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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 23rd January 2009

Yamaha FJ1200

Classic bikes: expensive to buy and run, no use for reliable daily transport and they have bad brakes and electrics. Sound familiar? Simon Lock has found a solution...

There is an alternative which many riders like me, who grew up poor in the 1980s and early 90s, have realised. There are hundreds if not thousands of superb, low mileage, pampered, reliable, shiny and cheap classics lurking in sheds around the country. They are, of course, the superbikes from that period that have not yet made it to Z1 status. They are big, comfy and fast, often handle well and have electrics and brakes that are both effective and reliable. Spares are generally cheap and widely available on the net, and some models even have large owners' clubs. These bikes also happen to be the ones I lusted after from afar when they were new, the difference being I can now afford to both buy and insure them. Heck, even the insurance companies label them classics! Better still, if you sniff out a good one you won't be doing much more than routine maintenance for the next decade: you'll be riding it instead.

And one such treasure is my Yamaha FJ1200. Of course, like all good bikes, it's the second one I've owned: the first managed 20k miles in my hands before I sold it and got a shaft drive replacement... just as I ceased to commute to work by bike and therefore didn't need shaft drive. Hmm, such is my life. And, it wins my own personal competition for the most practical BigRealCheapClassic. Mind you, that competition is stiff.

This is quite a late example... Yamaha FJ1200

The field includes the GPz900R (or GPZ900R depending on how green your anorak is), GSX1100F, ZX10, GPZ1000RX, CBR1000, RF900 and sundry other variations on the theme of big, fast, fat and comfy. Of course, in their day, these were more hyper than tourer but, as time goes on, yesterdays super-sports becomes today's sports tourer and these bikes all make excellent all Kings of the Road. So much so, in fact, that they are still capable of causing shock to many modern sports bikes, until twisty bits appear. Even then a well ridden GPZ can thoroughly embarrass much more modern kit.

For me though the FJ is a clear RealCheapClassic winner: all servicing is simple, easily accomplished at home and requires minimal dismantling to complete. For a bike with a fairing Yamaha must have thought carefully about how to make life easier for the poor mechanics amongst us. Their best move was to a radical 'beam frame' concept that, alongside giving fine handling, means that, once the tank is off, there is nothing to obstruct access to the top of the engine, making carb balancing, valve clearance checks and spark plug access a doddle. Easier, in fact, than on almost every other bike I've owned.

...but the motor dates back to the Seventies. Yamaha FJ1200, from headstock (top) to carbs (bottom)

And these bikes do come with just a modicum of performance to make up for the lack of time in bits in the shed. The FJ is famous for its awesome mid-range, which begins at about 3-4000rpm and just gets bigger as the revs rise. It means overtaking is effortless: ridden back to back with a 1995 FireBlade that my local dealer offered me a go on the FJ made the more rapid progress because its immense torque allied to the upright riding position allowed me to see and plan ahead. Mmm, RealBikes for RealLife perhaps?

The FJ's genesis was rather entertaining. It started as the XS1100 lump (a much maligned and fine machine) in a much improved chassis as the FJ1100 supersports which was quickly undone by the release of the GPz900R, and then the GSXR750. Yamaha smartly 'repositioned' their new world-beating sportster, now bored out to 1200, as a sports-tourer and it remained virtually unchanged for the next decade or so.

Classic Stuff on Now...

Its stomp and comfort mean that it really is a practical bike, although running costs are high if you do lots and lots of riding: hence my first one departing! Having said that, compared to the current equivalent hyper-bikes FJs are positively parsimonious in their desire for expenditure. So ,with a couple of additions, like a period Givi pannier set and perhaps a Baglux tank bag you can blast off to the East, or just to the supermarket, in style: albeit of an understated retro-80s kind. But there are some of us, well, ok, there's me, who miss the 80s!

Pure Eighties. Escept this is a Nineties example. Ahem. Yamaha FJ1200

And they don't go wrong... no, really they don't. It has been known for second gear to go, probably as a consequence of all that torque being applied a little too enthusiastically by Mr Previous Owner (of course you were never him, were you?) which just requires a mere full engine strip to sort. While you are there it might be an idea to replace the alternator/starter chain and any associated slipper blades you find. Other than that, and that is not common at all on well cared-for bikes, that's it. Compared to say, a Rotary Norton, it's just marvellous!

So... it's air cooled, easy to maintain, cheap to buy and run (in comparison to modern bikes that offer similar, or dare I say it, inferior performance), has a fairing to keep the worst weather off, is extremely comfy, handles in a way that flatters your own riding ability. Splendid! It, and many of its ilk are the BIG REALSECRET classics of the future. In the meantime you can re-live (or, in my case try out for the first time!) the superbikes of your youth and revel in the glow of cutting edge riding quality from twenty years ago. Your wrists won't ache, your bum won't be numb, you will have seen, in good time, that police car coming up in your ample mirrors, you will be able to stomp on lots of much more expensive kit and do so in that authoritative manner that comes with cubes in spades, your touring dreams will have no limits and the economy will be fixed. Ahem. At least your own economies might be less dented than if you owned an FJR1300, R1200RT or a Pan European and went to the dealer for servicing!

So, there you have it. A BigRealClassic. Nice to have in the shed as a contrast to your RealClassic and handy to rest tools and bits on whilst you work on said classic. But, if you really, definitely, need to get somewhere, to get there quickly, without fuss or crossed fingers for luck take an FJ, or any of the other contenders for the title of RealUnder-rated Classic and enjoy it cheaply whilst you still can. After all I remember when CX500s were laughed at... now they seem to cost a grand for a really nice one!


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