Story byTim Sanford , photography by Keith Muir | 06 Jun 06
With enough grunt to easily induce squeals from tyres and pillionsalike, the XJR1300 is a definite case of too much is neverenough…
FANCY something with a bit more grunt than your average big-borecharger? What about a big dose of street cred blended well with afine touring capability? Try Yamaha’s XJR 1300. It’s big, it’sblack, it’s a Blacktop Bludgeon on steroids and it’s got more gruntthan a pen full of pigs. It’s also as fine a gentleman’s longdistance tourer – in the minimalist sense – as you’ll findanywhere.
Naked bikes have certainly established a dedicated following on theroad and in the market place, offering useful performance withoutthe frills and decorations which attend their more fully-clothedbrethren. It is not merely to the nostalgia freaks that thisno-nonsense approach appeals, it is aimed directly at riders whomaintain a clear understanding that the basis of motorcycling is inthe riding and to them, fairings add unnecessary dollars to theinitial cost, then compound the wallet agony should the pride andjoy do a cascade down the road.
Yamaha has recognised the merit of this argument, and in theXJR1300, offers a machine which does everything a big bike should –without the cost of the clothing. The result is much more than avery competent motorcycle, it’s also a hoot to ride. I couldn’t getenough of it! It’s all of those things you want in a big bike:heaps of power, and I mean HEAPS. It’s also spacious andcomfortable, allowing you to cover long distances solo or with apillion and it looks great in that stylish retro manner soreminiscent of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Ah yes, the engine, and what an engine! The basic description issimple enough: four- stroke, four cylinders across the frame, eachof 79.0mm bore and 63.8mm stroke giving a swept volume of 1251.0cc;compression ratio is 9.7:1 and there are four valves per pot. Theignition is digitally controlled and the air/fuel mixture ismetered via four BS36 carburettors. The engine claims heritage fromthe XJR1200, but look closely and you can see links to Yamaha’s XJfours from much earlier than that.
Fantastic is a hopelessly inadequate word to describe the poweroutput and ease of control available from this engine. There ispower – great, fat train loads of it – available anywhere, andeverywhere in the rev range and it’s not just your common or gardenvariety power, it’s real, in ya face, ‘get outa the way, buddy’power. The tachometer is completely useless because, for allpractical purposes, there is no power band as such, only seamless(and seemingly endless) delivery in the forward thrust department.Of similarly cosmetic value is the excellent five-speed gearboxwhich, when you do need to use it, feels solid and robust. I usethe term ‘cosmetic’ for the gearbox because the bike will happilypull fifth gear away from a standing start – two up on level ground– and still stay in front of the traffic! Just ease out the lightand progressive clutch and you’re away, twist the wrist hard andyou’re away big time – in top gear. It’s ridiculous. Need I commenton overtaking? Not if you’re riding solo. There’s enough power forevery manoeuvre you’ll ever come across, but a word of warning ifthere is a passenger behind: take it easy on the throttle, or youcould catch them unawares, so quick is the response and theattendant urge. With gentle use of the right wrist, there is stillmore than enough acceleration to keep your passenger hanging ontight, so go easy on them. For smooth progress at traffic speeds,and especially in the wet, the right wrist action needs to be soft,or unwarranted exhibitions (ahem!) of power will readily manifestthemselves in the form of wheelies and slides.
Although the power output is simply awesome, it is absolutely underthe control of your right hand. You can trickle along sedately witha passenger, or you can accelerate hard enough to beat the trafficinto submission, or you can monster the blacktop with smokin’ tyresand wheelies. It all depends on how much throttle you dial on andhow far up you let it spin. The engine pulls hard from 2000 revs tothe 9500rpm red line, so if you feel sedate, stay between two andfive; if you feel manic get between the five and eight and if youfancy a trip into the stratosphere, get it up near the red. In allzones, remember to hang on!
Fuel consumption for such a prolific output was commendably frugaland the bike recorded figures of 16 km/litre with reserve cominginto play at around 260 – 270km. Maximum range should be about320km.
The frame is a massive double-cradle welded structure, using largediameter tubing with a removable section on the right side tofacilitate engine removal. The front suspension is by conventionalforks of 43mm diameter while the rear is by twin piggy-back shockswith a massively braced box-section aluminium swingarm. Provisionfor adjustment is limited to preload, with a 10mm spanner neededfor the fork-mounted front adjustment and two C spanners (providedin the tool kit) for the rear. Adjustment of the forks is straightforward but fiddly, but I was unable to adjust the rear using thetools provided. Whatever the suspension might lack in apparentsophistication, it more than makes up for in operation. It is verycompliant over minor road irregularities, giving a compliant,almost plush ride which fails to deteriorate when the road surfacegets to the bad side of secondary. There is never any suggestion ofwallowing and the bike tracks superbly through bends with aremarkably well planted feel from the front wheel.
Pushed enthusiastically over mediocre surfaces, the bike remainscomposed as long as the throttle hand is used with discretionbecause naturally enough, if you give it a fistful, the rear wheelwill leap about. The trick is to float through the corner, then usethe instant muscle to storm along the next straight. Over suchsurfaces, the chassis showed commendable stiffness, which allowedthe excellent Michelin Macadam radials to give feedback aboutavailable grip without interference from frame or swingarm flex.For real world riding, leave the suspension on the standardsettings – it’s an excellent compromise. Increasing the frontpreload (from the standard five rings to three) made the front endstiffer but the ride comfort suffered and there was no significantimprovement in either feedback or traction.
The steering is very light at all speeds, making the bike quitenimble. Given the bulk of the machine, this comes as something of asurprise until you realise that it weighs in at a commendably low230 kg. Slow speed manoeuvring presents no problems unless you areon uneven ground with a full load of fuel, in which case the bikefeels understandably top heavy. At medium cornering speeds,especially in tight corners, the bike shows a tendency to fall inbut it is not an alarming trait. At speed, the steering is quickand precise without showing nervousness anywhere; typically, thebike is better balanced in corners when it is being powered throughwith a bit of throttle rather than trailing through. It isconfidence inspiring and this, added to the excellent groundclearance, makes the bike entirely predictable in both tight andopen bends. It responds instantly to rider input without eversuggesting that it might over-react, rewarding any attack at fastcornering with smooth and rapid progress – and that’s before youpull the trigger along the straight! Increasing the front preloadhad the effect of dulling the steering response – another reason toreturn to the standard settings.
The speed reduction department is handled by twin 296 mm discs upfront with fourpiston opposed calipers and a single 265 mm discwith twin-piston opposed caliper at the rear. Braking was alwayssure, powerful and progressive; only one finger was needed forwashing off speed at a moderate rate. Add one more finger and youget maximum retardation with improved control.
The bike may lack a fairing, but it has many other useful features.Both hydraulic brake and clutch levers have finger-tip reachadjustment. The oblong mirrors, which are set on tall, elegant,retro-styled chrome stalks, are high enough to give an excellentview of following traffic. The instruments and warning lights areround; the instruments are just big enough to be clear, but thewarning lights are very good – big enough and bright enough to dotheir job very effectively. The huge round headlight is excellenton low beam, but it would benefit from increased penetration onhigh beam for sustained high-speed night travel. There is a centrestand, which is very stable and a side stand which looks flimsy butis more than capable of supporting the bike. It has a small footpad, adequate for hard surfaces and cold weather, but special carewill be needed (and perhaps a handy piece of wood) for hotweather/soft tar and wet weather/soft ground. Another cautionaryword about the side stand: it sits very close to the gear lever andbig boots can knock the bike into first gear when putting the standdown so pull in the clutch – just in case!
The seat is wide and very comfortable. In fact, it is one of thebest seats I have come across (but bear in mind my preference forfirmer seats). There is room to move about on it and I found Icould sit on it for hours. The riding position is fairly uprightbut it will permit cruising at 130 – 140 kmh in comfort. Leg roomis good for tall riders, although I found that my knees ended up inno-man’s-land just below the edge of the fuel tank and above thecylinder heads. The rider’s foot pegs initially feel to be too farback but they are actually quite well placed to lift the weight offthe seat when required and once on the road, their position wasnever a problem. For such a big bike, the seat height at 775mm isquite low and the bike is easily managed in traffic.
The basic 12-piece tool kit is tucked away under the seat. Routinemaintenance tasks it will perform include adjusting the frontsuspension (and as mentioned above, it should do the rear, but Icouldn’t); removal of the front and rear wheels and adjusting thechain; removing the oil filter; removing the fuel tank, air filter,side covers and spark plugs; adjusting the hand and footcontrols.
Pillion accommodation is excellent. The seat is wide, flat andcomfortably padded and the leg room is excellent. The grab rail iswell placed but could be improved by extending it around the seatso that it offers a change of hand position on longer trips. Forshorter legged passengers, the tail piece is high enough to give agood leg stretch getting on and off.
Some thought has gone into provision for carrying luggage, with thetop shock mounts being machined with a groove to accept ocky straphooks. In addition, there are swing-out ocky strap hooks, but youwill need to tape the bodywork around them to prevent unsightlyrubbing marks. The tank is wide and flat, inviting a tank bag, butmake sure you either load it up or strap it down – the aerodynamicsaround the front of the bike provide an updraft which is easilypowerful enough to lift your bag off the tank. At one stage duringthe test, while rapidly overtaking a bus, my normally securemagnetic Gearsack tankbag (filled only with lightweight wet weathergear) leapt off the tank into my arms. I have no doubt that the buspassengers, who enjoyed a dress circle view of my attempts tomaintain control of the motorcycle while fighting to free myself ofthe untimely embrace of the passionate Gearsack, thought theincident hilarious. I cannot recommended it.
Forget flowing lines and sculptured curves which speak ofaerodynamic efficiency, the XJR1300 is all about engine, and thefour cylinders, twin overhead cams, big carbies and chromedexhausts shriek ‘horsepower’ at you. The engine is massive andblack, with its alloy fins emphasised by polishing which onlyserves to stress the size and bulk of the power unit. Behind thecylinder bank on the right sits a huge round clutch cover whichlooks like it could easily handle the torque of a road train, whileon the left, the alternator sits perched up in the breeze, itsexposed copper windings adding to the statement of nakedness.Surrounding the powerplant are the fuel tank and side covers butthere has been no serious attempt at integration of these parts,and the resulting angular ‘chunkiness’ reinforces the bike’sstyling concept of minimalist utilitarianism. In Black, it isalmost brutal.
The use of round items such as the instrument pods and the speedocarry on the retro treatment and the headlight looks very much likethe large diameter spotlight which first appeared on Yamaha’s early‘70s four-stroke twins. If there’s a criticism of the styling, itwould be the blue painted caliper covers on the front brakes; theywould be better left black.
On The Road
On the road is what the XJR 1300 is all about and where it shines.A rapid day trips, or blasting through the twisties, or monsteringthe urban streetscape doing the street cred thing, the bike isutterly in its element. The engine is remarkable, not least for itsoutput, which constantly has you looking for a higher gear; notbecause the engine is buzzing but because the bike accelerates (intop) like anything else does in fourth. Yet it is never rough,never vibrates, never tingles – just goes. And if you want to playhooligan, just grab a fistful!
The Last Word
The XJR1300 is an outstanding motorcycle. If you like big machineswith plenty of room and plenty of power, then it is a fine choice.It is not a bike to be taken lightly and, like others in the litreplus class, it could easily change from a willing servant to aheavy-weight muscle-bound master. Other bikes – with aerodynamicfairings – are faster, but few can offer the sort of real worldthrills and basic motorcycling enjoyment that comes with the XJR.Add in the price, just $13,090 plus on road costs, and you have avery good value package indeed.