Launch: Yamaha Bolt

The Yamaha Bolt looks good in all four colours. Photo: Bill Petro

Words: Zac Kurylyk   Photos: As credited   Title Photo: Bill Petro

HISTORY

Although the Big Four were all experimenting with low rider styling in the late 1970s, Yamaha was the first Japanese manufacturer to build an air-cooled V-twin to challenge Harley-Davidson, the 800-lb gorilla of the cruiser world. That was back in 1981, with the Virago 750.

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Since then, all the Japanese marques have been building big-bore cruisers that more or less riff on the same common theme. The Bolt and Bolt R take their motor from one of those bikes already in Yamaha’s lineup. The 942 cc air-cooled 60-degree SOHC V-twin, with four-valve heads, was first used in the V-Star 950, with 25,000 km valve adjustments.

WHAT’S NEW

Aside from the motor, the rest of the Bolt and Bolt R is new for 2014 (it’s an early, early release). The cruiser theme has been around for decades now, but Yamaha is moving away from the feet-forward trend we’ve seen in recent years.

Instead of forward controls, the Bolt has the pegs moved backwards, putting the rider in a standard riding position, similar to the original Japanese low riders. The pegs are about 24 cm further back than the V-Star 950′s forward controls.

The Yamaha's upright seating position sets it apart from most modern cruisers. Photo: Bill Petro

The Yamaha’s upright seating position sets it apart from most modern cruisers. Photo: Bill Petro

The handlebar doesn’t reach for the sky, pardner – it’s a fairly straight bar with a 2.5-cm rise, supposedly inspired by flat-track racers. Whatever its origins, it helps the rider assume a real-world riding stance, instead of looking like a buffoon, arms flung skyward, grasping for ape hangers.

The Bolt's engine is borrowed from the V-Star 950. The rest of the bike is mostly new. Photo: Bill Petro

The Bolt’s engine is borrowed from the V-Star 950. The rest of the bike is mostly new. Photo: Bill Petro

Marketers have been calling this bike a bobber; that’s a bit of a stretch, as the fenders are still attached, and haven’t been trimmed that much. However, the bike certainly has a great stripped-down look; there are no Art Deco flares or chromed geegaws here.

Thankfully, the bike’s designers resisted the urge to follow today’s trend and bolt a bunch of hideous lights to the Bolt. The LED tail light, the turn signals, and the headlight all have classic lines. It’s something that should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many motorcycles get this wrong.

The digital speedometer also offers a clock, odometer, twin tripmeters, and a low-fuel light, but no tach.

There’s not much difference between the Bolt and Bolt R – the Bolt R comes with different paint that arguably looks better, and a suede-style seat cover, that also looks better. The major difference is in the rear suspension.

Along with different paint choices, the main difference between the Bolt and Bolt R Spec is the rear shocks. Photo: Bill Petro

Along with different paint choices and seat covers, the main difference between the Bolt and Bolt R Spec is the rear shocks. Photo: Bill Petro

The Bolt R’s twin rear shocks have remote gas reservoirs, while the standard bike has conventional rear shocks. The rear suspension travel remains the same. Both bikes are adjustable for preload only.

The Bolt's tail and signal lights have a retro look, even though they're LED units. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

The Bolt’s tail and signal lights have a retro look, even though they’re LED units. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Both bikes have the same blacked-out 2-1 exhaust, with the rear cylinder’s header snaking forward to optimize exhaust length. It’s not particularly attractive, but many owners will likely plan on replacing it anyway, for something that’s less restrictive and more likely to annoy their neighbours.

They also share 41 mm front forks, 12-spoke cast wheels, belt drive, and a 12-litre gas tank. Front and rear brakes are both 298 mm single discs on both bikes, with twin-piston caliper up front and single-piston caliper in rear. ABS is not available for now.

The tank should theoretically give you a range of about 240 kms, if you can get the 20 km/l fuel efficiency Yamaha claims. That’s likely enough range for most cruiser riders. The tank itself looks pretty sharp.

The 12-litre tank should give you about 240 kms of range, if you get the claimed 20 km per litre. Photo: Bill Petro

The 12-litre tank should give you about 240 kms of range, if you get the claimed 20 km per litre. Photo: Bill Petro

In fact, the whole bike looks good, from the 12-spoke cast wheels to the paint (gloss white or black for the Bolt, olive green or matte grey for the R). If showroom appeal was the only selling point, these bikes would do very well.

The LCD gauge doesn't have a tach. Photo: Bill Petro

The LCD gauge doesn’t have a tach. Photo: Bill Petro

If they aren’t flashy enough for you in stock trim, Yamaha has a huge accessory lineup available for these bikes (including a lowering kit, wire wheels, saddlebags and windshields), allowing you to transform it visually into a cafe racer, a bagger, or something in between.

THE RIDE

Of course, a bike’s road performance is a key selling point as well, so let’s talk about how well the Bolt and Bolt R handle the asphalt.

But first, a disclaimer: Yamaha held the Bolt launch in downtown Ottawa, and after photo work, and some around-town riding, there wasn’t much time for the journos to head to the twisties and give the bike a proper workout. I tried to ride through Gatineau Park, but apparently the health nuts have taken over the curvy road through the middle of the park, and banned motor vehicles in favour of bicycles.

The exhaust has a healthy, yet civilized, grunt. Too bad most owners will want to swap it out for a louder, better-looking unit. Photo: Bill Petro

The exhaust has a healthy, yet civilized, grunt. Too bad most owners will want to swap it out for a louder, better-looking unit. Photo: Bill Petro

That means I was only able to ride the Bolt through downtown stop-and-go, and city boulevards, with a bit of highway thrown in. I would love to report how it handled La Mauricie’s corners, but such a ride wasn’t in the cards, due to time constraints.

That's a 298 mm disc, with twin-piston caliper. The rear disc is also 298 mm, with single-piston caliper. Photo: Bill Petro

That’s a 298 mm disc, with twin-piston caliper. The rear disc is also 298 mm, with single-piston caliper. Photo: Bill Petro

The bike does handle this urban work well, though. Like any V-twin, you’ve got lots of torque on tap stoplight to stoplight, and should you require some quick evasive action, the upright riding position is conducive to a quick lane change, whether you’re evading a homicidal cager, or trying to escape Johnny Law.

It’s no supermoto – handling is still restricted by the bike’s weight and center of gravity – but for a cruiser this works pretty well; I didn’t encounter any alarming lunges when I leaned the bike over in town. In fact, it reminded me a bit of the first cruiser I owned, a Yamaha Heritage Special XS650. It might not have been the quickest-turning machine, but it got the job done.

I’ve mostly been riding dual sports and adventure bikes for years, so I found the seating position quite natural; other riders coming from standard-styled riding bikes should find the same thing. If anything, riders with longer inseams may actually want to move the foot controls forward just a bit, to allow more legroom (there’s accessory pegs coming that will do that).

I certainly didn’t try any stoppies, but the 298 mm discs worked fine. Brake and clutch levers are both wider than usual, making clutching and stopping a little easier.

While Yamaha says the bolt is aimed for urban use, the upright riding position should make it fun on back roads too. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

While Yamaha says the bolt is aimed for urban use, the upright riding position should make it fun on back roads too. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

The engine is rigidly mounted, making it a stressed member of the frame and cutting down on weight (the Bolt is about 13 kg lighter than the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster). I didn’t find the engine’s vibrations intrusive as I rode around town, though.

Zac's right leg got a little warm thanks to heat radiating off the exhaust. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Zac’s right leg got a little warm thanks to heat radiating off the exhaust. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

The Bolt also beats the Sportster on suspension travel, with 3 cm more travel in back. However, I still found the rear suspension beat me up when I hit rough pavement in Ottawa.

I didn’t get enough seat time on the Bolt R to compare that bike’s shocks to the regular Bolt’s shocks; other reviewers have said they didn’t notice any difference, but I can’t say for sure.

A couple other minor peeves included the digital speedometer (a bit hard to see in sunlight at times) and heat radiating off the exhaust. I found my right leg warming up a bit in around-town riding – possibly a problem when the weather heats up, or during extended stop-and-go riding.

Yamaha is hoping the Bolt will compete directly with Harley-Davidson's entry-level 883 Sportster for sales. Photo: Bill Petro

Yamaha is hoping the Bolt will compete directly with Harley-Davidson’s entry-level 883 Sportster for sales. It beats the Sportster on lean angle, rear suspension travel, price, and weight. Photo: Bill Petro

CONCLUSION

Yamaha is calling this bike a crossover, hoping it will attract riders who want decent handling, but are scared by supersport insurance rates, or like cruiser styling. And obviously, it’s taking direct aim at Harley-Davidson’s Sportster lineup, with a bit more motor than its closest competition, the 883.

The Bolt's five-speed transmission shifted smoothly. Photo: Bill Petro

The Bolt’s five-speed transmission shifted smoothly. Photo: Bill Petro

But will that be enough? To the cruiseratti, Harley-Davidson’s brand name is likely worth more than the $100 difference between the two motorcycles.

Some people might not like the Bolt logo that Yamaha plastered on the gas tanks. Photo: Bill Petro

Some people might not like the Bolt logo that Yamaha plastered on the gas tanks. Photo: Bill Petro

Still, plenty of riders new and old appreciate a reliable motorcycle with classic styling and decent handling.

That’s why the cafe racer scene is booming in the US right now, with skinny-jean-wearing hipsters buying up old Japanese iron and rolling up their sleeves for customization work. And if you see the Bolt’s marketing video, that’s who this bike is aimed at.

To me, that’s where this bike’s strength lies; instead of buying that old GS and worrying about the charging system, instead of buying a Virago and wondering when the starter is going to go, you can purchase this bike and have the same classic look with none of the hassle of breaking down, or setting the valves every second month.

With the Bolt, Yamaha offers old-school looks with modern reliability. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

With the Bolt, Yamaha offers old-school looks with modern reliability. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

You won’t dominate in the twisties, but it’s light and nimble enough that you should be able to have fun on the machine without scaring yourself. So, as long as people don’t get hung up over the name on the gas tank, I think Yamaha has a winner here.

GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Yamaha is hoping the Bolt will compete directly with Harley-Davidson's entry-level 883 Sportster for sales. Photo: Bill Petro

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The 12-litre tank should give you about 240 kms of range, if you get the claimed 20 km per litre. Photo: Bill Petro

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The Yamaha Bolt looks good in all four colours. Photo: Bill Petro

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The exhaust has a healthy, yet civilized, grunt. Too bad most owners will want to swap it out for a louder, better-looking unit. Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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The LCD gauge doesn't have a tach. Photo: Bill Petro

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The Bolt's engine is borrowed from the V-Star 950. The rest of the bike is mostly new. Photo: Bill Petro

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The Bolt's five-speed transmission shifted smoothly. Photo: Bill Petro

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That's a 298 mm disc, with twin-piston caliper. The rear disc is also 298 mm, with single-piston caliper. Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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With the Bolt, Yamaha offers old-school looks with modern reliability. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Yamaha Bolt R

The Yamaha's upright seating position sets it apart from most modern cruisers. Photo: Bill Petro

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Along with different paint choices, the main difference between the Bolt and Bolt R Spec is the rear shocks. Photo: Bill Petro

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The Bolt's tail and signal lights have a retro look, even though they're LED units. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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While Yamaha says the bolt is aimed for urban use, the upright riding position should make it fun on back roads too. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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Zac's right leg got a little warm thanks to heat radiating off the exhaust. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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Some people might not like the Bolt logo that Yamaha plastered on the gas tanks. Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Bill Petro

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Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Photo: Bill PetroYamaha is hoping the Bolt will compete directly with Harley-Davidson's entry-level 883 Sportster for sales. Photo: Bill PetroThe 12-litre tank should give you about 240 kms of range, if you get the claimed 20 km per litre. Photo: Bill PetroThe Yamaha Bolt looks good in all four colours. Photo: Bill PetroThe exhaust has a healthy, yet civilized, grunt. Too bad most owners will want to swap it out for a louder, better-looking unit. Photo: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroThe LCD gauge doesn't have a tach. Photo: Bill PetroThe Bolt's engine is borrowed from the V-Star 950. The rest of the bike is mostly new. Photo: Bill PetroThe Bolt's five-speed transmission shifted smoothly. Photo: Bill PetroThat's a 298 mm disc, with twin-piston caliper. The rear disc is also 298 mm, with single-piston caliper. Photo: Bill PetroPhoto: Zac KurylykWith the Bolt, Yamaha offers old-school looks with modern reliability. Photo: Zac KurylykPhoto: Zac KurylykThe Yamaha's upright seating position sets it apart from most modern cruisers. Photo: Bill PetroAlong with different paint choices, the main difference between the Bolt and Bolt R Spec is the rear shocks. Photo: Bill PetroThe Bolt's tail and signal lights have a retro look, even though they're LED units. Photo: Zac KurylykWhile Yamaha says the bolt is aimed for urban use, the upright riding position should make it fun on back roads too. Photo: Zac KurylykZac's right leg got a little warm thanks to heat radiating off the exhaust. Photo: Zac KurylykSome people might not like the Bolt logo that Yamaha plastered on the gas tanks. Photo: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroPhoto: Bill PetroPhoto: Zac Kurylyk


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike 2014 Yamaha Bolt/2014 Yamaha Bolt R
MSRP $8,999/$9,199
Displacement 942 cc
Engine type air-cooled 8-valve 60-degree V-twin, SOHC, w/five-speed transmission
Power (crank)* n/a
Torque* 59.3 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Tank Capacity 12 litres
Carburetion EFI
Final drive belt
Tires, front 100/90 x 19
Tires, rear 150/80 x 16
Brakes, front 298mm disc / twin piston caliper
Brakes, rear 298mm disc / single piston caliper
Seat height 830 mm
Wheelbase 1,570mm
Wet weight* 247kg kg/247.5 kg
Colours black, white/grey, green
Warranty 1 year
* claimed

23 thoughts on “Launch: Yamaha Bolt”

    1. Thanks, Larry. I wish I’d had more time aboard the bike. I’m hoping to do a tour or something on the bike later this year, hopefully after it gets a windshield. Fairing-free bikes are fun around town, but not so much on the highway.

  1. That bike is the cat’s meow baby. But… That exhaust is ugly, I just hope the aftermarket can make a responsible sounding exhaust for it. Japanese V-twin bikes do not sound like Harleys, and most sound like bad running lawn mowers when they have aftermarket pipes on them. Please Mr or Ms aftermarket exhaust maker, make it look like it fits the bike, and make it sound good! (not necessarily loud)

    1. The belt guard isn’t much to look at either. And I agree totally on the exhaust. It’s too bad, because as I said in the article, the stocker sounds great. But nobody seems to be able to appreciate that … I get that people want better performance and looks, but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of your eardrums.

  2. I like it, as cruisers go, but I don’t think I’d enjoy the lack of rear suspension travel. Like most Sportsters, it would probably be a lot better with a couple more inches of rear suspension.

  3. BTW valve adjustment at 4000 km.

    I should wait a month before starting the slagging, but…
    The 8k price is out of the range of the 18 to 25 crowd they are talking about. The kids are on cbr250s or 300 ninjas (those who live beyond reasonable commuting distance to motox tracks that is). There are tons of low mileage mid range cruisers (vulcan 900, shadows, 650 vstars) around for 5 to 6 k. The over 25 set must have a windshield and bags. Everyone has gone through the aftermarket c r a p and will only take factory luggage.

      1. Motorcycledaily website:

        ” The valves adjust with screws on the tappets, good news for budding do-it-yourself mechanics—and they’ll get plenty of practice, with 4000-mile valve-check intervals.”

        Maybe the US model is different.

        1. Yeah, I don’t know where they got that number from, but John Bayliss of Yamaha specifically told us it was a 25,000 km interval, not 4,000 miles, as reported.

          When the V-Star 950 came out, they were also reported to need 4,000-mile valve adjustments – but then that number was supposedly corrected by the magazines to say 16,000 mile valve adjustments, which would work out to about 25,000 kms.

          I think some people have been playing “telephone.” It happens quite easily.

  4. Looks a lot like the 1979 UJM Yamaha I just unloaded for $600 but I expect this one starts all the time. So similar in tank, signals, head light, fenders. The tail light — not so much, thank you.

    1. Geez, I was thinking Virago myself. :) Its got so many styling cues I’m not sure it knows what its trying to be. It might be a good performing bike but fack, it certainly is mighty ugly.

      And in the opening photo, what the hell has the rider got in his right front pocket? If its an iPhone its a great way to gash the hell out of your leg when the glass shatters in an accident.

  5. Nice. I like it. There’s a sprung seat to take a bit of the harshness away, though it probably does nothing for road feel. I still would like to see a motor like this in a standard. A standard-standard. A VX800 with some ‘tude.

  6. How could you have missed the Rockcliffe or Ottawa River parkways, Col By Drive or Queen Elizabeth/Prince of Wales for some decent roads in town? Gatineau park parkway is closed to motor vehicles Sunday mornings Victoria to Thanksgiving Day.

    1. Yep. I remember that one now. Pretty bike. I WANT A W800 DAMMIT! Failing that,a 277 degree rephased 750cc XS650 will have to suffice.

  7. Saw one in the flesh on Friday – the shocks are SHORT and the tail lamp definitely needs some help.
    Would love to get ahold of one, throw on some longer shocks, aftermarket fork springs and then give it a try…

  8. To my eye, it looks like someone Xeroxed a Sportster. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but why didn’t Yamaha dig through their own heritage and put out an updated XS650?

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