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2017 Yamaha SCR950 first ride review

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The first time I saw a picture of Yamaha’s new SCR950, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this bike before.

I don’t mean that in some philosophical sense, speaking to the general scrambler style. I mean, I have literally seen a Yamaha Bolt with this same design. Digging through back issues of Iron and Air magazine, I found what I was looking for. An article Brett Houle penned back in October of 2013 about a builder by the name of Greg Hageman.

Greg Hageman Yamaha Bolt

Hageman’s build was one of ten Bolts customized in 2013 when Yamaha donated the then newly minted cruiser to builders across the country to imagine up some new creations. Derek Brooks, from Yamaha’s product planning division, spoke very openly about Hageman’s bike when I asked.

According to Brooks, the Bolt line was always intended to be a platform bike with multiple offshoots. Hot on the tail of the success of the original Bolt, Yamaha released the café-inspired C-Spec, followed by the current scrambled SCR950. He agreed that the SCR shares an uncanny resemblance to Hageman’s machine, but insists plans for a factory scrambler from Yamaha were already underway.

Yamaha SCR950

Style

Part of Yamaha’s “Sport Heritage” line of bikes, the SCR950 has what Yamaha calls “neo-retro” styling. We’ve seen similar efforts from Triumph with the “Modern Classic” lineup, Ducati’s Scrambler family, and Moto Guzzi’s V7s and V9s. The SCR950’s MSRP of $8,699 is right in line with the price of the similarly styled Triumph and Ducati Scrambler motorcycles.

Utilizing the Bolt as a platform for the project, the main change to the SCR comes by way of the sub-frame. Gone is the dished-out, low-slung steel cradle holding a cruiser saddle. In its place is a traditional, flat, hoop-style sub-frame with a lightly padded low-profile seat that sits at 32.7 inches. Shorter riders will notice the almost six-inch increase in seat height over the Bolt. 

Yamaha SCR950 Subframe

The narrow seat, combined with the SCR’s mid-controls, makes it easy to stand on the pegs. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to relieve your soon-to-be-sore rear end on longer rides. While I was able to make it about 50 miles before complaining of perineal pain, other riders started griping almost immediately.

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha SCR950

Coupled with a wide-set, dirt-styled handlebar, the seating position is upright and comfortable. At six feet, three inches, I didn’t feel cramped or confined, aside from the massive air intake housing on the right side of the engine that kept banging into my knee. The long flat seat allowed me to slide back and forth with ease and the wider handlebar aided with the SCR’s neutral handling. Apply a bit of pressure to the bar, look where you want to go, and that’s where you end up.

Completing the SCR’s facelift is a set of Bridgestone Trail Wings. Wearing a 100/90-19 TW101 in the front and a 140/80R17 TW152 in the rear, the Trail Wings give the bike a more aggressive off-road look while maintaining its street ability.

Bridgestone Trail Wings Yamaha SCR950

In addition to the brief press intro ride, Yamaha let me keep the bike for the weekend to ride out to Joshua Tree National Park and then back to Los Angeles. I ended up logging nearly 700 miles on the clock before handing it back over. I tackled mountain roads, desert highways, city streets, and beach boardwalks. The SCR950 attracted attention wherever I went, reminding me of my old Triumph Bonneville.

Scrambling with the SCR950

Since the SCR950 was unveiled, there have been a lot of comments surrounding its overall competency off-road. Yamaha makes no bones about the fact that this is a bike with a cool, vintage aesthetic, which is designed primarily for street use. They did argue, however, that it has enough prowess to handle a bit of dirt and gravel, if you so choose. In an effort to try to answer your questions, while having a bit of fun myself, we decided to start out by discovering how much “dirt” is too much for this bike.

Breaking away from the pack I rode from Julian, California, out to the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. Turning from the safety of the pavement onto a sandy trail, the bike transformed itself. It became heavy, clumsy, and unstable. The SCR’s 547 pounds were immediately apparent as it wallowed and slid down the sandy trails. The belt drive, which provides a maintenance-free ride on the street, became an issue in the sand.

Brett Walling Yamaha SCR950

I found that the sand would build up between the belt and the rear pulley. This caused the belt to slip and nearly slide off the pulley on two separate occasions. Both times I had to dismount, dig the bike out, and remove sand from the rear drive before proceeding. There are clear limitations to the use of a belt drive off-road.

The tires were also a limiting factor. The Trail Wings are essentially 90/10 (street-biased) tires, at best. I use them on my 2005 Bonneville T-100 and they offer a unique style with plenty of grip for a bike putting out less than 60 horsepower, as long as I stick to the street. The Trail Wings have some vocal critics, however, and those are usually riders who go off-road and find the tires don't provide enough grip.

I found that argument to hold true in the sand. There is too much slip and the bike continued to dig in instead of digging out. Riding over hard-packed dirt roads and gravel, however, these tires worked just fine. I would have liked a bit more bite from the front but, all things considered, I was able to slide the SCR around and have a bit of spirited fun, as long as the road stayed relatively smooth and dry. 

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha SCR950

The main limiting factor in the dirt was the suspension. With the exception of revised internal damping, the suspension remains unchanged from that of a Bolt C-Spec. This means a traditional telescopic fork up front with 4.7 inches of travel and a pair of piggyback reservoir shocks out back with travel measuring just 2.8 inches. Together, this set up provides the SCR950 with 5.5 inches of ground clearance, unloaded. With my 205-pound payload in the saddle, that number decreased even further.

Returning from a photo stop, I followed Jensen Beeler from Asphalt and Rubber as we tore down a rutted dirt road. I could feel the suspension on my SCR bottoming out while watching the frame rails of his bike scrape against rocks and dirt. Riding the SCR over a bruised surface like this is a backbreaking experience and you’ll be happy the mid-controls make it easy to stand.

Unfortunately, the street-style pegs stick out ridiculously far from the bike itself and I have the bruises on the inside of my calves to prove it. I felt like every time I tried to dab or get my foot out, I had a damned foot peg slamming into my leg. 

I reminded myself that Yamaha made it clear the SCR950 belongs on the street. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it's a bear to handle in anything other than gravel or packed dirt. As I wanted to ride, I dug myself out one final time and headed back to the pavement.

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha SCR950

Street riding with the SCR950

Leaving the dirt behind and returning to the street, the SCR950 was immediately more comfortable. The bike instantly felt 75 pounds lighter as I flicked it back and forth through the winding curves of Palomar Mountain, a few miles to the west.

The 942 cc 60-degree air-cooled V-twin is a loveable little engine. While it’s not going to win any races, it provides ample torque right out of the gate. It’s peppy enough to keep experienced riders interested while being an extremely approachable mill for new riders. The SCR950 will comfortably cruise all day at 70 mph but it starts to lose steam around 85 mph.

]Yamaha SCR950

Throttle response from the twin-bore fuel injection system feels natural, with no discernible flat spots or twitchiness when accelerating from a stop. While I would love to see a tachometer in the overly simplistic dash, the engine lets you know it is time to shift by growing increasingly buzzy at higher revs. Once you feel your hands, feet, and butt vibrating, you know it’s time to shift. 

Shifts from the five-speed gearbox are smooth, aside from the occasional “clunk” between first and second. I enjoyed working the bike through the gears, accelerating through the corners, and onto the open desert highway.

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha SCR950

Bringing the SCR950 to a halt is a pair of Advics two-piston calipers clamping down on 298 mm wave-style rotors, one on each wheel. Braking was competent and well suited for a bike this size. As with the Bolt and C-spec, ABS is not available on the SCR.

Not surprising, the suspension is much more friendly on the street. Knocking the rear preload up a bit, I was able to eliminate some of the wallowing while picking up speed through the twisted asphalt covering the mountain. Much like in the dirt, speed was again limited by ground clearance, but in a different way. While the foot pegs slammed into my legs off-road, on the road they dug into the blacktop. I was joking with the folks from Yamaha that I was going to see if I could wear through an entire peg feeler by the end of the ride. This was funny until I started grinding the actual mounts for the pegs, instead. At that point, I decided to ease up on the throttle.

Yamaha SCR950 Footpegs

On the low end, fuel consumption was around 43 mpg while holding the throttle nearly wide open across the desolate stretch of highway known as the Borrego Salton Seaway. Cruising down Interstate 10 back into Los Angeles at a more reasonable 70 mph, I was averaging around 53 mpg, slightly better than Yamaha claimed.

Spurgeon Dunbar Yamaha SCR950

So what is it?

While this bike shares a considerable amount of DNA from the Bolt family, the styling makes the SCR950 stand apart from traditional cruisers. Aesthetically, it has more in common with a Ducati or Triumph Scrambler than it does a Yamaha Bolt. However, this is a sheep in wolf's clothing. Underneath it all, it’s still a mid-sized cruiser.

The SCR feels a bit like a bike that Yamaha started and failed to finish, like a parts-bin special that ran out of parts. The unaltered suspension travel pulled directly from a middleweight cruiser and minimal ground clearance is the most glaring miss. The low-slung exhaust should have been a cool high pipe setup. Changing the exhaust would have allowed for the mid-controls to be set closer to the frame, thus improving the bike's lean angle on the street while simultaneously improving its performance off-road.

Yamaha SCR950

Keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with a bike derived from bits and pieces of other bikes. It keeps manufacturing costs down, allowing for lower MSRPs. We saw Yamaha release two killer bikes this year made up of parts cannibalized from other machines. The XSR900 and the FZ-10, both parts-bin machines, are arguably two of the best rides we have seen this year. The SCR950, however, just feels like unfinished business to me, an excellent idea that just wasn't properly executed.

Final thoughts

There is clearly a demand for these "neo-retro" bikes like the SCR950. Years ago as a new rider, I ended up on a Triumph Bonneville T-100 because I loved the way it looked and I could afford the payments. It was my gateway drug into the world of motorcycling and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. While I gravitated toward bigger and faster bikes over the years, I never parted ways with that old Triumph, which is still sitting in my garage. 

Yamaha SCR950

These retro-styled machines resonate with a wide variety of riders out there, from young to old. We’ve already seen comments on our Instagram page from Bolt owners asking about conversion kits. (Greg Hageman actually has some kits available on his site based on his original Bolt build.)

Cruising across the desert and down to the beach with my duffle bag strapped across the back seat, I was reminded of the simplicity and sense of freedom from some of my earliest trips on a motorcycle. The SCR950 will not be a huge success by any performance metric and that's OK. Not all bikes are measured with the same yardstick. If it succeeds in becoming that gateway drug for a new generation of riders, it will be a success all its own.

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