We can’t remember the exact moment when it happened, but somewhere between first throwing a leg over Yamaha’s FJ-09 and its odometer showing 10,000 miles, we fell in love. Not a crazy, passionate love like what sets fire when you first twist the throttle on a 180-hp supersport bike then burns out 120 miles down the highway. But a more mature, long-lasting kind of love that can only come when you realize how right something is for you. Not perfect in every (or maybe even any) way, but perfect for you. That kind of love.
And now we have to give the bike back—back to Yamaha, after nearly a year of using it for everything from commuting and city-street riding to canyon carving, weekend-long excursions, two-up rides, (cough) wheelies, and even the occasional foray into the dirt. What did we learn about the FJ-09 in all of that riding? A lot, actually. Mostly that, while it’s not perfect, we will definitely be taking the really, really, long way back to Yamaha headquarters when it finally comes time to hand the keys over.
Really, just a few more miles, please.
Versatility: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Like so many others, you are probably surprised to hear that one of the bikes we really fell in love with this past year is little more than a $10,490 sport-touring bike based heavily off of Yamaha’s FZ-09—a bike that, while successful, was popularly known for its abrupt fueling (now fixed), poorly damped suspension, and seat that quickly sucked the fun out of longer rides.
The honest truth is that the FJ-09 is a big change in pace when compared to the FZ-09 though, and almost from the word, “Go,” our test bike suggested it wasn’t willing to suffer the same fate as its naked-bike sibling. The on-off throttle was right, the seat immediately felt more cushioned, and the suspension more supportive. Hell, we could even switch over to the more-direct A mode (one of the FJ’s three riding modes) and ride the bike without feeling any adverse effects to the on-off throttle transition.
Realizing then and there that Yamaha had done its homework, we quickly turned the FJ-09 into our go-to commuter bike and started using it for getting us to and from the office (roughly 40 miles of freeway, plus 10 miles of city streets) on a daily basis. In this more monotonous but still very important riding, the bike continued to impress, offering up touring-like ergonomics that befriended our tallest rider’s longer legs but also a sense of nimbleness that very clearly had been carried over in the transformation from FZ to FJ. Yes, the hand-guard-equipped bars look wide and the seat tall (the saddle can actually be adjusted between 33.3 and 33.9 inches in a minute or less, without tools), but the 497-pound bike (that’s with bags and heated grips) still doesn’t feel cumbersome in stop-and-go situations, with a narrow-ish tank junction that allows shorter-legged folk to get their feet down. Plus the FJ-09 has better balance than a bulky adventure-touring bike.
And, really, the FJ didn’t give up a whole lot on longer rides, with the bike’s two-piece seat being purposely devoid of sharp edges and providing enough comfort for the 200-mile adventures we’d begin subjecting the bike to and the adjustable windscreen providing surprisingly good protection from the wind, despite its smaller size.
One of those rides included a trip to Big Bear, California, with a friend, Sean MacDonald, who in a momentary lapse of judgment, agreed that it was actually a good idea to head off in search of dirt trails following our lunch break. No, we hadn’t eaten or drank enough to actually confuse our FJ-09 for an adventure-touring bike (just look at how low-slung the mufflers are and where the engine drain bolt sits), and, yes, we were out of our element, but the FJ still chugged up every hill we brought it to like the little utilitarian vehicle that could and in the end got us back onto pavement in one piece. Not bad for a sub-$11,000 bike that just a few days before was hauling us to and from the office and then running one of our testers and his significant other up the coast in a comfy, two-up ride that actually didn’t have her wanting off at the nearest bus stop.
At this point we were ready to confess our love for the bike, but we also couldn’t help but feel like it was a matter of circumstance; the FJ had worked well for us in the select situations we’d put it in, but that doesn’t mean it was all-around great, right? A few weeks later, we got the answer to that when we tossed the keys to Bradley’s performance-driven grandpa Ray for a day of running up and down California’s best canyon roads. A self-admitted hater of Yamaha’s FZ-09 and its poorly damped suspension, not to mention thin seat, which had him tossing the keys back after just an hour or so of riding, Ray was suddenly in love with the platform and talking about how well it handled and how comfortable it was. Even to the point of considering getting one of his own.
Important to note is that Yamaha has updated the suspension on the FJ-09, with the fork getting progressive-rate springs plus two and a half times more rebound damping as well as one and a half times more compression damping than the FZ-09, and the rear shock twice as much rebound damping and two and a half times as much compression damping—all of which contributes to that surprisingly good performance in the canyons. Sure, the bits still feel a bit like they are built on a budget, with the fork wanting to chatter a bit over sharp-edged bumps on rougher sections of road, but overall composure is much improved when compared to the FZ-09, and overall balance front and rear is good. So on we went. Faster. Farther. And with a bigger smile than ever.
Mind you, other aspects, like the engine, have not been changed, and for that we couldn’t be happier, with the 847cc three-cylinder motor (which in our testbike produced 104 hp at 9,700 rpm and 59.9 foot-pounds of torque at 8,300 rpm) offering up all of the power and smoothness we needed. In our around-town riding, the bike was easy to ride, thanks to good clutch feel and smooth power delivery, yet still more than willing to loft the front wheel in a one-wheel display of motorcycling enjoyment. Better yet, on the highway and at higher revs, the engine was buzz-free, with very little vibration making its way through the handlebar, seat, or footrests.
Admittedly the package isn’t perfect, with the transmission still being a bit notchy and the tank offering up just decent range. Yamaha bumped fuel capacity by 1.1 gallons, to 4.8 gallons total, but our FJ-09 generally averaged around 41 miles to the gallon and had us looking for a gas station every 160 miles or so. Worse, the digital fuel gauge is a five-bar display, with one large bar that doesn’t disappear until around 105 miles into your ride and the other four about every 20 miles or so thereafter. Essentially, you go from “full tank” and looking good to a quarter tank and sweating in a matter of 40 miles.
The gauge, controls, and other adjustable pieces are otherwise really good and took us no more than a few days of commuting to figure out. And yet by that time we were already falling for the FJ.
The honest truth is we never really stopped falling either, with each new adventure giving us more of a reason to want to give Yamaha’s sport-tourer a forever home. No, the bike is not perfect, and, yes, there are other options, including Kawasaki’s super-affordable $8,899 Versys 650 LT, the arguably sexier $14,295 Hyperstrada 939, larger $12,999 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT, and $13,999 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure. All of those bikes come with side bags as standard equipment, while the $10,490 FJ-09 will require a look into Yamaha’s accessories catalog for two bags, lock set, and support brackets, which will run you an additional $974.
Regardless, after having spent a year throwing everything we can at the bike, we can’t imagine having as hard of a time giving up the keys to anything else. If you are in the market for something affordable, versatile, and fun, it’s definitely worth looking the FJ-09’s way.