As a middleweight, Sport Heritage motorcycle primed for customization, many of Yamaha’s current ambitions coalesce in the 2018 XSR700. The Japanese manufacturer has been supporting custom builders the world over through its Yard Built program since 2011. Its FZ-07 (now MT in the States to unify brand identity throughout different markets) has been a leader among modern twin-cylinder naked machines in terms of performance and styling and is the platform which supplies the engine for the new XSR. And the 700 also winks at Yamaha’s history, with touches aimed to inspire memory of XS models from decades before.
It’s a machine where the past, present and future collide in a subtle yet striking package. One that looks the part of a neo-retro motorcycle with performance capabilities befitting a contemporary bike.
The Nuts and Bolts Around Town
We previously outlined the broader mechanical details of the XSR700 when the model was officially announced for US markets back in September. This bike has been making the rounds in Europe for a few years now, where it’s proven its staying power.
To see how the specs shaped up in use, Yamaha staged an event in San Diego, California. The ride included urban, freeway and backroad routes, the kind of everyday scenarios riders in the market for a modern standard motorcycle are likely to encounter. And the bike passes the test on all fronts.
To start, the liquid-cooled 689cc Crossplane crank Parallel Twin is a delightful engine. Power and pull come on quick, but don’t require great amounts of finesse to control. A rider can crack the throttle and get a little thrill without having to worry about looping the thing.
Or in other words, it’s thoroughly usable. During our stop and go moments downtown, clicking up through the first three gears of the bike’s velvety six-speed transmission provided more than enough power to break away from cars when the lights turned. It revs up to around 10,000 rpm and starts to sing just above 5000 rpm, with instant response in the mid and upper middle range.
And with its precise throttle and fuel injection system, any input by the right hand to traffic changes was immediate and predictable.
Add to that a 410-pound wet weight, low center of gravity, wide, comfortable handlebars and neutral-though-slightly-sporty ride position and you have a motorcycle absolutely dialed for navigating urban settings.
Even the spongy 41mm KYB fork and link-type, horizontal-mount rear shock worked admirably in such situations. Both provide 5.1 inches of travel and the soft suspension soaked up imperfections well at slower speeds.
These are complemented by a 32.9-inch tall seat that is one of the most comfortable I’ve encountered lately. I had no backside fatigue even after riding all day and the foam padding is both soft yet supportive. Barring stylistic preferences one may have, I see no reason to change the stock seat.
The seat height also affords stress-free reach to the ground for my 32-inch inseam. At stops I can flat foot with a bend still in the legs, which coupled with the light feel of the bike all around, will make this machine quite appealing to less experienced riders.
Heading to the Mountain
The ride then progressed to Mt. Laguna by way of a stint on the freeway. The bike runs up quickly to speed and sits in the meat of its powerband in fifth gear while cruising at 70 to 75mph. Sixth gear serves as a bit of an overdrive on the bike, and is nice when you have a clear stretch of road ahead and just want to cruise.
Here too its lithe nature proved useful, flitting in and out of lanes effortlessly. But it’s not a small-feeling machine, despite it’s small-bike handling. It is substantial enough to feel steady and secure at speed and doesn’t bog down when you ask for more from the engine.
The suspension character is decent enough here as well, however squaring up pot holes or cracks in the asphalt during this portion of the ride did result in a much more jarring effect than when I did it on surface streets.
The naked design of the bike presents its discomforts on the highway however, with a constant blast of wind coming to the chest and helmet. Among Yamaha’s XSR700 accessory catalog (which we detail in more depth below) there are a few options to help mitigate this, including an aluminum front number plate or smoked micro cowl. These are both quite small and can only be expected to lessen the wind’s effect on the torso.
I wasn’t much troubled by it though, owing to the fact that the ride position suits my six-fool frame exceptionally well. I prefer mid to slightly rear mount foot controls and a more upright position on top. Exactly what the XSR provides. Even resisting wind blast, I felt stable and comfortable.
The diamond-type steel frame is narrow, as is the long 3.7 gallon tank, giving the XSR a compact aspect perfect for California lane splitting.
Cruising along at highway speeds in sixth showed fuel mileage of anywhere between 50 and 55 mpg on the XSR700 on the tidy, round LCD instrument panel. This would net just over 200 miles per tank in the most optimal circumstances. We were running a slightly aggressive pace at times, so a more reserved rider could well achieve the 58 mpg Yamaha claims of its Parallel Twin in its spec sheet.
Pulling off the freeway, we started our ascent up to Mt. Laguna. The two-lane highway we rode snakes its way up to 5738 feet in elevation, and was an absolute blast on the XSR.
Our pace suited third and fourth gear, keeping the engine right in the sweet-mid range where it performs best. I could whack the throttle early out of corners too, and never felt the Pirelli Sportscomp rear tire break traction.
Again the lightness of the machine was a boon, tipping into and out of corners with ease. The leverage afforded by the wider handlebars allows for the slightest of inputs to initiate a turn or side-to-side transition and with just a minimal amount of body language the bike is hugging the inside line of the tightest turns.
At a higher pace, the suspension did prove a bit troubling at points if there was a mid-corner bump to contend with. The chassis would become unsettled in these moments, making this bike in stock trim more of a reserved canyon carver than a full-on attack the turns machine.
The dual 282mm disc brakes at the front provide nice feel early in the pull and a progressive bite as we dove deeper into corners. The rear brake is a little less refined, and I noticed the rear ABS system kick in quite early on more than one occasion. It didn’t happen as quickly at the front, but a healthy stab at the adjustable lever will activate the ABS pulse sooner than on other models I’ve experienced in the segment.
San Diego and the route we covered throughout the day proved the perfect playground for the XSR700 though. I ended impressed with the bike’s aptitude in each circumstance we faced, with the accessible yet lively powerband and mostly balanced chassis set-up engendering the kind of confidence you feel when you can just focus on the ride, trusting in the competence of the machine connecting you to the road.
If I were to choose between the XSR700 and the MT-07 that shares the same engine, I would go with the XSR700, hands down. It’s retro-ish look is unique without being outlandish, it’s ergonomics comfortable and natural for my frame and its fit and finish quite high for an $8499 dollar motorcycle.
I spent the day on the Matte Grey/Aluminum which is a classy, industrial-looking alternative to the deep shine offered by the Raspberry Metallic colorway. Both are much more striking in person.
Yamaha have created the XSR700 in this spirit of its “Faster Sons” design philosophy. During the technical presentation prior to our ride, staff described this as a two-pronged approach. “Faster” is meant to elicit focus on elements such as mechanical performance and engine character, while “Sons” strives to achieve a connection to the brand’s history and to ensure timeless value thanks to the use of quality materials.
From the perspective of performance, the XSR700 pleases beyond expectations. On the “Sons” side, small touches like the round headlight and tail light and instrument panel, the exposed internals, detailed seat and ride position all recall XS motorcycles from history, reinterpreting the UJM aesthetic for the current moment.
Yamaha want to empower riders to take things further with the XSR700 also, making the platform easily customizable. The fuel tank panels are removable and replaceable, and the subframe loop is designed to be unbolted without fuss to make tail modifications simple.
Part of this impulse comes from the inspiration gleaned from the numerous Yard Built projects over the years on XS models. Yamaha went so far as to invite one standout builder, Greg Hageman of Hageman Cycles, to the launch to share his XSR700 build, crafted with all bolt on parts. Hageman has done some incredible work over the years on Yamaha’s XS650, making bobbers, café racers, scramblers and all variants between.
Having Hageman on hand emphasized the fact that the XSR700 can be taken in any direction in the hands of an ambitious builder.
Since it takes a significant amount of fabrication experience to pull off the types of bikes Hageman creates, Yamaha have also dedicated significant time developing an accessories catalog so even the least experienced builder can still customize his or her bike.
A partnership with Yoshimura has resulted in a Y-Series Full Exhaust System that is CARB compliant. One of the ride leaders from Yamaha had a bike fitted with the pipe and the sound alone is reason enough to upgrade to this exhaust. Better performance and weight reduction over stock sweeten the deal further.
There are genuine fork gaiters, seat upgrades, billet brake and clutch levers, flat seat and solo seat options along with radiator covers and guards. Additionally, riders can choose to toss on a rear rack, windscreen, new side covers as well. Yamaha also will offer adventure saddlebags and saddlebag support bar kits for the XSR700 too.
The bottom line is the XSR700 is a motorcycle that will hold its own on dealership floors. It delivers fun balanced performance on the road in a comfortable and stylish package. It’s icing on the cake to have access to the extensive accessory catalog, allowing riders to immediately begin tweaking their bike in whichever way they choose. A thoughtful motorcycle from every aspect, and one I would be thrilled to have as a daily rider.