Yamaha XSR700: Return of the UJM?

The new Yamaha XSR700.
When early images of the Yamaha XSR700 first trickled onto the web, punters immediately compared it to the Ducati Scrambler. The two are certainly gunning for the same market, but Yamaha’s thinking goes far deeper than just taking a shot at Bologna’s sweetheart.

Yamaha Motor Europe product manager, Shun Miyazawa, is quick to point out that the XSR700 is not a modern classic, or neo-retro. Rather, it’s a UJM—a universal Japanese motorcycle—and a return to classic design considerations and timeless style.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Yamaha’s tagged this philosophy ‘Faster Sons’—a new approach within their Sport Heritage line. Miyazawa-san explains it like this: while Sports Heritage is about reviving and updating classic models (such as the SR400), Faster Sons is about taking modern Yamahas and giving them a classic spin.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
His reasoning is that the booming interest in custom motorcycles has grown the scene from niche to mainstream, attracting a new type of customer. There’s a new breed of riders, and they’re looking for decent performance and modern componentry, but in a classier package.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
In this case, that modern motorcycle would be the MT-07 (or FZ-07 in the US) —a bike that’s enjoyed universal acclaim with journalists and riders the world over. While the XSR700 shares the same engine, chassis, and running gear as the MT-07, its styling is inspired by UJMs like the iconic and timeless XS650.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Styling

The look of the Yamaha XSR700 may not appeal to everyone, but once you stop thinking of it as a pure classic or throwback model, it starts to make sense. And while we could nitpick the odd detail, it all hangs together pretty well.

The engine—with all of its modernities—is unashamedly exposed, just like the UJMs of old. Sure, the tank and seat sit at a slightly awkward angle, but the dynamic shape of the tank and the retro styling of the seat (complete with some stunning stitching) more than make up for it.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
The round headlight and taillight are nice touches (despite their size), as are the vintage-style fenders. And we loved the round, LCD speedo too, which managed to pack a lot of information (speed, RPM, fuel level and gear, along with all the requisite ‘dummy’ lights) into an easy-to-read package. Even the MT-07’s ten-spoke alloy wheels suit the bike nicely.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
But perhaps the biggest story here is the choice of materials. Whether you pick the “Forest Green” or “Garage Metal” finish, you’re getting an aluminum tank—not a plastic one (more on that later).

The seat is covered in two different leather textures, and many of the finishing pieces (like the side covers, fenders and radiator shrouds), are metal. The result is a bike that looks incredible in the light of day, feels great to the touch, and will age beautifully—collecting scratches and patina along the way.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Key specs

Under that classy exterior lies the heart and soul of the MT-07. That includes the MT’s liquid-cooled, 689cc inline twin with its lively 270-degree crank that’s good for 55kW and 68Nm of torque. The XSR700 also gets the MT’s 6-speed gearbox, suspension, 17″ wheels and ABS braking system. The fuel capacity is 14 liters, with the XSR700 weighing in at 186kg fully fueled. The silencer is new, and as a result the XSR700 even meets with Euro 4 emissions standards.

Riding the XSR
Numbers are just numbers, and looks will only get you so far. Fortunately, Yamaha Motor Europe invited us to ride the XSR700 with them in the twisty hills of Sardinia.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
In short: the XSR700 is one of the most rideable motorcycles we’ve ever swung a leg over. All Yamaha’s claims of the lively nature of the engine are warranted—the throttle is responsive, with a spot-on fuel map that delivers power smoothly from bottom to top. And the 270-degree crank delivers on its promise of a vibey feel (without leaving you with numb fingers).

It’s the sort of engine that’ll do just as well puttering through traffic as it will blasting sweeping back roads.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
The riding position is neutral and upright, thanks to the upswept bars, but it’s not so upright that you’re locked into a position. The seat has enough room to move (and adequate padding), and the bars allow you enough space to work the bike with your elbows.

That commanding stance—and the relatively low weight of the bike—made it a hoot to chuck through the numerous turns we encountered. The gearbox is a real gem too: shifts are positive and spot on, with well-balance ratios throughout all six gears.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Our only criticism would be the front suspension—we found it a bit soft for our heavier test rider, who had to adapt his riding style slightly to compensate. And the speedo was mounted a bit too close to the rider, forcing him to look down constantly. (This might be less of an issue with shorter riders).

Regardless, it’s still a responsive, engaging ride, and one that won’t tire you out. A full day’s riding (including a sprint race organized by Yamaha), left us wanting more, not begging to get off.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Making it your own

As much fun as the XSR700 is to ride and look at, Yamaha haven’t stopped there. Their love for custom motorcycles is clear as day—this year alone, fifteen Yard Built projects rolled off workbenches across the globe (four of which were in attendance at the XSR700 launch, including Shinya Kimura’s ‘Faster Son’ MT-07, along with Kimura-san himself.)

So customization was a huge consideration when designing the XSR700, with Yamaha equally keen on riders buying parts from their catalog as they are seeing customers hack into their bikes.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
To this end, Yamaha already have 40 parts on offer, many of which were on display on two demo bikes at the launch. The bits range from retro-inspired luggage, to solo seats, luggage racks, an upswept Akrapovic exhaust (which, by the way, greatly improves the XSR’s soundtrack) and fly screens.

To help customers pick and choose, Yamaha have launched ‘My Garage,’ an app that lets users pick and choose their parts (for various bikes) in a 3D environment.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
Naturally there’s also a full range of Faster Sons apparel, including leather riding gear produced for Yamaha by Dainese. We’ve seen most of the pieces in the flesh, and they look really good.

Yamaha want riders to get their hands dirty too, so they’ve designed the XSR700 with garage builders in mind. The tank is actually a pair of aluminum covers that hide the real steel tank. This makes it easy to change the look of the tank, without the hassle of having to relocate parts like the fuel pump.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
The subframe rear loop is a bolt-off affair, and so are the passenger pegs. And the headlight assembly can easily be removed via three bolts, while the front fender bracket’s designed to work with any number of fenders.

To find out if it’s effective, we asked Jens vom Brauck of JVB Moto fame. Herr vom Brauck was in attendance with his latest project: the first Yard Built XSR700 (below.) And he could confirm: the plug-and-play nature of the bike did indeed make his work a tad easier. (And the good news is that, as with all Yard Built projects, the parts used on the JVB Moto XSR700 will soon be for sale.)

The new Yamaha XSR700.
The competition

So should you compare the XSR700 with the Ducati Scrambler? The XSR700 might not be as ‘classic’ as the Scrambler, but in our opinion it’s a superior motorcycle, with an aesthetic that’s pleasing in its own right. The engine is punchier, the fuel injection smoother, and the ergonomics more comfortable. Add to that the Yamaha’s high level of finishes (and lower price), and you have a clear winner.

The new Yamaha XSR700.
When the XS650 was launched, journalists said that Yamaha had made a better British bike than the British. We’re calling it: Yamaha have just made a better Italian bike than the Italians. And don’t you just love the irony of launching it behind enemy lines?

Yamaha XSR700 product page | Facebook | Yamaha Yard Built Instagram | Images by Yamaha

Wes wears an Aether Skyline jacket , Elders Comany x Unionwell MX jersey, and Saint Tough Denims. The Yamaha XSR700 is initially only available in Europe and Australia.

The new Yamaha XSR700.