Twin shocks, check, ooh and snazzy fully adjustable Öhlins ones too. Steel cradle frame, check. Big ol’ air-cooled motor, check. Analogue clocks, check. Single round headlight, check. Right way up forks, check. Yep, the new Yamaha XJR 1300 still fills the boxes in retro bike bingo, with only the lack of carburetor fuelling betraying its old bike disguise. Well, that and the new registration number obviously. On paper and in the flesh, the new XJR is much like the old XJR, until you look into the details. And on a bike like this, detail is everything.
With the current booming trend for café-racer/street tracker style bikes, it was only a matter of time before manufacturers wheeled out the remnants of the last retro fashion wave back at the turn of the century. But despite the cynicism of that last sentence, you sure as hell won’t find me or anyone else at SuperBike complaining. You see, retro bikes like the Yamaha XJR 1300 always managed to look cool and hold a decent turn of speed. Better still the handling, though far from supersport sharp, gave an involving ride that made everyone feel like a hero. And unlike the muscle bikes of the ‘70s and ‘80s that this particular strain of retro rides mimics, the new ones always start, don’t hole pistons or drink oil and have brakes and suspension that do what they’re supposed to. The purists can scoff all they want, but bikes are for riding and riding hard, which is tricky to do with nylon tyres, concrete brake pads and jelly for fork springs.
So what’s new?
Well clearly, in the grand scheme of things, absolutely nothing. There isn’t one ground-breaking bit of technology on this bike, hell it doesn’t even have ABS. So if you’re a tech geek or a performance perv, jog on my old son, there’s nothing for you here. The XJR is a big, air-cooled middle finger at the tech-race that’s going on between the big manufacturers right now, which makes its launch one day ahead of the all new, rolling gadget-fest Yamaha YZF-R1 just a touch ironic. But from the last iteration of XJR (a model that’s been around since 1995), there are a whole load of changes. Firstly, you can now get either the naked, wide-handlebarred XJR 1300 or the Racer version. The Racer has low, flat clip-ons, a 70’s style headlight cowl, a shorter mudguard and a pillion seat cover all in carbon fibre. Both bikes are covered in real nice detail touches, like the aluminium headlight brackets, the fully-adjustable Öhlins shocks, the black nitride-coated fork legs and the aluminium numberboards. Yamaha set their intent out pretty early, holding the presentation to the XJR at the original DEUS shop in Camperdown, Australia. These bikes are built to be a great base for customization, from the shortened tail section to the big bold engine, the opportunity is there to make something truly yours and truly special. That was the message and Yamaha is supporting that philosophy with a range of genuine accessories, predictably. But there is also a network of carefully picked customizers selling approved accessories of their own – not so predictable and a fair indication of how ‘into’ this scene the people behind this bike are. We’re sure there will be plenty of home-modified XJRs popping up now, ranging from stunning to stomach turning, but there is another option. You could just ride it.
Call us crazy, but we think the XJR looks pretty damn cool as is, especially the Racer version. Sure, a few little mods here and there can help, but it’s a great fun road bike and any changes shouldn’t be at the cost of that. As the bike in front of me launches off in a mock race start from the traffic lights, I’m projected back to being a small kid watching club racing at Brands Hatch. The sound of a big-capacity air-cooled inline four roaring away is timeless. It’s not offensively loud, not overly menacing, just a strong, mechanical sound of metal things doing their stuff. I bloody love it. And stretched out to the low, far-away bars of the Racer version, I feel as cool as actual fuck. There’s no hipster open-face posing, no ironic ‘tache requirements; just a big old bike with a big old engine and an enthusiastic idiot sat on top, wrestling it through the turns. The engine on the XJR feels exactly as a bike of this style should – torquey, smooth and happy, if not that willing, to rev up past 10,000rpm. The fueling is silky smooth, making linking slick, undulating corners a doddle, even when it was hammering down with rain. Only when the road opens out does the big Yam start to feel a little strangled, preferring the middle of the rev range to an all-out assault on the red line. At the other end of the straight, the brakes perform the perfect balancing act with the engine – strong, predictable power with no madness or super-sharp bite. The real fun part with the XJR (apart from skids and wheelies obviously) is through the twisties. At a steady pace in the wet, there’s time to appreciate how well the big 1300 steers, how it doesn’t put up a fight at turn-in time and how well it holds a line through the turn. Again, we’re not talking supersport laser-guided precision, but a solid, dependable chassis that goes where you ask and doesn’t make a fuss. Then, when you drop a gear or two, switch off the self preservation and get after it, things get rather more exciting. As James Haydon bounces and weaves off the apex in front, I’m destroying the sides of my Converse Allstars on Aussie tarmac and laughing like a maniac. The XJR 1300 is an absolute riot to ride fast, bucking and weaving just enough to make you feel like a hero, but never so much that you want to close the gas.
As we roll back in at the end of the day, pegs and boots ground into submission, shoulders sore from a hundred wheelies and faces aching from laughter, nobody gives a shit about what we look like. The XJR 1300 is a cracking fun bike to ride; sure you’ll get dropped like a broken toy by any half decent rider on a sports bike, but you can have twice the fun at half the pace. When you’ve finished giggling and inspecting the destroyed hero blobs, you can sit back and admire the angry black lines of the biggest air-cooled four cylinder engine fitted to a production motorcycle. It looks cool, goes well and makes me want to ride it for the sake of it. Win. £8,599 and it’s yours, but we’d definitely go for the £9,599 Racer version. The stretch to the bars is as big as the stretch to your wallet, but oh so worth it.
For full tech specs, click here.
Words: Chris Northover