Flight Log: Day 1

Why, yes, I do plan to stretch the pilot analogy for all it’s worth. Why do you ask?

Last night’s brief run on my new FJR1300AE was interesting, but not really long enough, or varied enough, to get a very good idea of what riding the FJR is like. And it was after dark, so I was very conservative. But, because of an extra-long commute today, I have better grounding in the feel of the new bike.

Last night, I forgot to pull the DoD sticker off the Sporty, which meant I had to go back today. So my round trip commute was about 70 miles. The morning bit was 1/3 city-1/3 interstate-1/3 twisties as usual. The afternoon commute, on the other hand, was 3/4 heavily trafficked surface streets, and 1/4 jammed freeway. So, I got to open her up a little bit, as well as deal with about an hour of stop & go traffic. this gives me enough initial experience to provide a first ride review.

My observations, in no particular order:

The stock grips and throttle are a pain. First, they are a bit too small for my hands. The diameter of the grip tubes is pretty tiny, so holding he throttle is harder than the Sporty was, especially with the thick Kuryakin ISO grips I had. Even worse, the throttle is stiff. It takes a signifigant amount of grip strength to turn and hold the throttle. So, after a while, your right hand aches and numbs a bit. it’s not a problem in city traffic, but on the open highway, it’s a bit unpleasant after about 10 minutes of steady gripping. I had a throttle boss and throttle lock on the Sporty, and I really miss them. So, those are gonna be a mandatory add-on for the FJR. That’s the only bad thing I can find to say about the FJR so far, though, and it’s easily fixed.

The surging of the throttle is noticeable, but pretty controllable with a little practice. Since you can’t be ham-handed on the throttle and expect your clutch work to save you from surging, using the throttle on the AE model requires a more deft touch. It’s a learned behavior, but it’s a mandatory lesson. My understanding is that on the ’06 and ’07 models of the FJR, Yamaha installed a throttle cam to give it more sporty, and less linear, throttle response. This was discontinued for the ’08 models due to complaints about surging. there is, however, and aftermarket product, the G2 Throttle cam, which is essentially a reverse of the Yamaha throttle cam, and which installs in the throtle housing on the handlebars. This cancels out the Yamaha cam, and makes the throttle response properly linear for the AE model. I suspect the manually-clutched A model would be just fine without it, but for the AE, it seems like a good idea.

I feel more visible on the FJR than I did on the Sporty. You’re just up much higher. With the Sporty, you are very low slung, and in heavy traffic, the cars all seem to be above you. With the FJR you stick up a little higher with is a good thing for visibility, especially with nearly everyone else driving an SUV. It’s only about 6 inches higher, but it seems significant.

It also makes you feel like you are riding “on” the bike, instead of “in” it. You sort of feel perched on top of the bike, which is not a bad feeling, but it is different. The FJR is very similar to the feel of the Road King in that way.

All the sport-bike guys wave at me now.

The feel of the FJRs engine is…electric. And I mean that in both ways. It’s performance is electrifying, although in a an amusingly sedate way. You really have to look down at the Speedomoter to assure yourself that, yes, you did just start moving, and yes, you are going 80MPH in a 50MPH zone. It is really a deceptively fast bike.

Until you hit about 6,000 RPM. Then all the deception fades away. The engine comes on with a high-pitched shriek…and you frickin’ move. It gets not just fast, but scary fast. Below 5,000 RPM, it’s still very fast, but it’s so quiet and well-mannered, you just don’t realize you’re pushing triple digits. It’s a pleasant, friendly fast. Above 6,000 RPM, and the demon that lives in the engine wakes up, looks into your soul, and says, “Oh. You think you wanna go fast Nancy-Boy? Let’s see…”

Oh, and keep in mind that 4,000 RPM in fifth gear is 80MPH indicated. If the bike has a 9,000 RPM redline, what is the theoretical speed at redline in 5th gear? You do the math.

The FJR’s speedometer goes to 180 MPH. I’m just saying. No one that you know can hld the bike at that speed, I bet. Even if the bike could, in fact push enough air out of the way to reach it’s theoretical top speed, which I doubt. You’d be lucky even to get it to 150 MPH I bet.

It’s also electric in that the engine responds with the kind of precision and immediacy an electric engine does. Twist the throttle to a degree that is supposed to provoke 4000RPM from the powerplant, and you are immediately getting 4000 RPM. It doesn’t hesitate or delay, and it provides the asked-for level of power instantly. The Sportster, with it’s two cylinders and long stroke, really lags behind the throttle response you ask for. It feels mechanical, which, of course, it is supposed to feel.

The engine is also electric in it’s sound. The thumping and roaring of the harley is replaced by what seems to the rider like a whisper quiet, yet snarling, whine. I can hear things now that I couldn’t before, including the headphones of my XM unit at highway speed.

I can see things, too, such as a clear picture in the rear-view mirrors. They are perfectly clear at all speeds. Vibration, compared to the Sportster, is simply a non-issue.

A lot of the quietness of the FJR comes from the management of airflow. The Sporty, especially at highway speeds, buffeted my head around quite a bit. I’ve sensed no buffeting on the FJR with the stock screen. At it’s lowest position, I get clean air right below shoulder level, which puffs out the vents in my Tourmaster jacket, and provides a significant amount of cooling. At the highest position, the top of my helmet gets a clean, but a bit noisy, stream of air. This is perfectly adequate for summertime, but before next winter, I’m going to need to get the 4″ taller screen from California Scientific. That should get me an undisturbed pocket of air at the highest position, which will be great in winter.

So will the heated grips. Indeed, when you heat ’em, they get hot. This morning the temp was down around 45, and I had to turn the grip heaters down to medium, or else they were too hot for comfort. I certainly could have used them on my Sporty for the last few months.

The handling on the FJR is nothing short of confidence-inspiring. Unlike the Sporty, the FJR simply will not fight your handlebar inputs. If you want to lean, it’s perfectly happy to lean. Indeed, even relatively minor handlebar inputs provoke a response. It really does want to do what you want it to. I always got the sense that the Sportster was fighting me when I wanted it it to lean. There’s none of that sense at all with the FJR. It wants to respond to your inputs, and does, with alacrity.

The YCC-S auto-clutch system, despite requiring you to learn a few new tricks at low speed trundling about in parking lots, really is an excellent solution for riding in city traffic. Going from light to light, constantly upshifting and downshifting is just so much less of a hassle with the AE. It really does save you a lot of left-hand fatigue. I’ve gone from being initially iffy about the YCC-S system, to wondering why every street bike doesn’t have it. whatever the costs are in relearning how to handle the bike at very slow speeds, the payoff in congested riding conditions is phenomenal.

I’ve actually worked out sort of a hybrid system of using it. I upshift with the finger paddle, and downshift with the foot pedal. No more wearing out the top of my boot toe before the rest of the boot. Downshifitng with the finger switch isn’t a problem, it’s just that, since it’s designed to use the forefinger for upshifting and the thumb for downshifting, what occasionally happens is that, instead of downshifting, your thumb punches the horn button. Then everyone around you looks at you like you’re an ass. Which, of course, you are.

Finally, the FJR makes you think. It makes you think about what you want to do, how you’re going to pass, and what moves you’re going to make. It makes you think ahead, because, when you twist that throttle, you’d better have a f*cking plan. Because whatever is gonna happen, is gonna happen extremely quickly.

Like every bike, the FJR has some shortcomings, although they are mainly centered in the operation of the throttle. For everything else, though this bike is more fun a barrel of monkeys.