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words - Rob Smith
If ever you decide that you need lots of power and comfort in a bullet-proof package, you could do worse than cast an eye over Yamaha's FJ1100/1200 series. Rob Smith from Motorcycle Trader magazine explains
Originally conceived as a sports tourer, the FJ series started out in 1984 as the FJ1100 before growing slightly in 1986 to become the FJ1200. The original engine was an air-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC 1097cc in-line four. Yamaha tackled the issue of width by mounting the starter and the alternator behind the cylinders. Power was 125hp at 8500rpm and 8.9kg-m of torque at 8000rpm directed through a 5-speed gearbox eased with a hydraulic clutch. This was housed in a steel "Bimota" type chassis bearing the moniker "Lateral Frame Concept", sitting atop a pair of 16 inch wheels that were all the rage at the time.

In 1986 the engine grew to 1188cc with 130hp available at 8500rpm and 10.5kg-m of torque at 6500rpm. A new stronger gearbox and clutch appeared to answer some problems with the 1100, the exhaust system was less likely to rot before your eyes and the fairing got bigger and better looking with smoother integrated indicators. Sports tourer details included a digital clock housed in a new dash within the new and better fairing but strangely fuel capacity dropped by two litres to 22 while wet weight went up two kg to 260. Despite the extra heft, testers and buyers raved about the bulging midrange rather than outright speed.

By 1988 the fairing had changed again becoming even bigger and more effective and finally the front wheel size increased from 16 to 17 inches and the pointless anti-dive-system disappeared from the forks while the slotted front discs were improved with floating discs and four piston calipers. From 88 to 92 the FJ1200 continued almost unchanged apart from an ABS option and the acquisition of anti-vibration system along with firmer suspension.

For under $5K these days, riding an FJ is a lot of motorcycle and a surprisingly nice experience. Over the years I've been lucky enough to have ridden a few FJ twelve, and one FJ eleven. To be fair the ride on the eleven was fairly short and conducted at high speed. My memories at the time were of colossal power, soggy suspension and a need to be first to the pub.

Sitting behind the effective but somewhat noisy fairing of a 1200 with little wind pressure to battle, there's plenty of time to consider the good things a well sorted FJ has to offer. Even on the centrestand, it's obvious that the 780mm seat height is unlikely to cause strain when climbing aboard or reaching for the ground. The seat is well shaped and broad for both rider and passenger and the riding position underlines the touring emphasis with high bars and footrests set encouragingly rearward but discouragingly low. The dash carries all the information you really need and sensibly the reserve switch is mounted within easy reach on the left hand panel of the fairing.

At low speed, the steering feels heavy and lacking in finesse. You get used to it and work the handlebars that little bit more but it still feels loaded, almost as if it needs a narrower section front tyre with less rolling resistance. Once accelerating above 30-40km/h, things lighten up and start to feel more neutral. However there's a point at which the bike's inherent soft springing and plush damping starts to work against it. All FJs are under-sprung and under-damped to start with and spending money on the suspension produces amazing results. The chassis itself was and still is an ugly but workmanlike piece of engineering. Sure if you ride it really hard it shows its limitations, but maybe you should look at something like a ZZ-R Kawasaki instead if that's your usual riding style.

Despite the rubber mountings found on the later models, the engine is still a bit vibratory, especially with worn chain and sprockets. There's no doubt that good quality chain and sprockets can transform a motorcycle, making the drive line feel smooth and the gearbox sweet. In the case of the FJ it can be further improved if the gearchange linkage is adjusted and if necessary replaced. Given enough time your right hand will become increasingly disassociated with the rest of your body leading to a realization that a cruise control is a good idea. Even so, there's no shortage of power and having a lot of numbers on the odometer doesn't mean that the engine is worn out. After all, the manufacturer originally quoted 130bhp of which over 100 translate to drive. The horses in the FJ stable tend to be cart horses rather than cup winners and it's in the mid ranges that the FJ shows its true capability, lunging past lines of traffic with high gear ease. Top speed is still on the high side of 220kmh in the right circumstances, which as we all know is a place visited infrequently.

As for the safety equipment, the brakes were never really up to much on early models up to1988. Reasonably useful, but low tech twin-piston calipers bite onto 300mm discs up front. At the rear the opposed piston unit and 255mm disc do the job. You'll stop but not really quickly providing the fluid is clean and the original brake lines have been consigned to the tip. The later four-piston brakes from the FZR range were much better and snapped at floating discs instead.

As with most air-cooled bikes the FJ is fairly easy to maintain. The steel perimeter chassis allows good access to the rockerbox and carbs, which means that if you have the inclination and the special tool to access the shim under bucket valve adjustment you can do the job of maintaining valve clearances yourself. All the other stuff is pretty simple and there's no reason why you can't save a heap of money and raise your understanding and involvement with the machine yourself. Me, I'd do an oil change and filter every 5000 kilometres, and check the valve clearances every 10,000. Workshop servicing would cost about $180 and $260 respectively.

Obviously any FJ is going to be at least 10 years old (some over 20). A lot can happen in that time. Start by doing a visual check of the bodywork. Is it still original paint and do all the panels match the prevailing colour scheme? Bear in mind that as models get older, parts get harder to find and plastics get brittle, necessitating the purchase of non matching parts. Even so look for crash damage and loose bodywork. Loose bodywork can sometimes be fixed with patience but most times you just bargain down and live with it. Being steel, the chassis will show any bends quite easily, so look around the headstock for flaking paint near the welds and rust.

Take the seat off and sight the rear subframe to see if it's straight. Check that the wheels are in line and when you ride the thing make sure it tracks straight and true with hands off the bars. Personally I'd spend the money on getting the steel chassis checked and trued by a chassis expert as a matter of course. There's a good chance the suspension will be buggered if it's standard, so budget for replacements or refurbishment making sure that the suspension linkages get pulled apart and new needle roller bearings put in. Sorting the chassis and suspension might seem unnecessary, but the results will be worth every cent.

Check the brakes. Once again if the brakes are spongy at the lever and lack any real bite, then even though the pads may be new, the lines need replacing with braided steel or even standard but new lines. Oh and don't forget to check the clutch cover just inside the brake pedal. When the bike falls on the right, the impact can punch the brake lever through the cases. It's not disastrous and can be repaired by the home handyman quite easily. Just make sure it doesn't leak.

Like I said, a lot of kays doesn't mean the engine has had it. Bear in mind that the odometer goes up to 100,000 and then starts again so if the low kilometers don't match the wear on things like the levers and footrests assume it's been around the clock at least once. When you fire it up, listen for the starter chain making a Grrrrrrr sound. If it doesn't stop, it's a sure sign of wear. Get the thing warm and rev it sharply. Check the exhaust for smoke. Blowing black smoke indicates the carbs are probably worn and blue grey means it's burning oil and the top end is due for a rebuild. Listen to the cam chain at idle. If it clatters badly then the chain and possibly the tensioner will need changing. Once again personally I'd get rid of the spring loaded automatic tensioner and get a manual billet item from UK drag racing mob Debben that I can set myself.

Most of the mods needed have been mentioned and relate to improving the existing components. However, should your machine have 16-inch wheels, changing them for seventeens will improve tyre choice. I'm told that FZR1000 wheels will fit straight in, but don't take my word for it, check first. Aftermarket exhausts WILL need setting up with a jet kit if the bike is to run right afterwards and actually produce a performance benefit.

To be honest, the FJ1100 or 1200 will never be a sports bike, but they can be brilliant tourers, what's more they have a kind of classic appeal. Making one as good as it can be, will result in a reliable and engaging bike that's a pleasure to own regardless of the model. Any bike over a certain amount of years will need money spending on it unless it has been fully restored and maintained, so be prepared to haggle to get what you want.

The FJ may have its air cooled roots in the stone age of motorcycle design but there's no denying the attraction of a simple and well conceived machine that in 99 cases out of 100 will be outstanding value and more motorcycle than most people need.


  • Not much money
  • Very comfortable
  • Tunza grunt

  • Dubious finish
  • Soggy suspension
  • Sixteen-inch wheels

Type: Air-cooled, four-stroke, four valves per-cylinder in-line four
Bore x stroke: 74 x 63.8 mm (1100), 77 x 63.8 (1200)
Displacement: 1097 and 1188cc
Fuel System: Four 36mm Mikuni
Type: Five-speed, constant-mesh
Final drive: Chain
Frame type: Welded steel perimeter
Front suspension: Telescopic forks adjustable for preload
Rear suspension: Rising rate monoshock adjustable for preload, compression and rebound
Front brakes: Twin 300mm discs with twin or four-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 285mm disc with twin piston caliper
Dry weight: 252/275kg
Seat height: 780mm
Fuel capacity: 24.5/22 litres
Max power: 120/130hp at 8500rpm
Max torque: 8.9/10.5 kg-m at 8000/6500rpm
1984 - $3100
1985 - $3100
1986/87 - $4900/$5200
1988/89 - $5400/$5800
1990/91 - $6200/$6500
1992/93 - $6700/$6900
1994/95 - $7100/$7300
1996 - $7500

Published : Monday, 1 January 2007
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