Test Drive: 2015 Yamaha Bolt

Riding a motorcycle remains one of the more efficient, fun ways to get around. Given the crippling traffic long lines and inefficient public transport in the country two wheels are certainly, better than four. If you’re going to be maneuvering around on two wheels though, you might as well do so in style. Yamaha has just the bike for you in the Bolt.

The Bolt is a curious beast. It has the soul of a proper old-school bobber, the looks of a bike straight out of Milwaukee, and technology that puts it squarely within the current generation of motorcycles. The question stands though: is it all shine and rumble, or is it a bike you might actually want to use?

Design: 4/5

The Bolt takes retro styling and puts it right back onto the showroom floor.

Older folks will appreciate the familiar cruiser lines, comfortable mid-bike seating position, and easy handlebar reach, and the younger, possibly newer riders will love the low seat height, customization options, and big, beefy engine. Being part of Yamaha’s heritage series, they designed a bike that looks like it just jumped out of a time machine. It separates itself from other cruiser types with the sparse use of chrome, and updated tech, but keeps the asphalt-eating road warrior look the bike is clearly aiming for. It’s a combination that will work for all but the purest of purists. Cabling that peeks out in places, and a frame that stands out as much as it blends in adds to the “put-together” feel, and just begs you to make it a one-of-a-kind ride.

Hardware: 4/5

The heart of the Bolt is an air cooled, 950 cc V-twin. If that sounds familiar, don’t worry, that’s where the similarities between this and the other cruiser end. The Bolt is fuel-injected, and decidedly more modern than most of the other bikes out there. This engine puts out a tame 46 HP at 5480, but has a very respectable amount of torque—52.7 ft-lb early, at 3020 rpm. This bike can pull, and it’s got great engine characteristics for riding around in the city, which is where you’ll be doing most of your riding, since you get a relatively small 12-liter tank. It’s a good-looking one though, so at least there’s that.

The engine is mated to a five-speed transmission, with a belt moving power to the rear wheel (ok, that’s where the similarities end). Stopping power is provided by a 298 mm front disc and twin piston caliper, and a 298 mm rear disc with a single caliper, and no, you don’t get ABS. The tubular, double-cradle frame is nice and rigid, while the 41 mm front fork and its 4.7 inches of travel give a reasonably smooth ride. We just wish the rear shock was as plush.

The gauge is digital, and rather basic, with no tach, but an easy-to-read speedo, trip distance, time, and the usual engine and fuel warning lights. Not a lot going on really, but we have the basics, so no complaints there. Along with the modern speedo, you also get an LED cluster for your tail light, which might seem out of place on paper, but work just fine in practice.

User Experience: 4.5/5

Being a proper bobber, the first thing i did was ride the Bolt from BGC to my home in QC. As you might be aware, traffic is horrible around these parts, and I figured it would be an excellent test of the bike’s commuting ability. The first thing I noticed and appreciated was just how low the seat is to the ground. At about 27 inches, i had no problem flatfooting when stopped, and I’m a scant 5’4 inches tall on a good day. The next thing I appreciated was the light clutch. Feathering it while weaving through obstacles is easy, and doesn’t tire you out easily, even though the pull is long. It wants to be brought in a little farther than I find comfortable, particularly when you try to shift into neutral. Not being able to adjust it meant I had to just put up with the long pull, but it didn’t get so bad even after an hour through traffic. A little longer, though, and I’d certainly be singing a different tune.

The engine is quite content pulling on the low end. You get loads of torque early on, letting you be a lot zippier than the size of the bike might let on, and it chugs along quite happily, even at a gear taller than you might initially think. Shifting is very positive. Pull the clutch in all the way, give the shifter a tap, and the transmission settles into gear with a very satisfying ker-clunk. No false neutrals, and no need to put too much force into the process.

The low center of gravity, low weight (for its type), and relatively light handling mean getting through traffic isn’t as hard as one might think looking at the thing. It’s also reasonably short, and while it’s not a scooter, you can get through tight gaps if you don’t let them spook you. Mirrors on the Bolt are actually useful, and allow you to see what’s behind you, with just the slightest bit of your arms blocking the view.

The main complaint I do have though is the engine heat. Being an air-cooled bike in a tropical country with a traffic problem certainly takes some of the fun out of the commute. The heat from the lump can be uncomfortable when you’re stuck in traffic, and while it generally doesn’t run the risk of overheating, your leg is going to be taking a lot of your attention. You’re going to want to hit the kill switch when you’re at a long stop–in fact, the manual says so itself.

While it’s mostly meant for the city, I couldn’t resist the urge to take it on a long drive.

So I rode it to Vigan.

The 400-something kilometer journey was much more pleasant than being stuck in traffic. The Bolt, while not entirely meant for touring, performed more than admirably. With plenty of air to help dissipate heat, my leg was quite happy beside the massive powerplant, and the seating position was much like being on a living room chair, though without a backrest. The seat itself is plenty large, and allows you to move around freely, keeping any hotspots from developing. There is a woeful lack of wind protection, and I can only imagine how punishing the top speed of 177 kph would be without the aftermarket windscreen I had on. High-speed stability is superb, and it’s rock solid, flying down the highway at speed. Tight turns can be taken with confidence, that is until you scrape a peg, which, given how eager the bike is to get a good angle, seems to happen far too soon. Vibrations across the RPM range are perfectly manageable, and even after about seven hours of riding, my hands weren’t particularly numb.

Some things I did learn while on the long trip. The tank is quite small, but it’s not as small as you think. The reserve light goes on early. When it pops on, you’ll still have about 3.5 liters left in the tank. That’s a considerable amount of fuel in a bike that does a rated 6.9 liters for 100 km. Still, it’s not a touring bike, so you should plan your trips accordingly. Second, the rear locks up fast. Whether it’s the geometry, weight distribution, or road conditions, you can lock the back tire up quickly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it, but you should be mindful of how hard you stomp on it. Third, if you can get the piggyback rear shock, it might not be a bad idea. The stock setup is a bit rough for Philippine roads. You’ll feel every bump in your lower back. Finally, it’s a very, very easy bike to ride. You don’t have to fear it, you don’t have to plead with it. Just get on, and go. It’s like that one friend you can count on to show up when you plan an impromptu roadtrip. I’m really not a cruiser guy, but this is a bike I can honestly say I enjoyed.

Value: 3.5/5

At php 450,000, and without any bells and whistles, it’s not the most cost-effective bike out there. But the thing is, this is a bike for keeps. You’ll pay for it once, and you’ll ride it, and quite possibly keep it forever. This is high praise for a guy who doesn’t naturally like cruisers.

What’s Hot:

  • Simple
  • Gorgeous
  • Dead easy to ride

What’s Not:

  • No electronic aids
  • Hot hot hot engine

Bottomline:

I will have to find an excuse to borrow this bike more often.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE November 2016 issue

Words and photos by Ren Alcantara

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