Listen to the bar-room experts and they’ll tell you that cruisers are rubbish. They don’t go, don’t handle and don’t stop apparently. Thing is, I’ll wager that few of those pundits haven’t actually ridden one for a while…if ever.
For 2014, the XVS becomes a chopper. Which means the forks get a little more rake, for that authentic chopper look, the front wheel goes up to 21 inches, and the rear tyre gets fatter with an enormous 210-section.
On paper it’s a recipe for handling disaster. Many production bikes have tried this route before and almost all have been clumsy to steer, difficult through corners, and not a lot of fun to ride…
Tell me about the engine.
The V-twin XVS motor might look like an air-cooled antique, but there’s a radiator nestling between the frame rails. What you don’t see is the liquid-cooling plumbing – carefully concealed under panels and petrol tank. Or the twin balancer shafts that reduce vibration. Or the ceramic cylinder bores and digital fuel injection. These are the things that civilise the experience. High speed cruising without the tingles is a welcome change, immaculate fuelling at all rpms is another. 21st century engine tuning is no longer about more power and damn the flexibility: These days the watchword is ease-of use.
It’s got a relatively short piston stroke for a cruiser motor, which helps it rev slightly faster and be less lumpy at town speeds. It all helps deliver smooth power from almost zero revs, and no chugging should you accidentally leave it in too high a gear. The gearbox is slick (for a big v-twin) with a light clutch and well-chosen gear ratios giving reasonable acceleration, and easy cruising at the national limit (and above – the XVS tops out somewhere just above 100mph, so they tell me).
What’s the chassis like?
For those unfamiliar with custom bike terminology, raked-out forks, tall front wheel and oversized, squat rear equals chopper. Less rake, smaller wheels and stripped-back design equals bobber. Half fairing and hard luggage is a bagger, while bells, whistles and passenger sofa is a full dresser.
In principle a raked out, low slung motorcycle with a skinny 21-inch front and squat 210-section rear tyre shouldn’t steer this easily, or hold a line through corners like this does. At a standstill, turning around in the road, the bike feels cumbersome, but on the move it’s a piece of cake.
Much of this comes down to some smart suspension. The front forks are basic, but competent, while the hidden single rear shock absorber rides on a rising rate linkage that compresses quickly at first, but then requires proportionately more force to compress the last few centimetres. Sports bikes have had it for years but on cruisers this is relatively new and it gives the XVS comfort and control over bumps and excellent roadholding in corners too.
Should I buy one?
Yes, probably. Yamaha have evolved their designs from stereotypical Harley look-a-likes into something a little more original. Whether it appeals to you is, of course a matter of individual taste, but the XVS is genuinely worth a look. Build quality seems good and there are a whole load of neat finishing touches.
So what’s it like to ride?
In a word, easy. All the controls are light enough that you never think about them. The power delivery is smooth and linear with enough flexibility that you can leave it in top on the open road. Comfy for a cruiser, although the windblast gets you after 20 minutes sustained high speeds.
Braking is good enough, but you need both front and back to pull up sharply. Which isn’t a problem really because this is a cruiser, not a racer, and if you’re pointing and squirting, then you bought the wrong bike.
Handling, as mentioned before, is surprisingly good. The XVS steers easily without flopping into corners and holds a line through turns without fuss. Ground clearance is adequate and should you touch something down, the footpegs are hinged and so no damage is done.
At a fraction under £9000, the XVS is good value for something that looks good, rides well and has all that tech hidden away.
Tested by: Steve Rose Photography by Jason Critchell
Engine: 1304cc, liquid cooled, SOHC, eight valve v-twin
Power: 71bhp (53kW)@5500rpm
Torque: 76 lb-ft (103Nm)@4000rpm
Kerb weight: 293kg
Seat height: 670mm
Tank capacity: 15 litres
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