YAMAHA’S LAMS RETRO BLASTER
Look at the Yamaha XSR700 and XSR900 side by side and there are subtle differences. Sure, they both have the same retro-inspired styling, but the details are different. The side-covers are different; the instruments and fuel-filler, which are mounted off to the right on the 900, are centred on the 700; the headlight on the 700 is longer and more “vintage” looking. The foot-pegs are different too: on the 900 they are all metal with a serrated top, while the 700 has rubber inserts. And, as I suggested in my report on the XSR900, the foot-pegs say a lot about the bike. In fact, compare the foot-pegs and you’re comparing the basic philosophy of the bikes. But before I get to those details, and how they work out in practice, let’s look at what it is. In the same way that the XSR900 is an MT-09 in retro clothing, the XSR700 is an MT-07 in retro clothing. Mechanically the two bikes are the same. Frame and suspension are the same too; except you can remove the rear sub-frame of the XSR700, apparently so you can customize it, if that is your thing. As you probably know, there are two versions of the MT-07 – the normal one the rest of the world gets, and a LAMS-compliant one that was developed especially for Australia. This reduces the engine capacity from 689cc to 655cc. (They did this by reducing the stroke by 2mm). There is a slightly lower compression-ratio, changes to the air-box, and some sort of throttle-stop. This reduces the “normal” version’s 55kW down to 38kW, albeit at lower revs. Torque is likewise less, although at significantly lower revs – so it probably gains torque at low engine speeds. The XSR uses the LAMS engine, not the normal (“HO” in Aussie model lingo) version. I think this is a bit silly. I reckon the retro styling is more likely to appeal to older riders who don’t need LAMS restrictions, and who would appreciate the extra power of the normal version. (Although I've also read that Yamaha are aiming this at the new young hipsters; whoever they are!). Yamaha describes the bike with these words: “XSR700 matches future tech with retro style for an entertaining ride with attitude to burn. With deep torque and a super agile chassis, it’s for those who appreciate heritage without the hassle.” That’s a common theme to today’s retro bikes – “heritage without the hassle.” Basically it means you can have a bike that looks like it might have come from the 1960s, but without the oil-leaks and having it break-down every second ride. This might not exactly look like it came from the 1960s, (although with the tank painted in the optional British-Racing-Green-like colour with white stripes, it looks more like it), but it still has a definite retro theme going on.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
I reckon it’s a good-looking bike. Especially with the silver tank, it looks quite purposeful – with a bit of old-school thrown in. That elongated round headlight, along with the small round taillight mounted up on top of the rear mudguard, looks very retro! The stubby exhaust and boomerang-shaped swing-arm maybe not so much. It’s a cool looking bike anyway. (I'd pick the dark green with white stripes one). For some reason, the first time I sat on this in the showroom – and again when I climbed on for the test-ride – it felt small: smaller than the XSR900, although the frame is basically the same, and the wheelbase is exactly the same. It’d be just detail differences, as I mentioned above: perhaps the seat is in a slightly different position, or something. So I guess it’s not actually small. It also feels very light; and with a ready-to-ride weight of 186kg it is light. Being light makes it very easy to wheel around the carpark and very easy to handle out on the road too – especially for old blokes like me; and for those young hipster types too I guess. (Those young hipster types can’t go pushing heavy things around, otherwise their low-slung jeans would fall down!). The controls are very light too, and easy to use. And this time I knew where the start button was! (See the test on the XSR900, which has the same controls). Like the 900, all the other controls were in the natural place and easy to use. The speedo is the same too, with its EK Holden-like band circling the big round display pod, to tell you how fast the engine is going. How fast the bike is going is displayed in a big digital number, as with the 900. The only things lacking are the indicators for power mode and traction-control – because this bike doesn’t have different power-modes (even though the salesman told me it did!), and it doesn’t have traction-control either. It's probably a cost thing, but neither are really needed on a bike that puts out 38kW. By the way, some of those LAMS restrictions can be removed when or if they aren’t required. The air-box and throttle-stop can be changed to original; but of course the smaller engine-capacity and slightly lower compression ratio would remain. The riding-position is very upright of course, as suits the style of bike. The bars are wide – almost a bit too wide I reckon; so you sit up straight with arms reaching out to the side. It gives good control, but with everything being so light, the bars could be a bit shorter and you’d still have plenty of leverage over the front-end. The footpegs weren’t ideal for me: I'd prefer them to be lower and more rear-set. It felt like my legs were going almost straight down to the pegs, rather than being angled back. Although I’ve looked at photos of other people on the bike and this doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps because of that feeling of being small I was sitting further back (I’m a lanky old bloke remember!) which made my legs more vertical than would be the case with shorter riders. I don’t know, but it was something that I felt when riding it, and it resulted in me sitting in a slightly slumped position. The good thing about the sitting-position though, was that there was less pressure on the points of my pelvis, which I find a problem with many bikes, (including my own). That slight slump did result in some soreness in my back by the end of the ride though. But that was just me: over-all the bike is very comfortable; it’s just that my lanky old frame didn’t seem to fit quite as well as I would’ve liked. The back brake pedal seemed very low, and I had to reach my foot down to get at it. This should be an easy fix (adjustment, or re-positioning the pedal on the mounting), but I'll mention it anyway, as it was a bit disconcerting out on the road, having to search for the pedal. The seat on this is much better than the 900! The 900’s seat was quite hard, but the 700’s seat has thicker padding and is quite comfortable. It has a kind of suede material on the top surface too, which adds to the softer feel.
OUT ON THE ROAD
As I mentioned above, the clue to this bike, especially when comparing it to the XSR900, is in the foot-pegs. On the 900 they are all metal with a serrated top edge – very sports-bike, giving priority to your feet not slipping as you fling it through the twisties. On the 700 they have rubber inserts, giving priority to comfort before the ultimate in handling. And in both cases, the rest of the bike followed that philosophy. This bike was provided by the same dealer who provided the 900, but the test-route was very different. (This was a group test, and the route was the same as for the Aprilia Shiver). But it began the same – turning out of the driveway and toddling through town. And those ripples in the road surface that I mentioned feeling on the 900 I didn’t feel at all on this one. Already I was liking this better! The bike felt very light and easy to ride. The steering was very light too, accentuated by the wide bars. As with the 900, the light steering took a bit of getting used to, but didn’t seem to concern me as much on this test as it did with the 900; but then the test-ride was different and I didn’t encounter the same situations (hard braking into a right-angle bend for example) as I did on the 900. In any case, again like the 900, it steers accurately and goes exactly where you point it. It’s also very stable. So the handling is great. Another rider who later took this for a ride confirmed the good handling (See “Second Opinion” below). The only thing that put me off on the ride was the difficulty getting to the back brake. Having got to the brake pedal, the brakes were good. Worth noting is the fact that ABS is standard on the XSR, whereas it is optional on the MT. I mentioned above that the route we took was the same one used for the test of the Aprilia Shiver. It’s a good route! Generous in length, it starts (and ends) in thick traffic, progresses to open highway and then onto some B roads where there are some nice twisty sections to enjoy. So you get to see how the bike performs over a wide variety of roads and riding conditions. The twisty sections allowed the bike to show off its good handling. The roads are pretty smooth though, so it doesn’t provide a good opportunity to really test the ride quality. However, you still get a feeling for how the bike rides – like the ripples along the highway through town that I mentioned feeling on the XSR900, but not with this one. This bike rode well! Not only did it feel good through town (and on the highway of course), but it felt good along the B-roads too. There were no hard hits; no jolts that had me wincing through the helmet. So chalk one up for ride quality with this – even if I didn’t get to test it on rougher roads. The power is very different to the 900. There’s enough power there, but I thought it was a bit underwhelming. And that was another impression I got right from the very start of the ride, going down the highway through town. In LAMS terms though, it's a real goer! In a recent feature on LAMS bikes, Cycle Torque magazine said that the MT-07 “offers performance which will eclipse most other LAMS bikes.” Another test I read also praised its performance. So it’s a matter of perspective I suppose. To get the most out of it you need to get it singing in the higher revs, but it’s not exactly sluggish at low revs. The engine features Yamaha’s crossplane design that is intended to produce a linear power and torque delivery; and that’s just what you get with the XSR. It will pull away from 2,000 – 3,0000rpm with no complaint; although it really prefers to be over 3,000rpm. For more spirited riding, through twisties etc, it was happiest between 4,000 and 5,000rpm. The engine is very smooth. Unlike many other Yamahas, there is no harsh period in the rev-range; it’s smooth all the way. I had it to 8000rpm, and it was smooth everywhere. So the performance is certainly sufficient, but there’s a limit to just what 38kW can do. To me, it felt a bit leisurely, especially when compared to more powerful bikes, like its big brother. (The 900 is a rocket by comparison!) The gearing is exactly the same as the 900, running 25kph / 1,000rpm in top. In the report on the 900 I said that personally, I’d prefer it a bit higher-geared; but on this it’s ideal. Any higher and there would be a detrimental effect on performance, but it’s still high enough to cruise the open road just as easily as the 900. The gear-change, like everything else on the bike, is light and easy. Clutchless up-changes sometimes came with a bit of a jerk (or was that me being a bit ham-footed?), but in all other respects it was totally smooth. So there it is. In some ways I prefer it to the much more powerful 900. It is much more comfortable in both seat and in ride. But the ergonomics aren’t quite there for me; and then there’s the power: if this was mine I’d miss the power I’m used to having on a bike.
Worth mentioning are the comments of another rider who rode the XSR700 on the same day. Even more significant was the fact that he rode the 900 and then the 700. He was a young bloke, and we chatted a bit both before and after the ride. When I rode the 700 he was riding the 900. Then when we got back he swapped to the 700 and took that on the same test-ride. His current bike was a Honda CBR600, so he’s used to a bike with a bit of get-up-and-go. But he uses the bike for commuting and, not surprisingly, finds the Honda not ideally suited to this role. To get it going, and really enjoy the bike, you’ve got to be giving it some stick and piling on the revs, which you can’t do when trundling through traffic. So he was looking for something with a more flexible range of power. After riding both bikes, he preferred the 700. He said there was enough power there, and it would cruise just as easily on the highway. The 900 obviously had more power, but to him this lessened the enjoyment a bit. There was so much power that he said he had to be careful in corners (although it does have traction-control to tame it if the right-hand gets too enthusiastic!), while the 700 was much more easily managed: he didn’t have to worry about using too much throttle, he just got stuck in and enjoyed the ride! You could interpret that as a bit of a back-handed compliment perhaps, but it’s not. As I’ve said, there is enough power there, and it makes a package that is easier and less demanding to ride. SNAPSHOT Yamaha’s retro take on the MT-07 is a good bike. It has the popular retro appeal but with enough current technology to show that it is also a modern bike – just like they say in the blurb. It’s comfortable, it rides well without detracting too much from the handling, and it’s light and easy to ride. But it should've had the full power version of that mid-size twin.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 655cc. Power: 38kW at 8,000rpm. Torque: 57.5Nm at 4,000rpm.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic forks, 130mm travel. Rear: Monoshock, 130mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 14 litres.
Weight: 186kg with full tank of fuel.
Seat height: 815mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17. Rear: 180 X 17
Brakes: Front: Twin 282mm discs. ABS. Rear: Single 245mm disc. ABS.
Price: $10,999 (+ORC).