The ups and downs of owning a classic motorcycle
Gil Yarrow's 1984 Yamaha FJ1100.
Bike: 1984 Yamaha FJ1100
Owner: Gil Yarrow
Gil Yarrow bought his 1984 Yamaha FJ1100 brand new in April 1984 right off the showroom floor and has owned it ever since. “It was one of the first,” says Gil. While visiting Richmond, BC’s Pacific Yamaha, the salesman advised Gil, “Don’t sit on that bike. You’ll buy it!”
He was right, too. Gil fell to the old puppy-dog sales close. The salesman popped a demo license plate on the Yamaha and Gil rode it home to show his wife. He was smitten, and within a few days it had moved in to his garage. “I rode all the 1100s from that era,” says Gil, “and found this one to be the best.”
Gil won’t mind my saying that he’s a little vertically challenged, and the compact dimensions on the Yamaha FJ1100 suited him perfectly. In fact, the first time I saw Gil’s bike, I assumed the suspension had been lowered, but no. Contemporary testers noted the FJ’s unintimidating stance as one of its strong selling points.
Another curiosity on Gil’s bike is the “Lateral Frame Concept” decal on the fairing. I’ve never seen this on any other FJ1100, and contemporary photographs of new U.S. models show no such script. However, Gil says he’s seen the same wording on other Canadian FJs.
Before the Yamaha FJ1100, Gil owned two Japanese Superbikes from an earlier generation: a Yamaha XS1100 and a Honda CB900F. A near spill on the XS, caused by the bike’s huge torque and its short driveshaft, convinced Gil to replace it. “It was a pretty good handling bike,” he says, “but around town it was a real dog.” Gil was making a turn on city streets, and opened the throttle to accelerate. “The rear end jacked up and nearly ran me into oncoming traffic,” he says.
What does Gil like best about the Yamaha FJ1100? “The handling,” he says. “It holds the road so well. Once you’ve got it on the move, it handles like a dream. And if you do break traction with the back wheel pulling out of a turn, just close the throttle — it hooks up no problem and away you go.”
I took Gil’s FJ out on the street, and was immediately impressed by two things: how its weight seemed to be focused low down, making it easy to maneuver at low speeds; and how smooth the engine was. Gil also enjoys the FJ1100’s broad powerband and the “adrenaline rush” he gets every time he winds on the power. “It’s one hell of a strong bike,” he says. “Just twist the throttle and it pretty much explodes.”
Gil also reports that the anti-dive system on the front fork works well, preventing the front end from bottoming out under hard braking. And though he has heard reports of second-gear failures on some bikes, his own FJ1100 has been faultless. The FJ is Gil’s only Japanese bike. He also owns a 1960 BSA Super Rocket and 1968 and 1970 Lightnings, a 1971 Norton Commando, a 1968 Triumph Bonneville, and a rare 1963 Matchless G12CSR.
Does he ever plan to sell the Yamaha FJ1100? “One of my sons wanted to take it off me,” he says. “I said, ‘You can have one of my other bikes — you certainly can’t have that!’”