Comparison: 2013 Yamaha FJR1300 vs 2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 Sport: Touring Title Fight

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: David Burbach

We’ve been testing two of the most popular sport-touring motorcycles across the country over the past year. A mix of interstates, rural country byways, and the tight and chaotic roads of the Smokies provided the perfect testing grounds.

History

The FJR was first sold in the States in 2002 and had no predecessor. It was a brand-new model for Yamaha. The Concours 14, on the other hand, replaced the 1000cc Concours that had been a popular choice from 1986 until 2006. The new Concours, which was introduced in 2007, is built on the Ninja ZX-14 platform.

The most notable updates occurred in 2006 for the FJR when changes included the final drive ratio, trailing arm, radiator, instrumentation, airflow to the rider, and alternator. In 2010, changes for the Concours 14 included linked ABS brakes, looks and functionality of the bodywork, control via handlebar for the on-board computer, and an eco-mode function.

2013 Updates

New for the 2013 FJR are an independent damping fork with new internals and spring rate, linerless cylinder design, one-piece cowling, updates to looks (body, windshield, headlights, and front end), a most notable chip-controlled throttle for two fuel-injection settings (sport and touring), and cruise control.

The only change Kawasaki offered for the Concours 14 was a new color, blue. Other than colors and standard ABS, nothing has been updated since 2010.

Engine

Both models employ a horizontal in-line four with four valves per cylinder, but the FJR’s displacement is 1298cc while the Concours’ is 1352cc. The feel of the engines couldn’t be more distinctive, though. The Yamaha is smoother compared to the Kawasaki. It’s effortless, quieter, and ultimately more pleasant for sport-touring.

The throttle on the Kawasaki behaves twitchier compared to the FJR’s. Whereas the FJR is the epitome of a smooth four, the Concours 14 isn’t as precise. This is felt especially in slow-speed maneuvering.

The two heavyweights produce about the same amount of torque, but the Kawasaki feels quicker. The seating position might have something to do with this but more about that later.

Chassis and Handling

A fully adjustable front suspension with 5.3 inches of travel paired with a single rear shock adjustable for preload and rebound damping with 4.9 inches of travel ensures a smooth ride on the FJR. In fact, we tried to hit every pothole we could find, even in corners, and both models stayed planted. The Concours 14 uses an inverted, telescopic fork with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload (4.4 inches of travel) up front, as well as Tetra-Lever (to address the big engine’s shaft effect) with stepless rebound damping adjustment and a remote spring preload adjuster (5.4 inches of travel) in the rear.

Each machine has the powerful brakes needed to manage its 637 to 688 pounds; the Concours 14 is noticeably heavier. ABS braking is standard and works well on both models. The ABS on both models works well. It adds a level of safety needed for heavy motorcycles with very powerful engines and strong brakes.

During testing, we went through two sets of Battlax BT-023 tires on each model and found that those pneus had a profound impact on handling. After 1,000 miles, the dual-
compound tires started to show uneven wear, mainly on the sides, which caused the front tire to take on a V-like shape. The result is a motorcycle that’s difficult to corner with because it acts as if it’s about to fall over as soon as it starts to lean. For the third set of rubber, we chose Michelin’s Road Pilot 3 for both, and they performed marginally better. With new tires, the Yamaha and Kawasaki are a blast to ride in the twisties. Their weight makes it easy to keep a steady line, but that same weight and power wreak havoc on rubber. The Battlax BT-023 front tire lasted only 2,000 miles and the back about 4,000. The Road Pilot 3 front made it to almost 3,000 miles, and we pushed the rear to its limit at about 6,000 miles.

Although the FJR only has five gears, we never felt the need for sixth (unless you’re one of those hooligans riding more than 85 mph).

Ergonomics and Features

The seating position on the Kawasaki suits taller riders. It has more legroom than the FJR, and the grips are also more of a stretch. The Concours 14 puts the sport in sport-touring, whereas the FJR is more tour oriented. The latter has an upright seating position with less legroom than the Concours 14.

Touring features are crucial for long hauls, and there’s one item that the Concours is definitely missing—cruise control. Boring interstate stretches are sometimes unavoidable, and the FJR’s cruise control makes them bearable.

Each bike has an electronically adjustable windshield that remembers its position when the ignition is turned back on. We felt that both machines provided great protection with them; but in 90 degrees plus, they’re too much. More airflow options would be greatly appreciated on these models.

Heated grips and side bags are shared features, but the FJR also has a 12V outlet in the glove box. The Kawaski’s on-board computer is easier to navigate than the FJR’s, and readouts include odometer, two trip meters, fuel gauge, gear position indicator, tire pressure indicator, a clock, outside air temperature, battery voltage, remaining range, instant fuel consumption, and average fuel consumption.

The slightly more time-consuming navigation through the FJR’s readouts include analog tach, digital speedometer, fuel gauge, clock, D-Mode settings, gear position indicator, air temperature, engine temperature, remaining range, and fuel efficiency.

Flo’s Lowdown

The biggest complaint we had with both models led back to their tires. Once addressed, it was like riding a new motorcycle.

The Yamaha is quite vanilla in that it does everything well but lacks personality. The Concours 14 has personality, but it isn’t as refined as the globe-trotting FJR.

The Concours uses a key fob (KIPASS) and gets a lot of points for convenience. Sure, a key isn’t that difficult to take out of a pocket and insert into the ignition, but dogonnit, I already put on my gloves.

Over the testing year we’ve thoroughly enjoyed both motorcycles. They’re capable of long-distance touring just as well as zipping through tight curves.