Heavy weight title fight contender – Racing a Yamaha FJ
The Yamaha FJ series are great big, dependable bikes with a large following and buoyant owner club. As bikes go the FJ is easily capable of travelling huge distance in double quick time, and with the maximum of rider comforts but, would you consider racing one against pure sports machines? The track is a different arena to the open road and the stocky FJ with its wide girth and slow handling is surely no place for it to excel. In reality, the opposite is true as the FJ always has been a fine handling machine if a little on the heavy side. A good, smooth rider will find the big four to be a great machine to tackle twisty B roads with ease while having the high speed and straight line ability to handle mile after mile of motorway.
These good manners and pleasant riding ability is all well and good but just how would such a machine adapt to the tough and unforgiving world of the short circuit. We met up with Phil “Doc” hacker at Mallory Park for an insight into just what his creation is capable of. Mixing it with a host or far more modern and expensive tackle on a normal practise day, I for one, must admit to having more than my share of doubts before actually cocking a leg over it for the first time, although looking at the impressive result that he has already achieved on this machine in his first season on it either Doc is a race god, or there just might be something right with the big Yam.
My reservations about the FJ were unfounded and out on the track the race FJ is a revelation. Light to the touch and deceptively fast, the engine is ready to go and will easily spin the rear at lean so a cautious throttle hand is needed in the slower corners. The first few laps were spent getting some heat into the Pirelli Dragon Corsa tyres so the bike moved about a fair bit until this was achieved across the whole of the rubber, once warm the grip is as good as any modern day sports machine. It’s riding position is a little strange at first, being wrist heavy due to the GSX-R footrests and gear change linkage, giving a harsh rear set position and the strange high rise bars making for a sit up and beg attitude for the upper body. While pottering around getting used to the bike, this seating position clearly doesn’t work, you quickly find muscles and aches you never knew you had and controlling the bike in this mode is the opposite of fun. Get on the gas though, upping the pace considerably and the set up makes perfect sense, particularly the wide bars that give a superb amount of authority over the bikes front end.
The brakes are staggering too, in fact a lot of modern bikes seemed to be crashing around the FJ on the brakes, maybe they saw the big old girl and thought it as easy prey, but they were wrong and had clearly misjudged their approach to stopping based upon these thoughts. The FJ digs in and stays flat once the R1 anchors have been deployed on the large diameter disc, allowing late and extreme braking to be used at all times, the Brembo master cylinder metering out the commands with finesse and delivery tremendous feedback to the rider.
On the road it has always been a good idea to get the FJ stopped as much as possible while still upright, the fat tyres making steering while the front end is heavily loaded a bit on the hefty side. For this racer the opposite is true, and the brakes can be held on firmly all the way into the apex of a bend, the front tyre gripping consistently and the steering remaining light enough to make small adjustments throughout.
Once into a bend the bike still behaves nicely, none of the grounding out of the engine casings and footrests as found on the roadster, in its place a sharp steering and not at all lethargic manner. Ease on the power and bags of grunt take over, making the scenery disappear into a blur as fast as the transmission consumes the gears, the fat rear tyre squirming under the intense battering the combined force of corners and the engine give it. At low speed the rear can be felt breaking away from its firm hold on the track while at high speed the sensation is lessened but still present, a glance at the bars while cornering hard will show there to be some opposite lock indicating that the back wheel is a few inches out of line with the front.
With 132 horses on tap these forces are considerable and yet the control given over the machine by the benchmark Yamaha fuelling is exemplary. Getting the big beast out of a corners is just as satisfying as putting it in there in the first place, hanging off as far as possible is a necessity as the weight is hard to throw around but made easy as the usually soft and plush FJ seat has been replaced with a cut down version, the hard pad giving great feedback up through the seat of your pants where it can be processed and dealt with to good effect.
The engine is freer revving by a good margin, when compared to the standard unit and louder too. The Akrapovic 4-2-1 exhaust system and end can have a tough time keeping the howl down below the 105db limit needed for racing in the UK they do manage it but the musical output is, at times, pretty close to triggering alarm bells. If the exhaust note is pleasing to the ear under power, then it must come close to being ecstatic on the overrun, a staccato cackle is backed by a band of banshees as the engine runs on mostly air and just a whisper of fuel. Each and every gear shift downwards sets the process off again and you end up wishing there was ten gears in the box so you could experience it again many times over, every corner and not just the five shifts of the Yamaha transmission.
It may not be the fastest, or the sharpest handling when compared to the full on sports bikes from the period but, with some careful preparation and set up of the components used Doc has ended up with a machine that is so easy to ride it beggar’s belief. Yamaha’s fuelling has, since the days of the XS1100, been spot on and this hasn’t been lost, even with the extensive modifications, dynojet kit and more importantly, the open air filtering that is so often the demise of a good carb set up.
Docs racer may well be a bit of vindication for the good old FJ. Back in 1984 the type was launched as Yamaha latest Superbike only to see some serious back tracking within months when the Kawasaki GPz900 really showed us what a Superbike should look and go like. In this respect the FJ never had a chance to show what it was really capable of in the world arena, few if any made it to the track in anger, and it was consigned to the role of sports-tourer before a year of its life had passed.
Building the FJ racer
Phil Hacker, Doc to all who know him within the FJ owners club, attended a track day with another rider who was racing an FZR1000 in the Forgotten Era class. Talking to the FZR owner about the kind of bike that are eligible, spurred him on to thinking about racing himself and if this were to happen then there could be no other choice than the FJ. Anything else would have made him unfaithful to the breed, so he set about making one into a credible track tool. Initially starting the FJ project with tight budget of £1000, Doc pretty soon realised that this figure was optimistic to say the least, despite buying the donor FJ1100 for a measly £200. You don’t get an awful lot for £200 however and once the work had begun, it soon became clear that much more money would be needed just to get the bike running let alone into a state of race readiness.
Another FJ, this time a 1200, was also purchased soon after eating the whole of the original budget but at least this machine had been fitted with many of the parts doc deemed necessary for his track weapon. A whole raft of modifications had been carried out on this second machine including the fitting of a set of Wiseco pistons, EXUP wheels and flat slide carburettors, parts which would come in handy further down the line, as the racer started to take shape.
Things didn’t run smoothly however, and once the 1200 engine was pulled apart, three of the four pistons proved to be damaged, as was one of the cylinders too. New pistons were sourced and fitted to a replacement set of barrels and while the engine was apart Doc made the decision to fit a gearbox from an XJR, in doing so the longer output shaft allowed the fitting of a wider rear tyre on the EXUP rear wheel. With the engine problems out of the way it became the cycle parts task to absorb any remaining hopes of building a budget race bike. The original 3CV fork turned out to be badly worn and needed an expensive rebuild while the front brakes were updated too using the huge EXUP front discs and the 4-piston calipers from the Yamaha R1. If all of this wasn’t enough it was the rear end that really proved costly, attempts were made by Doc to assemble a race set up on the cheap but with no joy, and eventually £530 changed hands for a top spec Penske shock. The end result of Doc’s toils is a machine some 36kgs lighter than a standard FJ and with around 20% more power.
Yamaha FJ1200 Racer Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled inline four DOHC
- Capacity – 1188cc
- Bore & stroke – 77.0 x 63.8mm
- Carburetion – 4 x 36mm flatslide carbs
- Max Power – 132bhp @ 8500rpm
- Torque – 81ft-lb @ 6000rpm
- Ignition – Nippondenso TCI
- Transmission – 5-speed wet clutch chain final drive
- Frame – steel box section perimeter
- Suspension – 41mm forks
- Aluminium box-section swinging arm
- Monocross – suspension Penske shock
- Brakes – 320mm disc 4-piston calipers, 282mm disc 2-piston caliper
- Wheels – 120/70 x 17 180/55 x 17
- Wheelbase – 1490mm
- Weight – 202kgs
- Fuel capacity – 24lts
- Top speed – 150mph
Yamaha FJ1100 Race Bike Gallery