Impending Euro 4 legislation means that 2016 is likely to be the last year for Yamaha’s lovely XJR1300. Time to buy? Or just time to reminisce? Now REAL RIDERS takes a ride through Northern Spain…
Motorcyclists hate to see things die. That’s why ancient designs like Guzzi and Ducati V-twins and BMW boxers still exist, albeit kept on life-support by electronics and plumbing that frankly denude their original characters… And why everyone over 50 tells you that they’re restoring an RD350LC or turning an old Honda twin into a café racer because, “they don’t make them like they used to anymore.”
And yet we’re likely soon to see one of the most beloved and longest continually produced bikes – Yamaha’s big, fat, air-cooled UJM – finally killed off by Euro 4 (the legislation that’s changing the way motorcycles are made and even ridden). And so next year you will probably not be able to buy a new Yamaha XJR1300 because of a directive that leans up emissions, imposes on-board diagnostic systems and stringent noise limits to such an extent that the old gal can no longer be doing with.
Time then to savour one last outing on this magnificent, but not uncontroversial machine whose roots lie back in 1984 with the launch of the FJ1100. That was of course a perimeter-framed, mile-munching sports tourer built around an oversquare, 16-valve DOHC motor whose maiden name was Grunt. By 1986 it had grown into the FJ1200 of which legendary scribbler Roland Brown claimed – possibly in this magazine – that ‘all you need for European touring is an FJ1200 and a credit card.’ Which was true. But although the FJ would turn into the FJR with an all new engine, the original 77 x 63.8mm motor would eventually find its way into a rather different animal, the Yamaha XJR1200 in 1994.
With its conventional tubular, twin-shock chassis, 37mm Mikuni carbs and 98bhp, it was good for 145mph and was what Bike, at the time, called “a bike dedicated to irrational lunacy… (that) you can’t fail to have fun on.” A shot of a spirited wheelie emphasised the point beautifully.
By the time it has osmosed into the fuel-injected Yamaha XJR1300 in 2008 – each incarnation adding cubes to offset power-sapping emissions kit – Bike was less enthusiastic, referring to wobbly high speed handling from a dated chassis, a fearsome thirst and it being “not that quick: a sports 600 would leave it for dead in a straightline.“
But with a beady eye on the retro and custom market that sees Bonnevilles and CB1100s doing quite nicely thank you, Yamaha just couldn’t let XJR1300 die. Until now. So it is that I take a trip down what will soon become memory lane, starting out from Yamaha Spain’s HQ outside Barcelona, taking the motorway north west across the Catalunya plain before hiving sharply north through the just harvested corn fields towards Agramunt.
This road, smoothly textured and blessed with a constant series of languid curves, allows me to edge the 2016 Yamaha XJR1300 towards both my and its limits, but frankly there is still a long way to go. As you might expect from the re-mapped, highly oversquare big four, the powerband is abundant and linear and starts around 2500 rpm even in the tallest of its five gears. But I still feel myself reaching for a sixth when long straights see us hurtling along at 90mph which still only required 5000rpm (4500 revs before the redline, 3000 prior to peak power). Yet I also enjoy stoking the ‘box when I need some extra urge, urge eminently worthy of more sophisto, if smaller, liquid-cooled powerplants.
After a lengthy lunch at a quite extraordinary restaurant the size of a basketball court packed with rotund Spaniards who’ve apparently come from nowhere since this place is in the middle of it, I ascend further up into the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, namely the Sierra de Montsec, along much narrower, twistier roads where top gear is a rarity and the 2016 Yamaha XJR1300’s handling more revealing. The chassis, old school though it may be, does a fine job of containing the right wrist’s excesses thanks to brakes that can be applied well into a bend without throwing you out of kilter and geometry that’s a beguiling blend of the quick and surefooted.
However, if you downshift too harshly from high revs the rear will bounce and wriggle, sometimes alarmingly so if you brake late. Dialling in more rebound damping on the Öhlins shocks helped a bit – but not enough – and if the same’s done to the front forks, albeit with the screwdriver and spanner which I lacked, I reckon it’d be even less squirrely under duress. But either way 2016 Yamaha XJR1300 doesn’t really feel like the big, heavy-ish bike that it is, and is therefore surprisingly chuckable.
Getting into a groove swinging up towards the sleepy little town of Tremp reaps rewards in the grinning department, and indeed when I leave that all-but deserted glut of forest switchbacks and hairpins, the 2016 Yamaha XJR1300’s strengths become clearer and even more appealing. The riding position is spot-on for my 6ft 2in and despite being fairing-less, there’s minimal buffetry up to 90mph. The throttle and clutch are sweetheart slick, as indeed is the gear-change, there are precious few bad vibes from the rubber-mounted motor and the racy-looking seat is comfy for a solid 120 miles, which is when the bike’s only major flaw as a touring tool becomes apparent: its modest 14.5-litre (3.2 gal) plastic tank. Ridden really hard the damn thing delivers just 29-32mpg. Okay, it’s a large, powerful lump, but it needs a tank to match.
Later in the afternoon when photos have been taken and I set off through some of the mountain passes along the N123 and A22 motorway onto Huesca, I actually grow glad I have to keep stopping for fuel because it’s now raining like a bastard: heavy, relentless, thundery precipitation with lightning flashes that illuminated the rocky, 1000ft deep cuttings, making fast progress a sodden misery. And yet, and yet… the 2016 Yamaha XJR1300 proves amazingly surefooted in such conditions: the Dunlop Sportmax on their slightly incongruous 17-inch three-spoke alloys clutch the road almost as keenly as they do in the dry, although there isn’t so much heroic leaning, late-braking and downshifting into bends.
So 270 miles later as I reach the hotel three thousand feet up near the French border, I feel the 2016 Yamaha XJR1300 has served me very well indeed. No, it’s not really a tourer in the sense that we understand them nowadays – all monster fairings, traction control and hard luggage. But if you travel light it’s got a lot to offer… as long as you’ve got a healthy credit card. The end of an era? Sadly yes. A modern irrelevance? Definitely not.
2016 Yamaha XJR1300 Specs & Price
Engine : 1251 cc Inline Four, DOHC 16-Valve
Power : 98 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Torque : 80 ft/lb @ 6000 rpm (claimed)
Top speed : 110mph (est)
Rake/trail : 24.7°/92mm
Wet weight : 240kg (claimed)
Set height : 829 mm
Tank capacity : 14.5 litres
Fuel consumption : 29 – 32mpg (tested)
Price : £8735