Retro bike group test: Yamaha XSR700 vs Ducati Scrambler vs Bonneville Street Twin vs Guzzi V7 II

The middleweight retro bike scene has become as busy as a barber’s at a custom bike show – but which is best?

NORMALLY when you put bikes together in a group test, they have a lot of things in common. For example, they might all have the same engine capacity. They might all make around about the same power. They would normally at least look as though they stem from the same decade.

But a quick look at the four machines assembled for this retro bike group test tells us to forget all that. They don’t even do the same thing.

We’ve got a Yamaha XSR700, which is really the two-year-old MT-07, known for its low weight and easy wheelies. There’s a Ducati Scrambler, a modern interpretation of a much smaller single-cylinder range from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’ve gone for the Full Throttle variant, with black paint and Termignoni silencers.

We’ve got the newly launched Triumph Street Twin, the entry-level member of a new Bonneville family, which also includes the T120 and Thruxton R. No one’s going to mistake it for a 1959 Bonnie but it’s certainly close enough to recognise as a new one.

And we have a Moto Guzzi V7 II Special, which actually does look a lot like the 1971 V7 Sport from which it derives.

After few minutes with it, we were beginning wonder if it also shared some electrical components with its 45-year-old ancestor. Or perhaps it was just bad luck for the Guzzi that the one we’d been sent to test arrived with a dead battery.

The Triumph plus jump leads got it started but it wouldn’t idle. The only way to keep it running was by tickling the throttle to keep it above 2,000rpm. We considered disqualifying it from test, leaving it in the lock-up and making it the automatic loser. On balance, we decided to give it a chance and see if a ride would charge the battery.

It seemed like the right decision at the time. Less so as we arrived at the Ace Café on London’s North Circular, after half an hour through city traffic, to find the silencers blued by heat.

A 25-mile blast up the M1 to Hemel Hempstead finally got it running and idling as it should, but as we reached twistier roads it still didn’t seem much of a threat to the other three.

Here one bike clearly dominated the others in performance terms. Being an MT-07 in a retro outfit, the XSR700 feels the sportiest, the one most capable of leaving the others behind. The steering feels light, even twitchy, but it’s the quickest-turning bike of the four.  

Peak power and torque is almost exactly the same as the Ducati’s 75hp and 50lbft but the Yamaha revs a bit higher, and seems to compel you more to ride it fast.

Like the Yamaha, the Scrambler feels like a very modern motorcycle, but one designed with a different purpose. Its fat dual-sport tyres make the road seem more distant than the XSR700’s Pirelli Phantom Sportscomps, road rubber with a ‘classic’ tread shape.   

The Scrambler is probably the best-suspended machine of the lot, better damped than the XSR and certainly not as wallowy as the Guzzi. It could also have the most powerful front brake. Despite having half as many discs, calipers and pistons as the Yamaha, the Ducati’s bigger single disc seems to offer more initial bite. Again though, the dual-sport Pirelli MT 60 RS tyres are a limitation. The front doesn’t transfer the power to the road as well, so the ABS activates more readily over dodgy surfaces and the stopping distance is likely to be longer.

The difference between the XSR and Scrambler is simple. The former is designed to be as light, powerful and fun as it can be at a price point, with the styling changed later. The Scrambler is a bike made from the ground up to look right for its market, and be as fun as possible within that remit.

Purely based on the experience of riding, the XSR700 might be the better machine but it misses the mark on styling. It looks exactly what it is: a machine created as one thing, turned into another and ending up looking like neither. In places it just looks like bits are missing. There’s an exposed rear brake reservoir where you would find a bodywork panel on the MT-07. It’s confused, even with the classic yellow Speed Block paint job, marking Yamaha’s 60th anniversary, and I usually love anything in those colours. In fact it’s especially confusing in those colours because I’m not used to disliking them.   

What’s the point of a retro bike that doesn’t look like one? If you wanted the best riding experience for your money, you would get an MT-07 for £500 less. I would anyway. And if I wanted a retro bike, the Scrambler would better seem to achieve the style.

Until perhaps I saw it parked next to the Street Twin. Now we’re talking traditional. What you’re looking at is the archetypal motorcycle shape. If you had been asked to sketch a motorcycle at primary school, this is what you would have drawn, not some oversized Suzuki VanVan. It’s the kind of British shape that spawned the Universal Japanese Motorcycle.

So it’s a shame Triumph hasn’t endowed the entry-level Bonnie with a bit more technical prowess. Triumph is the only one of the four manufacturers to quote dry weight – and the Street Twin’s figure is still higher than all the others. Hopping from one bike to another, it really felt the heaviest too.

At low speed, doing a U-turn, your brain is telling you it can’t be that heavy, because it’s not that big, right? But the actual sense of the weight being kept upright with throttle and clutch is saying something else.  

On the move, obviously, the sense of weight diminishes, but the Street Twin still failed to inspire me. It makes more lbft than hp and it’s all way down in the range, over while you’re still waiting for more. With no rev-counter, you don’t know where you are in the range anyway.

The brakes are competent and the tyres the same as the XSR’s. The Kayaba suspension is soft and would make for a comfortable ride (if not a sporty one) if it wasn’t for the seat, which quite soon felt hard. Of the four bikes, the Street Twin was the one I found least comfortable.

It’s not just about its performance though, which isn’t supposed to be sporty or revy. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of styling where retro bikes are concerned – it’s a styling-driven movement in motorcycling. And for me the Street Twin fails to inspire in this respect too.

No one can say Triumph has done a bad job. Close-up the quality is high, with a brushed aluminium handlebar clamp and matching clock surround. A similarly-finished cover hides the throttle bodies and there’s a shield on the exhaust hiding the section that diverts into a catalytic converter. 

The trouble is, Triumph may have done too good a job of making this look like a Bonneville. It could have happened without the custom-inspired new wave of enthusiasm for traditionally-styled bikes. It’s just a new Bonneville. If you’re a Bonneville devotee, that’s probably good, and this will be your choice. If you’re inspired to get a retro bike because retro bikes are cool, I’m not so sure this will seduce you any more than the old Bonneville did.

Obviously the issue is subjective, and the problem might be that I personally am not that excited by the classic Bonneville shape mimicked by this new one.  

I’d started the day thinking the Guzzi looked stunning. Then I’d gone off it because it was such a pain getting it through London with its electrical problems. With the battery fully charged, and the engine fuelling correctly, I got back on it later in the day and it began to redeem itself.  

I’m not going to say it performed well on twisty roads. It might be the worst suspended of the lot, the one that feels most like it’s on bed springs as you sling it in and out of bumpy corners. It doesn’t have the sharpest brakes either. And it’s the least powerful, at 46.9hp.

But chasing Kane on the Scrambler, which makes nearly 30hp more, none of that mattered. Like the Triumph, the Guzzi makes its figures low in the range, with peak torque at 3,000rpm and power at 6,250. I kept bumping into the rev limiter looking for more as the Scrambler gradually showed it some distance. At least there was a rev counter to show me where the rev limiter lay, even if I wasn’t looking at it.

Everything slotted into place. The vibey transverse engine, which sends rotational forces through the chassis; the twin-dial clocks, the questionable suspension (and the fun of keeping the Scrambler in sight despite it), the stunning looks - this was a genuine retro bike experience.

It might be a controversial conclusion, and I’ll be accused of contradicted myself by criticising the Bonneville for its performance while letting the Guzzi off for being worse in virtually all respects except weight.

But the Guzzi just seems to best fit the brief written by the retro bike movement. Of the four machines on test, it’s the one that shares most in common with the historic model from which it derives, probably technically and certainly in styling. That machine itself is still a great-looking bike today, and one that seems to better meet current retro bike tastes than a Bonnie.   

With its straighter lines and sky-blue tank, the V7 II Special is more eye-catching than the Bonneville. With its sticky-out cylinders, it’s more authentic than the Scrambler, which is and seems contrived in comparison. The Guzzi is the one that other people noticed and looked at longest during our test ride, one scooter rider even nodding his approval in London.

There’s no practical argument for choosing it. It’s unlikely to be the most reliable, nor the best for commuting or general transport purposes. But buying a retro bike is not a practical decision.

The Guzzi is the one that looks and feels best as you rock up at the Bike Shed (as we did), a café in London’s Shoreditch and centre of the known hipster universe. It’s right that this edition is called the Special, because, next to the other three, that’s how it feels.  

You may disagree. Every other rider on the test did...

Tom Rayner

The last time I rode the XSR700 it was at its launch in Sardinia on carefully selected mountain roads but central London and twisty British B-roads felt like a much more natural home.

The XSR was the lightest and most nimble-handling of the four bikes on test. The rider also sits taller in the saddle, an advantage around town compared to the squat Street Twin.

On the back roads the XSR blasts away from the wheezy Moto Guzzi and Triumph - only the Ducati can match its performance.

The XSR is the least convincing heritage bike on the test. Essentially it's an MT07 in fancy dress and it's not fooling anybody. The elongated headlight (a design compromise) and radiator are particular bugbears of mine. Parked besides the Guzzi - the best-looking bike of the bunch - the XSR looks busy and cluttered.

An important point – one that sometimes gets a bit lost in all our beard-stroking musings about the bikes' heritage looks and authenticity - is the price. Not only is the XSR the best-handling bike on our test but it's by far the cheapest. I'm not talking small potatoes either - it's more than a grand cheaper than the Bonneville.

If an authentic riding experience is more important to you than an authentic retro experience then the XSR wins hands down. At the end of a long day's riding and with a 40-mile blast back to London awaiting us all, I called 'bagsy' on the Yamaha keys without hesitating.

Simon Greenacre

The XSR700 feels a lot like the MT-07 it’s based on, retaining the slightly squishy suspension and that brilliant, torquey motor. If we’re talking about how these bikes ride, the XSR700 is one of the best here.

Unfortunately for the Yamaha, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not enough to crown it the winner because it feels about as special and authentic as a Gucci suit from Wembley market. It's a restyled and re-marketed MT-07,a microwave modern retro machine, and I'm after something more substantial.

Thanks to its throbbing transverse V-twin engine, the Guzzi V7 is the most characterful, authentic and charming bike here. But although it comes with more presence and theatre than the other contenders, it’s also the most cumbersome and suffers from imprecise, nervy handling.

It’s great for cruising round and looking cool on – precisely what these bikes are all about, but it struggled with anything more and was hard work at anything more than a sedate pace.

This is the point where the patriotic side of me would like the Bonneville Street Twin to swoop in and claim glory, but after riding it on the launch last year, I had an inkling that it wasn’t going to happen. It still felt heavy and underpowered, and jumping on it after getting on any of the other bikes just accentuated that feeling.

The Ducati Scrambler might not look like the most old-school bike here, but it’s well styled and proportioned, and doesn’t look out of place in this company. It’s got a pokey engine that put a smile on my face every time I rode it. It’s also got decent brakes and has best damped suspension of all the bikes here.

The result is a machine that’s nimble and fun to ride through town, and capable of entertaining away from the city as well.

It might not be the most overtly retro-styled ride here, but it’s easily the best combination of style and performance - effortlessly outgunning the Triumph and Guzzi, and feeling as competent as the Yamaha, without looking so confused.

Kane Dalton

The Ducati sounds the best, with the short Termi exhaust, and the bike spoke to my inner hooligan. On the open road it felt like it could have done with another gear or two.

The Yamaha is a more functional all-round modern bike. It’s got a modern-futuristic look with a dash that seems to float above the tank. It’s the fastest but that’s not what this test is about.

It came down to the Triumph and the Guzzi for me. The Triumph is easy to ride in town, with a low seat and neutral riding position, and feels bullet-proof. The retro bike scene is to an extent inspired by British bikes so I somehow felt it should win on that basis.

But If I was going into a dealer with money today, The Guzzi is the one I would leave with. The colour, the chrome, the V-twin engine all look great. It feels bigger and looser than the Triumph, with more space for a pillion. The riding position is still fairly neutral but as the tank is longer you seem to be leaning a little more forward. It’s also very manoeuvrable through traffic.

At traffic lights, a couple of drivers rolled down their window and said: ‘Nice bike, mate.’

You find yourself wondering if you are stylish enough for the bike (Ed: Don't wonder, Kane; you're not).


Model testedTriumph Bonneville Street TwinMoto Guzzi V7 II SpecialDucati Scrambler Full ThrottleYamaha XSR700
Price£7,350 on the road£7,636 on the road (£7,136 for base model V7 II Stone)£8,395 plus on-the-road charges (Base model Scramber Icon is £7,250 in red or £7,350 in yellow)£6,249 excluding first registration fee and vehicle excise duty (£6,399 for 60th anniversary edition)
Engine900cc liquid cooled, eight-valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel-twin744cc air-cooled transverse v-twin803cc air-cooled Desmodromic V-twin, two valves per cylinder689cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin, DOHC, four-valves
Power55hp @ 5,900rpm46.9hp @ 6,250rpm75hp @ 8,250rpm74.8hp @ 9,000rpm
Torque59lbft @ 3,230rpm43.5lbft @ 3,000rpm50lbft @ 5,750rpm50.1lbft @ 6,500rpm
Weight198kg dry190kg wet186kg wet (170kg dry)186kg wet
FrameTubular steel cradleTubular steel double cradleTubular steel trellisDiamond-type steel
SuspensionKayaba 41mm forks with 120mm travel, Kayaba twin shocks with adjustable pre-load and 120mm rear wheel travel40mm hydraulic telescopic fork with 130mm travel, twin shocks with adjustable pre-load and 855 travel, 111mm wheel travelUpside-down Kayaba 41mm fork with 150mm travel, pre-load adjustable Kayaba shock with 150mm rear wheel travelRight-way-up forks with 130mm travel, single shock offering 130mm travel
BrakesSingle 310mm front disc with two-piston Nissin floating calipers, 255mm rear disc with two-piston Nissin floating caliper, ABS as standardSingle 320mm floating front disc with four-piston Brembo caliper, 260mm rear disc with two-piston caliper, ABS as standardSingle 330mm radial front disc with four-piston caliper, 245mm rear disc with one-piston floating caliper, ABS as standard282mm twin front discs with four-piston monobloc calipers, 245mm rear disc with one-piston Nissin caliper
TyresPirelli Phantom Sportscomp, 100/90-18 front and 150/70 R17 rearPirelli Sport Demon, 130/80-17 rear, 100/90-18 frontPirelli MT 60 RS 180/55 R17 rear, 110/80 R18 frontPirelli Phantom Sportscomp, 180/55-17 rear, 120/70-17 front
Seat height750mm790mm790mm815mm
Fuel capacity12 litres21 litres13.5 litres14 litres
Fuel economy on test48.3mpg45.4mpg45.3mpg49.2mpg
Range based on economy achieved127 miles209 miles134 miles152 miles
ColoursJet Black, Cranberry Red, Matt Black, Phantom Black, Aluminium SilverBlack/orange, blue/white, red/whiteBlack/yellow only for this variantGreen, silver (60th anniversary edition in yellow with black Speed Block)

Thanks to the Bike Shed:

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