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My Review of the FJ-09

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I wrote this up for the riders in a tech forum that I belong to, and with whom I have done tours, tracks days and bike camping:

OK.. ride report..
TLDR: Drove to PA, had a cheese steak, picked up a bike, loved it, and almost froze my fingers off riding back.
Full report:
As you all know, I’ve been in the market for a new bike for a while. I love my Ninja 650. It’s a great bike. It’s served me well in short rides, long rides, tours, track days, group rides, puttering around town, grocery runs, and commutes. It’s been rock solid, has plenty of power for my needs, is fun, and has been a steadfast companion. But, as we all know, and I have learned, you first bike, is not your last, and the bikes in between aren’t either. The riding you do, and the environment you ride in, shapes your preferences.
For me, I wanted something a little more versatile, but with fewer compromises. I also wanted something with better technology, rider aids like ABS and TC, some more power, and long distance comfort, but at the same time, as a little guy, and someone who enjoys an occasional track day, some mountain twisties, and rides in the city a lot, I would prefer something light and flickable.
There were several contenders. The Ninja 1000 called to me as the logical successor. The F800GS and the Tiger 800 Roadie as well. But then I started reading of the rave reviews of the FZ-09, and the plans to put that power plant in a small FJ, so I decided to wait. As a guy who lusted after a Ninja 1000, it was a hard thing to do. But Color in the Catskills opened up an appreciation for ADV styled road bikes, as well as last year’s Tybee run. The ergonomics and riding experience of a half faired, taller and straighter seating position has their advantages. I enjoy some distance riding, and no matter how much I worked my core, the sportier bikes took their toll, even with regular bars, like on the 650.
Bike selection and purchase
When the FJ-09 renderings leaked, I turned my nose up at it as ugly. The seat height also turned me off. I have a 29.5” inseam, and a 33+” seat height looked terrible. But, I am not the rider I was when I began a few years ago, and a leg over shannim’s KLX, as well as a few BMWs at Color in the Catskills led me to believe I could manage. In truth, it reminded me of my first rides on the Ninja 250 as a new rider. Awkward, but with the knowledge that balance matters more than a fully planted foot. Actual photos made me change my mind about the look. Awkwardness turned to a purposeful stance, and an aggressive, sporty look with a live rider on it. It really was a sexy little beast.
Then the reviews came out, and they were spectacularly glowing. Reviewer after reviewer gushed about the bike. I still had ride height misgivings, but the confirmation of a lowered seat (at 32.6”) and ability to fit full sized FJR side cases on the same mounts instead of the little 22 liter city bags was enough to turn the tide. I was actually lusting after the bike. It looked perfect for what I wanted. I started trolling Cycle Trader, looking for a deal. It’s winter, so it had to be pretty close by. The bike has a $10.5K MSRP, but there were dealers offering it for less than $9,000 already. But they were in NC, or WV, too long a hike to do a drive and ride with a companion driving the car on the way back. I decided to buy in Tyrone, PA, about 280 miles away, at Unlimited Cycle Center. It took two quick calls to negotiate a reasonable out the door price with my added options (FJR cases, bag mounts, lower seat, heated grips, second power outlet), and then it was just details of loan term/rate, adding the 5 year warranty and getting insurance issued. The Ninja btw failed mostly on this account. The cheapest I could get full coverage was $1,300 per year, for just the bike, as opposed to $550 for the FJ-09 with low deductibles and full comprehensive/collision and accessory coverage.
Most of the options are not shipping yet in quantity, but the low seat was available, so I would be able to confidently ride it back on the same day I bought it. The FJR bags were in stock, but not the mounts. I put those, and the stock seat in the back of my girlfriend’s little SUV. While I was there, I also looked at the FZ-09, which looked like the ticket to hooliganism that it is, and the FJR, another option suggested by Jehos, but just too big and couch like for me. So, after about 45 minutes, I suited up into my tights, base layer, Mobile Warming heated shirt, Icon SuperDuty 3 boots, extra socks, and then…. Not having real winter gloves due to riding with heated grips for years, I brought both the Rev’It Tarmac and the Held AirNDry gauntlets and wool liners.
Impression and controls
My first impressions of the bike were great. Now, when I first sat on it, I was in regular jeans and casual thick soled shoes. I was able to get a leg up over it, but with a bit of difficulty. I knew I would have to use the “use left peg to get up and over bike” mounting method in the much stiffer Rukka gear. I was able to get my toes solidly down, almost to ball of foot level on one side without stretching. The bars are high and wide, in fact, really discernably wider than those on the Ninja 650. The hand guards made it wider still. This was a wasp waisted bike, but not a narrow one. But the balance was great though. It’s a little heavier than the 650, but feels lighter. The weight shifts easily from foot to foot, and the wide bars give plenty of leverage to keep it from tipping. It’s easy to get a foot down, and then shift to a foot with better grip. With the actual gear, thermal liners, tights and boots, I lose a bit of plantedness on my feet, but no real loss of confidence, since it handles so well and with light effort.
From there, I looked at the standard controls. The horn, turn signals and Hi-Low controls on the left are in slightly different positions than on my previous bike, but that’s not a big deal. They were a bit awkward at first, but they are big enough and firm enough to be found and give feedback of engagement. The levers though… well, as a guy with tiny hands and used to using adjustable short ones… meh. They will have to go. The clutch lever is not bad. It’s smooth, not too far out, and the friction point is easy to find and hold/feather. But it’s still not really comfortable. It needs to be brought in a bit to make it easier to use in slow maneuvers. The brake lever though is waaaay out there, and very firm. A few times, I reached out for it and did not reach enough. It’s really too far out, and with the firmness needed to engage it, awkward for a guy with small hands. But the brakes themselves have great modulation, and I did not trigger the ABS even once due to over braking. But when do want to brake, these brakes really stop you well.
The foot controls are fine, and well placed. The side stand feeler though is a little lost under the peg and shifter. I’ll get used to it, but it was a bit awkward at stops. Neutral is a bit hard to find, and I overshot it both going up and down. I hope that gets easier with experience and break in. The transmission is a joy to use though. Gears engage with a positive thunk, but without the slop and clacking the 650 exhibited in low to moderate speed shifting.
Finally, the dual screen digital display and controls. The screen is large and really legible, both in daylight, and the dark. The main display has the standard speedo, tachometer, clock and fuel gauge, but also has a strip of indicators underneath for traction control, ABS and power modes. I did not play with those at all on this trip. The screen on the right is the great though. It’s got multiple functions, switched by the big toggle on the top of the left hand controls, and it cycles through trip/odometer, fuel consumption and temperature displays. It was easy to see mileage since the last fill, trip mileage, estimated range and fuel consumption rate, as well and ambient and coolant temperatures. I found myself flicking back and forth as I ride to monitor the trip, plan fuel stops, and estimate when I would have to stop to warm up, before my hands lost feeling. With both temperature and mileage gauges, I would predict how fast I could ride as we changes elevations, speeds and temperatures.
On the importance of gear
Now, before I get to gushing about the bike, let me talk about my gear. First of all, Rukka gear rocks. If you are a short person that can’t wear Klim because the jackets go to your knees, look at Rukka very seriously. With the thermal liners in, two sets of tights on my legs and two base layers under my jacket, my core was comfortable, and never dropped enough to be more than just noticeable. The gear was fantastic, riding in the mid-20s at 65 to 70mph. I used the heated shirt only in the last 100 miles out of 300, and then only to try a futile last ditch effort to get warmer blood to my fingertips. The Icon boots, with a pair of dress wool and thicker wool sport socks kept my feet nice and toastie warm. The soles gave great grip, and they gave great feel at the brake and shifter. My weakness though was gloves. After the first hour, I knew the ride home would be hellish. I could feel the heat just leeching from my fingers, even when I put the liners in. The hand guards worked some, but the throttle side one looks a bit low, and may need to be adjusted upwards to shield that hand better. That hand cooled quickly, and lost feeling within 20 minutes of riding. I did not have anything heavier, and like a moron, I did not think to buy anything at the dealer.
We had arrived late due to a decision to take a stop on the way in at a Greek Orthodox monastery about 30 miles into PA, to light a candle and pick up a couple of small icons to give to relatives, and later on at Penn State to grab a cheese steak and take a picture by the Nittany Lion statue. So, but the time we left, it was already down to 30 degrees, and dropped to 22 in some spots in the mountains on the return ride. Three season gloves are just not appropriate for the winter without heated grips. By the end of the ride, I was stopping every ten miles, getting in the truck, rubbing my hands and letting them warm up before getting back on the bike to ride some more. No more riding in the cold without real winter gloves for me, until the heated grips arrive and are installed. Full stop. And even then, I would keep actual insulated winter gloves in the bags, just in case.
Riding the wee beastie
Now, the part everyone wants to know, what is the bike like?
In a word, fantastic, or maybe superlative, or just phucking incredible.
In terms of comfort, I was riding in what felt like a good office chair. I was bolt upright, legs under me, but with a little bend, and arms up and out at a near ideal posture. I know I’ll need to adjust the bars a bit, but the bike was all day comfortable out of the box. The seat actually did not bother me at all, even with the thin padding, due to the flatter, dished and contoured shape. I got off and felt no aches and pains at all. Now, I did stop frequently to get feeling back in my hands, but the ride comfort was excellent nonetheless. The bike cradled me into a relaxed posture and neutral arm position, and the sensitivity to steering input meant I did barely anything to wind through the countryside.
Power and torque were plentiful; smooth; eager without being jerky; and on tap at every gear. I could launch with very easy inputs, and cruise or pass in any gear. I had the bike in the Standard mode the entire time, with full power available, but with the slightly relaxed, non-racer throttle map, and I had zero issue keeping it under control. Even though it has a shit ton more power and torque than the 650, it is actually easier to ride, with very linear, almost turbine like power availability, but without the sharp bark the 650 can make if you give it a touch too much throttle, nor the sudden jerky engine braking. The bike just loves to encourage smooth operation by being so easy and rewarding to ride. It can climb, pass and cruise equally well, and acts the same at 80 as it does at 40, with no real fall off in performance at all. I mean NONE. ZERO. ZILCH.
But it’s light and delicate, like a dancer. Small pushes of the bars were all that were needed to get it through the mountains slower curves and sweepers, and barely a bit more once I hit the city. Granted, I was going slow due to it being dark, my hands being cold and the roads possibly frosted, but the bike was much easier to steer than the 650, despite being taller and a bit heavier. Even a refuel barely changed its dynamics, unlike the 650, which changed feel with a full tank. The suspension feels great, right out of the box. If the FZ-09 suspension was crap, and it was fixed for this bike, they did a great job. It feels almost perfectly dialed in for a guy my size. The damping was spot on for both short ripples, like noise grooves, and for larger potholes and bumps. It’s a definite step above that in my 650, both in performance and comfort. I see no need to do anything to it at all. I may have to adjust the preload a bit with loaded bags, but that’s about it.
Fuel consumption and range were decent. The bike does take premium, but it really is a true sport bike, dressed in the work clothes of a light touring motorcycle. I was able to get almost 180 miles out of a fill, with plenty of fuel to spare, ridden on the highway, but with a lot of elevation changes, and a few quick spirited runs.
Me, and the bike, at the dealer.
Siblings in the garage.
So, next steps are, install a charger pigtail, wait for the additional accessories to arrive, ride a bit more, weather permitting of course, and then get some shortie levers with adjustable throw before I drop it off for installing the rest of the stuff, as well as maybe some auxiliary lights and brake flashers.
Any questions?

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Great write up..thanks!   Reviews like this help me support my decision to purchase one before riding one.  I will pick my grey one up on Sat morning but am plagued with 12" of snow.. i will just sit on it and make "vroom vroom" noises until spring.
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@papadage I was about to buy a Ninja 1000, and did the same thing as you. Read an article that caused me to read another, then another, then another, then there was an FJ-09 parked next to my car.
My dealer told me the Yamaha rep indicated they were only doing a single production run this year, meaning no new stock mid-summer, and a likely North American sellout imminent. Whew. That was a close one. Kawasaki was worried there for a moment...
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I think I would have been just as happy with it. Since I am short, the sportier riding position does not fold me up much, and is actually more comfortable than my 2009 650, and the 2014 leftovers were being sold pretty cheap, making them very price competitive with the FJ-09.
The big thing that killed the Ninja for me was insurance cost. I can buy a lot of mods and gear for that extra $1,000 per year. Even then I would have still been on the fence until I found out that the FJ-09 can take the FJR bags. Room for a helmet matters when using it in town for errands and quick trips.
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Funny that there are several people here who had narrowed their choices down to the FJ-09 and the Ninja 1000. Me too. I was going to be able to get a 2014 Ninja 1000 with the optional hard side cases out the door for $13k. It was a hard decision because the Ninja was on the showroom floor whereas the FJ-09 was 'maybe' going to be available in December. However I prefer Yamaha over Kawasaki and like others here I kept reading all the reviews which were so full of praise for the FJ-09. I put a deposit down on the FJ-09 and waited. Fortunately the dealer called my on Dec 23 and said it was there and I could pick it up that afternoon. I did just that and am so happy I did. I have not been able to ride it much due to weather (about 150 miles so far) but I love it and have no doubt I made the right choice.
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Thanks for the great review, nothing like someone giving us a downhome look at the little things they can never seem to include in the media reviews.
Put about 370 miles on my Honda ST1300 yesterday. Sorry you "Nawthen" folks are stuck with all that hard water clotting your roads.
Checked out the FJ at local dealer last week and was impressed. Compared to the ST it's like putting a bicycle on the center stand. I liked everything I saw, except the missing cruise control. OK, I'm old and my hand hurts when I hold the throttle for 6-7 hours a day. Guess I'll have another Throttlemeister.
FJ is definitely in my future.
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I could have gotten a 2014 Ninja 1000 and cases for a little less that what I paid for the FJ-09, and would have been just as happy, but there is something really comfortable about the FJ, and the insurance savings helped a lot too.
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Thanks for a great review.  Looking forward to your long term review.  Perhaps in a few months/10,000 miles, after the new bike feeling has worn off :)
I was also seriously considering a 2014 Ninja 1000 as a replacement for my Triumph Sprint ST, but decided to hold off after reading US and UK reviews of the new FZ-09.
Rode a mate's 2013 model Ninja for a 100 mile ride on Sunday while he rode my Sprint.
We did some light traffic, a local 'riders' road and some easy freeway stuff.
The Ninja was very good and everything I expected; lots of power, easy to ride, great handling, brakes, transmission, etc,. It certainly is a generation ahead of the the Sprint ('08 model).
But...., I found that I was missing the triple motor feeling and when I got back on my bike for the leg home I was still more than happy with the way it went and the comfort/ergos.  It still feels old and a generation behind in relation to brakes, transmission.
So to me the FZ-09 will hit the sweet spot and I'm going to wait for the Yamaha triple when it is released in April here in Oz.
ps - this forum is just reinforcing my feeling that the Yamaha will be the bike for me - just going to be difficult to wait!!
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  • 1 year later...
Thanks Papadage for the great review.   I wish I'd read this a year ago.  My view is you made the right decision.  I bought a Ninja 1000 a year ago and just traded it in for an FJ-09.  Couldn't be happier.
Yes, the Ninja has an amazing engine and the hard bags are a cleaner solution than the FJ.  It's fun to ride on the open road or even the track, which I tried once, but it is not fun to ride on the hilly, twisty roads I'm usually on.  The low and moderate speed handling is just not good, not good at all.  There are more reviews in the magazines now then when I bought mine.  The US reviews are worthless, but the two English magazines have it nailed in my opinion.  They use terms like "heavy", "wrestling", and "like it has a flat front tire".  Couldn't say it better.  It just requires an unusual amount of inside bar pressure to start a turn and still too much to maintain it.  I've only ridden six or eight motorcycles in my eight years of riding but the Ninja is by far the worst.  I've let two friends try it who are far better riders than I, and they completely agree.  I even changed to a 55 rear profile tire which some reviews suggested.  It helped, but still not good.  By the way, the manual calls for 36/42 tire pressure.  In one of the reviews they were told by Kawasaki management that the handling is very sensitive to front tire pressure being right at spec.  They're right about that!  If you drop it a bit it just gets worse.
By comparison the FJ has just awesome handling.  The best words I can think of to describe it are "light" and "easy".  I also found the gearbox to be smoother than the Ninja and the seating position to be more comfortable, probably because of the slightly higher seat, although the difference seems more pronounced than the small difference in seat height would suggest.
I suppose there are some guys who really want the 25 extra horsepower in the Ninja.  I'm not one of them.
I wish motorcycle magazines were more honest.  Would have save me a couple thousand dollars.  Maybe that's what forums like this are for.
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  • 2 years later...
I know I am adding to an old post, but I just bought a 2015 FJ-09 and thought I would add my two cents... I was also very interested in the Ninja 1000 ABS prior to changing my mind. The upright ride position, versatility and nimbleness of the FJ-09 definitely steered me towards going with the yamaha. Thanks for the excellent write-up.
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  • 2 weeks later...
I wish motorcycle magazines were more honest.  Would have save me a couple thousand dollars.  Maybe that's what forums like this are for.

US motorcycle magazines are dead (Cycle world has gone quarterly, Motorcyclist is now every other month).
Also, the FJ-09 is great.
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