the motorcycle in a wide variety of ways, methodically working toward sport-touring perfection.
2016 marks one of the most significant years in the refinement of the FJR1300 platform. The new FJR1300ES is a solid step forward, making an already outstanding motorcycle even more inviting, with changes that will undoubtedly result in an uptick in the number of used FJRs on Craigslist.
Without question, the most substantive change to the flagship FJR1300ES is the new transmission. As much as I have loved previous FJRs, I found the five-speed gearbox to be a source of annoyance. Sure, it operated flawlessly, but any time I was out on the open road, I would find myself attempting to upshift from fifth, only to remember that there was nothing to upshift to.
Although an all-new bottom end for the FJR1300ES was not in the cards for 2016, it didn’t need to be; Yamaha engineers put on their most effective thinking caps and worked some magic. By separating the shift dogs from the center gear cluster, they were able to create enough free space to add a sixth ratio without altering the cases.
Whether riding the FJR1300ES on the interstate or fast back roads, the presence of sixth gear is immediately felt. The bit of inline-4 busyness that was there at higher speeds in top gear has been banished. With the engine relaxed, the rider can also settle down and enjoy clicking off the miles without distraction.
Adding to that calmer feeling is the change from the performance-oriented straight-cut gears—which are more efficient, but a bit whiny—to quieter and gentler helical gears. How much of the smoothness is directly related to the new gears is difficult to say. Regardless, the FJR1300ES is sweet on the slab, so the redesign of the Yamaha gearbox is an unqualified success.
Yet, as Ron Popeil famously said, “But, wait! There’s more!” Part of the Yamaha redesign of the FJR1300’s gearbox was a changing of the ratios of all but third gear. The engineers slightly raised first and second gears, while incrementally lowering fourth and fifth. The result is something of a close- ratio five-speed transmission, with a sixth speed overdrive.
These ratio changes tie in with the subtly performance-reducing—but quiet- and smoothness-enhancing—change from straight- to helical-cut gears. By tightening up the transmission ratios, the FJR1300 feels faster, even if a bit less power is making it through the shaft drive to the rear Bridgestone Battlax tire. Yamaha could have made this change much simpler, but covered all the bases brilliantly with impressive results.
In addition to the transmission redesign, Yamaha also tapped the latest clutch technology. The Assist & Slipper clutch uses the torque produced during acceleration to help drive the clutch plates together. This means that lighter clutch springs can be used, reducing effort at the clutch lever.
I had never felt that the FJR1300 had an unusually hard clutch pull, so the claimed 20-percent reduction in effort wasn’t something I noticed. Having said that, testing was done in heavy stop-and-go urban traffic and my left hand never complained. It is a sound technology, and a smart update.
At the other end of the clutch performance spectrum is the addition of a slipper-style function to the clutch. If there’s more back-torque going into the clutch during downshifts than the engine is producing, the clutch engagement is reduced, making a skidding rear tire less likely. I tested it a couple of times, and it worked. For most FJR1300 riders, this is something for wet or dirty roads, rather than something that allows you to push corner entry speed higher.
In addition to the potent DOHC 1298cc motor, what makes the FJR1300ES a successful sport-tourer is its handling. On the ES, everything remains the same (the standard FJR1300A gets new KYB suspension this year), and that’s nothing to complain about.
Fully adjustable suspension is one thing, but when you have to climb off the bike and fiddle with knobs, screw- drivers, and spanners, the allure of adjustability is rightfully dulled. While the FJR does not have the highest-end active suspension, the electronically adjustable ES system is one that is easy to use and fully effective.
With just a few reasonably intuitive manipulations of the buttons and switches on the left handlebar, you can have your choice of four spring-preload and three damping settings. Within those general damping settings, you can further fine-tune each with seven choices. This is a little more involved, but still far easier than breaking out the tools.
The basic soft, medium, and hard set- ting satisfied me completely. As you can easily guess, the hard setting is for sport riding, soft for superslabbing, and medium for when you have a nice balance around town.
They are well thought out, and only outliers, fiddlers, and the persnickety will feel compelled to dive in to the sub-settings. For me, I was just happy to switch between them as conditions changed, and thoroughly enjoy the Yamaha-tailored ride. Adding to that, the ride-by-wire system has a choice of two throttle-responses, both offering full power.
Another customization opportunity comes from the adjustable-height seat, three-position handlebars, and electronically controlled windscreen. For all uses other than in-town, I preferred the seat in the high position (32.5 inches, rather than 31.7). It gave me more legroom, something to be cherished on long-distance rides. At the same time, it had the effect of lowering the bars (relative to the seating position), so you also get a sportier forward cant, which you may or may not prefer. The bars can also be pivoted to one of three positions to get the ergonomic triangle even closer to your liking.
I tended to ride with the screen in the high position—especially with the excellent cruise control engaged—even though it doesn’t look quite as cool as the racier down position. But, the FJR1300ES is a sport-tourer, so I want to be comfortable, and with a five-inch sweep in position, the up position is much quieter and relaxing than the in- the-wind down-position.
For those who are purely interested in wind protection, a larger windshield is available from Yamaha. The screen position is in finitely adjustable in the range, and stays in the same spot even after stops—nice and convenient.
A somewhat odd enhancement for the FJR1300ES (and not the A) is a pair of lean-sensitive three-LED arrays above the newly designed LED headlights. As you increasingly lean into a corner, one, two, and then three lights help show you the way through the corner.
The idea is good, but the execution needs improvement. When you’re on the outside of a turn, the cornering LEDs do light up the road ahead of you, but not as far as I would like. If you are on the inside of the turn, they pretty much light up the shrubbery or wall of dirt on the inside of the corner, which is more of a distraction than an aid.
Here is what I would prefer if they want to help me after dark in corners— let’s have some self-leveling headlights. As you lean, the horizon of light leans with you, and much of the road and surroundings go dark. I’d like that horizon to stay at. Also, when getting on the brakes hard and the front-end dives, have the headlights adjust upwards so there is no reduction in the headlight throw. I would gratefully take those two features over cornering LEDs.
LCDs also get some attention, with a new dash readout. The sweep-needle tach is on the left side, and the speedo/mode/ warning-lights are in the middle. Even better, the readout of your speed is large and easy to read—just the piece of information I want to know. Remaining on the left is the user-configurable information—mpg, range, temperature, suspension settings, and other information you may find useful.
All the good stuff from the previous FJR1300ES returns, including ABS, unified braking (which works quite well, even if some riders don’t like to admit it), smooth fueling, the aforementioned Bridgestone Battlax rubber, handy and roomy bags (two optional top boxes are available), plenty of power, and fully predictable handling.
A great attribute of the Yamaha FJR1300ES is its adaptability to conditions and rider desires. You can ride it as hard as you like, or as casually as the most unhurried tourist, yet still be completely satisfied with its performance. It is an ideal sport-touring mount, understanding the balance between sport and touring, as well as allowing you to shade it in the direction you need at any particular moment.
With some smart engineering, and wise product planning, the 2016 Yamaha FJR1300ES is, without a doubt, the best in a hollowed series, and one that I would think any previous owner will endeavor to park in his garage.
Photos by Brian J. Nelson
- Helmet: AGV GT-Veloce
- Eyewear: Tag Heuer Reflex Original Rimless
- Jacket: Tour Master Transition Series 4
- Gloves: Tour Master Mid-Tex
- Pants: Rev’It Defender Pro GTX
- Base Layer: Fly Racing Heavyweight Base Layers
- Underwear: Moto-Skivees Adventure
- Boots: Sidi Roarr
- Socks: Moto-D Cold Weather Socks