News 1 Jul 2016

Review: 2016 Yamaha XV950A Bolt R test rides the 2016 Yamaha XV950A Bolt R.

Words: Matthew Shields

As an entry-level point to big capacity cruisers, the field of bikes in this class is stronger than it has ever been. Around the 750-900cc mark, this sector was long ruled by Harley-Davidson’s Sportster, but today Moto Guzzi, Indian, Kawasaki, Honda, Triumph and Suzuki are all building bikes in this class. With everything from your classic style cruiser with flared guards and acres of chrome to sportier, stripped down, blacked out machines, there is a style of cruiser to suit everyone.

One look at Yamaha’s Bolt and you can see it is the latter of those two opposing styles of machine. Launched in 2014, the Bolt took the engine from the classically-styled XVS950 and put it in a sturdier, simplified chassis with longer travel suspension, more ground clearance and finished it in a more youthful style. That edgier style makes the Bolt minimal in every respect – there’s a lot of black, clean lines and no superfluous guards, guides or shrouds.

A couple of years ago I spent a year with a Bolt customising it with all matter of accessories. With the simple addition of a screen, wide bars, touring seat and saddlebags it was a tourer. That didn’t suit my “youthfulness” and by ditching the screen, bags and seat, throwing on a springer saddle, loud pipe and beefier brake set-up, the Bolt was the lighter, sportier, more aggressive kind of cruiser I prefer. It was a summer I will never forget …

Image: Alex Gobert (Foremost Media).

This malleableness is no coincidence, it’s a key intention of the Bolt’s design as Yamaha made this machine and the rest of its sport heritage models with the clear intention of them being a highly-customisable base. While not everyone will want to do this, what makes it all the more appealing is its retail price – at $10,499 ride away you can option and accessorise it to whatever you want. The base model is $500 cheaper if you can live without the gold-coloured piggyback shocks, pinstripe on the tank and black mirrors.

The Bolt’s 942cc engine is a highly-flexible unit and the biggest strength is its torque. It punches off the line and will strongly pull through its short rev range in each of the five gears. First gear is tall and needs a bit of clutch work dribbling through traffic but once into fifth gear on the open road it effortlessly lopes along. In between every gear is purposeful and strong in drive. The big V-twin feeds its power on smoothly and there are little vibrations transmitted through to the rider at the ‘bars or seat.

With an output of 38kW, the engine is not at all stressed and big service intervals and a five year warranty are a reflection of this. From my experience, the Bolt’s performance improves immensely with just a new air filter and slip-on exhaust. It’s character changes, too, and there is a stronger hitting dose of torque and an exhaust note full of character waiting to come out. That said, in standard trim the performance is the best of all the V-twins in its market segment without laying a finger on it.

Image: Alex Gobert (Foremost Media).

Handling is on the firmer side for a cruiser but is still gentle on the body over bumps and isn’t phased by them in the corners. The wheelbase, rake and 19-inch front and 16-inch rear wheel combo is the key to delivering a lively handling dynamic and with a very low seat height and centre of gravity it feels like nothing can phase it in the turns. There’s no traction control, or ABS for that matter, and braking is strong from the single disc front. The only limit to the handling is the ground clearance which demands a smooth, fluid cornering style prevent the pegs, pipe and frame touching down.

Considering the retail price of the Bolt, you aren’t going to find a match at its price point in terms of quality of build. Sure, it’s not up there with a cruiser twice its price but machining, paint, castings and finish is far superior than any other $10k-ish motorcycle I have seen lately. It’s not short on features too – yep, there’s no ABS but the LCD dash is neat, it has well-sorted Kayaba suspension, Brembo brake components, quality switchgear and a no-maintenance belt drive.

If you want value for money, the Bolt oozes it. It’s also a great platform for a custom build, or one that is easily tailored into a hard bagger, soft bagger, tourer, bobber, sportster or roadster. Whatever your style of cruiser is, the Bolt easily fit the bill with a few bits added here or there. Then again you could not touch it, ride it every day, and have a great handling cruiser with brilliant engine and edgey styling. No mater what way you look at it, this machine is a winner.


Capacity: 942cc
Power: 38kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 77Nm @ 3000rpm
Dry weight: 247kg
Seat height: 690mm
Price: $10,499 ride away
Detailed specs: