Yamaha FJ-09

The FJ-09 alternative. We had the opportunity to ride Yamaha’s FZ-09 when it was launched in 2014 and it’s well documented what we, and many others, thought of the bike: great motor, good platform and a fantastic price. Earlier this year we rode the XSR900 at its Canadian press launch in Muskoka and again the reviews were good—the motor was still great, the price a little higher but not out of the ballpark, and in our view the looks were better for the loss of the plastic bits and a paring down to the essentials. 

After riding these two bikes we had to acknowledge their missing link as we had somehow bypassed the FJ-09, which arrived as a 2015 model. It is difficult to not discuss the three bikes in context because they share a common platform, motor and most components even if they are intended for different segments. 

While the XSR900 and the FZ-09 differ in aesthetics, the FJ-09 differs in purpose. With a more upright seating position, wide bars with hand guards and a taller windscreen, the FJ-09 takes on the role of light touring machine but with a sporting emphasis. 

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Yamaha has the FJ-09 further dialed in for the purpose with a full gamut of accessories that includes hard bags, a topcase, heated grips, taller touring windscreen, DC power outlet and a rear carrier. The excellent powerband and fuel economy of the inline triple plus the extended range made possible by an increase in fuel capacity to 18 litres should make this bike a mile eater. Add a separate seat for a passenger complemented by a big pair of grab handles, and the option to load the FJ-09 with your favourite traveling companion will be enticing. With the more recent arrival of the XSR900, the question becomes, how far can a single platform be stretched.

The technical specs of the FJ-09 are much the same as the other bikes including Yamaha’s chip controlled throttle, three riding modes, ABS (on the XSR900), and traction control. The brakes are the same 298mm discs up front and 245mm in the back and the FJ has the same tire sizes front and back as the other machines. The seat height is a little higher starting at slightly over 838mm. Surprisingly, the weight of the FJ is almost 22 kg more than that of the FZ-09 although as the company uses a wet weight scale some of the additional bulk is explained by the extra four litres of fuel the FJ-09 carries, along with the ABS and a more substantial subframe, which encourages the addition of a passenger and a set of loaded bags. Yamaha has revised the front suspension with both preload and damping adjustments for better performance and a slightly taller ride, though overall the performance is very similar. 

At $10,999, the FJ-09 falls in a small category with few direct competitors. It is unique in both its engine displacement at 847cc and inline triple configuration. The nearest comparisons, the Suzuki V-Strom and the Kawasaki Versys, fall on either side of the FJ in terms of displacement, engine and price. The V-twin V-Strom 650 and 1000 and inline four Kawasaki Versys 650 and 1000 extend the segment on either side while the FJ-09 holds the middle ground. 

Unlike the FJ-09, some of these machines come with hardcases so it is a mixed bag in terms of standard features but the prices also vary significantly.  All the bikes within the FJ-09’s category are street-biased but the V-Strom 650 is the most likely to venture further into the woods. 

Don’t assume that bark busters and an upright seating position make the FJ-09 an adventure bike—it’s best to stick to pavement where the bike shines, or to gentle gravel roads as this is most definitely a sport-touring machine. While on a ride through the back hills of Vancouver Island I spotted a short logging spur that leads to an outcrop. The spur wasn’t rough but it turned out to be steeper than I’d anticipated, to a degree that I had trouble going forward and not much option for going backward. An unhappy traction control system balked at the slippage in the rear wheel but with gentle throttle input I found a spot level enough to turn around. Coming down presented its own challenges because the ABS didn’t like the loose surface. Slow and uneasy did eventually win that race.

For an additional $2,000 is the FJ-09 a better alternative to the FZ-09? The bikes come standard with ABS, which is generally an advantage and pretty much standard in this segment. You get a bike that is already decked out in preparation for touring and with better accommodations for a passenger although two up with saddlebags and a top case on an already heavier machine would tax the triple whereas the other two bikes are more intended for the solo rider. 

That being said, while the FJ is heavier than its stablemates it is enjoyable to have a sport touring bike that doesn’t tip the scales at over 226 kg, which makes 140-plus horsepower unnecessary. While not having the same level of rider protection as some of the larger bikes in the category, the windscreen provides respite from fatigue, the accessory plug will keep you warm and the bags your gear dry and secure.

The fuel economy of the FJ-09 is a factory spec 5.4L/100km and we were seeing consistent readings of about 4.6L/100km on the highway making lengthy jaunts of over 300 km between fuel stops no problem. 

Check that, there is one problem with extended saddle time. The weak point is the standard seat for the driver. Broad in the back and narrow in the front to aid in getting feet firmly on the ground, the seat had me consistently sliding forward. After much more than an hour it wasn’t seat friendly which is a concern in an otherwise extremely well thought out sport touring machine. 

Yamaha offers a comfort seat as an option (which makes the stock unit the “uncomfortable seat”) but to be fair the entire rider triangle is slightly tweakable so you can adjust the seating position to your own comfort.

The  FJ-09 retains the nimble characteristics of its brethren aided by the great lean angle and the leverage of the wider bars. The FJ-09 may be the farthest stretch of the platform but it comes in at a very competitive price. Where the FZ-09 and the XSR900 feel as though Yamaha got everything right, the FJ-09 endures some concessions such as extra weight to better serve a touring purpose. What the FJ-09 offers is versatility for longer rides with a happy passenger. It retains most of the fun of the other bikes in the twisty bits and around town but if you like to tour with a load, it has you covered as well.