Superbike Upgrade: 1984 Yamaha FJ1400

A face-lift, a tummy tuck and some steroids result in a refreshing ride down Memory Lane for Pat Conlon’s Yamaha FJ1400.

1984 Yamaha FJ1400

Photo by Dain Gingerelli

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1984 Yamaha FJ1400
Engine:
1,350cc air-cooled DOHC inline four, 82mm x 63.8mm bore and stroke, 10.5:1 compression ratio (1,097cc, 74mm x 63.8mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio stock)
Top Speed:
146mph (period test)
Carburetion:
Four Mikuni 36mm
Transmission:
5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics:
12v, electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase:
Dual downtube box-section perimeter steel frame/58.3in (1,481mm)
Suspension:
Upside-down cartridge fork w/adjustable preload, rebound and compression front (Kayaba fork w/adjustable preload and rebound stock)/Penske 8987 shock w/adjustable preload, rebound and compression rear (adjustable preload and rebound stock)
Brakes:
Dual Galfer 12.6in (320mm) discs w/Yamaha R1 calipers front (dual 11.1in/281mm discs stock)/Pyramid Plastics 8.6in (218mm) disc w/Yamaha R1 caliper rear (10.6in/270mm disc stock)
Tires:
Michelin Pilot Road 3 120/70 x 17in front (120/80 x 16in stock), 180/55 x 17in rear (150/80 x 16in stock)
Weight:
520lb (236 kg)/535lb (243kg) stock
Seat height:
29in (737mm)/30in (762mm) stock
Fuel capacity:
6.5gal (24.5ltr)
Price then/now:
$4,999/NA

Comedian Charles Fleischer is credited with the line, “If you remember the ’60s, then you really weren’t there.” It was the decade of mind-altering stimulants (read: drugs) that could erase people’s memories quicker than you could say “clean chalkboard.”

The same satirical commentary is valid about sport bike enthusiasts who claim to remember the ’80s, because that was a time when motorcycle manufacturers — in particular the Big Four consisting of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki — began injecting mega doses of horsepower and handling into their flagship models. Technological changes to sport bikes happened quickly during those years. Welcome to the dawn of the sport bike era, and if you remember those times, then, to paraphrase Fleischer, you weren’t there.

Looking back

Here’s what’s known about that halcyon era: Hot on the heels of its success with the VF750F Interceptor, Honda upped the power dosage and engine displacement to create the VF1000F Interceptor. Across the sport bike community’s bleak, dark, back alley, Kawasaki began pushing its own blend, better known as the Ninja 900. Elsewhere, Hamamatsu’s gold consisted of the GSX-R750, the gateway drug for Suzuki GSX-R1100 users a short time later.

And from Iwata, Japan, came Yamaha’s first big-bore sporting model, the FJ1100, a bike that, upon first impression, was rather understated compared to the rest of the field. Even so, and as a 1984 model, the big FJ’s 1,097cc engine was clearly on par with what Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki were pushing on the streets. Here’s what the editors of Cycle Guide magazine, in its June 1984 issue, said about Yamaha’s new air-cooled engine: “… while the FJ’s somewhat dated specifications might pale when stacked up against the glittering credentials of its classmates, its sheer, mind-stretching power renders such comparisons null and void.”

In that same issue, Cycle Guide went on to state that the FJ1100 “is an incredibly fast motorcycle, a point forcibly driven home anytime you roll open the throttle … It starts pulling right from basement-level rpm, and revs quickly to the 9,500-redline, or past, if you wish.” Just how quick and fast the FJ was when compared to its competitors became clear elsewhere in the issue’s Speed War II: The Sequel article that pitted the FJ1100 against six other big-bore candidates in a no-holds-barred contest at the drag strip and nearby El Mirage Dry Lake for a top-speed run. At Carlsbad Raceway’s quarter-mile strip the FJ stopped the clock at 10.681 seconds (125.34mph), topping all other competitors in the field; next closest was Suzuki’s GS1150ES at 10.742 (124.13mph). In top-speed runs at the dry lake bed the FJ was second only to Honda’s VF1000F, 145.9550mph vs. 146.8187; the Honda was fourth-quickest at the drags, prompting Cycle Guide to declare in its article: “The absolute King of Hyperformance for 1984 is Yamaha’s brightest new star, the FJ1100.”

Later that year, Cycle magazine conducted a similar top-speed shootout among various big liter-class bikes, also at El Mirage, where the FJ1100 notched 146mph on the radar gun. “The FJ’s ability to overshoot redline and connect with its rev-limiter in top gear complicated our top-speed testing,” concluded Cycle’s editors. Adding to the confusion of deciding just which bike was absolute fastest, Kawasaki’s Ninja 900 and ZX1000R Ninja weren’t foiled by their rev-limiters, allowing them to hit full stride at 150 and 158mph, respectively. 

But top-speed and quarter-mile performance aside, the FJ1100 wowed magazine testers of the day based on its road manners and handling acumen alone. Wrote Cycle Guide’s Paul Dean in his review for the June 1984 issue about the FJ1100: “… there has to be something supernatural about a bike that looks, feels and, when asked to do so, acts like the pole-sitter at the Bol d’Or, yet is as docile and civilized around town as your sister’s Vespa.” No doubt the bike’s rigid perimeter frame, connected to the pavement by fully adjustable suspension riding on avant-garde 16-inch wheels and tires, played a major role in the bike’s civility around town as well as its aggressiveness around tight turns.

But, as mentioned already, the mid-’80s was a time of excessive experimentation among motorcycle manufacturers, who searched endlessly for ways to improve the performance of their flagship models. Clearly, the editors of Cycle saw the writing on the wall when, at the conclusion of their January 1985 issue’s top-speed contest article, they wrote: “Good as the FJ1100 is, we know better than to proclaim it the permanent world champion of Super Sport technology. Superbike progress marches on in leaps and bounds … Whether these new machines advance the state-of-the-art, lag behind or parallel today’s best will be determined by how they stack up to the present benchmark bike, the Yamaha FJ1100.”

Morphing

Considering Cycle’s prophetic words, let’s leap forward into the next millennium, where we catch up with FJ1100 owner and lifetime enthusiast Pat Conlon. This is a man who understood from the get-go back in 1984 that there was something clearly special about Yamaha’s first FJ1100. He purchased his 1984 FJ1100 — VIN number 000303 — from Champion Motorcycles in Costa Mesa, California, in early 1984, and he’s owned the bike ever since. He knows the bike rather intimately, too, having put nearly 150,000 miles on it when these photographs were taken a few years ago.

Your mind isn’t playing tricks on you, and no, I hadn’t ingested any mind-altering stimulants before (or after) I snapped these photos — although Pat’s bike is a 1984, it clearly has bits and pieces that Yamaha hadn’t even dreamed of when the first FJ1100 rolled off the assembly line. I’ll let Pat take up the story at this point. “The purpose of this exercise is to answer the question: What could Yamaha do tomorrow to the FJ, utilizing existing off-the-shelf Yamaha components?”

Pat pondered that question, eventually answering it in the following: “The FJ is a great platform for modifications; comfortable all-day ergos, perimeter frame, link-type rear swing arm and super-stout engine are great starting points. However, the suspension, brake and tires need updating.”

So several years ago Pat put the wheels in motion, resulting in a bike that he terms the FJ1400, in reference to the engine’s new displacement of 1,350cc. A few other quite-obvious modifications were made, too, so let’s have a closer look.

First the engine, built by Randy Raduechel, owner of Raduechel Performance Motorsports and whom Pat describes as “the patron saint of FJ owners worldwide.” Randy replaced the FJ’s top end with an XJR1300 cylinder block sleeved to accept a quartet of Hank Scott Pro 82mm pistons riding on lighter and stronger XJR connecting rods. Randy matched the pistons to the cylinder head, enlarging the combustion chambers by 26cc, resulting in a civilized 10.5:1 compression ratio. Stainless steel valves (30.5mm intake/26mm exhaust) with three-angle cuts and KMPI valve springs complete the valve train. Randy retained stock cam timing to net rear-wheel horsepower “in the neighborhood of 140,” Pat says. Polished stainless steel head pipes are routed to Cobra F1R cans that contribute a pleasing, yet deep, baritone rumble to the party. He adds: “I do know that at current power levels the old FJ will pull the wings off the newer Yamaha FJRs and Suzuki Bandits.”

Power is one thing, power delivery is another. And that explains the chassis modifications that Pat performed to his bike. Sticking to the game plan of using existing Yamaha parts, Pat grafted the rear sub-frame from a 1997 YZF1000R. “The only mod needed,” Pat says, “was that the YZF swingarm pivot area be narrowed to fit within the FJ frame, and a fly-cut was added for spring clearance of the Penske 8987 triple-adjustable rear shock.” An R1 rear brake caliper and Spiegler brake line handle braking chores for the massive 180/55-17 Michelin Pilot Road 3 rear tire.

The FJ1400’s front end is noticeably different than what originally came with the bike, too. Pat says he replaced the fork and its “spindly 41mm stanchion tubes” with a complete front end from a 1992 FZR1000. The upside-down cartridge fork has custom valving by Ed Sorbo of Lindemann Engineering, FZR triple trees, 17mm axle, and a lightweight 3.5 x 17-inch wheel fitted with Michelin 120/70-17 rubber. The big 320mm Galfer wave rotors are pinched by 2002 R1 calipers linked to a 2002 FZ1 master cylinder via Spiegler lines. Pat says the FZR front end was plug-and-play with the FJ — “no changes are needed to the steering stem.” Clearly this matchup is a testimony to the bike’s original frame design.

Before finishing the project with its ’80s-era paint scheme, Pat added a few other components. You’ll find relays for the headlight and Dyna coils to allow full voltage, Rizoma turn signals and mirrors, and the Corbin seat in the mix. There’s also a spin-on oil filter conversion by RPM to make oil changes a snap, and RPM’s 12-row oil cooler keeps the 15w50 Golden Spectro Synthetic blend cool during hot summer rides (Pat lives in Palm Desert, California). “The bike runs wonderfully,” Pat says proudly. “The added torque is most noticeable as is the sure-footed, supple suspension.” At 520 pounds the FJ1400 isn’t exactly a lightweight, but, as Pat tells us, “She’s a big girl by today’s standards, but she sure can dance.” And as a survivor of the mid-’80s sport bike era, Pat can’t remember when he’s experienced a better ride. MC