geekonabike (Addict) View all posts in this topic  
Thu Jun 27, 2013 12:18 am
Tried a Yamaha Bolt. Think I'll keep my '06 Sportster.        

When I heard about the closing of the Suzuki/Yamaha dealership where I bought my '07 DL650 V-Strom (new) and my 2006 XL883 standard (used), I thought I'd pay them a visit to shoot the bull, and see what I might be able to take off their hands. I was surprised when one of the guys said I could come back with a helmet and demo their Yamaha Bolt--the version without the rear shock reservoirs. Not wanting to be impolite, I bought some Suzuki "Racing" 15W50 synthetic oil for a friend ($48/case or $4/quart), went home and came back today riding my Sportster to take them up on it.

They could only find the right-side mirror for the Bolt, but I hopped on and away I went, to the first I-40 exit, for a short blast to another exit, and back through town.

Of course it's a brand-new (400mi) bike with seven years less age than my mostly stock, carbureted Sportster, but I think I'll keep what I have. For what it's worth, here are my non-expert impressions of the Bolt.

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The Bolt's engine is quite eager, and less "agricultural," being a newer fuel-injected, 942cc, solid-mounted, 60-degree V-twin (Harleys are 45-degrees) borrowed off the Star 950 cruiser. Being new it was also quite "tight" on acceleration and while I did feel every combustion event, it was still rubbery-smooth (not electric-motor smooth!). They are definitely trying to capture some Harley mystique there too, probably hoping for a pleasant throb. Clutch action was new-clutch strong but easily modulated. Nothing dramatic happened--pro or con--as I accelerated from a stop onto a downhill ramp to merge at 70-75 mph, and got off to do a little in-town driving.

The transmission is Japanese--'nuff said. It was plenty smooth so it was a non-issue. When I first put the bike in first gear it did feel like the clutch was not entirely disengaged, as the bike at first seemed to keep pulling a little after that usual first-gear clunk. This disappeared, as it usually does on such bikes when you get moving, especially in 100F heat like today. I wonder if it uses the same oil for everything in that motor (motor, transmission, clutch). Probably so. Anyhow it took a little riding for the clutch plates to disengage fully at stops.

I didn't notice at first, but my left thigh actually kind of sat on top of the rear cylinder's head if my leg got pulled in but lazy. There's even a little solid wire loop around its side on top, probably to keep someone's leg from brushing up against that cylinder. In fact it seemed like the motor was a bit offset to the left, perhaps balanced somewhat on the right by the intake and exhaust. The best picture I can find at the moment to illustrate where that cylinder sits on the left is this one:



I imagine that could cause some heat issues on a longer ride. As with a Sportster, the right leg needs to somewhat avoid the air intake box but I'm used to that. A higher and more rearward seat might help these issues on the Bolt, and they are promising a lot of accessories, and have a lot of holes in the rear fender, filled with little buttons for now. The seat being a bit low probably helped on the highway where I never felt I was being blown off the back, like you do with some of the flatter-seat naked bikes like a Bonneville or some of the old UJM's.

When I got back on the Sportster later, I really felt that the Harley's motor was better tucked in than the Bolt's, even if Sporty's rear cylinder is just as far rearward as the Yamahas's. Looking at pictures I bet the Bolt doesn't use a knife-and-fork connecting rod setup, but has the front cylinder a bit to the right of the rear. Hard to say without having it in front of me again while thinking about that. Maybe Yamaha has the cylinders in different planes to improve cooling? (I used my Sporty's oil cooler on the way home because on that short ride I was seeing 230+F and rising on the oil tank thermometer. It never got much over 210 on the way home with the cooler not being bypassed, for what it's worth.)

The Bolt's motor was a bit of a handful in town. Acceleration was great and controllable and satisfying, but then trying to cruise at 35-40 was harder, with the throttle response being somewhat on/off abrupt and no gear selection short of lugging seeming to make that go away. This may have been exacerbated by more driveline lash than what little the Sportsters suffer there, but I could be wrong about that cause. If I had to guess I'd say it was more a fuel injection issue but I could be wrong.

A traffic light that turned red a little unexpectedly let me see that the brakes work very well, as reported elsewhere. Also reported elsewhere is how annoyingly difficult it is to take in the speed on the digital speedometer, with large black numbers on a not so light background, and a bit too much style to the numbers ("is that a one or a seven? Oh, it's a 1."). Reports are that it is especially hard to read in peak sun, which was not quite the situation I was in since it was about 5 p.m.

The Bolt's steering was perfectly manageable with the wide and fairly flat bar, though the bar was kind of needed since the bike's steering did want to whip around a bit more than my Sportster's. In other words it didn't want to spend a lot of time between straight ahead and full-lock, but there have been many motorcycles that were far worse on that. Maybe this was just because of the tire's barely scrubbed profile?

It's hard to tell which motor's buzz would be worse on a long highway ride: the 4-point rigid mounted Bolt's, or the rubber-mounted Sportster's. Their buzzes seemed somewhat similar from my brief Bolt ride, though I'm not sure the Bolt has any "sweet spots" where they smooth out due to either rpm's or, say, foot position. I did feel like the Bolt could really annoy there on a longer ride but it's hard to tell with so little experience with it. I do believe the Bolt's grips are buzzier than MY Sporty's, as was the seat but the Bolt's pegs are pretty thick rubber and do probably take away a fair amount of buzz. It's still there though. Currently I prefer my Sporty's more rubbery buzz to that bike's perhaps higher frequency buzz, though I may be completely misreading that. We'll call it a tie until further notice. Still, what was rubbery on the Bolt upon acceleration was less so at highway speeds, and was just more like buzz.

Before heading back, I stopped and removed my earplugs to see what I might have been missing. I then got the impression that the Bolt's exhaust was louder than my Harley's stock exhaust. It's not a bad note, but its volume did actually bother my ears slightly. It's probably smoother and less throaty than the Sporty's, perhaps because of the 2-into-1 style exhaust.

Turn signals were clear lens, orange bulb style making bulbs a wee bit harder to come by I suppose, and the turn signal controls were of a Japanese style, left-thumb-only push-to-cancel type, with a single idiot light with two arrows <--> for the rider to see that the signals are on but not which direction. Kind of cheap I think to not have separate left/right indicators for idiot lights. Heck, my Kymco SCOOTER had that.

Like many other Japanese bikes, it was a kind of cartoon imitation of the Harley, though the Japanese do refine a few things here and there just like you see in cartoons. Character might not be one of them, just depending upon your taste. (I was a fan of Johnny Sokko and the Flying Robot myself, and Space Giants. Ultraman too on a slow day, but I digress.)

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I don't mind pointing out that Harley should have taken my advice these last few years--shocking that they didn't!--and had something like a standard XL883 with taller suspension (like on mine) on their floors for taller people like me to be tempted, and so reviewers would not be left with comparing the Bolt to the Iron, so named because of what your butt and spine should be made of to ride it very far when stock, with its lack of suspension. That or the SuperLow and you're going to read about cornering clearance issues that are a bit less present on the Bolt.

The gripes I read about the Iron in the comparison is that it has less power and smaller grips, and maybe slightly stiffer suspension than the Bolt, especially the "R-Spec" with the reservoirs outside the rear shocks.

Well the Dynos show peak power and torque to be pretty darned close, but the Yamaha's drops with a little drama in the last part of the rev range while the Harely's keeps building until you hit the rev limiter. The grips on my bike are Harley vintage-style bigger rubber grips that I love, and so which grips are better is such a matter of taste it's hardly worth mentioning.

The gripes about the Bolt were that it's not a Harley. Well, that and that's it's too much like the Harley in some ways (see again suspension, particularly bottoming out), and that valves are supposed be inspected every 4,000 miles, while the Harleys need no adjusting (as they are hydraulically adjusted).

Here are a few comparisons from the "professionals." I'm sure there will be more.

http://www.motorcycle.com/shoot-outs/2013-harley-davidson-883-iron-2014-star-bolt-comparison

http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/10/16203/Motorcycle-Article/13-Sportster-883-Iron-vs-Star-Bolt-vs-Bonneville.aspx

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonfogelson/2013/04/15/2014-star-bolt-new-motorcycle-test-ride-and-review/

Thanks for reading,
Mike D.

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