Who would have thought that the old and most unlovely XS1100 could one day spawn this awesome effort ? The XS isn’t a direct ancestor for the XJR(more like a grand uncle)but the FJ1100 did utilize much of Yamaha’s experience of the 95bhp,four-cylinder DOHC XS. The FJ followed the XS to fill the sports-tourer slot in the mid 80’s, pumping out 125bhp and weighing 227kg. By the time the FJ disappeared from the list in 1995 its capacity had grown to 1188cc, its weight was over 240kg, and although there was an ABS option the power output remained the same.
Enter the XJR 1200 in 1995. The FJ12 lump was detuned for better torque all lower revs(although that meant max power was capped to 97bhp) and translated into a retro-chassis with twin-shocks and steel-tube double-cradle frame. The XJR wasn’t seen as a super sport alternative at this point, more a knee-jerk reaction to the success of Suzuki’s big Bandit, so the emphasis was on budget rather than balls-out biking. That’s why the 1200 has rather limited suspension which becomes more of a paint with age: the twin shocks offer preload adjustment only and fade rapidly once warn, and the 43mm forks have no scope whatsoever for adjustment. This is a particular problem on the XJR as its weight bias is towards the rear-brilliant for power slides and rear-wheel steering-but less good on high speed curves and under vast acceleration.
The XJR-even the lowly 1200 which the glad rags tend to scoff at these days-has masses of acceleration. Crack open the throttle at 30mph and you’ll need crampons and a safety harness to stay on board at full bore through the gears.
They ended up creating a bike with excellent steering, thanks to the massively strong swimming arm, 17-inch wheels which are not over sized tires, and a 1500 mm wheelbase(that’s 50mm shorter than the XS’s size).
Handling is less precise because of the XJR’ s 235kg weight (almost the same as the XS1100) and the sofa-soft suspension. But this does mean the pillions get a good ride; combined with the enormous seating area the XJR has long-hung pillion footrests which provide you and the passenger with some decent legroom.
For 1999 the XJR was a 1300 with an actual capacity of 1250cc.
The XJR started life in 1995,at a time when the number of naked bikes flooding the market was on the increase. At that time it found itself stacked up against the offerings from BMW(R1100 R), Ducati(M900), Triumph(Speed Triple), Honda(CB1000) and Yamaha’s own Emperor-without-clothes, the V max.
The main competitor of the XJR 1200 is the big Bandit. Yamaha developed the sport-tourer as a reaction to the success of the Suzuki Bandit in the 90’s. Being more aggressive, comfortable and with a better look, the Bandit kept superiority despite the number of sales at Yamaha.
Big, brawny and packed with muscle(that’s how the bikes used to be like in the 70’s and 80’s), the XJR 1200 still looks like it’s of the 90’s but with a lot more refinements.
The XJR was developed as the bike that has it all. Unforgettable looks, super-toned muscle and a sweet exhaust note. They’ve given to the modern classic more torque than the FJ and they improved the throttle response also. The bars are designed to make every single ride more controlled and together with the seat, comfortable as well.
Unlike Kawasaki’s 1100 Zephyr, the XJR can’t truly be described as a retro-bike, and the same is true of the CB1000.Perhaps there’s a hint of 1978-model XS1100 in the XJR’s profile, and this bike’s all-black color scheme echoes that of the XS1100S Midnight Special that turned heads(with its looks) and stomachs(with its high speed wobble) three years later. But Yamaha’s lack of four cylinder heritage has not been a styling handicap, because the XJR looks the meanest of the modern Japanese trio.
The Yam’s shiny black paintwork and engine cases contrast with the chrome of its headlight rim, carb-tops and exhaust systems, and with the alloy finish of parts such as the box-section swing-arm, rear footrest brackets and the engine’s cam-caps. The tips of the 1188cc motor’s fins are polished, too, emphasizing the air cooled nature and sheer size of the 16-valve power plant.
The motor sits in a round-tube steel frame which, like the square-section FJ frame, has a bolt-on lower rail to allow engine removal. Forks are conventional 43mm units, while at the back the XJR has a pair of flashy gold piggy-black ohlins shocks, made in Japan to the Swedish firm’s specifications.
From the pilot’s seat the Yam feels pretty businesslike, its slightly rasied handlebars sit you virtually upright in front of the chromed-rimmed clocks, a central fuel gauge and a small alloy panel of warning lights. The stepped seat is fairly low at 765mm, still not as low as the FJ12’s.
The big motor sets the tone immediately you pull away, its smooth-shifting five-speed gearbox being almost redundant if you’re not in a hurry. There is a slight judder power available for as low as 1500rpm in top, and from $2000 up the XJR’s 37mm CV Mikunis give a crisp response even when the throttle is wound right open. Better still, the engine is smooth enough to keep the well-spaced rectangular mirrors clear all the time.
The wheels are 17-inch three spokes at each end, wearing Dunlop radial rubber in 130/70 front,170/60 rear sizes. Big 320mm front discs with four-pot calipers, lifted straight from the FJ, complete a purposeful profile.
The engine sets up the peace at about 3000rpm, and at only $4000 it’s into the meatiest part of its power band. From there the delivery is fairly linear all the way to the red line at 9500rpm,though a very slight and typical FJ-style tingle intrudes at higher engine speeds, and there little to be gained by using the top third of the rev band. Besides, the riding position means that 80mph plus cruising isn’t practical.
A more immediate handicap to rapid riding of this Japanese-market XJR was its strange speed limiter, which was set to kill acceleration at about 115mph. This “safety feature” means that if you hammer round a curve at that speed the bike would suddenly slow as though it is running out of gas, then speed up, then slow again. Without this device, the bike should be good for the 140mph top speed as the similar CB1000.
Fortunately the XJR’s chassis was unfazed by having its engine die in the mid-curve and remained totally stable at speed, despite the forces being fed into it by the rider. Handling at lower speeds was very reasonable, too. The XJR always felt like a fairly big, heavy bike, but it carried its weight low and changed directions without a great amount of effort.
In normal use, the forks kept the front end and the rear units under control, although relatively basic and adjustable only for preload, gave a firm and well damped ride. Hard use of the front brake over a series of bumps made the non-adjustable and slightly soft forks dip a bit too much.
The XJR felt comfortable and it behaved well when it was pushed to its fairly modest limits of speed and handling. The bike is very well put together and it incorporates features such as span-adjustable levers, luggage hooks, and a reasonably generous 20-litres tank, a pillion grab rail and a easy to use center stand. Its very practical for the type of riding that bikes like this are build for.
Bikes have never been cheaper and, with even basic models offering staggering level of performance. Although basic by design, the XJR 1200 well just be the only bike you may ever need at an even more affordable price.
A Yamaha XJR 1200 from 1995 with a low number of miles and a good maintenance doesn’t cost more than $3700 and a 1999 model $6000 in the same conditions.
Because most XJR’s are painted black you should make sure that the bike still has the original paint which means that the bike it wasn’t involved in a crash.
If you do hanger after that authentic 1970’s experience, then consider the Yamaha XJR1200 retro motorbike. With a meaty four cylinder air cooled engine, derived from the old XS1100, The Yam has the right look, feel and comfort levels for a trip down memory lane.
Performance in the 130mph area might sound pretty tame to some, but if your biking lifestyle is more about trundling along, catching some sunshine on Sundays, without risking major spinal damage aboard the latest 180mph sports machine, this could be just the ticket…without getting a speeding ticket.