It’s hard to believe but it’s been 30 years since the launch of the FJ1100, a bike that, together with the FJ1200 helped set a benchmark for reliability even among Japanese manufacturers. Kept on the road by enthusiasts supported by one of the best bike clubs in the business, the Mighty FJ continues to haunt Britain’s highways and byways.
At its launch, Yamaha hoped they were releasing a sportsbike, with 125 bhp mill, 16” GP type wheels, mono-shock suspension, anti dive forks, vented brake disc’s a raft of other technology from GP racing.
The problem for Yamaha was that rival Kawasaki had other ideas; ideas soon to emerge on the market as a new milestone in superbike performance – thanks to a water cooled engine and full enclosed fairing. Made famous by Tom Cruise in a certain film, that bike was the GPz900R.
I had that GPZ for 3 years myself and clocked up 45,000 miles. But the glory quickly faded; In that time, even with oil changes every 2,000 miles, I went through 5 camshafts. I’m more than happy to service bikes, but I don’t expect to replace major engine components just to keep it running.
During this time I was travelling a lot two up and when two of the new uprated FJ1200’s flew past me on an Austrian mountain pass I knew I would have to have one. As they say the rest is history and that first FJ1200 did 180k and never missed a beat. Extraordinary.
The FJ1100 has over the last 30th years has become known as the definitive ‘Bullet Proof’ bike. Indeed, if you look up ‘Bullet Proof’ in Wikipedia, up comes ‘Yamaha FJ’. (Only kidding but it might as well).
Although the bike has gone, the basic engine is still in production, living on in the Retro bike the XJR1300. Cam chains continue to be good for 100k (eat your heart out Honda), and it’s very rare to see any engine components being replaced due to wear. The worst you can find on old FJ motors is perhaps a bit of oil burning due to dried out valve seals.
As for handling, the FJ took design inspiration from the state of the art ‘Bimota’ with its Lateral Frame. A design that holds the head stock forward and aft by straight tubing which makes it impossible to twist. In fact, the original frame is so strong that when I wanted to quicken the steering on my FJ Racer it had to be de-seamed and even then it was only possible to move it 1.5 degrees.
Mentioning the word ‘racer’ is appropriate for the FJ will fight on the track against the latest race bikes, punching well above its weight. It doesn’t wobble, flex or move and unlike many newer steeds, needs no steering damper.
If you ride an early FJ the first thing you’ll notice is quick steering, this is not by accident, but results from the cunningly small 16” wheels. This design has a lot of benefits – for instance when fully loaded and you’re trying to throw it into a mountain hairpin. The stable super stiff frame and long wheel base is a perfect match for the 16” quick turning wheels, preventing responsiveness from becoming instability.
In its day the FJ was the choice of couriers (always an indicator of reliability and durability) and even many a journalist admitted that they purchased one with their hard earned cash (the days before free bikes aka ‘long term bikes’). If you ever get talking to anyone who once owed a FJ they are always full of praise and many say they wish they’d never sold it.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote is this; a Yamaha official in the late 90’s when asked about the FJ replacement once told me ‘the real problem with the FJ’s is they just don’t wear out’. He was right, The FJ set an enviable record for toughness and reliability that few bikes before or since have ever matched. Its still doing it today.
Here’s to another 30 years of ownership – anyone wanting to take on an FJ can find friendship and support at the FJ Owners Club (Click below to access) – which even has its own workshop. You won’t regret it if you decide to try one.
Click on image to go straight to FJ Club Site