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I am cruising along the highway toward Joshua Tree for my bachelor party weekend. My bike is saddled with a weekend’s worth of gear and my buddies Erik and Steve are in a tight formation around me. In my helmet I hear us chatting and laughing at obscure jokes. The air is cool and crisp, and for the first time in a while I can feel the punch of wind on my chest that means I'm riding without a windscreen. Some people like to curl up in their bed with a good book; my place of zen is on a motorcycle with a ribbon of tarmac stretched out ahead of me.
The XSR700 I’m riding is a hip, modern naked bike with cafe-style elements. Yamaha has labeled it “sport heritage,” but regardless of what we call it, it’s got unmistakable charisma. What I appreciate even more is the peppy 698cc parallel-twin engine. Zipping along the highway I cruise comfortably along at 70 miles per hour in sixth gear. Vibration is minimal, and there is still some punch left in the throttle if I need it.
Traffic slows ahead of me. I bang down two gears, ease out the clutch, and the XSR700 shaves off speed like I’ve ridden into a cube of Jello. Engine compression is noticeable from the 689cc parallel-twin engine, and I welcome it by tightening my grip on the handlebars. I snap the bike in between cars and begin lane-filtering. The Yamaha is nimble and quick with its short 55.3-inch wheelbase providing ninja-like agility. The bike feels lighter than its 410-pound wet weight, it feels lighter than it is, and is easily flickable through traffic. The wide handlebars feel narrow, and clearance between mirrors helps make a capable motorcycle in a crowded environment. This might be one of the best commuting bikes for the busy streets of Los Angeles.
For a weekend, I revel in the XSR700’s simplicity. It’s not an overtly powerful machine, but what it delivers is pure, and fun.
The Yamaha was a joy to live with thanks to that shining jewel of an engine. It begs to be tickled under 50 mph in first, second, and third gears. Throttle delivery is predictable and smooth, with no abrupt power surges. The 50.2 foot-pounds of torque make that power delivery a ton of fun: from a stop or 5-mph rolling start, snap the throttle open and the front tire just floats toward the heavens. Pop the clutch in second gear and, oh boy, it’s party time again. It’s criminal how easy it is to wheelie this bike. In these moments, I begin to realize this machine has the potential to get me in trouble if I forgo exercising a modicum of self-discipline. In fact, I’m surprised I avoided getting nicked by the authorities during my two-month loan. I am serious, I…could…not…stop…doing wheelies. If for only this reason, I fell in love with the XSR700.
Because this motorcycle likes to come up, buyers need to remain vigilant under hard acceleration in lower gears.
If a surprise comes along while you’re spurring the Yamaha into a sweat, the ABS system works seamlessly and unobtrusively once activated. Stopping comes from a pair of Advics Monoblocks that chomp onto dual 282mm discs in the front and a single 245mm disc in the rear, courtesy of a Nissin unit. Feedback from the brakes is progressive, and even with the ABS active you can achieve lizard-quick stops and lift the rear wheel off the ground by a couple of inches. Aside from ABS, there are no additional riding modes or safety features. The XSR700 is fairly analog in this respect, and from a purist’s perspective it’s refreshing to know that how you pilot the bike results in a riding experience of your own doing instead of soulless zeros and ones.
There are few. This is a fun little bike with a megaton of giggles (“small,” of course, is relative: I'm 6’5,” 220 pounds) but more experienced riders will find the suspension too soft for hardcore performance applications. The front end dives quickly under hard braking, and the rear rebounds a hair too much mid-corner, zapping any and all confidence in pushing the limits. At least the Pirelli Phantom Sportcomp tires make up for some of the suspension issues by providing excellent feedback and grip. Also, the suspension’s softer nature makes the Yamaha perfect for handling the crummy streets of Los Angeles day in and day out.
The bulky, 1990’s-style turn signals siphon from the bike’s clean aesthetic—but rather than blame Yamaha, I blame the Department of Transportation. Bureaucrats are the reason why new motorcycles are barred from featuring slimline LED turn signals. If you buy an XSR700, the blinkers and rear fender should be the first bits you kill with a Sawzall.
Is The Yamaha XSR700 Worth $8,499 of My Hard-Earned Cash?
You bet it is! The XSR700 is a fantastic middleweight bike with a peppy engine, future-retro aesthetics, and Yamaha-brand reliability. It’s a motorcycle that will have you smiling all the damn time as you leave a stoplight. It’s kind enough for the entry-level rider looking to graduate to his or her next bike, and seasoned riders will find it hilariously fun. It commutes like it was built for the nine-to-five, but it flaunts an alter ego that looks stunning when parked at your local coffee shop.
Sam’s Motorcycle Gear
Helmet: AGV AX-8 DS Carbon Fury
Goggles: 100% MX Strata
Pants: Pando Moto Karl
Gloves: Velomacchi Speedway Gloves
Backpack: Velomacchi Giro 35L
Luggage: AltRider Hemisphere Bag