Here is our first impression following a first ride on the Yamaha SCR950, which is closely based on the XV950
Is it really a Scrambler? We find out
BOOOMPH! AS the SCR950’s front tyre hits the bump in the dirt road the forks compress almost to their bottoms, and the handlebars twitch violently. From my position standing up on the wide foot-pegs I’m thrown momentarily off-balance, before the Yamaha recomposes itself and rumbles along contentedly again.
Any bike could generate a similar wobble when ridden off-road, but few scramblers would be knocked quite so out of shape by a Sardinian dirt-road divot that was so shallow I’d barely noticed it. Then again, the SCR950 is distinctly different from any others in the growing street scrambler class, because it is essentially a fairly lightly modified V-twin cruiser.
The SCR is closely based on the XV950 — known as the Star Bolt in the US, its main market — whose launch in July 2013 gave the first hint that Yamaha were emerging from their lengthy creditcrunch influenced hibernation. Both models date back further to the XVS950 Midnight Star with which Yamaha introduced the 942-cc, air-cooled V-twin engine in 2009.
Neither of those low-slung cruisers seems like obvious inspiration for a street scrambler. But Yamaha wanted to expand their Sport Heritage division with a classically styled, vaguely dualpurpose rival to models including BMW’s R nineT Scrambler, Ducati’s Scrambler Desert Sled and Triumph’s Street Scrambler.
The XV, with its SOHC, 60-degree V-twin engine and traditional twinshock chassis, seemed like the simplest starting point. Its essentially dated engine and chassis layout offer old-
school charm to compensate for the lack of modern engineering or performance. The eight-valve unit has been updated slightly to get through Euro 4, but its maximum output of 54 PS at 5,500 rpm hasn’t changed for eight years.
The chassis, on the other hand, is re-jigged. The tubular steel main frame is retained, but its rear subframe is replaced by a taller structure that increases seat height from the XV’s ultra-low 690 millimetres to 830 mm, and provides a base for a slim, flat seat designed to allow movement on the bike. The riding position is further transformed by a wide, braced handlebar and foot-pegs that are moved 30 mm up and 150 mm rearwards.
Suspension follows the XV950R’s format of 41-mm forks and remotereservoir shocks, the SCR’s revised units giving more travel although there’s still only 135 mm up front and 110 mm at the rear, minimal by off-road standards. Wheels are wire-spoked and alloyrimmed, in diameters of 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, wearing Bridgestone’s dual-purpose Trail Wings. Braking is by a single, wavy 298-mm disc at each end, with twin-pot calipers up front.
That ageing air-cooled engine gives an authentic 1980s look, and Yamaha have done a fine job with the styling, especially the shapely fuel tank that has a distinct hint of XT500 about it. Steel mudguards, oval race-style side-panels and the siamesed exhaust with its upswept single silencer add to the appeal; other details include fork gaiters and a foam bar protector with Faster Sons logo.
The XV950-style single round instrument panel adds a contrastingly modern touch but there was no doubting the SCR’s retro feel when the motor
fired up with an air-cooled rustling and a soft V-twin chugging from the pipe. The bike pulled away easily, feeling unstressed and slightly agricultural, its sweet low-rev fuelling and reasonable smoothness making it a pleasant place from where to watch the Sardinian scenery drift by.
Performance was nothing to get excited about but very adequate for road use, those 50-or-so horses sufficient for fairly lazy 110 km/h cruising, and gentle acceleration from there towards a top speed of about 160 km/h. The solidlymounted V-twin stayed smooth enough to encourage me to work it fairly hard; the five-speed transmission was slightly ponderous and the belt final drive whined at speed. The overall feel was slightly crude, but that fitted the SCR’s image just fine.
Same goes for the handling, which was stable, forgiving and respectably light, at least for a bike whose fuelled-up weight figure of 252 kilograms means it’s slightly heavier than BMW’s doubly powerful R 1200 GS. The Yamaha flicked into turns with minimal effort required on that wide handlebar, though it quickly ran out of ground clearance with a scrape of foot-rest that revealed those cruiser origins, long before the Trail Wings ran out of grip.
Braking was similarly basic, that twinpot front caliper requiring a firm squeeze to bring the hefty Yamaha to a halt with much urgency. The ABS was fairly easily activated; even so, at least the relatively sharp rear disc was there for assistance if required. That, of course, is the only electronic assistance, because the Yamaha’s essential simplicity means there’s no sign of multiple modes or traction control.
I hadn’t expected the launch to incorporate much, if any, off-road riding, so was pleasantly surprised to be led through a shallow stream and on to a series of dirt roads, where the SCR was fun despite approaching its limits even on relatively flat terrain. It felt slightly strange to be standing on the broad pegs of this heavy, softly-sprung V-twin as it bounced and crunched along, handlebars twitching slightly worryingly as the short-travel, under-damped suspension struggled to cope with the smallest of rocks or bumps.
The dated design (or, maybe, just the cruiser origins) also shows up in the limited steering lock, and the way that the air-box juts into your right leg when you’re sitting down. That single display is basic, with no tacho and just a tripmeter and clock alongside the digital speedo. If there had been a fuel consumption display it would probably have shown about 5.0 litres/100 km, giving a range of roughly 200 km from the diminutive, 13.2-litre tank.
That should help make the V-twin cheap to run, but it’s a shame that while numerous recent Yamahas are also outstanding value for money, the same can’t be said of the SCR. On the contrary, its price seems high given its level of technology and the age of key components. Perhaps, the market for retro style street scramblers is less pricesensitive than most, as the Yamaha’s more modern rivals from BMW, Ducati and Triumph are even more expensive.
So in some ways the SCR950 has price and even value on its side, although the mere hint of scrambler implied by those SCR initials is about right. This quirky converted cruiser is not designed for remotely serious offroading, even if fitted with accessory bash-plate and engine bars, but it has a strong, appealingly down-to-earth character to go with its rugged retro look and respectably versatile, riderfriendly performance.
60-degree, air-cooled V-twin looks straight out of the ’80s
Round digital instrument panel adds a modern touch