First Ride: Yamaha XJR1300 Racer

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Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves is in Australia for the launch of the new XJR1300 Racer. Here are his initial impressions:

Yamaha has taken the out-going XJR1300 ‘musclebike’, left the basics alone, like the engine and chassis and given it a café racer-inspired facelift. It has a smaller tank and headlight, a black exhaust and a chopped-down subframe - all for just £8599.

But this is the £1000 more expensive ‘Racer’ version. It comes with clip-ons, a carbon fibre solo seat cover, short front mudguard and a bikini fairing.

Unsurprisingly, it goes, stops and handles just like the old XJR1300, but that’s a good thing. The inline four-cylinder air-cooled, five-speed motor is a peach of a thing and despite making less than 100bhp, it’s still fast and packed with grunt. The power delivery and throttle response is smooth and seamless all the way from tickover to the 9500rpm red line. Gears slice home with typical Yamaha precision, but like the FJR1300 sports tourer you’re always searching for the sixth gear it hasn’t got.

Although ultra-refined and vibe-free, there’s little airbox growl to get you excited, or roar from the new 4-2-1 pipe at low revs, but it has a nice zing to it when you give it some at high revs.

Yamaha has shrunk the fuel tank in the name of styling, to make the engine look more prominent. But your knees now rest on the rocker cover and that roasts your thighs in traffic.

The XJR1300 Racer will handle everything you throw at it in the corners, despite its 240kg all-up weight, so long as you don’t rush your inputs. Steering is on the slow side of neutral, but there’s plenty of ground clearance on the road and the ride quality doesn’t disappoint.

Straight line and cornering stability is superb, thanks to fully adjustable forks and an Ohlins twin shock set-up. New monobloc front calipers work well, but grip from the OE Dunlop D252 tyres is as retro as the looks, especially in the wet. Fit a set of the latest-generation sports or sport touring rubber and you’ll improve handling, feel and confidence massively.  

The Racer’s fairing gives you a decent level of wind and weather protection, which is a good thing, but the bars are definitely a triumph of form over function. They’re mounted too far away from the rider, so you have to sprawl over the long tank to reach them. Unless I ride with my nuts right on the back of the tank, I’m straight-armed, which is uncomfortable.

It’s not such a bad riding position when you’re having fun in the corners, but around town and for normal riding, it’s awful. Credit to Yamaha, the clip-ons and riding position is authentic and feels a lot like riding an old Norton race bike, but give me the standard bike’s straight bars any day.

Sunday morning scratchers will love the tiny 14.5 litre plastic tank for its looks, but it’s not as good as the old model’s 21-litre item for long distance touring. Usable range isn’t going to be that much more than 100-miles between fill-ups.

Build quality is superb. Standard components are all top-drawer, the paint finish is flawless, controls smooth and the yellow-sprung Ohlins twin-shockers are a cool touch. The mirrors are clear and sturdy, as are the two analogue instrument dials. The XJR’s digital display remains and only shows fuel range and time.

Yamaha has been making the XJR for two decades and it’s come in and out of fashion over the years. Now it’s back and been given a new lease of life with its café racer looks. And that’s a good thing because the XJR is and always was a cracking machine, but I prefer the straight bars of the cheaper, standard version.

Pictures by Alessio Barbanti, Henry Benno Stern, Josh Evans

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Michael Neeves

By Michael Neeves

MCN Chief Road Tester, club racer, airmiles millionaire.