More Sport - Same Tour

Remaking the FJR in Our Image

Based on our experience with Yamaha's revitalized 2013 FJR1300A, we took away two major impressions from our 2,200-mile roadfest earlier in the year: It's a smooth-running, comfortably sized ST that represents a fantastic value in this market segment, and its various design compromises tend to stack up on the tour end of the scale. Our goal, then, was to reach into the aftermarket for a way to emphasize the sport side of sport-touring without killing the touring part of the equation.

Before we launch into that, a word about what we didn't do: touch the engine. Yamaha's new ride-by-wire setup on the FJR provides not only cruise control (ruinously limited to 82 mph!) but enables traction control and two ride modes, Sport and Touring. More than that, it works extremely well. Without uncorking the exhaust or investing in internal modifications, we didn't see that the FJR's torque-rich engine could be improved overall. No amount of Google searching yielded a drop-in sixth gear, so we stayed clear of the bike's well-proven, extremely reliable inline-four.

We did, however, spend a lot of time on the suspension and made a few tweaks to improve the bike's overall comfort. Come along for the ride…


For the fork, we turned to Traxxion Dynamics, which installed a set of AK-20 drop-in cartridges and fitted stiffer springs. We asked for a compromise setting aimed at a 190-pound rider with baggage—on the bike, not the personal kind—so the fork came with straight-rate springs of 1.1 kg/mm. Traxxion's cartridges ride in Maxima 125/150 (7-weight) oil.

The stock '13 bike has only one "live" cartridge, in the right fork. (The '12 bike had active cartridges in both legs; so this is progress?) That's why only the right side has a wheel on the fork cap to adjust rebound damping, a slotted screw on the fork lower to change compression, and a hex-style spring-preload adjuster up top. Traxxion replaces the dummy cartridge with a real unit, but it's not externally adjustable. What Traxxion did, instead, is really clever. There is a bleed hole near the top of the cartridge rod that threads into the fork cap, making it possible to change the amount of bleed by altering how far the rod screws into the fork cap. We'll get back to that.

Installation was easy: We sent the whole fork to Traxxion, which installed the kit for $200. (Side note: We've done Traxxion's AK-20 "drop-ins" before, and they're incredibly easy. The bulk of the work is just getting the fork apart.)

Balancing the now-much-stiffer fork is a Penske 8983 remote-reservoir shock, also sprung for the 190-pound rider. It's fully adjustable for damping as well as an easily accessible spring-preload ring. FJR owners know the stock shock is adjustable for rebound damping and has two settings for spring rate: soft and hard. The Penske also offers adjustable ride height, which we used liberally. Installation was straightforward, though we had to get a little clever finding a place for the remote reservoir to go. It fits in the space behind the left side cover and above the engine-air intake, though this location means removing bodywork to adjust compression damping. There are aftermarket brackets that place the reservoir near the passenger footrest.

Together, these suspension mods transform the FJR. First thing, we jacked up the ride height on this sucker; the final setting has the FJR's rear axle 27mm farther from the rest of the mess than stock. That's a lot of additional ride height, and it serves mainly to sharpen steering and improve cornering clearance. We had no stability issues with this much of a change.

Penske hit the spring rate just right, giving us 35mm of laden sag without too little unladen sag. When adding a passenger or heavy luggage, spinning the exposed preload adjuster a turn or two to restore balance was literally a 10-minute job.

Compared to the as-delivered setup, we added three clicks of rebound and half a turn of compression to the shock. At first, the fork had too much damping, especially in rebound. After talking with Traxxion's owner Max McAllister and learning of the ability to adjust the left cartridge internally, we pulled the fork cap and unscrewed it a turn and a half on the cartridge rod. That was our nonstop ticket to the butter zone.

In the end, the FJR is considerably stiffer than stock. But the ride is never harsh, even over our nasty concrete-slab highways. It is, in fact, just about perfect for a bike that you want to remain on an even keel when accelerating and braking hard. Also, the boosted spring rates and increased ride height that bought valuable cornering clearance should not be undervalued. You can still drag the Yammie's pegs, but the pace is now much higher and the penalty for crossing a mid-corner bump far less severe.

Tires are suspension, too, so we tried a set of Dunlop's latest Roadsmart II sport-touring tires. They lasted significantly longer than the stock Bridgestone BT-023s that came on the FJR, while providing prodigious grip and good ride qualities. We ran a set to 5,500 miles and the rear was just starting to square off, but there were no signs of cupping or abnormal wear. We spooned on another set in preparation for a long cross-country ride, but in retrospect, we probably could have left that first set in place. That's pretty good wear for a heavy bike ridden hard by guys who don't have to pay for their own gas.

Comfort and Convenience

We wanted to try a few ergonomic tweaks even though most of us like the bike as it comes. High on the list was a new saddle from Sargent. The World Sport seat is firm and wide. It actually doesn't feel quite as good in city riding thanks to the broader flanks pushing your legs out, but it more than makes up for it on the open road. This is a true all-day saddle, made even better by a heating system powerful enough to cook dinner. We never used more than a fraction of the heating pad's capacity even in freezing conditions. Sargent says that current controllers have a different algorithm, so the lower settings provide a bit more granularity and less egg-frying heat. Incidentally, both the rider and passenger portions are heated, which is just the ticket for domestic tranquility on wintertime rides. (Look for additional impressions on page 56.)

Next on the C&C; list was a V-Stream windshield from National Cycle. We sure could have used this barn door on our winter tour! It's huge. As in 4 inches taller than the stocker and quite a bit wider at the top—as wide as the stock screen is at the base. Our Project FJR was ridden mainly in warmer temps, so we generally preferred the stock screen, but the V-Stream impressed with a lack of turbulence for its coverage. Average-height riders looking straight ahead will have the top edge of this screen crossing the pavement about 15 feet in front of the bike, which is to say it's not too far below the horizon line. And that's with the FJR's electric adjustment in the lowest position. All the way up, the V-Stream is a veritable wall of plastic, but the airflow behind it is barely a trickle.

Speaking of convenience, the Bags Connection Daypack quick-removing tank bag made it possible to keep wallets, lip balm, and cell phones at hand. It's big enough to be useful, small enough to stay out of your way. It easily cleared the Touratech mount for our Garmin zumo 350LM. Touratech's masterpiece locks the zumo in place with a key and what seem like the jaws of life.

Compared to other projects we've done, the FJR had relatively few updates, though a few expensive ones in the form of suspension components. We've said before that we really like this machine, wishing only for a firmer platform for exercising the sport side of the sport-touring equation. After these mods, we have an ST that really feels sporty.

Project FJR Highlights

ASV F3 Clutch and Brake Levers
$90 per lever

+ Really handsome and comfortable levers that fit perfectly.
- Not a lot wrong with the stock items, come to think of it.
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Front Suspension
Traxxion Dynamics AK-20 Cartridges
$1,099 complete set, $200 installation

+ Fantastic transformation in the feel of the FJR, beautifully made.
- There are cheaper—though not better—alternatives out there.

National Cycle V-Stream

+ Fantastic coverage, not even a little turbulent.
- Really big windscreen makes cockpit stuffy in summer.

GPS Mount
$184.90 plus $131.10 for adapter bracket with power outlet

+ Beautifully complicated and durable dock for Garmin's zumo 350LM places the GPS perfectly.

- We have motorcycles less complex.

Tank Bag
Bags Connection Daypack EVO
$129.99 plus $38.99 for model-specific tank ring

+ Tidy, convenient tank bag with a novel and sturdy strapless mounting system.
- Small enough that you notice how big the rain cover is.

Yamaha FJR1300A
$15,890 (motorcycle included)

+ Absolutely nothing wrong with it for sport-touring, which is why we didn't touch it.
- Yes, yes, yes; it might be a little better with a sixth gear. Enough!

Sargent World Sport Performance Seat (Heated)
$869.95 plus $199 for passenger backrest

+ Extremely comfortable and well-built replacement seat retains height adjustment and packs a ton of heat.
- Wider bucket splays the legs of all riders, only shorties notice.

Rear Suspension
Penske 8983 Shock
$925, includes custom setup

+ High-end shock has full adjustability, consistent performance, and comes set up for your weight and riding style.
- A remote preload adjuster would make it perfect.

Tail Rack
SW-Motech Steel Toprack

+ Durable, flat rack means you can lash stuff to your FJR without hurting the paint.
- Needs a $20 adapter kit to mount a top case.

Dunlop Roadsmart II
$207.51 front; $279.56 rear

+ Sticky for sport-touring rubber and surprisingly durable on this heavy machine.
- With miles, both tires wore in such a way that steering turned heavy.


By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

Two 1,000-mile days in one week? Motorcyclist’s project Yamaha FJR1300 makes it a no-brainer

Every spring I make a pilgrimage to Colorado to see my brothers, literal and figurative. Both of my bros and my best buddy from high school live there, albeit in different parts of the state. Traditionally I've spent four days riding there and back, which never left much time for visiting. I've got a niece and nephew who hardly know me…

This time I vowed to spend less time in transit and more time catching up. And Motorcyclist's project Yamaha FJR1300 was the perfect vehicle. I departed Los Angeles at 7 p.m., riding through the desert either side of Las Vegas in the relative cool of the night. After stopping for breakfast (coffee!) and to let the sun rise (don't want to hit a deer—or an elk), I crossed over the Rockies and arrived at brother Paul's place southeast of Denver at 2 p.m. the next day. On the way home I did the opposite, departing brother Chris' house in Steamboat Springs mid-morning and descending into the desert inferno at nightfall. That's one 1,200-mile day and one 1,000-mile day, just a few days apart.

Much of the credit for that achievement goes to the project FJR's Sargent seat, which is not only incredibly comfortable but heated. Together with the heated handgrips and the adjustable windscreen, this made the 30-degree nighttime temperatures in southwest Utah somewhat bearable. The Penske shock and Traxxion Dynamics fork cartridges upped the comfort factor as well, providing the elusive "plush but firm" ride.

I have a love/hate relationship with the FJR's electronics. For the most part they're very good and reasonably intuitive. But while I appreciated the range readout for plotting fuel stops (we averaged 42 mpg, yielding a theoretical 277 miles per tankful), you have to be mindful of where you read it. The number displayed will be vastly different coasting downhill than pulling out to pass a truck. Uphill. Into a headwind.

I was thankful for the cruise control, too. But whichever legal eagle dictated the 82-mph maximum setting should be forced to ride the FJR across the Mojave Desert. During the day. Wearing black leathers. Sometimes, speeding is a good and defensible thing.

In the past, I'd always felt the FJR was too much tourer, too little sport, Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but this latest edition—made even better with a few mods—might just be the perfect combination. It got the job done for me—twice.

FJR Surgery 001

FJR Suspension
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A lack of adequate cornering clearance was a notable shortcoming on the stock FJR1300. A stiffer fork and shock—the latter featuring adjustable ride height—solve this problem.
FJR Surgery 014
The Penske shock lacks remote preload adjustment. That it offers almost infinite adjustment, rather than the factory shock’s two settings is a more than fair trade.
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The remote controller for the Sargent World Sport heated saddle allows you to quickly and conveniently adjust seat heat from simmer to sear-your-rear.
FJR Surgery 006
Straps be gone! This tiny snap-ring is all that’s left behind once you remove the super-convenient Bags Connection Daypack quick-release tank bag from the bike.
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FJR Surgery 015
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FJR Surgery 013
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The Iron Butt Association calls a 1,000-mile day a SaddleSore, but former Editor Catterson’s posterior was positively pampered as he racked up more than 3,000 miles on our project FJR.