First Ride: Yamaha XV950 review

Are Yamaha bringing something new to the custom and cruiser world? I think so.

YAMAHA have designed a motorcycle that they don't want you to ride. Well, not in its standard form anyway.

Now I'm not convinced that the custom/bobber/flat track/cafe racer scene really exists in the way that those in that niche like Deus, Roland Sands and BikeEXIF would like you to believe.

Sure, lots of people wear Deus T-Shirts with custom motorcycles printed on them and I get that the whole concept is 'cool' but, bar the odd celebrity with more money than sense, you don't find many people dropping £25,000 on a custom-built Deus motorcycle. Sure, some people have a go and the result looks something like this: a Triumph Bonneville with clip-ons, a stripe down the tank and exhaust wrap dangling off the downpipes. Because creating a custom motorcycle in the style of a Deus is a) hard work and b) time consuming and c) really expensive.

So most people opt for a T-Shirt instead.

If the custom/bobber/cafe racer scene really does exist, then Yamaha are poised to clean up with the new XV950.

It's a clean-looking motorcycle, the first in Yamaha's new 'Sports Heritage' line-up, a back to basics range offering a vintage look with modern components.

Those looks aren't just skin deep, it isn't just another generic cruiser.

It's a great concept: design a performance bobber with an engine less than 1,000cc to keep the weight and size down, lose the cheesy chrome, hide any electronic gubbins such as ABS and the wiring loom and make it super-simple to customise.

The whole bike has been designed so that parts can be swapped in minutes. For example, the headlight can simply be unbolted and replaced with a different one. It doesn't house wires, fuses or any other bits and pieces. There's no rear subframe and the rear mudguard is a stressed member, so you can change it for a different style without having to get the hacksaw out.

There are two models, the XV950 and XV950R. The R differs from the standard model by way of ABS, flat paint, a suede seat and piggy-back shocks. They both use the same 942cc air-cooled engine from the Midnight Star.

The motor punts out 52bhp and is as leisurely as that figure would suggest. The belt drive only adds to the smooth and laid-back delivery. There's no balancer shaft and the engine is rigid in the frame, it's engineered character but it works. The throttle response is soft and the clutch is light making this an easy bike to thread through town. There's no rev counter and frankly, you don't need one. This is a bike that isn't bothered about performance but that's not to say you can't make it go some.

The suspension is a contrast; soft at the front and firm at the rear, where Yamaha have used a very short suspension stroke to give the bike a 'hard tail' look. That said, it handles well, it doesn't wallow and the skinny tyres (100/90 and 150/80) mean it tips into bends without any protest. Ground clearance isn't limiting but you will get the pegs down with ease. You're not going to win any races on it but you're not going to run wide in a tight corner either.

It's comfortable, with one caveat. The airbox on the right hand side is perfectly placed so that you bash your knee on it. If, like me, you're in jeans, then you'll feel it and it's quite annoying. No doubt you'll be able to buy one that's a different shape and bolt it on. At least, I hope you'll be able to.

Although it weighs 250kg wet, that single front brake disc can handle it. The forks are soft enough to allow the bike's weight to push down on the front wheel, so you can actually get more out of that single disc setup than you might think.

The low 690mm seat height means the XV950 is easy to manage and anyone over 5'8" ought to be able to get both feet firmly on the ground. The 12.2 litre tank is slightly stingy but if you cruise around at under 70mph, you ought to be able to get 120-miles from it.

While Yamaha have clearly worked hard to create a bike that invites people to modify it, they have also inadvertently created one of the best bikes I can think of for the A2 market. Except the XV950 will need restricting as it's over the 47bhp limit. It's the first time I've ever thought it's a shame a manufacturer didn't make a bike with less power. Sure, you can always restrict it but it's a shame that you have to.

While I was riding the XV950, I was thinking about the parts that I'd change to make it different from the rest and ironically, on a bike that's designed to be customised, I couldn't think of anything - bar the airbox - that I'd need to change.

But if I was making changes for the sake of looks then I'd remove the YAMAHA decals from the tank, fit a pair of Öhlins piggy-back shocks mainly to look cool but also to raise the rear ride height. Then I'd put on a Deus T-Shirt and get out there and ride.

Buy one, modify it, ride it. Then modify it again. Yamaha have put a lot of thought into this bike, so it'd be a shame to keep it standard.

Price: XV950 £7,199 and XV950R £7,499.

Availability: September 2013