This week we’re looking at the smaller of the two from Yamaha’s retro ‘Sport Heritage’ range. For the unfamiliar, the XSR lineup consists of the bigger brother XRS900 which runs the impressive 847cc triple shared with the MT-09 (which probably gets the most attention) – and the XSR700 as reviewed here which runs the equally impressive 655 cc parallel-twin also shared with the MT-07LA.
And yep, it’s learner legal, but try not to think of it as just a ‘first bike’ to just ride for a bit and then trade in for something bigger and better like some of the other entry level offerings. There’s plenty to like about the smaller XSR and I could not only see it being a long term prospect kept well beyond the learning period for a lot of riders, its a quality bike in its own right. So, we’ll cover the obvious stuff first.
The whole driveline is shared with the MT-07LA which you can read more about here – and it’s terrific. Smooth delivery from idle with a generous helping of character from the 270-degree crank, its essentially vibe free, torquey and incredibly easy to use. As they say – if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. And this definitely ain’t broke. Throttle feel and fueling are both spot on, the box is great, quick-shift isn’t needed here. Get it past 3 and a half grand and it pulls solidly. Highway cruising sits you at around 4 and a half which is right in the meat and potatoes for plenty of overtaking poke.
It’ll lift the front happily from lower speeds when asked to and keep it up right through to fourth – it’s actually a surprisingly well balanced wheelie bike! And it’s a very proven package with truck loads of them on the roads all over the world. Today’s learners don’t know how good they’ve got it!Switchgear is all excellent Yamaha fare and both the clutch and brake operation is light and easily controlled. The brakes are well specced too for the package. Twin 282 mm wave discs up front and a 245 mm in the rear, both ends get ABS. Plenty of power without being intimidating on initial bite.
On top of that familiar driveline, they’ve added some really nice styling. Starting from the back for a change, the circular LED tail light is uniquely executed and really stands out – a stylish blend of old meets new. I like it. It’s quite different – and that in itself is no bad thing.
Moving forward from there, the seat has a nice old school shape with two different leather finishes and has the XSR700 ‘logo’ (which is featured in a few places) embossed into the back. The seat height is slightly higher than the MT-07LA by the way at 835 mm compared to 805 mm, but doesn’t feel tall at all.
It has a 14-litre aluminium tank – the same capacity as the MT-07LA, which will see you comfortably past the 300 km range, with a red plastic strip bolted on top. I’m torn as to whether I like the exposed bolts if I’m honest. One minute I’m liking the bit of edginess it adds, the next minute I think it’s a bit of an afterthought. It doesn’t seem to look out of place though. This new for 2020 colour scheme is called ‘dynamic white’ by the way. A tasty nod to some of the old schemes from years gone by and to my eyes is a much nicer look than the outgoing scheme. The gold cast alloy wheels complete the vibe.
Up onto the dash and I really, really like what they’ve done here. It’s as simple and nice a dash as I’ve seen for a retro styled bike. A round shape reflecting an old analogue dial, tacho around the outside, gear shift indicator on top, large speedo in the middle and fuel at the bottom. I’d personally like to see the rev numbers a little larger so you can pick them out more easily at speed, and a temp gauge using half of the fuel meter space, but it’s nicely done. I dig it – it completes the picture and helps to give the bike a real identity when riding.
Moving further forward and there’s more nice touches of brushed aluminium around the classic shaped headlight. All in all I think the designers have done a nice job. The more I looked at it, the more there was to like. Same goes for the XSR900 for that matter. It’ll be interesting to see how the sales go this year compared to the MT-09.
On the road it’s always going to be a very similar thing to the MT-07LA which again is no bad thing. Seating position is quite comfortable – reach to the bars is easy and relaxed. The seat is nice and narrow and leg over is easy. Lots of room to move your body around – slipping from urban cruiser mode to a more sporty ride position to carve some corners is a doddle. It feels light (186kg wet) and quite agile with its short wheelbase of 1405 mm. That translates to a nimble, easily maneuverable ride in traffic and perfect for both someone learning their way around riding, and someone more experienced who can take a little more advantage of it.
Suspension-wise I found nothing to complain about with the front, but I did feel the rear pogo-ing probably more on this than the MT-07LA. Could do with some more damping for mine, but unfortunately unlike the MT-07LA it’s not adjustable. It’s most noticeable on repeated bumps – especially mid corner where it upsets things a little if you’re pressing on and the bike will sit up more than I’d like. But I’m probably a fussy bastard who’s been spoilt. A learner will probably not find this a limitation and an experienced rider who wants to push harder will probably be looking at the bigger XSR anyway.
I didn’t find myself pushing it hard that often though to be honest, possibly because I wasn’t 100 per cent happy with the handling. Instead I found more its its sweet spot as somewhat more of a little retro hooligan tool. Maybe that was just the mood I’m in at the moment… It’s perfectly happy to cruise about and would make a fine commuter. It’s an absolutely ripping low speed wheelie bike..
Where does that leave us then? Well, it’s a competitive little segment now I guess, the naked learner approved light-middleweights. I’m not convinced there’s much out there that’ll top this. I’d probably buy the XSR over the MT-07LA just for the styling. And then maybe look to get the shock modified or bung in an aftermarket unit as you started to push the limits a bit harder if you were that way inclined.
Yamaha XSR700 Summary
Why I like it
Lovely silky smooth proven drivetrain
Learner legal! But definitely not just for learners.
Wayne loves all things motorsport, but lives for two wheels. Mountain bikes, dirt bikes, adventure bikes, road bikes, race bikes, the lot.
An ex riding coach and road racer wannabe who simultaneously ran out of talent and money.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.