Now, when I refer to “its design intention”, perhaps I should clarify that as being what we would presume to be its design intention, not what Yamaha claim it to be. On their web-site they, perhaps a little ambitiously, describe the bike in these terms: “With the ability to cruise at 120kph and return an average fuel consumption of around 45kms per litre, the R15 blends performance, reliability and low running costs. It is designed to appeal to riders looking for a practical motorcycle for every-day riding that sports R-series trademark sharp looks.” Is that just hype, or can it achieve that? Well, our reader reports that it goes a lot closer to achieving that than we might expect. So he agreed to write a review for us. This is a road-test with a difference – the main difference being that I didn’t conduct the test, and I didn’t write the article. (Well, not most of it). I was going to put it in the Me And My Bike section, but it was written as a review and I thought it deserved to be listed as such. Normally, readers’ opinions on bikes – especially bikes they own – would go in that Me And My Bike section; or the Feedback section if it’s just one they’ve ridden. But as I said, this was written as more than that and deserves to be treated as more than just a story of a reader’s bike. This story began when the reader – who wishes to remain anonymous, by the way – wrote to me telling me that he had bought a new bike. He teased me by saying, “You’ll never guess what it is!” He was right; I wouldn’t have guessed! (Incidentally, I should point out that he has expressed the wish to remain anonymous in most of the comments he previously has written, not just now because he owns this bike!). As he will explain, he bought the Yamaha YZF-R15 as a commuter, but took it way beyond that role. I was amazed at how capable he said it was in these conditions. Like that little train-engine alluded to in the title, it seemed that this little bike could accomplish tasks far outside its original design intention. As such, I thought that readers would be fascinated, as I was, to learn just what this little bike could do. He will describe himself a bit during the story, but I should mention at this point that he is a very experienced rider. He is a younger man, but has “a stable of bikes” that include a super-sports, a dirt-bike, a big-bore naked and probably others that I don’t know of. His riding includes everything from daily commutes to regular track-days. So he knows what he’s talking about. (Probably more than I do!). Opinions he has expressed to me about other bikes further confirm to me that he is more than qualified to write a review of a bike for these pages. So I took what he wrote, broke it into sections, added a few photos, and also added the usual specification table at the bottom, that I include in my road-tests. Plus a few comments of my own underneath that. As he will mention, his bike is a 2012-built model, which at the time of writing (late 2013) is still available, and still listed as a current model. In fact, when I visited a major dealer recently, they had three 2012 models in stock and no 2013 models. The current 2013 model – which, in typical Gen Y style, is referred to as “Version 2.0” – differs mostly in small details, the main one being the width of the rear tyre; plus some tweaks to bodywork and paint. Oh, there are some other things too, like a revised rear mono-shock and a longer swingarm. They also added teeth to both front and rear sprockets, resulting in the gearing being lowered by what I calculated as approximately bugger-all. Apart from these things, all other specifications are the same; so while there are slight differences, it is essentially the same bike. Okay, now I’ll turn over to our reader.
WHAT IT IS
Yamaha released the YZF-R15 to target young males who had learner licences and wanted to look cool on a sportsbike but didn't have the budget for more expensive bikes. It looked quite like an R1 from the front, had a low enough seat height to fit a wide range of riders, a good price as a result of being made in India and the comfort of the Yamaha name (and warranty) behind it. It didn't sell as they hoped in the Aussie market. Interestingly, it is an “aspirational model” in India with literally thousands of pages of forum comments about the bike - all positive and from owners or those wishing to be owners. The reason it didn't sell here seems to result from the very skinny rear tyre it has; a 100 section. So it has a rear tyre which is skinnier than a typical “big bike” front tyre (120 section). Yamaha replaced it in 2013 with the YZF-R15 V2.0. This model addresses all the cosmetic concerns of its target market whilst trying to maintain a competitive price.
WHO I AM
I am an experienced rider, with a stable of bikes (oh the joys of annual CTP!) so am not in their target market. But I should be, because the only people I've seen out and about riding them are also experienced riders who have bigger bikes at home and have recognised the value of these as a commuter or cheap mile muncher. In my case, circumstance meant I happened to have an underpowered, fairly average bike (Triumph Bonneville) for a number of months. I often rode it instead of my other bikes when going to work, to the shops etc and then I took it on all the typical “sports” roads for day trips just to see how a bike like that went. That would be another review, but let's just say that if they could increase the rear suspension travel to make it cope with bumps better, a lot of Elwyn's readers might find them quite appealing bikes. Having that made me open to considering a “low power”, smaller capacity bike for getting about town. So the 2012 YZF-R15 is languishing on dealer showroom floors, brand new, but not finding buyers because egos require a bigger rear tyre. I laugh at this situation, but it works out well for me. The skinny rear tyre is good engineering. It sucks less power from the small engine and enables better cornering capabilities. It just doesn't look wide and cool.
WHERE I’VE TAKEN IT
I have now ridden it on every local twisty road known to motorcyclists in the northern part of Sydney (Putty, Old Princes Highway, Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi, Broke, Royal National Park, Bells Line of Road) and have also extensively ridden it for commuting. Most of the twistie roads were done when I was running it in, so I had a rev limit to abide by. I wanted the run-in rev limit out of the way before I risked my life in Sydney traffic. Elwyn said that he thought that most of you, his readers, would not be familiar with this bike, or would not appreciate the breadth of its capabilities, so the above serves as an introduction. Now to what I think of the bike.
WHAT I THINK OF IT
It is made cheaply in India by Yamaha and that is evident with every component. But, you know what, it works. I've ridden a fair few “learner” bikes and, to ride, they've always felt more like an assortment of components than an integrated bike, as bigger, more expensive bikes do (or should!). I would describe it as a sportsbike in miniature. It does feel well-integrated and behaves like a sportsbike or sportstourer in miniature. So, for someone like me who is accustomed to sportsbikes, it is a perfectly good commuter. Others may desire an AirHawk, depending on what they are used to or their age, as I don't have any comfort hassles. I found it much more comfortable for bumpy back-roads than the Bonneville, but the bike wasn't as “planted” as the heavier Bonneville. Not skittish or a problem, just a lighter bike. (Apparently the Version 2.0, with its longer swingarm, does go some way to curing this. Elwyn). It is hard to know the audience here, but I suspect most of Elwyn's readers will be interested in the commuting, economy, reliability, rider suitability and gentle touring aspects so I'll lean towards that. It is an ideal commuter. It is narrow, so getting to the safety of the front of a set of traffic is easy. It has enough power to get away from the lights and put a buffer between you and the traffic, but you wouldn't want to take on V8s, sportscars or anyone prepared to “floor it” – even a Corolla – as one thing this bike does not have is power. Usually good reaction time and some reasonable revs see you at the speed-limit quite quickly and with a buffer between you and the traffic. I rarely find myself needing more power when commuting. I recently rode another bike of mine (which has more than 10 times the horsepower of the R15) in traffic and, whilst it was lovely of course, it was superfluous around town. The R15 really is fine for getting around on, don't write it off because of it's capacity. Riding along, it revs cleanly and effortlessly, like a well-manufactured bike of a higher price, and gear changes are smooth. It has a light clutch action and a seat height which suits many – my wife can fit, which is my usual test for whether a seat is low enough for “all”. It uses between 2 litres/100km and 2.5 litres/100km of regular 91 octane petrol, so your 12 litre tank gets you a lot of riding for your petrol dollar. It is cheap to buy and then cheap to run, but it doesn't feel cheap to ride. It just feels like a miniature sportsbike, not a “bad” or cheap bike. It is light and easy to paddle around when parking. Its front brake power is at the upper end of the range of what I'd expect from a learner bike. Even when commuting there are always a few corners and this bike isn't afraid of them. You can ride to whatever your riding skills allow, the bike won't be the restriction. That makes commuting fun as you're never feeling restrained by the bike but are revelling in just how cheap it all is. Running costs: The small engine capacity means that riders in NSW benefit from being in the very bottom CTP category, which is cheap. This makes a real hip pocket difference to your cost of rego each year. Full comprehensive insurance is also remarkably cheap. Servicing is cheap (single cylinder, simple engine) and it is highly proven over many years in India as a reliable bike. Tyres are cheap. So annual running costs are low. New cost is very low too as they are trying to get rid of the 2012 models so bargains are there to be had. (The ones I saw were about $500 under the price I've listed below. Elwyn). Whilst clearly built to a price, you aren't aware of this whilst riding it, and I've put it through its paces. I am impressed that Yamaha has pulled off this trick. If you can only find a 2013 model, they should be fine too, but won't be quite the bargain-priced wonder the 2012 is. For a bike you can just jump on and go off to work, shops, wherever, it is ideal. It will cost you next to nothing to get about on and if you're in a congested area it will mean you have a painless experience in traffic. It copes perfectly well in 80 – 110kph zones, not feeling strained and would be fine for longer distances. It doesn't really “do” overtaking though; not without a fair bit of forward planning. I wouldn't say it likes hills either. You are definitely changing down gears when you see a hill, but again the bike is not rough at these times and remains composed as revs rise. I've ridden it well loaded, but not with a pillion. One 115kg R15 rider I have been told about is himself kind of like two thin people, and that's without his touring luggage. But I would describe this bike as one for the solo rider. (Indians who carry their whole family on it will be offended at this statement!).
WHO IT WILL SUIT
For those who want to venture further afield, it is very subjective whether this is suitable or not. I think there are people who follow Elwyn's site who are on quite restricted budgets and a lot of articles seem to cater towards such readers (whereas mainstream magazines seem to assume you have limitless cash!). I've done 500km rides on this bike on windy roads during run in, so it is fine for reasonable distances each day. It could easily tour to wherever you wanted to go, so long as you didn't plan on going over the speed limit. The screen looks good, but offers no real protection. I have a Ventura rack fitted to mine and have lugged about full bags without any problems. I've also loaded it up like it is a small car and it has been fine – but I only do that when circumstance dictates. Someone on a tight budget looking for one bike which could do it all could definitely consider this bike and avoid problems with high running costs or problems related to fixing things on a bike you bought 2nd-hand. You would never feel guilty about going for a ride – of whatever distance – because it is so darn cheap to run. I've never seen much reference to sporting riding from people on this site, so have kept that side of things to a minimum. (You might be under-estimating some of us there; a few readers still like scraping the pegs now and then! Elwyn). For the record, in completely stock form, this bike is capable of riding quite swiftly through all the sinuous roads I've listed above at the same speeds most guys on bigger bikes are doing. I only got overtaken on straight sections. For this sort of riding, it would benefit from higher calibre tyres than it comes with OEM but I don't think that aspect is of great interest to this audience. If anyone is keen on the sporting side, there's actually a racing class dedicated to them, which took me by surprise. Cheap, fun racing anyone? I was at the front of some traffic lights one evening and found myself next to a fellow in his early 50s who was also on an R15 (he was quick to point out that he had a bigger bike at home!) who spent the rest of the time raving about his R15. He only uses it for commuting and absolutely loves it. I advised him that it'll surprise him with its capabilities in the twisties too, but to be wary of the OEM tyres at full lean angle as they are a bit scary there (easily fixed by putting better tyres on it). I didn't feel the need to mention that I had any other bikes. I think the R15 stands on its own two feet just fine in the city commute. The dealership I got mine from has a bunch of guys, all above middle age and lead by a 115kg rider, who tour all over the place on these things. The lead guy referred to has 75,000km on his R15 already; and he also has an FJR1300 at home. Go figure. I'd take the FJR!
I hope these facts and opinions have been sufficient to provide the orientation and information Elwyn wanted for you all. If any of you are keen for information more specific to your own needs, then either find a dealer with stock of the “going cheap” 2012 models and take one for a ride, or contact Elwyn with your questions and he'll pass them on to me. It could suit many, but if I had to pick a top three it'd be:
1: People who have a bucket-list item of having a go at something a bit sporty but don't want to risk their lives, don't want massive discomfort and don't want to spend too much.
2: Anyone needing a cheap, reliable way of getting around with low total yearly costs which is just at home on a windy “bikers road” as it is in grid-locked traffic or a bus lane because they can only afford one bike at this point.
3: Riders who feel more confident with a bike which doesn't weigh very much and where the power delivery won't lead to surprises or injury.
Whatever your bike is, I hope you are getting out there and riding it and having lots of fun.
Engine: 1-cylinder, 150cc. Power: 13kW. Torque: 15Nm.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork. Rear: Mono-shock.
Fuel capacity: 12 litres.
Weight: 136kg (with full tank).
Seat height: 800mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 90 X 17, Rear: 100 X 17 (2012), 130 X 17 (2012).
Brakes: Front: Single disc , Rear: Single disc.
Price: $3,999 ride-away (2012). $4299 (+ORC) (2013).
Bike purchased by reader 2013.
THE OLD BLOKE’S COMMENTS
After reading the above report, I went into a major dealer to have a look at them. They look like a scaled-down R6, of course. (And even more so with the current model’s different rear-end treatment). The bars are low and sporty, so you might expect the riding-position to be very lean-forward aggressive, but it’s not. Because the bike is small (and, in my case, also because I’m tall), the riding-position is more up-right than you’d expect. The pegs are quite high though, so there is a fair bend at the knees. As our reader mentioned, the seat is fairly hard, although no more than you’d expect on a bike of this size and price. The narrow rear tyre, pictured on the left, does look more skinny than you might expect to see on a bike that portrays a sporty image with the rest of its styling, so I can understand why Yamaha have gone to a wider hoop. But, having said that, if I was buying one I’d save the extra dollars and go with the 2012-build, knowing that, as our reader suggests, it is probably more practical anyway. I happened to meet a young guy, on L-plates, who told me that he had bought one of these; so exactly the sort of customer the bike was aimed at. He said that a couple of months after he bought it he traded it on a Kawasaki Ninja 300. Undoubtedly a better bike, but it perhaps goes to show that, as our reader suggested, Yamaha have may have missed the real market for these bikes.
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The paint has changed since 2013; but not very much. And otherwise it’s the same. Although note that the one tested here was actually the first version (with the more narrow rear tyre); which I mentioned in my part of the report.