In April, I rode the Yamaha Bolt around Ottawa and gave my initial impressions on the machine, tempered by the fact I’d only gotten to ride it for a short distance. Now, we’ve got a Bolt R-Spec for the rest of the summer, to give you a better idea of what to expect from Yamaha’s new cruiser.
Normally by now, we’d have announced the CMG long-term test motorcycles for the year. But, we couldn’t pick up the Bolt until late in June. Rob and I have both put quite a few miles on the bike in the last weeks, and here are some more observations we’ve made, now that we’ve had longer to assess the bike.
In it for the long haul
First off – when I rode the Bolt in April, I said it was very fun for a cruiser, and reminded me of my old Yamaha XS650. That’s still the case; I’ve enjoyed my time aboard the Bolt, except for one issue – more on that later.
I was a big fan of the Bolt’s handling when I rode it at the launch, and I still am. Because the designers resisted the modern obsession to bolt on bulky bodywork and bags, it’s svelte for a cruiser, and isn’t restricted by forward controls.
I’ve been surprised at how much high-speed roll-on power is available. For all intents and purposes, this bike can cruise at speeds very close to the Harley-Davidson Switchback I rode across the US this spring, and that bike had 750 cc more motor. Off the line, it would be no contest, as the H-D has much more torque, but this 950 motor can haul a rider along at extra-legal highway speeds with no issues. It helps that the bike isn’t held back by a lot of extra weight; the designers’ plan to stick to a stripped-down design paid off.
In fact, the only real gripe I have is with the rear suspension. In my initial review, I noted the base model Bolt’s suspension beat me up as I rode around town. I reserved judgment on the Bolt R-Spec’s suspension, as I hadn’t had enough seat time with the remote-reservoir shocks to see if they were better.
After at least 1500 kms of NB highways and back roads, I can say – the R-Spec’s shocks still leave a lot to be desired. In fact, they’re the main thing holding the bike back.
Around town or on secondary roads, if you hit a pothole, you’ll be gritting your teeth afterwards, and on the highway, you’ll wince if you see an expansion joint ahead if you’re riding at high speed.
Now, this isn’t unexpected – there’s not much suspension travel to work with on this bike. But if a buyer spends the extra $200 for the fancy shocks on the R-Spec model, they’ll be let down. It’s a much flashier bike than the base model, but there’s still room for improvement.
If you’re not riding aggressively, you’ll find it easier on your tailbone. But since this bike is marketed as an urban performance bobber, it’s too bad the suspension doesn’t back that up.
When it’s time to fuel up (expect about 150 kms on a tank), your butt will welcome the break from the seat. I’ve gotten used to it over the last couple weeks, though, and it’s not that bad.
After a few hundred kilometres, I’ve grown accustomed to the machine’s dimensions. First-time riders might be put off, if they’re used to taller seats or forward controls, but I think the seating position works for most riders. The ergonomics remind me of the cruisers Japan built in the 1980s, and they certainly sold a lot of those. If you had a Kawasaki LTD or a Yamaha Heritage Special, you’ll feel at home on this machine.
Other notes: So far, I’ve gotten around 18 km per litre in the fuel economy department (roughly 42 mpg US, 50 mpg Imperial). I’m happy with that, especially considering much of that has been at fast highway speeds. I noticed a boost in fuel economy when I took it easier down secondary roads, so I think a careful and thrifty rider could improve on my numbers.
I’ve also had the chance to take passengers aboard the bike, for their impressions of its pillion capabilities. My wife didn’t find it overly comfortable, but said she preferred it to my DR650 (which has aftermarket suspension and a Corbin seat), for whatever that’s worth.
Leanne, the yoga teacher next door to CMG HQ, put in a few hundreds kms as pillion and said she didn’t mind it – but then, she’s used to bending herself into odd shapes.
The rest of the story
So, the plan is to put miles on this Bolt for the rest of the summer, and let CMG readers know how it holds up. We’ve got a few Yamaha accessories for it, and we may try out a few other aftermarket bits as well. We’ll be sure to let you know how they perform.
Highway view – Editor ‘Arris
Although Zac managed to make an appearance at last month’s Mad Bastard Rally, he somehow managed to find excuses to drive back to New Brunswick after Yamaha had been so kind to bring our long term Bolt tester to the event for us.
Not one to do work when I don’t have to, I managed to convince CMG crasher Jim to load the Bolt into the back of his van so that I could at least start my ride home from there and cut the journey down to a one-day 1000 km blast.
I must admit, I’m not a cruiser fan (though the Guzzi California swayed me somewhat) and the idea of riding one for such a long day was a tad daunting. Thankfully, Zac thoughtfully threw me his Airhawk seat just before he left the MBSR in his comfy car, which would at least soften the load on my derriere for the haul.
After a few post-MBSR rest days in Montreal, I hit the road nice and early to get out of the repressive heat that was already amassing in Montreal. Well, as is often my experience in La Belle Province, heading up the St Lawrence can see a significant temperature drop and before I even hit Quebec City, I had pulled over to cover up my Dainese suit’s vents and add a layer or three for warmth.
The pleasant surprise was that the Bolt was actually pretty comfy. The Airhawk helped to take most of the pressure off my bum and the well-placed centre-located pegs meant I could even stand up for a brief relief if required. Still, I was quite relieved to discover that the Bolt’s small tank meant I needed frequent fuel stops and a good excuse to stretch and relax.
Motor-wise the 950 is impressive. So many cruisers are gutless for some reason, but the Bolt could pull highway speeds sans issue and had lots to spare. As the day drew on and the frequent stops threatened a stint of riding in the dark, I opened her up and cruised happily at an indicated 140 all the way through New Brunswick.
Of course, the accessory screen is obligatory and it helped to have luggage on the rear seat to act as additional support, but I got home to Sackville in pretty good shape. Maybe not as comfy as the Strom, and in a little more time, but way better than I would have expected for sure.
Being limited to the Trans Canada Highway (which is actually in good shape compared to most Quebec and NB roads), I didn’t notice the lacking suspension as Zac had pointed out, but I did hit a few bumps negotiating my way out of Montreal and I would agree the shocks bottom out way too easily.
Zac has called a couple aftermarket manufacturers looking for improved shocks; one said there wouldn’t be enough interest to warrant production, and the other said they’d been unable to come up with a solution that didn’t involve raising the back end of the Bolt … We’ll have to wait and see if anything changes with that situation.