Kawasaki GPZ1100I vs Yamaha FJ1200
by Simon Hargrevious
Even boring luggers like Kawasaki's re-invented GPZ1100 and
Yamaha's never-been-away FJ1200 have balls, and to prove it
Hargreaves and Smith thrash them off in a 1000-mile binge round
Devon and Cornwall
It's a warm Friday night and we're flying along the A39's
twisty bits between Bridgewater and Porlock. Kev's in front on
the FJ and I follow on the GPZ. We streak across the north
Somerset and Devon coast like low-flying jet fighters (Roger,
Wilco, etc), swathed in a wash of wind noise, eyes scanning the
road and headlights locked on the vanishing point. Only an
occasional flash of sparks from the FJ's footrests and
centrestand remind me we're earthbound the GPZ's soft
suspension flows over bumps and ripples like they're merely
air-pockets swirling over the wings of an aircraft.
Kev hustles the lumbering FJ into another corner. He turns
every ride into a race, and he normally clears off. Then, when
you catch him up, he pretends he was taking it easy all the
time. But tonight is different my GPZ is lighter and more
nimble than his FJ. It's also unburdened with a passenger
Kev's girlfriend, Rachel, has come along for the ride. I judge
my braking points by her clenched buttocks.
So far things are going well, which means Kev hasn't got away
from me yet. I don't get many chances to stay with Smith, so I'm
not giving up easily.
And then Kev makes a mistake. I know the road and I know the
corner it's a bastard that starts as a 90° left hander and
gets tighter. I also know what little ground-clearance the FJ
has, especially two-up.
Kev goes in too fast and too deep. He brakes and I can see
the FJ's ABS chattering full tilt as he goes past the limit,
cranked over and decked out. He crosses the white line and only
just hauls the Yamaha up before brushing the opposite bank with
his leg. I close in, laughing out loud as Rachel thuds a couple
of hefty right hooks into Kev's ribs. Meanwhile, the GPZ glides
round the corner in a velvet rush. No footpegs down. No ABS
histrionics. No worries.
The GPZ makes lots of sense for Kawasaki. Take yer average
ZZ-R1100 motor, rob a bit of top end with smaller carbs and
milder cams, stuff it in a steel tube double cradle frame, lob
the usual assortment of mediocre forks, shock and brakes, turn
it out at a reasonable price and bingo! the gap between the
top-of-the-range ZZ-R and the super-crap GTR is plugged.
But can someone please explain why the ZZ-R's motor is
detuned for the GPZ? All this talk of improved midrange is
bullshit check out the dyno graphs for proof. It's more likely
to be a cynical marketing ploy after all, who'd buy a ZZ-R1100
at £8500 if they could have the same performance for the GPZ's
Still, you wouldn't notice the GPZ's engine is detuned unless
you'd sampled the proper, ZZ-R version. From 2000rpm the Gee Pee
takes full throttle with a hollow shudder, like it's clearing
its throat before coughing out an awesome greenie. By 4000rpm
it's up and charging and at 8000 it's still going and close to
the point where you stop worrying about what the tacho says and
start worrying about licences, speed traps, tractors, etc...
So you haven't got the mindbending top end of the ZZ-R.
Shame, but you still get the smooth rush of revs that seem to
have no limit (not 'til the redline at HOOOrpm, anyway) and if
you just stepped off a moped it'd blow yer mind. How easy it is
to hit naughty speeds on the Kawasaki came home to me when I
rode the GPZ after slinging a 916 about for a weekend. Even on a
supa-spurts bike like the Ducati, 130mph has to be worked for
it's not something you can do accidentally. It is on the GPZ.
The riding position and fairing are as much to blame for this
sort of behaviour as the engine. At lOOmph you can sit almost
upright, safe and warm_ behind a seriously effective fairing and
screen, for mile after mile of M6/M42/M5. Bars and pegs are
cunningly arranged for maximum comfort you only notice these
things when they're wrong. On the Kawasaki they're right. And to
all the poofty journos on the Oz launch who moaned about a
rock-hard seat phooey. There's nowt wrong wi' it.
Saturday morning explodes across Exmoor in a burst of early
spring sunshine. Last night's mad dash to get to the bar before
closing time (so that's why Kev was so fast) resumes. We head
for St Ives along the A39 as it meanders I south. The road swaps
between flat out sweeping curves, tight hairpins, tree-lined
roller-coaster runs and f open dual carriageway. The GPZ
gets into a rhythm, swinging from side to side, destroying cars
and farm traffic in short bursts of throttle and, more
importantly, keeping Kev and the wildly wallowing FJ behind.
Through every hairpin I can hear the graunching of Yamaha
undercarriage as Smiffy flits from mirror to mirror.
I ride like an old fart, but it's fast enough for me. The GPZ
is perfect at medium/fast speeds the front and rear deal with
the GPZ's bulk (plus half a ton of luggage and rider)
effectively. Big touring bikes usually get floaty and wobbly
when you push them hard on bumpy roads, and the Kawasaki will
too. You just have to push it harder and faster to make it
Besides, full-chat mania is only half the story, and not the
half potential GPZ owners want to read about. Things like
throttle response, top gear flexibility and ease of use come
high on Mr GPZ's list of priorities.
The Kawasaki is very easy to use. Its gearbox is light and
positive. So's the clutch. The brakes work. The steering is
light for a 242kg fattie, especially at pootling speed. The
steering lock isn't as great as the FJ's, but it only gives agg
when you're trying to turn round in the road a million times for
photos. The mirrors are superb. The ZZ-R clocks (including
digital clock) are neat and look classy. The tank is worth 150
miles before reserve.
Pillions like it. Rachel began to eye the Gee Pee's grab rail
with envy: 'When do we get to ride it?' she asked. The Yamaha's
alright but its side grab rails are horrid and I don't like the
way it bobs and sways about. Makes me feel seasick.' Nothing to
do with Kev's antics, of course.
When we eventually reach St Ives we find the old fishing town
in a state of turmoil a major sewerage improvement scheme has
torn up the harbour front which means we have to make two
circuits of the cobbled one-way streets looking for a place to
park. The GPZ handles well enough at walking pace to avoid
running over one of the million or so tourists who mill to and
fro between shops.
We park on the harbour wall and collapse in a heap, exhausted
and hungry. From now on Kev has the GPZ, and he doesn't look
unhappy at the prospect. Neither does Rachel, come to think of
it. I'm looking forward to riding the FJ because although the
GPZ does almost everything you ask of it, it is also
staggeringly ordinary. It takes competence to new and dizzying
heights of mediocrity. It's cheap but not giveaway, it's fast
but not insane, it handles but not on rails and it stops but not
like a brick wall. Even the controls fall easily to hand,
ferchrissakes. And if that's your bag, buy one, you'll enjoy it.
first time I saw an FJ was in '84, when I was a spode on my
TS50ER. It was only an 1100 then, but it was also, along with
the GPZ900R, GSX-R750 and FZ750, the absolute billy-bollox. I
remember it now... I was sat at a crossroads on the TS,
listening to ZZ Top on a Walkman and pretending my Suzuki was a
120bhp monster. An FJ pulled up at the opposite junction. The
rider was dead cool paddock jacket, black visor, Bandit lid and
Frank Thomas paddock boots. He looked at me, pulled out, and
fucked off down the road in a blast of revs. I nearly wet
And now, 11 years later, I'm going to ride one. Kev hands me
the keys as we sit on the harbour wall in St Ives. 'Fuckin' keep
it,' he says. Oh dear, that won't do at all...
Interesting comparison time. The GPZ is the product of lots
of fiddling around by Kawasaki. If you start with the GPZ900R,
then go through the 1000RX, ZX-10, ZZ-R1100, then back to the
GPZ again, you get a 900R with better engine.
suspension, brakes, tyres, etc. Darwin would be confused. All
Yamaha have done with the FJ is take it out to 1200cc in '86,
bung anti-lock brakes on in '91 and... err... that's mostly it.
Oh, they changed the front wheel size (16 to 17in) and
streamlined the fairing to turn the bike from its original
billing as a sports bike into a tourer. That really is it.
Dinosaur or what?
Yes it is. Back in the mists of time when the FJ's square
section steel perimeter frame had a fancy name and a load more
street cred than now, FJ's were bought by the kind of people who
buy FireBlades today. And who buys the FJ today? Touring types.
40 , year-old sales execs with wifey at home and kids at
university. Nothing wrong with that. But does this mean in
another ten years the CBR900RRwill be a duffer's bike? Wow. What
will the hot stuff be like then?
It's amazing what goes through your brain while you sit in a
Cafι knocking back cream teas with the surety of a man who knows
he doesn't have to shoehorn himself into his leathers until
tomorrow morning. But tomorrow always comes (unless it doesn't,
in which case it's too late anyway), and Sunday morning duly
arrives in a blaze of fog. Paddling the FJ out of its overnight
home in the garage of the B&B is a simple affair thanks to a
lower seat height and a better turning circle than the GPZ. You
appreciate these things better with a hangover.
You also appreciate the plentiful supply of instant poke from
the cronky old aircooled motor. The FJ builds power rapidly
first is over almost before it's happened, with three more
ratios chipping in before top. The gearbox isn't as neat and
tidy as the Kawasaki's, but with fifth available from 1500rpm it
matters not the average FJ owner is hardly going to be
blitzing through the box in a series of traffic light GPs.
Power the smooth, creamy variety is everywhere. It flows
out from the motor and wrinkles tarmac in stonking great waves
and does it with 30% fewer revs than the GPZ relaxed,
long-legged and just the thing for the more mature motorcyclist.
Throttle response is instant the motor seems to pick up
revs even before the grip is opened.
Once the engine has used up its King Grunt getting the
considerable FJ bulk rolling, slowing it down again is the
responsibility of Yamaha's ABS. It works like this: sensors on
the front and rear discs work out when either wheel is on the
verge of locking and momentarily bleed off fluid pressure to
release the brakes. The tyres unlock while the brakes
If the tyres continue to skid, the whole thing repeats until
the tyres don't lock any more. Presumably there's a computer
somewhere which decides if a tyre at standstill is a different
beast from a locked tyre, otherwise it would be impossible to
hold the front brake on and do burnouts. Which you can, at the
risk of befuddling the computer for ten minutes or so.
In practice ABS makes you lazy you just stamp on the rear
lever as hard as you like and feel it pump away as the tyre
alternately locks and unlocks. You can also do the same to the
front with no fear of crashing, although it takes a bit more
bottle. Eventually you do it all the time in a straight
l This is the FJ cock pit bull. Check out the push/pull choke
knob line and start experimenting by hitting the brakes
mid-corner to see what happens. Then you get cocky and fall off.
I found the ABS was fun for about 30 seconds, and a pain
after that. The worst thing about the system is it thinks the
wheels are locked before they really are the ABS comes on too
easily. Is it a coincidence the first time I rode the FJ the ABS
came on front and rear when I braked moderately hard behind a
lorry which pulled out in front of me? And the biggest joke has
to be the massive £830 the system adds to the FJ's price tag.
It's better off without.
If ABS is the high-tech feature of the FJ, the rest of the
bike is a bit old fart. The suspension is utterly soft and
bouncy, even on max damping and preload (adjustable with the
toolkit's C-spanner and with all the bodywork on). Where the GPZ
deals with its weight in all but the barmiest of conditions, the
FJ wallows, weaves and threatens to nurf you off at modest
speeds. By the end of the test a large part of the FJ's landing
gear was strewn across Cornwall like the wreckage from an
airline disaster, as the Yamaha bounced and flounced its way
along coastal roads. It even bottomed out while bolt upright.
The FJ's steering is slower than the GPZ with the wheelbase
of an ocean liner it's always going to turn in its own time.
Chasing the sinking sun along the swooping delights of the St
Ives to Land's End road with a dark visor was a matter of short
blats of top gear throttle followed by full rear ABS action into
corners. It was probably quicker than I could have managed on a
race rep but it wasn't very smooth.
But the FJ isn't a back road bike, even if it's entertaining
to mistreat it as one. It's long-range comfort we're talking
here, and the FJ has it. The riding position is an all-day
jobbie, and so's the seat. The tank isn't, with 110 miles to
reserve the worst we saw blame a tank that's impossible to
fill to the brim, not bad fuel consumption. The reserve switch
is the usual rocker affair, only this one is recessed in the
fairing and difficult to get a gloved finger onto. And while
we're moaning, the mirror stalks aren't long enough. At the end
of a long day pratting about for photos, it was time to leave
Cornwall. After a traditional post-photo session Little Thief
meal, it was 10.00pm. A30, M5, M4, A34, A43, A45 and A605 later
I stumbled through my front door. It was 3.30am and I was
knackered. The FJ wasn't. Nuff said.