An increasing number of trendy European types are starting to view motorcycles as a fashionable lifestyle choice. The likes of Triumph with its Bonneville, Moto Guzzi and Harley are all being viewed as stylish to be seen on - but not in standard form. Running alongside this trend is the spirit of customisation.
More than meets the eye
Many are bolting on aftermarket parts to radically alter their bike's looks. A set of clip-ons and a new seat unit and you have a cafe racer, flat bars and some umber boards and it's a flat tracker. So what has this got to do with Yamaha's new XV950 bobber?
Basically, Yamaha is encouraging riders to customise their bike by ensuring the tank, seat, lights and exhausts are simple to remove. In essence they have created a core of a motorcycle on which riders can build upon. Whilst an exciting concept in theory, Yamaha's fears of litigation mean it can't actually sell any kits.
Instead, it plans for specialists such as Roland Sands and Wrenchmonkeees to develop and market their own individual kits. The response of these companies will determine the success of the project, but that is out of Yamaha's hands. For now, before a single kit is made, Yamaha have to sell the XV950 and XV950R. So is this new cruiser worth buying?
Yamaha calls the XV a 'performance bobber', which means it has been designed to go around corners. Something that other cruisers can struggle with. Launching the bike in Los Angeles meant a good test route that could put those claims to the test.
On straight roads the XV delivers the full cruiser experience. The V-twin has excellent throttle response, while the standard exhaust note is deep and booming. Over 70mph the 942cc engine can run out of puff a bit, but on a machine such as this that's fast enough. Why rush when you can sit back and relax?
The riding position, which is more feet-backwards in the bobber style, is comfortable. Apart from a slightly solid seat and the air filter getting in the way of your right leg, there isn't much to complain about. The looks and riding emotions of cruisers are always a major selling points and the XV feels good to ride and looks great in the flesh. Black paint combines with brushed aluminium highlights to give a moody appearance. So far so good, what about in the bends?
The XV's handling proved the biggest surprise. Being used to cruisers that wobble like a Jelly Baby's belly when you show them a series of bends, the Yamaha proved very different. The suspension is soft but seems to have enough damping to keep it composed when pushed.
As with most cruisers the chronic lack of ground clearance is the limiting factor, but take into account the fact you will scrape the XV's pegs and you can really hustle it along. It even stops, although opting for the version with ABS is advisable as the front tyre can be made to squeal quite easily...
Compared to Harley's 883, the XV's main competitor, the Yamaha handles far better and feels much gutsier. It looks better to these eyes too.
In its standard form the XV models (the R is just a stock XV with different dampers, paint and ABS) are really entertaining bobbers that tick all the boxes when it comes to looks, performance and handling. Add in the potential for customisation and they start to look very appealing indeed. One Yamaha man told me they see owners updating their XV with various bolt-on kits rather than necessarily buying a new bike, which in the current economic climate makes perfect sense. If Roland Sands does sell an XV flat-track kit (it's being built now), you could buy it and completely transform your bobber into a flat tracker over a weekend. Get tired of this look and a new kit later that flat tracker could be a cafe racer. How cool would that be?
The prospects for the Sports Heritage range of Yamaha models are genuinely exciting. The XV950 models will be followed by an SR400 and then XJR1300 and VMAX bikes, all of which will have customisation options. Now where's my welder?
YAMAHA XV950 & XV950R
Engine: 942cc V-twin
Torque: 58.6lb ft@3,000rpm
Top speed: 100mph (est.)
Weight: 251kg (wet)
MPG: 65 (est.)
Price: £7,199 (R £7,499)