Yamaha XJR1300 Review
What Is It?
The 1999 Yamaha XJR1300 is a retro style bike which replaced the XJR1200 and was joined by the (Cafe) Racer version in 2015.
Engine: 1,251 cc Inline Four, 96 bhp
Economy: 40 mpg, 130 miles
Seat Height: 829 mm
Wet Weight: 240 kg
What Is It Like?
|✓||Looks, suspension, brakes, comfort, loads of smooth power|
|×||Limited electrics, only 5 gears, heavy with limited range|
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 its 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.
There are bikes that are bigger and heavier than the XJR, and there are bikes with bigger engines. And 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. I should mention at this point that it is the pre-2015 model that I’m writing about – not the latest café-racer style version. I’ll get to that later.
The “muscle-bike” image is certainly a big part of its character though. And, a bit like Arnie with the sleeves ripped off his shirt, it has its 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.
You get a hint of this when you look at it: the bike looks like something from the 1970s or 80s. You know, back in the halcyon days of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). And that’s what it is: it has that “Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” aspect about it that was the very essence of the UJM, and was what made them eminently practical and able to be ridden in any circumstance or situation. (almost anyway). You might think that the lack of a fairing limits its capabilities on the highways, and to an extent it does, but there was a time (which older readers will remember), when naked bikes were the norm; fully-faired “plastic-fantastics” were very rare. Even high-performance bikes were mostly what we now call “nakeds”. That’s the sort of world the XJR pays homage to.
But enough of showroom perceptions, what’s it like to ride? Well, I'd better ‘fess up here, and say that I own one of these; and have done for about 9 years at the time of writing (in 2017). So perhaps I’m biased; but I’ll try not to be.
One of the main things that attracted me to the bike was its comfort: it’s a comfortable bike to sit on and to ride. The upright riding-position helps this, and it feels quite natural. The pegs are set reasonably low, so your legs aren’t bent up and cramped.
On the subject of your 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 side of the bike to stop your knees from actually touching it. And they work. I found my lanky old legs could touch the knees on the rubber shields if I moved forward a bit, but it wasn’t hot.
One thing I found not to my liking when I first rode the bike was that the bars were a bit too high; and they had an almost pointing-upwards feel. I’ve found this with a few nakeds actually. The solution is simple though: they’re old style bars, so all you do is loosen the clamps and rotate them to the angle you prefer. The seat isn’t quite the soft cushy style that used to be fitted to those bikes back in the 70s, but it is still comfortable.
Now, off into the traffic. Remember that movie “Kindergarten Cop”? The one where Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher. He looked very 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 first time I rode one of these was on a relatively brief test-ride around suburban streets, and the XJR handled the traffic with ease. In fact, I rode it back-to-back with a Triumph Sprint ST which I was considering buying; and the big Yammie felt easier to ride through the traffic and back roads than the Sprint. It’s the sort of bike that you quickly feel confident with.
It’s a big bike, and it’s reasonably heavy, but once on the move you don’t really notice the weight so much – unless you’re trying to flip-flop it through the twisties.
Handling is good. It’s easy in traffic, as I mentioned above, 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 my initial ride, and particularly in comparison to other bikes I’d ridden. In quite a few tests I’ve made the comment that the bike “took a bit of getting to know” in terms of the handling. But with this bike, as I said, I was confident with it right from the get-go.
The ride is also very good. I had a couple of test-rides, on different bikes, before buying mine, and I rode them 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, as are the front forks: a great set-up all-round. And that is one of the reasons I bought one – because the suspension could be adjusted to suit my preferred riding style and ride / handling compromise.
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, odo and clock, and the usual warning-lights for other things. While the instruments are generally easy to read, the neutral light and blinker indicators can be hard to see in strong sunlight.
But let’s get 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”!). It’s old-school, being an air-cooled unit, and tracing its history back through XJ and FJ predecessors, and even to the old XS1100 of the 1970s. Compression-ratio is a rather low 9.7:1; so you know it’s not going to be a screamer. It develops its 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’s certainly not the most powerful donk on two wheels, but its 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. But it’s all pretty smooth: you’re aware that there’s a big healthy donk pulsing away underneath you, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable. The only criticism – which, strangely, applies to some other Yamahas, with totally different engines – is a slight harshness at around 4,500rpm. Nothing serious, but enough to make you want to go slower or faster.
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. Even at 1500rpm it doesn’t object to accelerating away in top. That low-end grunt is one of the things I love about this engine! Acceleration is 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! The way it eats up even the steepest of hills, even in top gear, is another thing I love about it.
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, but will also cruise at 120kph on the highway with total ease; and more if you really want to risk your licence. (It does get quite windy when you get up to those speeds though, compared to a faired bike).
Brakes are good. They grabbed them out of the R1 parts-bin when they put it all together, so you know they’re going to work well. But they’re smooth and progressive too: which is good, because there’s no fancy-dancy things like ABS of course!
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 do them all pretty well.
From when the bike was first introduced in 1999 (updated from the XJ1200), there has only been one significant update, and that was in 2007 when the carbies were replaced with fuel-injection, and the suspension became fully adjustable (with front forks also improved to reduce dive under brakes). There was also a change from the previous 4-into-2 exhaust to a 4-into-1 system. Purists seem to prefer the 4-into-2, but I’m happy with 4-into-1. Apart from that it’s just paint – with Yamaha doing a different paint scheme every year or two. So the obvious answer is to go for a 2007 or later one, and buy on condition rather than year model. But even the pre-2007 model is still pretty close to what you would’ve bought brand new in 2014.
THE CAFÉ-RACER STYLE
I suppose they had to change it: you can only get away with up-dating the paint for so long! It might have seemed logical: retro was in, and the café-racer style was also in, so they probably thought, let’s combine those two – one of which they already had – and create a new model. Wave the café-racer styling wand and voila – a new bike! (Except under the new styling it’s pretty much what you got in 2007). This came in 2015. A rather ironic fact about this was that it was partly developed in Australia, by a company called Deus Ex Machina, which is a custom shop in the western region of Sydney. And the model was actually launched in Australia. But the bike isn’t sold in Australia.
But I’m not so sure that the Aussies (and I’m one of them) are missing out on anything. Firstly, I think the bike is a bit big to play café-racer: I think that style better suits smaller bikes. And secondly, they’ve made a few changes that detract from what it was – such as the much smaller tank. It’s no longer that do-it-all, Universal Japanese Motorbike, which was so much a part of the appeal of the old one.
RELIABILITY / LONGEVITY
Having owned the bike for over 9 years, it’s worth reporting on the issue of reliability. And I am pleased to say it deserves all and more of its enviable reputation for reliability and longevity. You can point to things like plastic blinkers and instruments (not chrome, as they pretend to be), but in the bits that matter, this is a quality machine, and is very well made. A headlight globe, and a dodgy sensor that occasionally brings up a false warning about air-pressure variances, is all that has gone wrong with mine in those 9 years and 60,000km. A friend has just clocked up 80,000km on his 2010 model with no dramas. So I can certainly recommend it on that score. And if you’re reading this, that probably indicates you’re interested in this style of bike, and if you are, then I can highly recommend it as a bike to ride too.
- Elwyn Jordan (AKA The Old Bloke), 2017
Year shows signs of appreciation