Naked bikes are flourishing, with sales up year-on-yearon- year. Yamaha’s twin-cylinder MT-07 is responsible for a large chunk of this, its balance of price and ability a hit across Europe. However, the retro scene is also a booming part, with massive sales for Ducati’s Scrambler and tasty bikes from BMW, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and more. Aware of this trend, Yamaha re-engineered the MT into the XSR700, a bike supposedly inspired by the XS650 of the late 1960s. ‘Takes the best of design from Yamaha’s history but is very much the motorcycle of tomorrow,’ says the marketing.
More interested in today than tomorrow, we’ve spent four months piling over 2750 miles onto the Yamaha XSR700 to see if this really is the best of both worlds.
On A Short Ride
Just wheeling it around in a bike park you know it’s going to be a breeze to ride. The Yamaha XSR700’s chassis proves light and super-manageable as soon as you set off, and with almost the entire torque reserve accessible at 3.500 RPM the 689cc twin is like an enthused puppy even on modest throttle openings. Few bikes give the XSR’s sense of eagerness. It just wants to play.
Cheerful sensations increase out in the countryside. Outright pace isn’t hot – it can’t top 120 mph – but the free-revving Yamaha XSR700 has short gearing and twisting the throttle always finds response. 0-60mph matches Triumph’s gruntier Tiger 800. Crack the gas at 40mph in top gear and it gets to 80mph as swiftly as Aprilia’s 1197cc Caponord. There’s real flexibility: go for a stress-relieving bimble and thrum politely in higher ratios; or thrash it, wheelie off the gas in first and second gear, and leap out of corners in fourth with gusto that requires second on revvier, heavier bikes.
Controls are light, from twistgrip and unadjustable clutch to gearshift, although the throttle has slight off-on snatchiness. You get used to it, though it will irk if you let it. Brakes are strong – stopping from 70 mph in 52 metres is as good as the new Kawasaki ZX-10R, but the Yamaha XSR700 lacks initial bite. It gets worse when the bike’s mucky or after lots of wet rides.
It’s smooth and perky on open A-roads, though stereotypical British Bs are where the Yamaha is at home. It’s only 186kg wet and the ’bars are wider than the MT’s, and changing direction never needs effort, and comparatively soft forks and shock mop up bumps like mechanical sponges. The ride’s a tad firmer than the MT-07 purely because of stiffer sidewalls on the retro tyres, but come from something even semi-sporty and the Yamaha XSR700 feels squidgy for a few hundred miles. You then learn it’s good road suspension, masking shoddy resurfacing with a supple ride, and only gets wibbly ridden too fast down a rutted lane, or lobbing into corners as if you’re at Cadwell Park, not on the B676.
I enjoy the modern dynamic, but not everyone is convinced. ‘I look at the Yamaha XSR700 and imagine a charismatic, relaxed ride, but it’s nippy and revvy and modern,’ muses Bike’s designer, Paul Lang. ‘Not sure I like that in a bike that looks retro. Yet at the same time I’m not as confident as on an MT-07. The MT feels like I can control it, boss it, have fun, but the XSR700 feels tall and flat, and you’re more upright. I’m perched on top and not as confident.’
On A Long Ride
Sat upright with nothing to deflect the wind, the Yamaha XSR700 is as naked as nakeds get. Clearly it’s not designed for bashing out big miles, although it’s not exactly unbearable on hefty rides. The riding position is more bearable on a motorway than the Ducati Scrambler we ran last year. Yam’s seat is more comfy than the Ducati and also the MT-07, and stays welcoming all day. At 70mph the XSR’s twin is quiet, calm and tingle-free. Increase speed, hold 85mph, and things are less relaxed: it’s doing around 5.600 RPM, which is only 600 or so revs more than a long-legged Triumph Explorer at the same speed, but the Yamaha feels a bit flustered and passes a few buzzy vibes through the footpegs.
On a 300-mile round trip to the London Bike Show at ExCel, I developed the habit of hooking the heels of my boots on the pillion footpegs for sustained high speed. Bum shuffled back, it tips you forward into a sports touring stance, making it easier to fight windblast. With a 14-litre tank there should be at least 150 miles with consistent multi-lane cruising, but the fuel light can ping on at 110 miles, so running-dry paranoia limits useful range.
Four months in and it still brings joy to open the shed and find the Yamaha XSR700. Partly because its slightly gangly form looks best viewed rear-three-quarter, and partly because you know you’re in for an effective, light-hearted scurry to work.
It’s not the perfect workhorse. Its clutch is light, but has no span adjustment and has developed slight grabbiness, especially when making quick-ish starts from the lights. (This has absolutely nothing to do with lots of second-gear wheelies.) The ignition is buried by the headlight, and with a fob on the key it’s fiddly to turn or extract, and editor Hugo notes that ‘wearing a full-face helmet you can’t see the display without physically moving your head’. Strapping on a bag has limited options too. There’s on-trend brown accessory luggage available, but without this your bungees only have the pillion peg hangers to hook to.
Otherwise the Yamaha XSR700 is a fabulous commuter. Easy-access drive and light-on-its-tyres handling mean even short morning rides are invigorating and fun, without speed or heroics. Nimble, slim and with fine feel for what’s going on, you thread lines of traffic as if riding a supercharged moped. The sidestand is easy to deploy. Slightly higher ’bars than an MT clear most mirrors while filtering. Grunt and ability to rev lets you hold one gear in a stop-start ring-road race. Mirrors aren’t the best, but they’re good.
With normal use (brisk, then) the Yamaha XSR700 does 49mpg; breeze along nearer the speed limit and the frugal twin gives 62mpg over a mixed route. So range goes to 190 miles, with many commutes between fill-ups. You get pretty accurate average economy info, with real-time economy, a fuel gauge, two trips, time, engine and air temperature, plus an ‘eco’ logo when you’re dawdling. A fuel trip is automatically shown when you get to reserve – not as handy as remaining range would be, but better than my memory for knowing how far I’ve been with the warning flashing.
Riding at Night
It might be fashionably old-fashioned and round, but the Yamaha’s protruding headlight is very good. Dip has a wide spread, main beam is excellent. Pity the white-ish dash is too bright – you have to spend longer than you’d like looking at it while your eyes adjust, or end up doing a series of glances.
I also find it reflects inside my visor unless I make myself more prone, and is worse with a Pinlock visor insert (I know you’re not always supposed to use them at night, but c’mon – do you stop and take yours out when the sun buggers off?).
Keeping it shiny
Before the Yamaha XSR700 turned a wheel we larruped it with Putoline’s PPF-52. This is an anti corrosion spray that stops road salt from attacking, makes it easier to wash dirt off, and is rather handy for applying a glossy shine to both chassis and bodywork. We’ve used it on loads of bikes and know it works. However it seems the thin paint and plating Yamaha have used can’t be saved.
There isn’t a fastener, from pillion peg to brake banjo bolt, that isn’t hidden behind deep-pile white fur. The gearshift looks like it’s been coated in glue and dipped in talc, and the shock linkage appears 20 years old. A good clean, a fresh coat of spray, and most parts look good again – although get close and surfaces are lightly pock-marked. And fur grows back.
The chain went orange as soon as it rained, although it’s only the sides of the plates; the lubed-up rollers are good. Pity about other rust evidence – screws in the bar-end weights are orange, the underslung exhaust collector quickly got ugly, and there’s a glimpse of orange under the paint on a couple of small brackets. I know Yam need to save cash somewhere to keep the price attractive (the Yamaha XSR700 undercuts Triumph’s Street Twin, Ducati’s Scrambler and Guzzi’s V7), and I’d rather have a great dynamic and less-fine finish than vice versa, but it’s disappointing. Body and wheels look box-fresh, and nowt’s gone wrong or come off.
In Your Garage
No oil has been used since changed at the first service. Nice to have an easy-read sightglass that’s on the same side as the stand – gives more confidence when kneeling and holding the bike up to check the level (engine off, oil warm). Despite looking knackered the chain hasn’t needed more than a couple of small adjustments, with simple twin-locking-nut adjusters. The design of the cups around the spindle on the swingarm makes it fiddly to use a paddock stand, though. The battery’s under the seat, easy to attach accessory gubbins to (and no issues with powering stuff), and there’s a decent toolkit. The lock release for the seat gets mucky, mind; keep it clean or the key won’t slide in or turn.
No disputing the ability of the perky but practical, fun yet friendly Yamaha XSR700. Its light-hearted air makes me look forward to every ride. Rapidly looking scruffy is a pity, though you can argue it’s not supposed to be an all-weather all-rounder – and if you ride all year you’ll want a fairing anyway. Langy hasn’t warmed to the mix of old and new (The Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Street Twin are modern evolutions of old designs, but the Yam is a shellsuit made of tweed), and the looks haven’t pleased all my brother Nick says it looks like an RD350 that’s crashed into a washing machine and deck chair. I’m convinced by the modern dynamic and trad’ looks however, and as a bike for frequent mixed-purpose use it’s better than a Scrambler.
Being a tight-arse I’d buy an MT-07 instead and save £900, but Hugo is smitten: “The better seat and better-looking tank swing it, even for a style cabbage like me.” What a cracking motorbike.
Yamaha XSR700 Specifications
Engine : 4-Stroke, Inline-Twin, DOHC 8-Valve, Liquid-Cooled
Bore x Stroke : 80 x 68.6 mm
Capacity : 689 cc
Compression Ratio : 11.5 : 1
Induction : Fuel Injection
Transmission : 6-Speed, Chain-Drive
Power : 55 kW @ 9.000 RPM (claimed)
Torque : 68 N.m @ 6.500 RPM (claimed)
Dimensions : 2.075 x 820 x 1.130 mm
Wheelbase : 1.405 mm
Seat Height : 815 mm
Ground Clearance : 140 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity : 14 litres
Weight : 186 kg (wet, claimed)
Frame : Tubular Diamond-type Frame
Front Suspension : 41mm Telescopic Fork
Rear Suspension : Swingarm (Link-type Suspension)
Front Brakes : Twin 282mm Discs, with 2-Piston Caliper
Rear Brakes : 245mm Discs, with 1-piston Caliper
Front Tyre : 120/70 – ZR17 M/C(58V) (Tubeless)
Rear Tyre : 180/55 – ZR17 M/C(73V) (Tubeless)
Price : £6249