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Yamaha XJR1200
Yamaha XJR1200

There was something odd about the XJR but I didn't notice it for four days and 400 miles. I didn't notice it while I was grimly hanging on at 90mph down the bypass on my way into work, with the veins on my arms bulging like fat, purple worms and my neck bulging like a fat, purple Nigel Mansell. I didn't suss it going ape on some back roads, bottoming the XJR's soft, Öhlins suspension over every bump and lump. A desperate thrash across the fens to Snet to watch the six-hour race left me none the wiser. Even a 200-mile neck-buster down the Mil failed to reveal this particular flaw in the XJR's character. It took Bruntingthorpe's two-mile runway to show up the problem: this bike is a Japanese-spec grey import, restricted to a measly 112mph and brought into the UK by retro-freak Nick Culton of West Coast Motorcycles in Southport (0704 546378). The full monty XJR isn't imported into the UK yet, but it'll

be on Yamaha's stand at the NEC and in showrooms by Spring '95. But this isn't a test of a bike handicapped all through its rev range by a power limit. Up to 112mph the XJR does everything the UK-spec bike will, and above that is irrelevant for retros. We all know unfaired bikes are crap on the motorway. What matters is how they grunt and how they look.

The XJR grunts good. The massive, aircooled motor is nicked from Mr Grunty himself, the FJ1200. Yamaha have retuned the engine for more poke low down, losing 15bhp at the top end and pushing peak torque down from 6,000rpm to 4,000. As a result, it's best to forget the top half of the tacho — anything over 6,000rpm is missing the point. And the fun. Unlike Honda's flat, lifeless CBR-engined retro, the XJR is a fit 'un and goes like stink if your idea of performance is how rapidly a bike short-shifts into top gear. Repeat after me: braaap, brap, brap, brap, brap. There. You're now doing 70mph at 4,500rpm in top and still accelerating hard. That's what 70ft-lb of torque, super-low gearing, instant throttle response and a fabulously slick box do for you. Long, sustained trips round the tacho to the 9,500rpm redline are a no-no: they're unrewarding, knackering and no better at propelling the XJR's considerable mass forward than shifting between four and 6,000.

Low down zip is enhanced no end by a sweet drivetrain. Every part of the line feels engineered to give minimum resistance to the path from wrist to wheel. Light throttle action, spot-on carburation, an uncannily smooth, almost frictionless, engine, low, close gearing and finally a virgin chain and cush drive make it happen. Basically, you open the throttle and the engine rips loose instantaneously. T'riffic. No wind protection and the XJR's explosive punch out of first and second gear corners make town and twisty country lanes the perfect hunting ground for stalking unsuspecting race reps and blowing them away.

And that's the game the steering likes playing as well. You wouldn't expect a word like 'agile' to come into this test, but it does. Agile. See? The XJR has a sharper head angle, shorter wheelbase and weighs less than any other retro. Point the Yam at a corner and, nine times out of ten, it goes where you want with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Then, on the tenth time, it'll go where it wants and you'll crash — it turns rapidly enough, but with no fairing and the rider acting like a parachute at speeds over 70mph it steers with all the finesse of a bent shopping trolley.

Hustling the Yamaha round low and medium-speed corners would be a gas if it wasn't for the sloppy suspension and crappy ground clearance (one photo session at mild lean angles = new footrests, centrestand and exhaust. We haven't got the bill yet but it's going to hurt). Yamaha own Öhlins (the company) and fitting their gear is a good marketing move because it's ultra-cred. It looks trick too.

Sadly, looking trick is the limit of this particular pair of shocks' usefulness. As devices for controlling the attitude of a speeding XJS over bumps they ain't so hot. They're softly sprung (which isn't a bad thing in itself. In fact the XJR is nice and comfy over smooth stuff), but as soon as bumps come into it, the damping takes an early bath. Hit some mid-corner, pegs down, with a passenger on the back, and things get more and more wallowy until the rear tyre gives up and starts to chatter sideways, off the line you want and into the path of... eeeek. Best not think about it. There's no adjustment for damping, and there should be.

"/ don't care whose name is on the shocks, if they've got naff all damping and you can't adjust them, they're crap. They might as well be Yamaha's own for all the use they are," said Kenny P, after watching the XJR's rear end leaping about during the photo session. Just as well, 'coz rumour has it the shocks win be Yamaha's own when the XJR gets to Britain.

The Yam's low speed balance is excellent. A low c of g, quick, light steering and generous turning circle make the Yam a doddle to twist and turn through traffic at walking pace, while its well-hidden weight and low seat height make it the most manageable retro yet. It's also one of the most comfortable. The wide, plush seat means rectal comfort for everyone including pillions, the pegs are set back so the rider leans forward to the narrow bars, balancing weight against wind blast.

Braking is looked after by a pair of Exup-sized discs and calipers: cue the usual adjectives about one-fingered stopping power, etc. Top kit. The unadjustable forks aren't so good. They're the reverse of the shocks: enough damping to keep things in control, but not enough spring to stop bottoming out with a wrist-pounding clunk under banzai braking. Other bits of the XJR include a headlight with amazing full and weedy dipped beams, a fuel tank which goes for 140 miles before reserve (with a tiny tap buried deep under the tank), a pair of sticky Dunlop D202s, and mirrors which show 50% elbows.

First impressions last: looks kill and the XJR is a convicted mass-murderer. Styling may be a matter of opinion, but the Yamaha increased the inner thigh temperature of everyone it passed. Comments went from 'handsome' to 'reet f. tasty', but it was left to my own, personal style guru Melanie to pass final judgement: "It looks better than the rest of the crap you bring home."

Yamaha's XJR is the best retro yet: best engine, best riding position, best steering, and second-best suspension (beaten only by the CB1000). And it looks smart. If only Yamaha can keep the price under £7,000...

Yamaha XJR1200 gallery

Categories: Yamaha motorcycles