The Yamaha XV950 is evidence that custom motorcycles aren’t what they used to be. A decade or so ago, a typical heavily modified bike was a gleaming chopper with mile-long front forks, a big Harley-Davidson-style V-twin engine, lashings of chrome and a hefty price tag.
The global recession put paid to all that, and inspired a new generation of custom bikes that are relatively simple, sporty and inexpensive. Some echo the “bobber” look of stripped-down Harleys after the Second World War. But many of these modern customs are based on single- or twin-cylinder Japanese models from the Seventies or Eighties.
Yamaha’s XV950 is an attempt to tap into this trend with a simple production model that is designed to be easily customised. Its engine is the 942cc, air-cooled V-twin from the five-year-old XVS950 Midnight Star. But while the Star is a typically long and chrome-laden old-style cruiser, the XV950 is shorter, lighter and sportier.
With its small petrol tank and black-finished engine and exhaust, the XV is more subdued than the Midnight Star. Neat details include the exhaust heat shields and the round LED rear light. Alongside the standard model is the XV950R, which has a little more colour – green or grey paint with a stripe, instead of basic black or white – plus uprated brakes and rear suspension.
The cool custom look is there when you settle into the low saddle and grip the raised, one-piece black handlebar. The
V-twin motor makes a modest 51bhp but it’s tuned for low-rev torque and has lots of character.
There’s enough straight-line performance to make it fun to ride, if not particularly exciting. It rumbles away from the lights with more than enough acceleration to outrun traffic, and just enough vibration to feel engaging.
On the launch near Los Angeles it effortlessly kept up with 70mph freeway traffic, with plenty of acceleration in hand. Not that I was always sure of its speed, because the chrome-rimmed digital speedometer is annoyingly hard to read in direct sunlight. The instrumentation is very basic, although you do get self-cancelling indicators and reasonably useful mirrors.
The handling is good by class standards, helped by relatively sporty geometry and a short wheelbase. At about 250kg with fuel it’s no lightweight, but the wide bars help make it easy to flick around.
On dry roads its footrests scrape before the Bridgestone tyres approach their limits of grip, but stability is excellent, and ride quality reasonable despite the limited rear-suspension travel.
The basic price is good, but the XV is really intended as a starting point for owners to customise their bikes with accessories, from a sporty headlamp fairing to wire-spoked wheels.
Yamaha hopes this approach will attract younger riders who like the modern custom style but lack the technical ability to fashion a one-off machine themselves. It’s a plausible idea. An accessorised XV950 won’t match the unique appeal of a hand-built bobber. But it’s an enjoyable, reasonably practical and relatively inexpensive alternative to the real thing.
Engine/transmission: 942cc four-stroke V-twin, five-speed transmission
Price/on sale: £7,199 (XV950R £7,499)/September
Power/torque: 51bhp @ 5,500rpm/59lb ft @ 3,000rpm
Top speed: 110mph (estimated)
Range: 100 miles @45mpg (estimated)
Verdict: Simple, easy-riding cruiser with respectable all-round performance and potential for owners to personalise its look without spending a fortune
Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars