AN OLD BIKE NUT RIDES A BOLT
Yamaha is pushing the Bolt, its new entry into this market, as a big-ish urban cruiser; but more specifically, they are pushing it as an alternative to Harley Davidson’s Sportster 883 range; and in particular, the 883 Iron. These “smaller” Harleys are becoming increasingly popular, especially since the fancier versions have hit the market, and Yamaha obviously want a piece of the action. That’s a hard nut to crack though, especially given the usual disdain towards Japanese machinery that comes from died-in-the-wool fans of the American brand. To that end, Yamaha have tried to hide the fact that it is a Yamaha: there is a distinct lack of badging, and they refer to the brand as “Star”, not “Yamaha”. The only identification of it being a Yamaha is the small tuning-fork logo on the triple-clamp. They’ve made it low and mean, just like the Harley, but also like the Harley, they’ve achieved this by reducing the rear suspension travel. Although it still has more travel than the Harley. The Yamaha also boasts more power from its slightly larger engine, it’s about 15kg lighter, and undercuts the American’s price by $3,000. As an indication of just how serious they are about taking on the Harley, on their web-site are three promotional videos. Two of them tell you how great it is, as you’d expect, but the third one is a direct comparison with the Harley. Click here to go to the page. The videos are on the right side and the one I’m referring to is at the bottom. There are two models available: the standard one, which was the one I rode, and the R-Spec. The R-Spec comes with better rear units and a slightly fancier seat. Factory options are available too, like an old-style sprung seat, soft luggage, and fancy brass bits. Apparently the bike was designed to appeal to younger riders who are into bobber-type cruisers with minimalist styling. Does that sound like me? Well, no, it doesn’t, does it! So what will this old bloke think of a bike designed to appeal to hip young cruiser-dudes? Well, let’s see.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Looking at the bike you might get the impression that the brand is “Bolt”, because that’s what is written on the tank. Well, on some models it is; the black ones miss out on the “Bolt” label on the tank. It’s a strange name, but I suppose it’s better than having “Screw” written there! The real brand name, as I’ve mentioned, is “Star”; and this is written on the air-box in the sort of font you’d normally see tattooed on someone’s arm. Yes, it’s all part of the image, and the market it’s aimed at. The bike is loosely based on the XVS950, but with different running-gear and styling. In appearance, it follows the typical minimalist bobber styling of bikes like the 883 Iron. As one writer described it, “There’s nothing on the Bolt that doesn’t need to be there.” That includes side-covers: there aren’t any, so the internal bits, including the frame are all plainly on display. The rear sees an old-style round tail-light, but there is a concession to modernity with the light being comprised of LEDs; cleverly arranged in a hexagonal bolt-head pattern. It’s a cool-looking bike, even if, with the absence of those side-covers, it does have a slightly “unfinished” look about it. But that’s part of the image, of course. The cool young dudes will love it! They will probably also love the fact that it looks like a Harley, but not an exact copy. The V-twin donk, with its big air-box, looks like a Harley, but the exhaust doesn’t, distinguishing it from its American competition. The Bolt also has fancy wave-pattern discs, where the Harley has the traditional round-edge type. The air-box pokes out straight in front of the rider’s right leg, while just behind it, the large valve-cover on the rear cylinder is clearly visible, and pokes out to the left. From above it looks all lop-sided and messy, but I suppose that’s all part of the style. The valve-cover is a lot bigger than the top of the cylinder, and is designed as a means of directing some of the engine’s heat away from the rider. The fuel-tank is of the “peanut” variety, and like those fitted to the Harleys, as you can see above, there is a gap between the back of the tank and the front of the seat, exposing a bit of frame in between. Fuel capacity is fairly limited at just over 12 litres, so on any decent ride you’ll be looking for a servo to get home. On the subject of the exposed frame, I noticed one section, just beneath the seat on the right side, that looked quite rough. In contrast to the smooth shiny tubing around it, this really stood out, and looked quite nasty. If it was mine, that would be very annoying! I remember seeing something like this, only nowhere near as bad, on the first XJR1300 I rode. I can only assume that Yamaha’s quality control is sometimes not quite up to the high standard we expect – and normally get – from the company. Rear suspension is twin-unit, rather than the mono-shock of the XVS950, and limited to a mere 71m of travel. However, as I mentioned above, the R model gets better units, with piggy-back reservoirs. According to reports I’ve read, they do improve the ride quality. The engine comes straight from the XVS950. Yamaha don’t quote power figures on their web-site (nor to local testers, apparently), preferring simply to claim that it has 6% more power and 11% more torque than the Harley 883. However on-line sources provided the figures I’ve quoted below. There’s not much in the way of instrumentation, but that’s the cruiser style. You just get a big round analogue speedo, with the usual LCD panel supplying odo and trip readings and time of day. There’s no read-out for fuel. It only displays one of those at a time though, which seems a bit silly, because there’s plenty of room on the dial to make the LCD big enough to display at least one distance reading and the clock. The buttons to operate the display are conveniently located on the right switch-block. Of course there’s also the usual array of warning lights. You sit in the bike rather than on it. The seat is very low and the bike rises up in front of you, almost like you’re sitting at the bottom of a hill. Your arms reach out horizontally to the bars (or slightly upwards if you’re short). The grips are thick, in that Harley / cruiser tradition; which, having long hands, I like. The foot-pegs are just forward of vertical. Getting back to the seat, it feels smaller than it looks in the photos. It’s pretty firm too, but not too unreasonable. The pillion seat is just a narrow pad and is removable, to give it that mean, solo look. There is something very odd about the riding-position: it actually works! If you’ve read any of my reports on cruisers, you’ll know that I am always critical of their poor ergonomic riding-position. They force your back into an outwards curve (which is bad posture) and place all your weight directly on the end of your spine. This still does that, but somehow it’s not as bad as most other cruisers I’ve ridden. With your legs almost vertical, and the bars up high, it’s almost like sitting in a kitchen chair with your arms outstretched. Somehow it almost feels like a natural sitting position. There was one aspect that wasn’t quite so natural though. It felt somewhat awkward, or wobbly, when stationary or at very low speed. Maybe it was just me, but I had a feeling like I was sitting right up the back with most of the weight ahead and above me: and I was controlling that weight at arm’s length. Strange!
OUT ON THE ROAD
The Bolt began to impress me before I’d even got on to ride. The sales-manager, Martin, had started it for me (reaching down to the key, which was positioned low down almost under the tank – why do they do that?). The last bike I’d tested prior to this was the Harley Davidson 72. At idle that shook like a wet dog. But the Bolt sat there idling evenly and smoothly. There were some vibes, but very subdued – just enough to give it a bit of character. Also giving it character was the reasonably healthy (for a stock pipe) exhaust and the unmistakable throb of the V-twin. Martin also saw fit to warn me that it was very new (only 58km up when I began the test), so to be aware that the tyres were very new. He also thought it necessary to warn me about the handling, saying that, “You have to prepare for corners.” He needn’t have bothered, because the Bolt is very easy to ride! The smoothness and ease of riding came in complete contrast to that Harley 72 I’d previously tested. It brought back memories of when I first rode the Triumph Speedmaster: I remember thinking, “Someone should give one of these to Harley Davidson and show them how a cruiser should be to ride!” I was thinking those same thoughts as I rode off on the Yamaha Bolt. Look at the figures for power I’ve quoted below, factor in the weight, and you’ll guess that it isn’t a fast bike; and you’d be right. But then it’s not supposed to be. It goes well, like a cruiser should. It’s not an R1, but it never feels sluggish either. Twist the throttle and it goes as quickly as you need it to. Maybe it was just the newness of the ‘box, but the gear-change was a bit clunky sometimes. The gears were well-spaced and the over-all gearing, together with the flexible characteristics of the engine, made it feel perfectly geared. On one occasion I unknowingly took off in 2nd. There was no snatching or complaint from the engine at all – in fact I had to prod the lever down to confirm that I actually had started in 2nd. At the other end of the scale, the first time I hit the highway I was cruising at about 110kph and thought it was a bit vibey: nothing major, it just felt like it could use another gear. Ah, then I discovered it actually had another gear! Yep, I’d been inadvertently cruising the highway in 4th. Once in top the bike cruised smoothly and effortlessly at 110 – 120kph. A bike that can make 2nd feel like 1st and 4th feel like 5th has got to have good gearing and a flexible engine; and this has both! As expected, the ride is very firm. Highway bumps that you just notice on a more plush-riding motorcycle had me bouncing off the seat on this. My back had been playing-up a bit before I took this for a ride, so I intentionally avoided any rough roads; but I don’t think it would’ve handled rough roads very well! On the roads I did take it on, it was tolerable, and thankfully (and to its credit!) it didn’t make my back any worse. Once again, it was way ahead of the Harley 72 in the ride department! The brakes are efficient and are a good match for the performance. Apply the brakes and they stop you as quickly as you need them too (or as quickly as I needed them to on my test-ride). Like the acceleration, you aren’t overwhelmed by the performance but it does what you want. Same with the brakes: they don’t overwhelm you with their bite, but they stop you very efficiently. As I mentioned above, Martin had no need to warn me of the handling, because this handles really well! Okay, like I said to him after I’d come back, if you tried playing Valentino Rossi through some flip-flops then you might get into trouble, but at normal cruiser type riding it was great! It turned into corners very easily, you could adjust your line if you had to, and it just went where you wanted it to go. Unusually for a cruiser, even counter-steering worked. In fact, it was good fun to lean it into a corner and then twist the throttle and power out. Good fun! I think Martin might’ve also mentioned something about the possibility of it scraping, but, especially with new tyres, I wasn’t going to try leaning it too far into corners. I did look down at my feet a few times though, when I had it leaned over a bit, and they were getting pretty close to the ground sometimes, so getting enthusiastic on a twisty road would probably see some sparks fly. I came back being quite impressed with the Bolt. Yes, the riding-position is still problematic from a strict ergonomic point (although better than many!), and yes, the ride produced by the short-travel rear suspension was pretty rough. And then there was that awkward “wobbly” feeling I had when stopped or doing U-turns etc. But as a mid-size cruiser it is a good thing! Martin probably summed it up well when he said, “You wouldn’t want to ride it from Sydney to Melbourne, but it’s not designed for that.” Remember, Yamaha see it as more of an Urban cruiser with attitude; and in that role it does very well! It’s worth mentioning that with the R-Spec model having a few nice styling tweaks, plus the better rear suspension, all for just $500, that would be the one to go for. Although it only comes in matt-grey, which, personally, I don’t like. SNAPSHOT As a big-ish urban cruiser, with a bit of bad-boy attitude, the Bolt works very well. The impressive thing is how easy it is to ride, and how smooth and responsive it is (especially for a cruiser!). You can pose, and look cool, but you can also enjoy the ride for the way it is to ride! With the Bolt, there’s more to enjoy than just a brand-name on the side of the tank!
Engine: 2-cylinder, 942cc. Power: 38kW at 5,500rpm. Torque: 80Nm at 3,000rpm.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork, 120mm travel. Rear: Twin shocks 71mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 12.2 litres.
Weight: 247kg (wet).
Seat height: 690mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 100 X 19, Rear: 150 X 16
Brakes: Front: Single 298mm disc, Rear: Single 198mm disc
Price: $11,999. (R-Spec: $12,499)
Ridden: 2014.(Actually late December 2013, but considered a 2014 model).