Hooligan roots in a taller package – the message may be mixed, but our feelings aren’t
Story by Costa Mouzouris
Photos by Matt Filion
The folks at Yamaha insist that the 2015 FJ-09 is not an adventure bike, and I don’t entirely disagree. The tuning fork company is calling it instead an “agile and versatile sport bike.” Evidence can be found to support either side of the argument. The main components identifying it as a sport bike are its cast-aluminum twin-spar frame, radial front calipers and 17-inch wheels, which aren’t really conducive to off-pavement excursions. Aside from that, however, the FJ-09 sends adventure touring signals with a tall seat, tall suspension, incorporated side case mounts and an industrial-looking instrument panel; it even has rather robust hand guards. According to its maker, it’s designed to compete with the likes of the Triumph Tiger 800, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and the BMW F700GS – and their respective manufacturers classify them all as adventure bikes.
It also looks the part, except when viewed from underneath, where you’ll quickly acknowledge the vulnerability of its low-mounted muffler.
A Big Brother to the FZ
Despite all of this classification confusion, the 2015 FJ-09 is based on the FZ-09 naked bike introduced in late 2013. It uses the same 847 cc liquid-cooled inline-triple, though for 2015, the engine mapping has been tweaked to provide softer throttle response, something also done on the 2015 FZ-09, and available as a free upgrade on previous FZ models. Like the FZ, the FJ has three selectable ride modes (A, Standard and B), which offer progressively softer throttle response for varying ride conditions. The FJ also has traction control that curbs wheel spin by overriding throttle input, softening ignition timing and cutting fuel injection if necessary. The traction control defaults to the “on” position every time the ignition is switched on, but it can be turned off – in case you do venture off-road. Another feature separating the FJ from the FZ is that while the latter has no ABS, not even as an option, ABS is standard on the FJ. With all these extras, the FJ-09 costs $10,999, just two grand over the FZ-09.
Our hosts from Yamaha Canada chose Birmingham, Alabama, for the late-winter launch of the FJ-09 in hopes that the weather would be better than the deep-freeze we experienced this winter in Canada, and it was a bit better, though we nonetheless encountered overcast skies, cool temperatures and rain. Not a big deal, since the FJ-09’s frame-mounted fairing utilizes a three-position, height-adjustable windscreen with a 37 mm range, offering better weather protection than the FZ.
It’s in the Details
The FJ-09 has a more upright riding position than its naked stable mate, and it immediately feels like an adventure bike; there’s a very relaxed, natural reach to a wide handlebar, and the bike feels tall with a high centre of gravity. The handlebar can be adjusted 10 mm forward from the standard position by reversing the handlebar risers, and the seat is adjustable to two positions, 845 mm or 860 mm. I set my test bike to the higher position and found the ground reach reasonable with more than adequate legroom. A quick ride in the lower position revealed it gave little in the way of legroom while providing easier access to the ground, a great setup for riders measuring less than, say, five-foot-nine (I’m a six-footer). One annoying issue I discovered is that access to the side stand is hampered by the rider foot peg, which has to be folded up to reach the side-stand tab. The FJ-09 is also equipped with a centre stand, making pre-ride maintenance a breeze. And regarding more involved maintenance, it’s worth noting that valve-adjustment intervals are set at a rather lengthy 42,000 km.
Whatever your take on the FJ-09, once you start the engine, its enticing growl immediately tickles your ears. Let the clutch out and you feel the urgency of the torquey triple. The spread of torque is very wide, and although throttle response in A mode (the most aggressive) is a bit forceful, it is nonetheless manageable. Switching to Standard mode, via the right-hand handlebar controls, softens the response a tad, and it became my preferred mode for its smooth yet muscular bottom-end punch. B mode, with its gentle throttle response, was great around town, eliminating the forward lunge I sometimes experienced when hitting bigger bumps in A mode.
Before hitting the Alabama back roads, we did a…