Yamaha have long toyed with the
classic motorcycle. Big vertical twins, raunchy singles and a range of successful
vee-twins (at least if you're into customs). It shouldn't come as much of a surprise,
then, that they have slipped one of their vee-twin engines into a chassis so utterly
classical it could've passed for a fifties Norton, even to the extent of having
echoes of the famous Featherbed frame in its double cradle tubular trellis.
It would've been easy for Yamaha
to have gone the high tech route, produce a modern interpretation such as the TDM850,
but retros are all the rage in
and the SRV is an incredibly restrained piece of engineering from a company that
thrives on advanced strokers and 20 valve fours. The most obvious cause for concern
is its lack of cubes, any Englishman worth his salt being much happier with an 535cc
or even 1100cc version. The Japanese home market, though, demands 250cc. A great
The vee-twin engine, looking more
like a 500, was robbed from the XV250 cruiser, had its OHC cylinder heads worked
over to give 27hp at 8500rpm instead of the custom's pathetic 23hp at 8000 revs.
Even 27 horses ain't much for a 250 in the nineties (Honda had twins that would
equal it in the mid sixties, for christsakes) but with maximum torque at a mere
6500 revs and a vee-twin configuration, the little SRV has a more interesting turn
of speed than expected.
To start with, the motor comes into
life with a gravelly mumble out of a two into one exhaust that sports a megaphone
type silencer of half the expected length. There was certainly enough noise escaping
from the engine to warn
drivers of my presence and revving the mill into the red in neutral caused Japanese
peds to give me looks full of a mixture of shock and horror. They were not reassured
by the sight of a barbarian in an old leather jacket and oil stained Levi's but
I waved cheerily, anyway, the gentle throb of the SRV always put me in a good mood.
The peds ducked for cover when I
engaged first gear. The first time I selected gear on a cold motor was like a bullet
exploding into a plate-glass window. There are only five ratios but they are well
spaced and the box was otherwise tolerably smooth and precise. Not the best gearchange
action I'd ever come across but far from being the worst.
The Yam weighs only 320lbs, an almost
ideal mass as any lighter would allow it to be knocked all over the place. Such
lack of mass gives the engine an easy time, allowing the plot to pull off on a minimum
of revs without any clutch abuse. It would burble along without any hassles, well
able to keep ahead of the cages without going beyond 5000 revs, although the acceleration
was only on a par with restricted 125s.
From there on the engine ran hard,
although it would never, even with serious abuse of the throttle and gearbox, threaten
to snap necks or pull arms out of their sockets. Despite that, its nature was both
fun filled and easy going. It'd run down to about 20mph in fifth before the chain
would threaten to leap off the sprockets, lope forward slowly to about 45mph when
it'd start to move with some energy. 80mph was relatively easy, 90mph possible when
the engine was used to its limits, although by then some vibes were coming through
the chassis. It wasn't so irritating that it would cause me to back off but unless
I was using the maximum power to burn off some other vehicle I'd slow down a little
out of fellow feeling for the motor. It felt best at 6500 to 7000rpm.
The riding position was a touch
cramped for me as I found the bars too close to my lap, but fitting a different
bend would be easy. The pegs are placed well back and all the more comfortable for
it. The seat was initially comfy but after ninety minutes my backside was beginning
to complain. Its concave shape meant I was stuck in just one position, no sliding
around to relieve the tedium. After a three hour ride I felt like I was sitting
on razor edged frame tubes! Ouch!
The SRV's narrow, slim and light
but the suspension's not up to much. There were 9000 miles on the clock when I bought
the bike, enough to have the twin shocks turned to mush and the front forks full
of vagueness. Directional accuracy required lots of minor corrections, especially
when small bumps were encountered. Large bumps caused the forks to clang on their
stops and the back wheel to try to hammer through the base of the seat! None of
this stopped me riding like a lunatic through both heavy
traffic and hilly country roads. The frame was strong and the steering geometry
inspired, allowing me to get away with murder on suspension that were it fitted
to a lesser machine would have had me in the nearest ditch. A pair of shocks and
heavy duty fork springs would turn the SRV into a Ducati killer.
On the right-hand side I could occasionally
scrape the exhaust, on the left it was a toss up whether my knee or toe would touch
down first. The Dunlop tyres seemed jolly good to me, even giving plenty of feedback
through the dubious suspension.
The bike wasn't brilliant in the
wet. The powerful single front disc would, given half a chance, lock up the front
wheel without any warning, trying to slide the SRV into oblivion. Both tyres gripped
well up to a point but would suddenly let loose on damp roads, the back tyre sliding
out a yard before I knew what the hell had hit me. The rear drum brake, engine braking
and a gentle touch on the chassis would get me through most things.
However, the tiny front guard, a
ridiculous item in the overall context of the SRV, allowed large volumes of water
over the engine which caused the front cylinder to stutter. Having a punchy 250cc
vee turned into a recalcitrant 125cc single was not my idea of bliss, especially
when I was surrounded by aggrieved Japanese cagers who held a grudge against foreigners,
who were obviously only in
to steal their women and mess up their ordered society. By the way, the rear shocks
were so dubious I have yet to take any women pillion.
One cager rammed his hand on the
horn, peering over his driving wheel with eyes popping out of his head at the apparently
dead motorcycle in the way of his car; a sight made all the more horrifying by the
fact that I was viewing it through the slightly distorting but otherwise excellent
mirrors. The motor coming in fully saved me from premature extinction. After a couple
of misadventures I made up a mudflap, sourced from a van that had taken my parking
place at work. End of the cutting out horrors.
For bopping around town the SRV
proved ideal, being usefully narrower than similar capacity fours and having a better
turning circle. I found it ran better in third than second, even at walking speeds,
with little grumbling when the throttle was whacked open.
The bike seems quite popular, with
some rather quaintly dressed Japanese trying to go back in time to the fifties when
men were men and bikes had kickstarts. The SRV growled quickly into life on the
electric boot, though, and I doubt if that particular vein of nostalgia would go
down well with the average Japanese rider.
No, the SRV manages to combine a
modern motor with all the practicality and sensible design of a fifties British
twin. Ridden mildly, it'll even turn in better than 70mpg, although I was usually
managing nearer 60mpg, which gives a range of well over 150 miles - far too much
with that dubious seat! Just to rub salt into the wound, the Yamaha's only available
in one colour - British Racing Green!
I paid the equivalent of £1600 for
my example, so a grey import would probably go for £2500 after all the shipping
and tax charges. Too much, I'd guess, for the level of performance but it obviously
points the way for the future - an SRV535!
Mike Prescotte (Motorcycle Expert)
So big is the retro game in
, that they will do almost anything to take the market by storm. The SRV has a chassis
that wouldn't have troubled Norton in their heyday, having defined good handling
in the sixties and then thrown it away with the rubbery Commando, and a vee-twin
engine cloned from their custom bruiser, which puts out a little more power whilst
sharing the majority of engine parts.
The overall effect would probably
have the people at Morini spewing up their pasta in disgust if not envy, but the
reality of such a small vee-twin engine is a lack of zap, even compared with the
better Jap thumpers, a capacity at which the single cylinder idiom really excels
as there's minimal vibration to absorb by the balancer. 250cc is about right for
optimum engine efficiency for a single, with a vee-twin there are too many frictional
Torque the SRV motor has, it even
claims 27 horses, but doesn't seem to move as well as a similarly powered 1970 Honda
CB250K3! I had the impression that the motor was churning through an excess of friction,
that the oil was turning to treacle and that it lacked the kind of sweetness exemplified
by a Morini 350 Sport when on the cam, a design ruined more by modern emission and
noise regulations than any intrinsic engineering faults.
Finesse and quality had done a runner
in favour of style over substance. This initial impression faded after a couple
of days, for 20,000 miles had left the mill a touch vibratory and it took that long
for the buzz to fade into the background. A newer model proved much more stimulating,
almost had me waxing lyrical as the suspension was a lot firmer and the handling
an order of magnitude improved in its precision and accuracy.
Neither did the finish of the older
one inspire - rotted alloy, peeling chrome and scarred paint. This on an eighteen
month old example that had been thrashed all its life, reflected in a £1500 price
Tokyo. The immaculate ones fetch closer to £2500, which means rather silly money in the
UK, where they are still, unfortunately, rare.
As a practical hack, price aside,
low mileage examples would make the grade and they would certainly have the old
codgers going all nostalgic. The high mileage ones probably aren't worth the effort,
so a careful eye has to be kept for clocked examples in the
UK, an all too pervasive manoeuvre in the good old motorcycle trade