1984 Yamaha FJ1100

Putting the sport into sport-touring motorcycles

| September/October 2008

1984 Yamaha FJ1100
Claimed power:
125mph @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 146mph
Engine: 1098cc DOHC 16-valve inline four
Fuel capacity/MPG: 23ltr (6.1gal) / 40mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: $4,999 / $1,500-$4,000

The 1984 Yamaha FJ1100 certainly caused a stir in its freshman year: “The best large displacement sport motorcycle of 1984, and maybe even the best in its class in the history of motorcycling,” said Rider magazine. Cycle Guide made the FJ1100 its Bike of the Year, while Cycle magazine raved, “All hail Yamaha’s FJ1100, King of the Superbikes … class champ, no contest.” So what was all the fuss about?

It’s sometimes difficult to remember there was a time before faired sportbikes. Nakedness was the norm until BMW kicked off the trend with a small, factory-made handlebar fairing on its 1974 BMW R90S, and Ducati launched the street version of the Ducati 750SS — complete with fairing — in the same year. It was another six years, though, before streamline became mainstream on bikes with sporting intentions: think Suzuki’s Katanas and GSs, Kawasaki’s GPz and Ninja range, and Honda’s new V4 Interceptors.

But the bike with the most bodacious bodywork of the early streamlined sportsters was the 1984 Yamaha FJ1100. In fact, its frame was designed with front-end fiberglass in mind, and its shape made the FJ the slipperiest supersport of its day. Along the way, the FJ1100 effectively drew the blueprint for a generation of sport-touring motorcycles — a line that continues today with the Yamaha FJR1300.

Evolution and revolution
The Yamaha FJ1100 that came to the U.S. market for the 1984 model year was a completely new motorcycle. Unlike Suzuki’s entry in this market, the Suzuki GS1100, Yamaha chose not to simply revise its Seventies-era XS1100 engine, starting instead with a clean sheet of paper. Somewhat surprisingly, Yamaha opted for an air-cooled engine with five gears, when both Kawasaki and Honda chose liquid cooling and six cogs for their new supersport bikes. Though simpler, air-cooling inherently limits the engine’s output potential because of inconsistent operating temperatures. That didn’t stop Yamaha engineers from extracting a claimed, class-leading 125hp from the airhead, inline four-banger. Though still an all-new engine, unlike the contemporary Honda V-4, the FJ1100 was evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

In some ways, the FJ1100 bridged the gap between the air-cooled, 8-valve DOHC fours of the Seventies and the new liquid-cooled, 16-valve engines of the Eighties. The FJ1100 also marks a split in superbike development, paving the way for a new class of liter-plus sport-tourers, leaving the out-and-out sportbike competition to the under 1,000cc bikes like the more frenetic Kawasaki ZX9 Ninja of 1984. The split in the superbike market into these niches was new in 1984, and the motorcycle magazines weren’t quite sure how to evaluate them: Were they touring machines, track tools or drag bikes? Or a little of each?

6/1/2009 9:19:56 AM

I have owned a 1984 FJ1100 for the past 3 years and I plan on keeping it forever. It has been a great touring bike for me, easily knocking off 350 mile days without complaint. I have never had any mechanical problems,the bike starts first time every time. It is very quick off the line and travels at 100 miles an hour on the highway without a whimper! Best bike I have ever owned.

Arne Helge
3/15/2009 7:10:06 AM

I turned 18 in -85, and thought the FJ11 was the most exciting superbike at the time. As I was a student, it was too expensive, but during the spring of -91 I bought a -85 model. The first year I didn`t do anything to it but ride, but during the next winter I turned it into at better functioning and looking bike. A new paint scheme in a shifting red/orange colour depending on the light, repaired the jumping 2. gear, Barnett clutch plates, Progressive Suspension front springs, White Bros rear damper. It transformed (big time) the "saggy" original suspension, and the bike had much better cornering clearance and a much sharper feel in the turns. The frame is strong, as I found out during a near high-side (in jeans) at 170 km/h because of a crappy Michelin touring tyre at the back... Got my pulse racing... Didn`t keep that tyre for long! When I bought the bike, I had already tried a GPZ900. When I got on the FJ, I instantly felt at home. It felt more compact and "little" (the kwacker was more of a stretch), and with lighter steering. Great torque to. Very comfortable, and I used it also for commuting in early spring and late autumn because of the nice fairing protection. This time of year the other "bikers" I met was mostly either other FJ riders or BMW riders (I live in Norway). The high mileage of second-hand FJ also prove the touring qualities of these bikes. I friend of mine had a Kawa GPZ1000RX at the time. It had better brakes and aerodynamics (when reaching 180 km/h, the RX simply shot away), but I think the FJ was a more forgiving and easy bike to ride. With little fuel in the tank and a heavy passenger, the FJ also pulled fun wheelies without using the cluch or jerking the handlebars. The later FJ12`s (from -89) is a better bike (brakes, 17-front wheel), but the design of the first model is more sporty and distinctive. A great bike, and its status as a classic will surely increase.

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