Sometimes, when a manufacturer tries to go for a certain look, they miss the mark by quite a margin. Luckily for me, I found when jumping aboard the new Yamaha Bolt XVS950 that the nail was well and truly hit on the head when it came to the factory bobber.
While technically an oxymoron much like the idea of a “factory custom” Yamaha’s effort here to design a bike to fit the bobber theme hasn’t been too bad considering all the regulations a new bike must meet.
With a bobber being a motorcycle with a 'bobbed' (read: shortened) rear fender, extra-low slung seat and minimalistic styling m, the Bolt R-Spec I think nails that description. And unlike the image most people think of when it comes to a bobber, this bike comes from the land of the rising sun.
The minimalistic nature of the Bolt R-Spec means that when you look down between the firm but comfortable saddle and the 12-litre fuel tank you see the backbone of the bike and the huge DOHC cylinder head of the 942cc engine.
To be honest, when it came to riding the Bolt, I wasn't quite sure where to position my knees. With a seat height of only 690mm and comparatively high bars the result is a menacing, slightly hunched riding position which made me feel like I was riding straight out of "Sons of Anarchy", but with a hot cylinder head on one side and air filter on the other your legs feel anything but cool as you hang them out in the wind.
The footpegs are typical of Japanese bikes and are centre set so that you have the choice of riding either with your knees pointing outwards, or resting them against that rear cylinder and the airbox. After finding cornering more difficult, I chose the latter.
Much to my surprise though, the Bolt R-Spec handles corners much better than I had anticipated. The ultra low Bolt R-Spec makes no qualms about scraping the foot pegs along the tarmac when you carry too much lean angle which is a common occurrence as you adjust to riding the Bolt.
At first you feel like you are grinding the legs away as you adjust riding styles to the Bolt.
While scraping the pegs was hilariously fun at times, it was actually incredibly easy to carry a quick pace through tight corners without touching down. I simply followed the old Porsche mantra of ”slow in, fast out” and then giving the 942cc V-Twin a fistful of throttle on exit to make use of its decent torque spread.
Weighing in at 247kg and having a low center of gravity really makes the Bolt R-Spec feel nimble for what is a very low-slung cruiser.
Additionally, with the frame being so bare bones and narrow it is one if only a few cruisers I've ridden that I’ve felt comfortable splitting lanes on. Take that Auckland traffic!
The engine itself is a beautiful V-Twin, that, despite being manufactured in Japan, wouldn't seem out of place in a factory on the other side if the Pacific.
At low rpm it shakes and pulses in a pleasing and slightly menacing way, just like any good V-twin should and is unlike many of its Japanese metric cruiser counterparts.
At high rpm the engine can get a little bit vibey, but it never gets to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. It does, however, affect the performance of the mirrors which at most engine speeds blur out the detail of what you're looking at. Although, considering that the point of mirrors is to check for obstacles and traffic behind you, you can still see more than enough to make safe lane changes.
Strangely enough, the Bolt comes with a 5-speed gearbox, breaking from the movement towards the universal use of a 6-speed. While the gear ratios are fine for the purpose I did try finding a sixth gear a few times while cruising on the motorway and the engine wasn't particularly happy with my efforts to plod along at 50kph in top. Flicking through the gears is a rewarding experience as you ride the torque curve of the engine and punch your way forward.
My only real gripe with the entire bike was the minimalist dash. Whilst in keeping with the bike's unadulterated design and displaying only the essentials - such as speed and the typical warning lights for fuel, hi-beams and oil - I found that, when it rained, the digital speed readout became tricky to read. I suspect this is because it wasn't dark enough to activate the gauge's backlight which, in darker riding conditions, lit up the speedo nicely. Personally, I like to have a tachometer too just for the added safety of being able to see what the engine is doing.
The R-Spec has the same beautiful finish I've come to expect from Yamaha's bikes. The seat was a gorgeous almost suede item that felt so good I thought it was a crime for me to be riding the bike in the rain. Thankfully Yamaha build quality is such that it's never an issue and the bike.
As usual Yamaha offer a full range of accessories for the Bolt R-Spec including screens, luggage and even a ready-to-ride bagger version available straight from the showroom floor.
ENGINE: 942cc SOHC V-Twin
POWER: 38.3kW @ 5,500rpm, 79.5Nm @ 3,000rpm
FUEL CAPACITY: 12-Litres
SEAT HEIGHT: 690mm