Perception; it’s a strange thing. Perception and reality. Sometimes the way we perceive things isn’t really the way they are. Take the Yamaha XJR1300 for example. It’s got the whole “retro” thing happening of course, and that’s a big part of it’s character, but it’s also perceived as a big-bore muscle-bike; a kind of two-wheeled Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that’s what it is. Well, kind of. But it’s not that simple. Because there are bikes that are bigger and heavier than the XJR. There are bikes with bigger engines. There are bikes that are more powerful. So it’s not really the “Mr. Universe” of the motorcycle world. You see, it’s all about perception; how we perceive a bike. The “muscle-bike” image is certainly a big part of it’s character though. And, a bit like Arnie with the sleeves ripped off his shirt, it has it’s engine prominently on show to enhance that image. But, as I’ve indicated above, it’s not really the big and brawny beast we might perceive it to be. The reality is something different. When testing the XJR for Australian Motorcycle News, road-tester Geoff Seddon described it as, “a genuine all-rounder, a bike equally at home in traffic as on a 1,000km weekend, or a brisk Sunday morning blast.” Now there’s a different perspective on it! And probably a more accurate one. There was a time (which many of you reading this might remember), when naked bikes were the norm; fully-faired “plastic-fantastics” were very rare. Even high-performance bikes were mostly all naked. That’s the sort of world the XJR pays homage to. The styling is very retro, of course; even down to things like the head-light brackets, which are plain and simple. But I reckon it looks good! And there’s enough chrome around to make it look fancy too. My preference in colour is blue; I reckon that looks great! (Apart, perhaps, from the white stripe along the top of everything). This one though, as you can see, was black. (With no white stripe!). But enough of showroom perceptions, what’s it like to ride? Well, I got a bit of an idea when I had the opportunity to take one for a ride recently. It was only a fairly brief test though, and restricted to the suburbs; I didn’t get the chance to try it out on the open road and expressways. But I still got a good impression of what it’s like to ride. (Up-date: See the Extended Test Report below). Remember that movie “Kindergarten Cop”? That was where Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher. He looked a bit out-of-place among the kids! And you might think that the XJR would be similarly out-of-place around town. A big muscle-bike in suburban traffic would be a bit awkward, right? Well, that’s where the perception and the reality can be different. The XJR handled the traffic with ease. It’s the sort of bike that you quickly feel confident with. It doesn’t feel particularly big or heavy, and is very easy to manouvre around at slow speed. Weight is 222kg, which isn’t really that heavy, in the over-all scheme of motorcycling things. You can feel the weight at standstill if you rock the bike from side to side, but once on the move you don’t really notice the weight. Geoff Seddon summed it up well when he said, “it feels solid rather than heavy”. At higher speeds (suburban “higher speeds” anyway) the handling was equally good. Steering is easy and accurate. As I said above, it’s a bike you can easily get confident with. A big factor in it’s ease of handling is the riding-position, which is quite up-right; and also to the bars, which are high and wide. The riding-position is very comfortable. In fact the whole bike is comfortable. I’ve mentioned this before. Following my visit to the 2006 Sydney Motorcycle Show, I described the XJR as the most comfortable bike I sat on. It’s very up-right, but feels quite natural. The pegs are set low, so your legs are at an easy angle and not cramped. On the subject of legs, you sit pretty close to the engine, and your knees end up right behind the big mill. But there’s a thick rubber heat-shield behind the engine at each end to stop your knees from actually touching it; and also to keep the heat away. So it’s not a problem. I found my lanky old legs could touch the knees on the rubber shields if I moved forward a bit, but even then it wasn’t hot. However I found the bars to be a bit too high for my liking; and also a bit too straight at the ends, rather like the TDM 900. I would’ve preferred them to be angled-down a bit more. And the further I rode it, the more uncomfortable I felt with the bars. If it was mine I’d be replacing them with something a bit lower. The other disadvantage with an upright riding-position like this is wind. As I mentioned, I didn’t get to ride it on the freeway, but even around the suburbs, with speeds up to 80kph – 90kph, you can feel it. Rob Smith of Motorcycle Trader, when testing the XJR, said that he had problems hanging on to the bars at anything even approaching high speed. Yes, I reckon you’d be a real wind-sock out on the expressway! Owners of bikes like this (a couple of readers own Suzuki’s equivalent, the GSX1400) find that a handlebar-mounted screen helps with this. That’d be another mod I’d do if I owned one. The ride is good. I rode the bike over some back-streets with typical patched-bitumen and bumps etc, and it handled all these well. Smooth and comfortable. Those Ohlins at the back really are good things! They’re fully adjustable too, of course, to refine the ride even further. The front forks are fully adjustable too. A great set-up all-round! Instruments are pretty basic, with a big analogue speedo and tacho. The speedo is numbered to 260kph, and the tacho red-lined at 10,000rpm. There’s an LCD display for fuel-level, and the usual warning-lights for other things. While the instruments are generally easy to read, the neutral light and blinker indicators are very hard to see in strong sunlight. With the sun beaming down on the bike I had trouble even finding the neutral light! But let’s get back to the heart of the matter; that big engine! It’s a 4-cylinder, of course, with a capacity of 1251cc. (Yamaha are exaggerating a bit with their label of “1300”!). Compression-ratio is a rather low 9.7:1; so you know it’s not going to be a screamer. It develops it’s maximum power of 72kw at 8,000rpm. Torque, which is where an engine like this is really going to shine, tops out at 108Nm, developed at 6,000rpm. It might not be the most powerful donk on two wheels, but it’s character is definitely muscle-bike. It’s Arnie with his sleeves rolled-up! In character it’s like a V8 in your family sedan; it feels strong and powerful. Fire it up and, just like the family V8, there’s a healthy throb. You can feel the vibes through the bike, but they’re soft and not unpleasant. They’re still there at higher revs too, but the whole thing is very smooth; you’re aware that there’s a big healthy donk pulsing away down there, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable. You’d probably expect it to pull away easily from low revs, and it does. Just twist the throttle, at pretty much any speed, and the surge of torque sends it rushing away instantly. Acceleration is very quick, and it’s great fun to give the bike a decent handful away from the lights and watch the traffic behind diminish to mere specs in the mirrors! Top gear (of 5) is geared at 27kph per 1,000rpm. With the torque and general engine characteristics, you can easily use top around the suburbs, with the engine ticking over at 2,500rpm – 3,000rpm. It feels fine at that. Brakes are good. They’re pretty decent-spec things anyway, and they work well; at least they did at the normal sort of riding I subjected them too. But I’m sure they’d be easily up to the task of pulling the bike up in heavier stops. So there it is. A big brawny muscle bike, and a sweet-handling commuter; yep, it’s actually both! It’s a genuine “all-rounder”; something that’s disappearing from our showrooms these days. Most bikes seem to specialise in one area; they’re a “sports-bike”, or a “commuter”, or a “tourer”, etc. But the XJR, despite how it might be perceived in the market-place, is a bike that’d have a go at most of those roles. It mightn’t be top-notch at any one of them, but it’ll have a go! And I reckon it’d surprise a few people on some of the more specialised machinery at just how capable it is! About the only place I reckon it wouldn’t be so happy would be high-speed touring. Sorry, Geoff, but I don’t think it’d suit the “1,000km weekend” so well. True, I didn’t ride this bike on the highway, but I have ridden an old XJR1200 on the highway, and even with a small screen fitted it was pretty windy. So I’m more inclined to think Rob Smith’s assessment is closer to the mark here. I don’t think it’d be pleasant as a high-speed tourer. Although with a few mods (lower bars, and a decent screen) maybe it could be. And at $13,999 it’s probably cheap enough to let you buy a few of those sort of accessories for it too.
Reading the report above (and other things I’ve written), you’ll see I’ve had a kind of “love / not-so-sure” relationship with the XJR1300. On one hand I've said I love the comfort and I love the torquey performance, but on the other hand, I've said I’m not so sure about the riding-position and bars. So when an opportunity came up to take one for a longer test, I was keen to give the big naked another look. This came up when Red Baron Motorcycles, a dealer in Sydney’s South-West, held a group-test day.
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This was different to most other dealer ride-days though, in that the test-route was much longer and covered a wide range of riding conditions. It started with light suburban traffic, then some outer-suburban back roads, some major arterial roads, and then a cruise along the Hume Highway back into the suburbs again. Along the way there were corners ranging from city roundabouts to tight back-road turns and some open-road sweepers. Road surface varied from patchy suburban roads to smooth-surfaced highway. So a good chance to really get to know the bike a lot better than my brief test above. This bike was slightly different to the one above. The one above was a 2007-plated model. For the 2008 model the colours have changed. The bike is now available in white (which doesn’t really suit the character of the bike!), and a two-tone finish of black and dark-gold. The model I rode was, as you can see, the black and gold version. I reckon this looks really good – even better in the metal than it does in this photo! I think it’s a great-looking bike! But it was different in one other, perhaps more significant, way. The riding-position, or more specifically the handlebars, felt slightly different. They were angled down at the ends slightly more than the previous one I rode. And, perhaps because of this, they felt a little lower, and the riding-position not quite as upright. Was it just a case of the bars being set at a different (rotational) angle at the factory? I couldn’t find any reference to changes in this area for the latest model, and a mechanic I spoke to confirmed that rotating the bars would, of course, have this effect. Odd though, because in the meantime I’d sat on another (2007-plated) bike and it felt exactly the same – the bars overly high and straight – as the one above. So I contacted Yamaha and asked them. They confirmed that the bars, mountings, triple-clamps etc were all identical to the 2007 model; so it obviously comes down to a simple matter of how the bars are set-up. With the first bike I said that the further I rode it the more unhappy I was with the bars. This extended test was going to let me see how I felt about the riding-position over a longer distance. But with that slightly different set-up, I started out feeling happier with the bike, and finished the test still feeling comfortable with it. Yes, the ride-position is still very up-right, but the bars didn’t have that overly-high, “wrong-angle-at-the-ends” feel that the previous one did. The bumpy suburban roads soon confirmed the quality of the ride again – and I went looking for bumps to test it out! Handling, again, was just as easy. It’s easy in the traffic, but also good on the open road. A gentle push on the bars is all that’s needed to get it swinging through the turns. I got to thinking about this during the ride, and particularly in comparison to other bikes. In quite a few tests I’ve made the comment that the bikes “took a bit of getting to know the handling”. Perhaps it was a kind of top-heaviness, or just a need to be more positive and get to know the bike better. But with this bike, as I said, it handles easily and you quickly become confident with it. So I started to wonder if that meant that the handling of these other bikes wasn’t as “good”, or at least not as “good for my style of riding”, as bikes like this that I felt confident with right from the get-go? Power was just as impressive of course; especially in the way it would just pull away effortlessly from low revs. Even at 1500rpm it didn’t object to accelerating away in top. There were the vibes I mentioned above, but it was always pleasurable to ride. The only problem I had was in finding neutral at standstill sometimes. The box felt a bit stiff. But the bike was very new, having been registered only three days previously and only having done about 100km at the start of the test. Other than this the changes were good. Clutch-less changes were smooth too, if you wanted to do that. One thing I wanted to test was the wind at speed. I said above that I thought you’d end up being a real wind-sock at highway speeds. Nakeds, of course, are inherently more of a problem in this area than faired bikes; and these days are probably not intended for high-speed riding. As above, even at town speeds I felt the wind more than on a faired or semi-faired bike. So when we got to the Hume highway I was anxious to see what it was like at higher speed. And it wasn’t as bad as I expected! At around 100kph (tail-gating the lead-rider and looking for an opportunity to go faster!) it wasn’t really a problem at all. Cruising at 120kph I could certainly feel the wind-pressure against my upper-body and head, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I reckon a screen would do a lot to deflect the wind and make the situation quite acceptable. So, sorry Geoff, that 1,000km weekend might be quite possible after all! And the reality is that not much of my riding is above the 110 – 120kph mark anyway. There just aren’t many places you can (legally) go faster than that! So I came away from this test feeling much more positive about the XJR1300. It’s a very impressive bike! In fact, I think I would’ve been quite happy to take this one home with me!
No changes have been made to this apart from paint. It now comes in a choice of black or "Silver Tech". This latter one is silver and black, with blue striping, and gold wheels. I reckon it looks great! Except that it has a big yellow "1" decal on the tank. Seriously, you'd feel like a bit of a wanker going around with a big number "1" on the side of your bike! The number is actually a tribute to Valentino Rossi, who won a few championships for Yamaha, of course. It's not a big seller for Yamaha, so I suppose they don't see the need to constantly up-date it. The last major up-date came in 2007 with fuel-injection and a re-calibrated, fully-adjustable suspension. As I said, I reckon the bike looks good. It's so retro people often think it actually is an old bike. Despite that though - or perhaps because of it - the XJR is an extremely practical all-round motorcycle. In fact I liked it so much I bought one! And I bought it despite the image and type of bike it is, not because of it. I bought it because of the way it was to ride. The ease of riding, grunty performance with mountains of low-down torque, and suspension that can be fully adjusted to suit your riding preferences, were the things that sold me on it.
Once again, no changes except the paint. It's now black, with a kind of silver strip down the side. The biggest (colour) change has been to the engine, which is now black, rather than silver. It makes the engine less prominent, and also makes the bike look smaller because of that. Maybe that goes against the "muscle-bike" image, although I reckon it looks good.
Another year, another change of paint! It comes in two colour options; both are black, but one has a silver tank with a big number "1" on it. They did this in honour of Rossi winning the world championship a couple of years ago, so I suppose this is Lorenzo's tribute model. I think that the current one with graphics / stripes is a better looking bike than all-black.
The big old-school retro muscle-bike has come in for a big makeover for 2015, with changes that give it a café-racer type style. I mentioned this, and showed a photo, in my Blog in September 2014. However the news for Aussies is that we won’t be getting the new version until next year, 2016. Apparently there are plenty of the old (current) models still in stock, so they will be selling those first.