Yamaha Bolt and Bolt R-Spec (2014)

The current trend in the cruiser segment is toward the minimalist, stripped-down look. The 2014 Yamaha Bolt gets back to these basics while targeting Harley-Davidson’s venerable Sportster in the category with a bike that is 15 kg lighter, $80 cheaper and offers 30mm more rear suspension travel than the popular 883.

Although the Yamaha Bolt isn’t exactly a “bobber” as Yamaha says, it does sport the requisite bare-bones look. The fenders are trimmed, while chrome, graphics and paint are subdued. 

The Bolt is available in two versions: the basic model and the Bolt R-Spec, which has different paint, a suede seat cover, and remote reservoir rear shocks. The standard Bolt lists for $8,999 and is available in black or white, while the R-Spec is priced at $9,199 with paint choices a matte grey or a really sharp metallic green. Both have the same air-cooled, four-valve, V-Twin motor sourced from the 942cc V-Star 950. 

Its blacked out two-into-one exhaust has a front header that snakes forward to equalize exhaust length terminating in a large, flat black muffler with a satin tip on the right side, and a pleasant, throaty note that won’t be obnoxious to the neighbours as you leave on a 7 a.m. breakfast run. 

The front forks are 41mm non-adjustable units with 120mm (4.7 inches) of travel. Plastic guards protect the fork tubes from stone chips that can destroy fork seals in short order—a nice touch.

Twin preload adjustable shocks with 70mm (2.7 inches) of travel bring up the rear on both models, but the R’s remote reservoir units seem to have better damping characteristics and look much better in the process. 

A single 298mm disc squeezed by a two-piston caliper provides braking at the front while a similar disc with a single piston caliper is hidden under the swingarm and behind the muffler for rear wheel braking. At this time there is no standard or optional ABS.

The main difference between the Yamaha Bolt and many other cruisers is footpeg placement. The Bolt’s pegs are under the rider and 24cm (9.5 in.) further to the rear than the V-Star 950’s. This addresses a standard complaint about cruisers that their feet-forward riding positions place too much weight on a rider’s tailbone. 

Shorter riders should be comfortable with the low 830mm (32-in.) seat height—even more so because the seat tapers to the front. It’s pointless having a low seat if the saddle itself is so wide it splays out the rider’s legs. 

Yamaha is counting on the Bolt to make an impact on the cruiser market by offering a cost-effective alternative to the traditional cruiser look and riding characteristics. 

“The Bolt’s style and natural riding position set it apart from most cruisers,” says Yamaha Canada’s John Bayliss. “We’ve priced it competitively and are counting on it to be a volume model.” The marketing plan will include demo rides and early deposit programs.

AT 247 KG (544 LBS.) WET AND WITH a 1570mm (61.8-in.) wheelbase the Bolt still proved to be a relatively light and nimble handler during a recent day-long riding session in Ottawa.

From the full-stop position, the Bolt’s light clutch action and nearly 60 ft/lbs. torque peaking down low at 3,000 rpm make it almost impossible to stall—an important asset for new or re-entry riders. Give it some throttle and the Bolt thrusts away from stops with a satisfying push to the behind. 

The handling is definitely aided by the upright riding position. Tooling around on the Bolt didn’t reveal any ground clearance issues and there were no unwanted lurches or lunges during cornering. 

The motor feels free-revving and getting up to freeway speeds is a simple rip through the slick-shifting five speed transmission that transmits power to the rear wheel through a 21mm carbon fibre reinforced belt. With the torque peak fairly low in the rev range, short shifting and letting it pull is the way to go. Vibration from the rigidly mounted engine is almost non-existent.

The different damping in the R’s remote reservoir rear shocks noticeably improves ride quality and is worth the extra 200 bucks for the shocks alone. While the larger bumps and potholes in the road can be felt equally on both bikes, the Bolt still felt superior to the various Sportster variations in regards to ride quality and rear suspension compliance. 

The instrument housing has a large, digital speedometer, clock, odometer, twin tripmeters and a low-fuel light but no tach. When the sun is behind, everything is quite visible, but when the light is from the front or front quarter, everything is washed out. 

The 12-litre tank seems ridiculously small even though its primary purpose is urban cruising. But Yamaha estimates 5L/100 km (57 mpg) so owners should realize a working range of between 150 and 200 km before they start looking for a filling station.

Bayliss says the Yamaha Bolt and R-Spec garnered a lot of attention during this winter’s motorcycle show circuit. 

With their compact profiles, fairly light weight, and low seat heights, the models make it easy to get both feet on the ground and the power delivery is not intimidating. Meaning the Bolts are well suited to new riders. 

“Many new and re-entry riders are starting on cruisers in the 800cc to 1100cc displacement range,” says Bayliss. “And from comments [we heard] at consumer shows, many people feel a 650cc unit is now too small and that they’ll grow out of it too quickly. We believe this will not be the case for the Bolt.” 

As part of the personalization program supporting the Bolts, Yamaha has almost 50 accessories and “accessory themes” available ranging from windshields, saddlebags and seats to spoked wheel kits. 

The Bolt is an important motorcycle in Yamaha’s lineup as it’s an attempt to get back to basics and to show that sometimes, less can be more. One word jumped into my head after riding the bike. “Fun.”

 

by Steve Bond