2015 Yamaha SR400 - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

Yamaha brings back its street thumper

2015 Yamaha SR400 on road action

Action shot #2

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles

For any retro-loving motorcycle enthusiast, the eye glides along the sweet, svelte lines of the 2015 Yamaha SR400 just like it did in 1978. Because Yamaha got it right back then and correctly chose not to change much since. But the defining element of the new-again-to-the-US Yamaha single is the kickstarter that folds out on the right-hand side of bike. It's your one and only way to start the bike. And that is excellent.

It was a sunny, beautiful California summer day for our first ride on the bike in Venice Beach. After we made our way to the shiny-fendered row of “Liquid Graphite”-painted bikes, Yamaha product planner Derek Brooks gave us “training” on how to start one. As a Velocette MSS, Norton Commando 850 and Yamaha RD350 owner, I felt fully qualified. But there was a guy on the ride who said he’d never kickstarted a motorcycle. The very idea...

Kickstarting the SR400 is a (mostly) vintage experience made modern and easy with electronic fuel injection. The 399cc single retains the sight glass on the cam that allows you to observe when the engine is in the optimal position for kickstarting. It’s really not necessary to use it, but it is helpful for figuring it out at first. Basically, just kick though to get the piston up against compression, pull the left-bar-mounted decompression lever, and take the piston a bit past TDC. Then give a smooth, swift kick like you mean it, but without violence, and it will start every time, hot or cold, no choke ever required (because there isn’t one). I find satisfaction in kicking a bike to life. Others may not. Particularly if they stall at a light or some other terribly inconvenient place.

2015 Yamaha SR400 engine details

Engine.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles

Luckily, the SR400 is pretty hard to stall. Fueling is excellent and bottom-end torque is ample (relative to the displacement). A forgiving clutch and a substantial amount of flywheel inertial make leaving stops easy and smooth. Unlike old carbureted singles, which have a tendency to randomly flame out at idle or on transitional throttle once in a while, the SR400 just chuffs along at a dead smooth idle and responds to throttle consistently. On the CW dyno, the engine produced 24 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 21 pound feet of torque at 5,500. The second number is a bit misleading because there is also a 20-pound-foot peak at around 2,500 revs, with a little dip in the midrange before it rises again. Redline is 7,000 rpm.

It’s a reasonable amount of horsepower for running around town and it carries the SR400 through its five gears to 80 mph (and beyond) without too much drama, but maintaining cruise speeds of more than 65 mph raise the vibration level quite a bit. It’s livable at high speeds, but more lovable at 60 mph and under.

The KYB fork has soft springing and light damping that made my short city ride pretty comfortable. I kicked up the rear spring preload stepped adjusters on the also-KYB dual shocks (using tools from the good toolkit) to better carry my 220 pounds. While I wouldn’t describe suspension action as supple, the freeway compliance is decent and steering is light and sure.

Small and compact, the SR400 is a claimed 384 pounds fully fueled and ready to ride. A 30.9-inch seat height and exceptional narrowness make the bike very easy to handle and a flat-footer at stops for most any fully grown human. That seat also proved to be supportive and comfortable. There is something to be said for a flat “vintage” seat of this design. Wheelbase is just 55.5 inches and the bike is very agile. Need to take a riding test to get your license? The SR400 is a great candidate.

2015 Yamaha SR400 static side view

Static right-side view.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles

It’s a little ironic that the 2015 model has wire-spoke wheels with inner tubes and a rear drum brake when the original 1978 SR500 had front and rear discs and cast wheels with no tubes. But Yamaha is trying to accomplish something different here. In ’78, the bike was a modern interpretation of a classic British 500cc single. Today, the SR400 is a classic interpretation of itself, so to speak. Oh, and if you are wondering why it is 399cc, it’s due to tiered licensing in Japan, where getting a license for 400cc and larger motorcycles is far more difficult.

The pair of 18-inch alloy rims, steel fenders and clean styling give the bike a nice presence, while the centerstand lends a level of convenience that is not so common these days. There is a pretty good aftermarket for the engine with lots of performance stuff. We’d go right for the stroker crank to take it back up to 500cc (shop eBay), and bump compression up from the stock 8.5:1 by a point or so. And get a freer flowing pipe, too. It’s a simple engine that lends itself to tinkering by a DIY owner.

And just think. Because it’s new there won’t be any stripped or rusted fasteners. That’s worth the $5990 asking price right there. Well, that and the satisfaction of kicking your motorcycle to life.

SPECIFICATIONS
ENGINE
TYPE air-cooled single, 2 valves per cylinder
DISPLACEMENT 399cc
BORE x STROKE 87.0 x 62.7mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 8.5:1
FUEL INJECTION EFI
TRANSMISSION
GEARBOX five-speed
FINAL DRIVE chain
CLUTCH wet, multiplate clutch
CHASSIS
FRAME double-cradle steel frame
WHEELBASE 55.5 in.
RAKE 27.7°
TRAIL 4.4 in.
FRONT SUSPENSION telescopic fork
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL 5.9 in.
REAR SUSPENSION swingarm
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL 4.1 in.
FRONT TIRE 90/100-18M/C 54S
REAR TIRE 110/90-18M/C 61S
FRONT BRAKE 268mm single disc
REAR BRAKE 150mm drum
FUEL TANK CAPACITY 3.2 gal.
WET WEIGHT 384 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
HEIGHT 43.1 in.
LENGTH 82.1 in.
2015 Yamaha SR400 on street action

Action shot #1

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 street action

Action shot #3

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 urban street action

Action shot #4

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 urban road action

Action shot #5

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 city scape action

Action shot #6

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 city street action

Action shot #7

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 static side view

Static left-side view.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 front wheel details

Front wheel (left-side view).

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 front wheel details

Front wheel (right-side view).

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 headlight details

Headlight.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 instrument panel details

Instrument panel.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 engine details

Engine close-up #1

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 engine details

Engine close-up #2

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 foot peg details

Foot peg.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 exhaust details

Exhaust.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 seat details

Seat.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles
2015 Yamaha SR400 tail section details

Tail section.

2015 Yamaha SR400Tom Riles