Yamaha XV950: Long-term test report.
My year with Yamaha’s XV950 has been an interesting one. From the moment I picked it up people were questioning my choice, but not because of the bike you understand - the reviews for it have been positive - but rather because it’s a ‘cruiser’ and nobody I know ever really looks at cruisers or bobbers with desiring eyes.
But I had a cunning plan to prove them wrong.
Engage cruise mode.
The first thing that I needed to do though was to get used to riding it though. The laidback, feet-in-the-air position wasn’t anything that I’d previously been familiar with so the first few miles were interesting to say the least. The handling was competent, the single-disc brakes were sharp enough and the ride was surprisingly smooth but something wasn’t quite gelling, and a flurry of sharp bends saw me overshoot the final right-hander and veer perilously close to the hedge on my left. Ten minutes of re-evaluation later and I’d realised the problem. I had been riding this bike as if it was the same as those sports-tourers that I had been used to - a novice mistake.
It’s true that the gound clearance leaves a lot to be desired and the scuffing of pegs had already become a sound that I was getting used to, but this is less a problem with the XV950 than you would think. Once you relax and understand that this is a bike that wants you to ride the road; something that doesn’t need to be forced into doing your bidding, then all will becomes clear. This isn’t the kind of machine that needs riding hard, it’s a bike that wants to let you guide it on its way.
But riding this bike was only ever going to be fifty-percent of my year long project. Yamaha offers an extensive accessories catalogue for the XV so naturally I had begun browsing through and already had some ideas as to where I wanted to take this versatile bobber.
The bolt build begins.
First on my list was a bullet cowling (£267.99), which I had hoped would reduce the wind blast a little (it did). Despite the stock seat being incredibly comfortable, I’m a sucker for old-style, sprung seats so I also chipped in for the leather-trimmed Bobber solo-seat (a testicle-shrinking £411.99) and a few brass-accents around lights and dials to match. All in all I had blown £1080 on new, shiny bits that ensured that the bike looked pretty different from its stock appearance. But is this really what custom motorcycling is all about?
A trip up to MAG-Europe in Manchester began to set my heart a-flutter. The warehouse of these guys is a nirvana for custom bike building and by the time I had left, I’d fitted a Vance & Hines twin Slash exhaust system (£505.25) and a FuelPak ECU (£250) to help with the throttle delivery. It transformed the already gruff sounding bike into an absolute beast!
Here comes the bullet train.
So with a tricked-out bike and my Shark Vancore helmet transforming me into something resembling a motorcyclist from a near-dystopian future, I headed down to Biarritz - 1800 miles on the XV950 with nothing but sunburnt wrists to complain about - to get further inspiration from the Wheels & Waves festival. It was an eye-opening affair.
A chat with Roland Sands and a meeting with Holographic Hammer proved to me just how great a customising platform the humble Yamaha ‘Bolt’ XV950 could be, so with a simple sketch in hand and a little help to finalise the more complicated details I approached Yamaha with an idea.
‘Do what you like, but don’t cut anything!’
Yamaha were more than willing to support me in my quest for custom glory, with just a few stipulations. Unsurprisingly they weren’t too keen on a man with minimal engineering or mechanical skills going to town with angle-grinders and welding machines so any severe fabrication was out. But the rest was fair game.
So armed with Yamaha UK’s blessing and a sketch I set to work. Calls to various suppliers were made, favours were returned and parts began to arrive. Just one problem - I had little clue as to what I was doing.
These things take time.
The basic work wasn’t a problem. I had a sub-frame from the US ‘Bolt Build-Off’ competition winner - Greg Hageman - on the bike within hours, and instantly it altered the relaxed stance of the XV into something a little more purposeful. Wheels had become an issue because there weren’t any suitable donor hubs around with the necessary cush components so I had to order a set of spoked accessory wheels from Yamaha and get them stripped down and rebuilt to the 18” front and backs that the new design demanded (from the stock 19” and 16”). Having had a shout around the office - and a search around the web - there was one supplier who stood out from the recommendations. So a couple of weeks at Central Wheels in Coleshill resulted in some beautiful, newly spoked and rimmed wheels, and they looked incredible.
Very happy with Larry.
If my dream of turning this cruiser into a more streamlined, straight-line, horizon killer was to become reality, it was clear that I would also need to enlist the services of a skilled fabricator; someone who could produce the custom bodywork that I needed.
I had seen some of the work from Lamb Engineering at last year’s MCN London Motorcycle Show and I knew that these were the guys that I just had to have on board. Both Tony and Larry (yes, Larry the Lamb) were more than happy to oblige and so, for the past eight weeks, they’ve been working away - mainly evenings and weekends - to help me get the fairing and seat unit looking just perfect. There isn’t an idea or design that Tony can’t seem to produce from bare aluminium and his craftsmanship is second to none. Remember, all of this bodywork has had to be made available to be fitted and removed without damaging the frame or existing bike in any way. In theory this build has to be put back to its stock form once the year is over.
And so, here we are in December with just the last few touches and paintwork to come. New cables from Venhill and new levers and master cylinders from Magura await their fitting and Pirelli Angel GTs sit, desperate to be scrubbed in. In a few days’ time the bike will be back from the paint shop and ready to ride. Sure, it’s just in time for winter when the riding will be limited, but just imagine how incredible that round-trip to Wheels and Waves will be next year!
And the best news is still yet to come...