The explosion in the custom scene over the past half-decade or so can’t have escaped anyone’s attention. It certainly caught Yamaha’s, deciding to relaunch the venerable SR400 as a nostalgia trip for those who want one, or raw material for those of a more creative bent.

Launching the XVS950 range, however, was a stronger statement of intent. Ostensibly a cruiser, the bike’s lines and finishes hint at something cooler and more contemporary. Tellingly, the whole bike has been designed to make customising a breeze. The headlamp, for example, is just a headlamp: no fuse blocks or switchgear prevent you from unbolting it and installing something unique. And Yamaha themselves supply a whole range of ‘factory custom’ parts, a bundle of which have been applied to the New Zealand-specific ‘Bolt Bagger’ special edition we had on test.

Surrounded by Milwaukee's finest, it doesn't look out of place

Surrounded by Milwaukee's finest, it doesn't look out of place

Get your motor running

The heart of Yamaha’s Bolt is the same air-cooled, 942cc, 60º V-twin found in the V Star, but with a few tweaks that favour low- to mid-range torque over power. It’s bolted direct to the frame as a stressed member, and lacks a balancer shaft, yet the engine never feels harsh or ‘vibey’. Instead, it delivers a close mechanical connection with the impressively smooth-fuelling motor. The whole power train helps in this regard, with belt drive, a rubber-damped clutch and a slick-shifting five speed gearbox.

It’s not fast, with just 38.3kW and weighing 247kg fully fuelled, but the nearly 80 Nm of torque ensures a brisk getaway from traffic lights. And the motor feels strong, never gasping for breath or sounding thrashed.

Belt drive keeps it smooth, and easy to maintain

Belt drive keeps it smooth, and easy to maintain

Going round the bend

If gunning through the gears puts a satisfied smile on your face, it’ll crack a little wider when you get to a bend. At least at first.

The identically-sized single front and rear discs do a fine job of shedding speed, with reassuring feel through hand and foot. And the Bolt is significantly more agile than the average cruiser, helped by the relatively slim tyres (100/90-19 front, 150/80-16 rear) and modest rake. Even the apparently basic suspension (rear preload adjustment only) does a good job.

The fly in the ointment, however, is ground clearance. Or, rather, lack thereof. Part of the Bagger edition’s package are slightly wider footrests with brass ends. Only there wasn't much brass left after a few hundred kilometres. And considerably less foot peg too. Upping the rear preload didn't seem to make much difference, nor did it make the ride noticeably harder.

It’s a shame the pegs touch down so early because the Bolt’s chassis is easily capable of more. The pegs fold up, so experienced riders will press on and it’s a fair way until other hardware starts scraping. Newer riders might get put off their stroke, however, so be warned.

Single front disc gets the job done

Single front disc gets the job done

Comfort and practicality

It might have standard ‘luggage’ but the Bolt Bagger is no tourer. The leather bags aren't as commodious as they might appear, and a 12 litre tank isn't going to take you far. But that isn't the point of a machine like this. It’s for cruising down to the chop shop or hanging out where other cruiser-types hang out. And on most counts it does pretty well. I wouldn't want to ride on that tiny squab of a pillion seat (and Lord knows what that would do to the ground clearance) but the rider’s perch is passably comfortable. Even the airbox touching your right knee doesn’t irritate.

Springs and damping also acquit themselves well in the comfort stakes.

The Bagger’s nacelle fairing seems to deflect enough wind blast that you don’t have to hang on to the bars at highway speeds. And despite that direct-mounted V-twin generating some characterful rumbles, vibration is not an issue either.

The controls offer little in the way of adjustment, but everything operates slickly and is easy to get to. A chrome-ringed, smoked-glass digital dash might look stylish but there’s not much information, mostly warning lights, and it can be hard to read in bright sun.

Saddlebags are not as capacious as they might seem

Saddlebags are not as capacious as they might seem

Extras

This NZ special edition comes in Pearl White and includes hard-mounted oxblood leather saddlebags, a matching ‘Stilleto’ seat, custom pegs and grips with brass ends, and a ‘Bullet’ cowl. You can put all those extras on a standard Bolt for $2,243.77, but at $15,499 plus on-roads, the Bagger is just $1,500 more than the base bike. (The R-spec Bolt with different paint and separate-reservoir KYB shocks is $14,499).

It’s a good deal but I’d gladly forego the custom foot pegs.

Verdict

If something as archly attention seeking as a Bobber can ever be called an all-rounder, the Bolt is it. The Bagger special edition might compromise some of that practicality, but the bike at heart is surprisingly capable. If you like cruiser style but you also like carving a few corners, Yamaha have a bike for you.

While the value equation looks good, for many potential owners buying the machine will only be a starting point. The Bolt was conceived to be modified, and the Bagger makes a start down that road. Should the style appeal, the substance won’t disappoint.

Not the most informative, especially in bright sun

Not the most informative, especially in bright sun

Specifications

Model: Yamaha Bolt Bagger XVS950CU
Cost: $15,499 + on-road costs
Engine: 4-stroke, air-cooled, SOHC V-Twin
Capacity:  942 cc
Fuel System: EFI
Transmission: 5-speed, belt drive
Seat Height: 690 mm
Kerb weight: 247 kg
Fuel capacity: 12 litres

Pros

Cool looks
V-twin character
Surprisingly good dynamics

Cons

Lack of ground clearance
No ABS

Demonstration machine courtesy of Yamaha New Zealand.

side on view

ride forever