By Guido Ebert
When Yamaha … or, Star … introduced the Bolt model for the 2014 model year, the manufacturer promoted the bike by having various independent builders utilize the 942cc cruiser to create their own interpretations. Those Bolt-based bikes then went on a national tour in an attempt to show potential customers that the relatively low-priced model could be highly personalized.
The strategy appears to have worked, as sales of the Bolt last year proved a bright spot in what has become a bit of a sluggish Metric Cruiser market.
Visually, to me, a quick glance at the standard Bolt ($7,990) suggests a foot-forward cruiser with a retro flavor – unabashed Sportster styling with .30-cal. Browning M1919A4 visual flare.
Yamaha calls it an “urban performance Bobber look.”
The Bolt’s 3.2-gallon teardrop-shaped fuel tank offers the only opportunity for color on the bike. A brushed stainless steel air-cleaner cover defines the air-cooled 60-degree V-twin engine, and the blacked-out two-in-one exhaust headers are set off by two stainless “heat shields”. I like the look, although conversations with others revealed a love-it-or-hate-it affair.
A chromed fork and dual rear shocks sandwich black steel fenders atop 19-inch front and 16-inch rear black cast wheels. Single wave discs front and back help add a touch of modernity, as do LEDs on all four corners and in the fender-mounted rear light.
A visual trait that most definitely impacts the bike positively – branding is at a minimum, particularly on this black ‘14 model MMM had the opportunity to ride. A small Yamaha logo on the upper clamp, a “ghosted” Yamaha sticker on the rear fender, a Yamaha insignia on the engine cover and a Star stamp on the air cleaner cover. All very subdued, leaving gawkers to wonder who makes your slick-looking ride.
I was given the key and shown the location of the ignition by the good folks at Motoprimo and commented that it looks to be in the same position as a classic steering lock. Wait. What? Nope. That steering lock is located just a couple of inches away.
Swinging a leg over the Bolt, I was surprised to find the solo saddle so low. Really low. Placing feet on pegs had my knees up higher than I’m used to on cruisers. Whoa. While the seat/peg/bar relationship would probably work well for a shorter rider, I imagine anyone taller than my 5’9” frame may feel a bit “pretzeled” by the standard configuration. While reach to the grips felt comfortable, I’d have preferred my feet placed another five inches forward, forming a sort of an open < for my personalized rider triangle.
Right away upon fire-up, I noticed Yamaha paid attention to the aural tone of the Bolt, because the sound emanating from this bike’s exhaust will make you want to twist the “Go” grip. A light clutch pull and easy slip into 1st gear happens as smoothly as you’d expect from a top-flight manufacturer.
Once underway, despite its 540-lb. heft and medium-length 61.8-inch wheelbase, the Bolt felt very easy to maneuver at pedestrian speeds thanks to its low-slung weight and gentle on-clutch-off power delivery.
In the past few years, as Metric Cruisers have grown to more than 2L in engine size, sub-1000cc “small-displacement” models became the lowliest of the brand offerings. Many of these bikes promoted comfort over all else. There wasn’t a lot of get-up-and-go and not a lot of agility. The fuel-injected Bolt – a stripped down version of Yamaha’s V Star 950 cruiser – is the opposite of that. It feels light, agile and, for a cruiser, seemingly high-strung. That’s a good thing.
Accelerate briskly from a standstill and the belt drive transitioning power from the engine to the rear wheel proves linear in its purpose. You’ll be shifting on the fly through the first three gears to 55mph, tip it into 4th and accelerate to 70mph, then 5th gear will stretch like a Hussein Bolt stride, easily propelling you from 72mph to 92mph. It’s at that point you’ll find noticeably less chuff. I saw 96mph before having to let off.
Speed tests aside, in top gear, there’s no reason to shift down for passing at highway momentum; the engine is spinning so fast, you’re sure to be in a sweet spot.
When traveling in a straight line, like on the highway, the bike feels extremely firm at the rear and light at the front. It didn’t so much “soak up” bumps, but more like “encountered” them. Somehow, though, that rather harsh straight-line experience translated into nicely controlled cornering on smooth surfaces as the bike’s low center of gravity, steering angle, and rake all worked rather nicely together to accomplish the proposed task.
Bringing the bike back down from speed proved unceremonious. Whatever speed wasn’t scrubbed by the wind hitting you full force in the sternum will be further reeled in by the wave discs fore and aft. At a glance, that little twin-piston front and single piston rear caliper don’t look to be up to the task. In practice, they work quite well in unison, requiring only moderate lever effort.
One drawback I found with the Bolt was its lack of a tachometer. It’s the same issue I had with the Triumph Thunderbird LT last year. The bike comes with a digital menu … why not make a tach read-out an option? We live in a strange world where automatic scooters – like Yamaha’s own TMAX – have tachometers while liter-sized, multi-gear motorcycles do not. Selah.
Despite that small engine speed diagnostic niggle, the Bolt has a lot going for it. Ultimately: Its sub-$8,000 price-tag is welcome in a market filled with five-figure bikes, its simple design allows for a high level of personalization, its low-slung weight and rather compact rider triangle make it a nice option for height-challenged riders, and its adequate but not overwhelming power delivery makes it a good candidate for Cruiser riders who feel they may not need 1300 or 1600 or 1800 or 2000cc of mass to enjoy the two-wheeled experience.
Check out the 2015 Kawasaki Vulcan S ($6,999) or H-D Superlow ($8,249) for a somewhat similar experience.