Yamaha FJ 1200
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 β 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 β my GPZ is lighter and more nimble than his FJ. It's also unburdened with a passenger β 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 β it's a bastard that starts as a 90Β° 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 β check out the dyno graphs for proof. It's more likely to be a cynical marketing ploy β after all, who'd buy a ZZ-R1100 at Β£8500 if they could have the same performance for the GPZ's 70000 pounds?
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 β 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 β 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 β 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 misbehave.
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.
The 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 myself.
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 CafΓ© 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 β 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 β the average FJ owner is hardly going to be blitzing through the box in a series of traffic light GPs.
Power β the smooth, creamy variety β 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 β relaxed, long-legged and just the thing for the more mature motorcyclist.
Throttle response is instant β 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 repressurise again.
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 β 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 β 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 Β£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 β 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 β 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.