It’s no secret that Yamaha’s European arm loves custom motorcycles. It has had a hand in creating many a retro inspired one-off over the past couple of years but now the public can get in on the action with the new MT-07 and MT-09-based XSR range of motorcycles.
The XSR700 takes its frame and heart from the popular learner approved spec MT-07, but with so many changes it’s all but unrecognisable. Everything from the headlight to the subframe has been changed to resemble a bike from Yamaha’s Yard Built customs series, in the hunt for a different demographic buyer than the MT-07 could attract.
As a result, the bold lines of the 07 are out and retro-inspired smooth surfaces are in.
Starting out front, the front headlight has been switched to a large round headlight that harks back to the heritage bikes of days gone by. The same can be said for the big brother triple-cylinder XSR900 as well.
Perched atop the handlebar is a new round dash unit with all the information you could ask for on display. With a nice big speedo and gear position indicator front and centre it's a cool little unit. Unlike similar LCD dash units I’ve come across, the XSR’s is easy to read at a glance in most situations. It’s incredibly simple to use, too, with just two big buttons needed to cycle through everything from the two trip meters to current fuel economy readings. It’s a surprising level of functionality behind what at first glance looks like a minimalist dash.
The switchgear comes straight from the MT-07, and although the sliding starter switch is very cool, I found I couldn’t gel with the vague-feeling indicator switch. There just wasn’t enough feedback through the switch to let me know I’d activated the blinkers without having to look at the dash to check. Meanwhile the switch position is so close to the horn I often sounded the horn unintentionally when signalling a right turn.
The fuel tank has been smoothed and comes in two colour options, the ultra cool brushed aluminium finished Garage Metal, and the stunning Forest Green. Each has aluminium side covers, which have been designed to to wear over time in order to create a unique look to each bike. Despite its compact looks, the tank still has a capacity of 14 litres which should see a range of about 300km.
Yes the XSR700 was designed with the beard-growing, latte-chugging hipster market in mind, but that’s irrelevant when you get up close and see the build quality behind this bike. There isn’t a weld out of line.
Plastic use is minimal with the frame and engine entirely on display. The seat is a leather/suede one-piece that not only looks the business but also feels more comfortable, especially where a pillion is concerned, than the two piece seat featured on the MT-07. Braking is taken care of by all-round petal discs, twins up the front with twin piston calipers and a single single piston at the rear. ABS comes as standard, which is always a plus, especially when the XSR700 is aimed at riders new to motorcycling.
As with the MT-07 the XSR700 has a gobful of torque available at the flick of the wrist. Power is rated at the same LAMS approved 38 kW but there’s a huge 57.5 Nm available from down low. The XSR700 has more than enough get-up-and-go to keep even experienced riders happy.
Within a couple of kilometres of jumping on the XSR700, I found myself tapping in the clutch in both first and second gears and applying a handful of throttle, bringing front wheel skyward at will. It quickly became addictive and remains the most memorable part of my time on the XSR.
It makes you wonder, though, how a bike so capable of popping the front wheel off the ground can get away with being learner legal. The thing is the XSR is light at only 186kg, but more importantly torque is king when it comes to wheelies, and thankfully the legislators behind the LAMS scheme don’t appear to know it.
Conventional telescopic forks and a preload adjustable rear shock take care of smoothing out the bumps thrown up by our well-worn roads.
The rear shock attaches directly to the engine instead of the frame as is the norm, in an effort to save space and help maintain Yamaha’s mass centralisation philosophy.
The suspension is one of the only areas that points to the bike’s modest $12,699 price tag but manages to keep everything under control just fine.
And, let’s be honest, not many riders in the LAMS spec category would be prepared to fiddle around with more sophisticated suspenders.
Around Auckland’s Hunua Ranges I found the suspension well matched to the power offered by XSR. Pushing it at legal limit speeds doesn’t upset the bike and with the help of the big retro-patterned 180 section Pirelli Phantom Sport tyre, grip isn't a problem.
As the revs climb to above the point where maximum torque is achieved, the XSR starts to feel more like a learner-legal machine. Short shifting to keep it in its torque band provides plenty of grin factor and on the tight and twisty roads of the coast powering out of corners proved you don’t need a high horsepower bike to have fun.
Although it shares much of its personality and soul with the MT, it does well to cater to its target audience. It won’t be the styling of choice for some, but the XSR700 has so much going for it I wouldn’t bet against it becoming a popular choice for the LAMS market.
$12,699 + orc
655cc Parallel twin
Learner approved, styling, build quality, wheelie fun
Indicator switch vague, so much fun you want to wheelie everywhere