What we have here is a very good motorcycle afflicted with a bad transmission. Blessed with a raft of carefully targeted improvements for '07, Yamaha's standard FJR1300-with a lever on the left end of the bar attached to an orthodox clutch-would have shuffled the finishing order in this deck. For anyone who knows how to wield a clutch, this clutchless version makes smooth forward progress harder than it needs to be. Roll on the throttle from a stop and it initiates forward motion with a jerk. Roll it off in low gear for a U-turn and as soon as the tach needle drops below 2000 rpm, you're coasting-and possibly falling over. A good rider can compensate, but why would you want to pay an extra $1800 over the price of the standard FJR for a "convenience feature" that's anything but? It's worth mentioning that the electric-shift system was much smoother and better behaved at the bike's press debut than it was on our test bike.
Precise throttle control helps, but the Yamaha's stiff throttle-return spring does not. Otherwise? Physically smaller than its peers, the FJR feels lighter as well, though at 687 pounds fully fueled, it's 14 pounds heavier than the BMW. Still, compact dimensions and relatively sporty steering geometry make it the most agile of the bunch, regardless of speed or situation. Careful airflow management aims hot air from the engine away from the rider much more effectively. And the Yamaha's suspension delivers a comfortably taut ride around town, though never as plush as the Honda or BMW.
Adjourn to open road and the FJR acquits nicely. There's a bit of buzz at 75 mph in fifth despite taller '06 gearing. Dual counterbalancers do an admirable job, but the 1298cc four always feels as if it would be happier with a six-speed. This year's bigger windscreen spans a broader range of adjustment, creating a relatively calm cockpit. Tall riders still get a speck of turbulence with the firm-yet-comfortably-humane seat in its upper position. Sensitive backsides wished for a better seat after two hours or so of saddle time. At that point everyone would have paid Big Dough for cruise control, or at least a lighter throttle. Though a prudent hand can squeeze nearly 300 freeway miles from the 6.6-gallon tank, we were ready for a break after 250 and ready to turn into the twisty bits.
The FJR feels progressively more agile and athletic when corners outnumber the straights. Three years ago, the original FJR was hampered by soft suspension and an inclination for dragging various hard parts on the pavement, but no more. The firmed-up suspension isn't quite as compliant as the Honda's, but it manages to keep the Yamaha chassis happy over all but the worst sort of pavement. Pegs touch down a few degrees earlier than on the BMW-a consequence of abundant legroom-but if that's a genuine hardship, get an R1.
Yamaha's admirable mix of power and feel make the newly linked FJR brakes the best in this bunch, especially with an ABS system that never intrudes unbidden. All is well until it's time to shift gears. Use your left hand or left foot; the computer clutch really is a hardship. Upshifts are slow and clumsy. And forget about thumbing quick Michael Shumacher-style downshifts before peeling off into the next bend. The YCCS system takes its time there as well, pushing shift points infuriatingly close to the next apex. Anticipate the lag and you can approximate the precision of the manual-clutch bikes, but we found ourselves shifting less and enjoying it more.
In the end, technology should solve more problems than it creates, but Yamaha's digital clutch-in its current iteration, at least-inflicts the opposite on an otherwise excellent package. As C. Tuna Everitt said more than once, "It sucks the life out of the whole thing, undermining the rest of the motorcycle literally and figuratively at every turn." And that's A shame, because most of this motorcycle is very, very good.