In our last enthralling episode, our hero had just bought a new two-wheeled conveyance, after an almost year-long process of elimination to find what suited him best. The bike he bought was a Yamaha XJR1300; a bike he’d previously rejected as being “just not me.” (If you haven't read the story of the decision and purchase, click here). In a not-too-distant cafe we join our hero as he sips his cup of tea and ponders the first couple of months of owning the XJR. What's it really like? How has it been to live with? Sorry about the “dramatic” intro! But the whole process of deciding what to buy, and then the process after the purchase, has been a bit episodic; like a two-wheeled version of a daytime soap-opera! Some of this you will have read already if you’ve been boring yourself with reading my Blog. But I’ll tell the whole story here. (Skip through the bits you’ve read – or don’t want to read!). I’ll start the next episode with the day after I bought it. I visited a local Yamaha dealer to ask a couple of questions on minor things, and while I was there they adjusted the bars; at no charge! I was going to do that myself, but accepted his offer; it is easier with two people. I just sat on the bike and held the bars in a position that felt right and the mechanic tightened up the bolts. What a difference it made! The too-high and too-straight-at-the-ends feeling was gone; now they felt good! You can see the difference in the photos on the left – even though my wrists are at different angles, you can still see the difference in the height of the bars. Then I went for a decent ride. A bit of highway, then up a very narrow winding mountain road, a stop for a cuppa, then back down another mountain road and along the highway home. Handling was great! On that narrow winding road I felt just as confident with it as on my old bike. Power was great too! The road is quite choppy in places and, while the ride was okay, it was obviously a bit firm and needed adjusting to suit my weight and riding-preference. But there were other things to do; I still had to finalise the actual purchase!
COMPLETING THE PURCHASE
When you buy interstate, the rego can’t be transferred. You have to have it re-registered. That means taking it to a special inspection place where they do initial registration checks. To my surprise they wanted the bike for a couple of hours! No, it doesn’t take that long to do, but that’s how long they wanted it. There are the usual road-worthy type things, plus some compliance checks, and a fair bit of paper-work apparently. No problem with it passing, of course. I had arranged green-slip insurance before the bike arrived. But then I noticed there was a typo error in the VIN number! (Thankfully I noticed this before I went to have the rego changed over!). I phoned them and they said they could post another one out, which would take about five working days, or I could go to their office and pick one up the next day. I wanted the rego sorted out as soon as I could, so I went to the office. Then it was in to the local rego authority, hand the plate in and get it registered in my name. Expensive business this! A full year’s rego plus the government’s rip-off 3% tax on the purchase price. I caught them at one of their busiest times and had about an hour’s wait. But now it was mine! I kept the “Peter Stevens Motorcycles” number-plate surround. Preserves it’s heritage. The top of the surround has “Geelong” written on it, resulting in the geographically-confusing combination you see on the left. Probably my weird sense-of-humour, but I like it! One of the first was to fit a Ventura rack. I had one of those on my old bike, and kept the bag, of course. I’d ordered the rack from a local Yamaha dealer before I got the bike, and took the bike down to the dealer to have them fit it. I’m glad I did. No, it's not difficult, but it is a bit fiddly. It didn’t take them long and they didn’t charge much for the job. The next thing, which came a few weeks later, was to fit a screen. There’s a wide choice available; a local accessories dealer even had a fairing for them. I ended up going with a screen from Eagle Screens. When the screen arrived it came with two mounting-brackets and about 100 nuts and bolts (well, almost!). There was an instruction leaflet, which wasn’t terribly clear. I could see the principle of how it went on (it mounts on the headlight bracket), but decided that for the $40 I was quoted, I’d get a workshop to do it. When I took the bike and the screen to him, the mechanic looked at the screen, looked at the bike, and said, “Are you sure this is for your model?” (I felt a bit better about not doing it myself then!). Of course they aren’t designed specifically for one model, they’re a generic thing designed to fit several bikes of similar design. (Thus the 100 nuts and bolts to suit various permutations of fitting). When I picked it up the mechanic said he “had to modify the instructions," but it ended up being a neat fit. I’m glad I took it to him – I’d probably still be trying to get it to fit according to the instructions! (Eagle Screens had said it should "just bolt straight on" with mine, but could involve a bit of "jiggery-pokery" on some models!). The screen does help deflect wind at highway speeds. There’s less wind-pressure against my body, but it seems to direct more wind onto my head. There isn’t any buffeting, just wind. I think a shorter one, or one with a different profile, would’ve been better.
LIVING AND RIDING IT
Getting the bike in and out of the garage, even with the previous bike, had always been a tight squeeze. It would’ve been impossible, as it was, with the new one. But re-positioning the car further forward in the garage made it okay; easier, in fact, than it had been previously. I really like the colour of the bike! I always liked it in this colour when I saw it at the bike shows; although initially I wasn’t too fussed about the white racing-stripe over the top of it all. I thought it looked like a carry-over from the racing-cars of the late 1960s! But now I like that too! In fact, while I really liked the black and gold of the 2008 model, I think I now prefer this. Almost everyone who sees the bike likes the colour too; even the staff at the Yamaha dealer. When I went in there, the young girl at the service-counter said what a great colour it was. Then she said, “That’s not the original colour is it?” (They obviously don’t get many in for service!). The mechanic liked it too, and noted that it was, “like a Ford colour; like they use for the XR8s.” Yeah, it does look good! In the test I said that there was “enough chrome around to make it look fancy,” but of course a lot of that chrome – like the instruments and the blinkers etc – is plastic. I suppose that’s just one reason why the XJR costs $14,000 and Harleys cost $24,000! Not long after I got it, I went for a ride to a favourite biker's meeting spot. The bike attracted quite a bit of attention! One guy came up and said he used to have an XJR1200 but sold it because he reckoned he was going to kill himself or lose his licence! (Why not just ride slower?). He bought a cruiser, but he still likes the XJRs. He reckoned seeing mine "really made his day!" It made my day having him say that! Another guy who came over said he used to have a 2004 model and was telling me how good they are and how much better mine was than the earlier models (suspension and fuel-injection etc). He now has an FJR1300 and a couple of lovely old mid-80s XJ900s. He recalled seeing the add for mine and said he would've bought it himself if he'd had the spare cash! So I came home feeling pretty good about my new toy! I said it handled well, and that impression continued. It feels solidly planted on the road. Particularly at higher speed, it feels secure and more confidence-inspiring than my old bike. And it can be good fun to fire through some twisties too! It isn't as light and flickable as a true sports- bike, but it's still good. As a comparison, I'd recently taken a Triumph Street Triple and a Triumph Sprint for a test ride, and I rode the XJR over the same route. On one particular hairpin I took notice of my speed, as I had done on the Triumphs. And I was going a couple of kph slower on the XJR than I had been on the Triumphs. It still felt as much fun as the Sprint, (although given a proper chance the Sprint would out-handle it), and more stable than the Street Triple. The day I got the rack fitted was quite a hot day; and it proved the worth of naked bikes in these conditions. There was a bit of heat around my legs, (my left leg more than my right), but on the move there wasn’t much heat at all. At standstill there was more heat coming from the sun beaming down on my jacket than there was coming off the bike. On a faired bike it would’ve been much different! One thing I noticed was that it seemed to really attract the bugs! Maybe it’s that big headlight, maybe it’s the lack of air-flow created by a fairing, but whatever the reason, on the first few rides I came back with the both the front of the bike and my jacket plastered in bugs. And they’re harder to get off. With a fairing you just have to wipe the fairing and screen. With a naked the dead bodies are plastered over the instruments and on the paneling in-between them etc. So it’s going to be harder to keep clean! But the screen helps here; keeping the bugs off the instrument pods and the section behind them. (It hasn't seemed so bad lately). But, in the early days of ownership especially, there was a more serious problem than bugs. Riding the bike seemed to be effecting my back. This was surprising, because I’d always found the XJRs rode very well. Although I did recall one curious thing. At the end of the “Extended Test” I did on the XJR, my back was sore. At the time, I didn’t blame it directly on the bike because it’s ride had seemed very good. I assumed it was more due to the fact that before doing the test I’d spent an hour in the car getting there and then basically got out and jumped on the bike. But now my new bike was causing some soreness in the back after a while. This was a bit frustrating; because getting more comfort was one of the reasons I decided to up-grade in the first place! And with the new bike I found I still couldn’t ride any further without soreness developing. There are two basic factors involved here I think. The first comes back to a principle I’ve mentioned a few times. An upright riding-position, while being better for the back than a hunched-forward sports style position, does result in road-shocks being directed straight up your spine – which, paradoxically, isn't good for the back! (Lowering the bars helped make the riding-position just a little less up-right, which I think has helped). The other thing is that I still think twin-shocks are inferior to a good mono-shock. (I emphasise “good” here!) This had been a bit of a concern with the XJR before I bought it (I would’ve been happier with a mono-shock rear), but it seemed to ride so well that I assumed that the trick Ohlins units overcame any limitation this type of suspension normally had. Although total travel is still less than a good monoshock. I also think that the weight is more of an issue than I realised. It is, after all, almost 40kg heavier than my previous bike! Although it doesn’t feel heavy to ride. I never think, “Oh this is heavy!”, even when lifting it off the side-stand. But of course the weight is there, and especially at slow speeds you are man-handling more weight than on a lighter bike; which must have some effect on the dodgy old back! But, of course, the suspension is fully-adjustable front and back, and as I mentioned earlier, it obviously needed a bit of adjustment to suit my weight and riding preference. Hopefully that would cure the problem. Now, I should stress that the bike still rode well, it wasn’t harsh and jarring as many bikes have been when I tested them. But, especially on familiar roads, and when analysing what the bike was doing, it was obvious that it was too stiff. The other point is that the suspension was still all on standard settings. I checked. Oh, and I didn’t try the AirHawk. I wanted to get it all set-up properly first before putting the AirHawk on. So, time to start adjusting the suspension! I went looking on the internet, reading articles on suspension adjustment. Learning all about “static-sag” and “rider-sag”; and trying to get a handle on what each adjustment did. Oh, I knew what they did of course; I knew what preload, compression damping and rebound damping all are, but what I needed to understand better was how adjusting each of these effected the over-all ride and handling. I understood the principles of what they each did, but I needed to understand the over-all effect of altering these principles. It needed to be softer, of course, so that was the approach – to soften it up a bit. So I softened all adjustments. I backed-off both front and rear preload, and also compression and rebound damping at both ends. I tried to do these by equal and appropriate amounts at each end. And I also measured the amount of sag at both ends. Then I took it for a ride. Immediately it was better! Not around town so much, but once on the open road everything just smoothed out very nicely and it felt much more compliant. Obviously I was moving in the right direction! The rear was still a bit stiff though (and I wasn’t getting the amount of sag recommended), so I wound off a bit more pre-load at the rear. That was better. I went for a reasonable ride and my back was okay. Bumps were still felt a bit more at town speeds, but over-all the ride was much better. It stayed like that for a while, although I still felt it wasn’t right. In tight corners, like roundabouts etc, the bike felt a bit “stiff” or heavy in the front. That got me looking at front preload. In the shed I pushed down on the bike; at the front, and at the rear, and on the foot-peg; and the front did feel heavier. So I wound off a bit more pre-load. A couple of days later I went for a fairly long ride, and one that included four winding mountain passes, some smooth secondary roads, some bumpy sections, and some highway. It was much better! With the front and rear now more evenly matched again it turned into corners better; it felt lighter in those tight turns. And the ride was better again. It was now really getting to that “plush” feel that I wanted! Now, all this softening of the suspension has probably effected the handling a little, compared to standard. It’s probably not quite as solidly-running-on-rails as it was; but it’s something you’d really only notice at much higher cornering speeds and harder riding. I can still punt it along through the twisties and enjoy the stability and handling. It still handles well! And it achieves the ride I wanted. Although I subsequently tweaked the rear rebound damping a couple of clicks harder just to ward off any wallowing that might occur. Somewhere along the line I adjusted the bars back up very slightly. When I was deciding on what bike to buy I said I initially rejected the XJR because “it just isn’t me.” And, in some ways, it still isn’t. I find I’m often almost apologising for the size and power of the bike – or the perceived size and power. Non-biking friends have said things like, “1300cc – that’s a car engine!” Even biking friends speak of the big engine and power. And I’m constantly explaining that it isn’t actually as big and powerful as it seems. I tell them that it's actually "only" 1251cc; and how I was considering two other bikes, both just under 1,000cc, but both more powerful than this; one a lot more! But of course it is still a powerful bike. And the performance continues to impress. The low-down power is great! It makes it easy to ride; pulling away easily from under 2,000rpm in any gear. Bulli Pass is a mountain pass to the north of Wollongong; and it's steep! At its steepest point there is a sharp S-bend. Oh, and the speed-limit is only 60kph. So you can't take it quickly. My old bike would’ve gone up in top if it weren’t for the restrictions on speed imposed by the corners and the speed-limit. I went up there on the XJR, keeping pretty much to the speed limit and it cruised up effortlessly in top gear, the engine doing not much more than 2,000rpm. I love that kind of low-down torque! But it also likes to open up a bit. It can be difficult keeping to speed-limits on the highway. The wind helps keep the speeds down, but the motor feels like it’d be happy to just stretch it’s legs and fly! I had decided I wouldn’t try it out along the 500-metre section of road I’ve mentioned in some tests (like the Suzuki Bandit, the Suzuki GSX650, Yamaha TDM etc). Getting to speeds of over 140kph on an almost single-lane 500-metre length of road with a walking-pace turn at each end is getting to be a bit quick! But I did take it out there; and I did give it a bit of a blast. I turned in fairly slowly and wound on the throttle; a decent twist, but not enough to almost throw myself off the back as I did with the Bandit! It flew to around 120kph, and I momentarily backed off – I wasn’t going to try for a high speed, was I! But then, well, what the heck, I twisted the throttle again! As the needle swung to a touch over 140kph I backed off and sat on that very briefly before backing right off for the end. On the return trip I accelerated up to 120kph and cruised at that before easing off for the end corner. Yes, it goes well! One issue that is often raised by people who know anything about these bikes is fuel-consumption. They have a reputation for being heavy on the go-juice. I’d say it depends on how you ride them, but apparently the older models were pretty thirsty even if you were gentle with the right-hand. Fuel-injection helps with this. I’ve averaged around 17 – 18 km per litre, which I’m happy enough with. You just accept that a bigger motor is going to drink more petrol. And it’s no thirstier than similar sized bikes, like the Suzuki Bandit. So, do I still feel “it isn’t me?” Well, to a certain extent, perhaps; in the sense that I still haven’t found "the perfect bike" (as I detailed in that article). But, while the decision might’ve been made on rational reasoning, what seemed to work best for my purposes and for what I wanted, (as well as a certain attraction to the brand and to the machine itself, of course!), it is becoming more a matter of the heart – I’m liking it more all the time! Oh, and by the way, it’s just clocked up about twice the distance it had up when it was first put up for sale; and I’m certainly not planning to sell it!
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