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2015 Yamaha SR400 Review | First Ride

2015 Yamaha SR400 Review | First Ride Test

I was sent to the press ride of the new 2015 Yamaha SR400 for one important reason–to see if I could kickstart the bike. Sure, we wanted to see what the cool, retro bike was all about, but the fact that this new ‘old’ bike comes with a kickstarter was intriguing, and the editor wanted to know if a 5′ 6″, 115-pound woman could kick it over successfully and repeatedly.

But, let’s not get into that just yet. There is a lot to like about this cult classic, from its retro good looks to its easy handling personality, it has a carefree, other place and time kind of feel.

An import from Japan, where the SR400 has been a mainstay for years, Yamaha has kept almost all of the specs from the home-market model, so there’s a reason why the 2015 Yamaha SR400 looks like a page out of time.

On quick glance the dual rear shocks, rear drum brake, bench seat, wire wheels, and metal fenders mark the bike as retro, but the front disc and fuel injection are concessions to modernity. Get up close to the SR and you’ll appreciate the very cool details of the old-school clocks, switchgear and grips.

Those who owned 1980s Yamaha SR500s back in the day will surely be pleased with the styling and nostalgia, but they aren’t the primary audience for the SR400. Yamaha is looking at young riders who admire those who have turned 1970s Japanese bikes into bobbed café racers, but may not have the ability or desire to take on a project like that. The 2015 Yamaha SR400 gives you the hipster vibe, right off the showroom floor.

Equally enjoyable to the visual appeal is riding the agreeable SR400. Casual upright ergonomics and handlebars high enough to clear the tank made it easy to maneuver the tight quarters, and paddling the bike into parking spaces is no sweat thanks to the 31-inch seat height. The entry-level rider that Yamaha is targeting will certainly appreciate the confidence that comes from not being overwhelmed by the 384-pound (claimed curb weight) bike.

Power from the air-cooled, two-valve, SOHC 399cc single is predictable — strong but not fast, and that’s just fine. The five-speed gearbox works flawlessly, engages cogs decisively, and the clutch lever has an easy pull.

A spin up Pacific Coast Highway didn’t turn out to be so. Summer beach traffic and road construction tested the bike’s ability to weave through the worst congestion with ease — lane splitting is not problem with the SR400, as it’s light and narrow, with good leverage at the bars and nothing that’s excessively wide. For off-freeway commutes to work, the SR would be a great way to start the day with its relaxed demeanor and non-urgent riding position.

I did not have an opportunity to test it on the freeway, but I managed to run it up to 70 mph very briefly, and the SR felt quite fine with the front end raked out to a relatively relaxed 27.7 degrees (just a tad more tucked in than a Star Bolt). Of course, you’re getting the full-on windblast with the upright riding position on the standard bike, so while the speedo tops out at 100 mph, I’m not sure I’d want to test that limit.

Further up the coast in Malibu, I dove into the hills and ran the SR400 up a favorite canyon. The bike is nicely nimble thanks to a 55.5-inch wheelbase and its sub-400 pound weight, and you can have quite a good time running through the twisties, as long as you’re reasonable about its capabilities. While it’s not a sport bike, it manages to make you feel like you’re going faster than you are — always a good feature — and the strong low to mid-range torque works great coming out of tight turns.

The Bridgestone Battlax tires do a fine job of gripping the road, and cornering clearance allowed me to ride the familiar stretch quickly — or at least it felt quickly. The SR400 has a single 268mm rotor up front grasped by a four-piston caliper, producing appropriate power for the bike’s power, weight, and focus. Engagement is totally manageable, and you won’t be caught out, even if you’re sloppy with the brake lever. The rear drum is soft, as you’d expect. No, there’s no ABS standard, or as an option.

The suspension is fine for someone my weight and will take on the uglies in the street, including dips and speed bumps. It’s not adjustable, of course, except for rear spring preload. In many ways, the lighter you are, the more you’ll like the stock suspension. Undoubtedly, aftermarket options will make themselves available for those who demand more personalized action.

All-day rides are certainly in the cards. Larger riders might feel a bit cramped — this is built for the Japanese market, after all — though they can at least move around on the long, comfortable seat. For me, sitting up right and not being fatigued by too much power or weight, I can ride the SR400 through a tank of gas with no issues.

The one issue I did have, unfortunately, is the kickstarter. Having come from a dirt bike background, I’ve been kickstarting motorcycles for decades. Larger four-strokes have always been my Achilles heel due to my height and weight, and the SR400 turned out to be a challenge for me, even with the benefit of fuel injection.

There’s a process to starting the bike, which includes stroking the kickstarter a few times, squeezing the decompression lever on the left handlebar, pushing the kickstarter down a few more inches while checking the Kick Indicator Window on the top end to make sure you’re just past top dead center, releasing the decompression lever, and finally pushing through the kickstarter with a healthy smooth stroke (kickstarting a fuel injected bike is a bit different than a carb-equipped engine).

It took some practice, but I was able to start the bike a number of times on the first kick. I also had trouble starting it an equal number of times and sometimes had to ask for assistance from a larger male. I wasn’t the only journalist who occasionally struggled with starting the SR400, but due to my size, I had the most difficulty.

So, while keeping it real is cool, just how real do I want to go? Turns out, not that real. I’d have more fun on the SR400 if it had an electric starter, as it’s frustrating and exhausting when it won’t start for whatever reason (I’ll willingly take all the blame).

It’s a shame that the 2015 Yamaha SR400 is kickstart only, as that may put off a chunk of the potential audience — especially women and new riders, two groups otherwise well-suited to the bike. On the other hand, that is exactly the draw some are looking for. Few people are kicking a bike over on the street these days, so that sets the SR400 rider apart in a rather cool way. Test it at the dealer first. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort and can master the routine, you will be rewarded with extra cool points.

Many of us look at bikes on the foreign markets and dream of them arriving on our shores (I’ll take the XT660X supermoto, if anyone is listening), and the SR400 undoubtedly has its devotees. As a city bike, the 2015 Yamaha SR400 is outstanding. It looks great, is fun to ride, and nicely thrifty (claimed 66 mpg). You get to have the cool retro vibe without the hassles of an old bike, and if you can get onboard with the anachronism of kickstarting a fuel-injected bike, you’ll find the 2015 Yamaha SR400 to be a satisfyingly enjoyable ride.

Photography by Tom Riles

Riding Style
Helmet: Arai RX-Q Vibe
Jacket: River Road Women’s Sapphire
Gloves: River Road Women’s Tallahassee
Jeans: Uglybros Guardian-G
Boots: River Road Women’s Square Toe Zipper Harness Brown

2015 Yamaha SR400 Specifications

Engine:

  • Type: 399cc, air-cooled SOHC, 2-valve
  • Bore x stroke: 87.0 x 62.7mm
  • Compression ratio: 8.5: 1
  • Fuel delivery: Fuel Injection
  • Ignition: TCI: Transistor Controlled Ignition
  • Transmission: 5 speed; multiplate wet clutch
  • Final drive: Chain

Chassis:

  • Suspension / front: Telescopic forks; 5.9-in travel
  • Suspension / rear: Swingarm, twin shocks; 4.1-in travel
  • Brakes / front: Hydraulic disc brake, 268mm
  • Brakes / rear: 150mm drum
  • Tires / front: 90/100-18M/C 54S
  • Tires / rear: 110/90-18M/C 61S

Dimensions:

  • Length: 82.1 inches
  • Width: 29.5 inches
  • Height: 43.1 inches
  • Seat Height: 30.9 inches
  • Wheelbase: 55.5 inches
  • Rake (Caster Angle): 27.7º
  • Trail: 4.4 inches
  • Fuel Capacity: 3.2 gal
  • Fuel Economy: 66.2 mpg
  • Wet Weight: 384 lb

2015 Yamaha SR400 MSRP:

  • $5990
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  • Tony Maroni

    I bought my SR500 when I was 16yrs old and still have it. It won’t die. I bought another SR500 and have been enjoying it so much. There is a simple trick to the “one kick start” and can be learned with a little practice. It keeps thiefs away. No bike out there has as many bolt on mods. Here’s the Holy Grail –

    http://japan.webike.net/ps/sr400/#!search&p.k=sr400

    I own a ’82 SECA 750 , CX500 , & my daughter has Buell Blast.
    Nothing compares to the SR. Nice write up but too much worry about the kick start….
    kicking this bike with one kick is easy and my daughter looks really cool doing it.

    Buy one…. you’ll have it for life like me 🙂

  • The 2015 SR400 is virtually the same bike as the SR500 which was sold in the U.S from 1978-1981. The SR500 was discontinued in 1999 but the SR400 has been sold only in Japan since 1978. t didn’t take very long after stumbling upon the news of the bke’s upcoming availability in the U.S. for me to decide to buy one, and after one look I felt it was well worth its $5990 price tag. Why quibble. Vintage SR500s have increased in value $1000 above their original MSRP, unlike most multi-cylinder bikes of the era worth half as much. I picked up my new bike June 25th 2014 from the same salesman that sold me a new 1979 SR500. We were in our twenties then..Scott is 60 now and I turn 55 next month. I started it a few times on the first kick (one time in two kicks). It feels just like my old SR500…with a smoother engine and an easier clutch. It idles smoothly, and there’s no choke or hot start button to fiddle with thanks to the EFI. Power feels close to the 500. After all, it is the same engine while making 6 less hp. It feels less thumpy at slower speeds and the lower torque is evident, but it accelerates as well as the 500, and is more eager to rev through the gears. Brought it up to about 65. Kept altering the speed, following the break-in procedure. The ride comfort and handling is awesome, like I remember. The bike is well balanced and responsive, and the seat is noticeably more comfortable. It was very windy on that first ride home but the bike was unaffected. With the threat of bad weather I’d have to show it off another day. The quality is top-notch and the bike looks even pricier than it is. The engine finish is high and the paint and chrome are flawless. The exclusive U.S. Liquid Graphite metallic paint job with Yamaha black side covers is decidedly striking in person. The aluminum spoke wheels are nicely finished giving the bike a classy, vintage look lacking on the original, while Yamaha chose function over form regarding tires and brakes. In lieu of retro treads (Metzler Perfect Me77) on the ’14 European model, sticky Bridgestone Battlax BT-45s are fitted to the ’15 U.S. model, as is a modern drilled front disc brake rotor. The bike is produced in small numbers. According to Yamaha’s Japanese web-site, 1,300 units per year are being produced for Yamaha’s Japan home market, while its been announced that 500 units will be imported to the U.S this year. Yamaha must be very proud of this model, building it as long as they have, because although the bike has remained virtually the same in design for 36 years, much refinement is evident and it looks and feels like t’s built, not to a price, but with a lot of care and pride.

  • Lisa Williams

    I’m about Kelly’s size and shape and a novice rider. I had trouble starting my SR400 when I first got it. I’ve had it for 8 weeks now and I start it on the first try every time without even thinking about it. Do I wish it had an electric starter when I bought it? Sure. Do I care now? Nah. It’s kind of like getting over that nervousness about driving a stick shift car. Once you’re used to it you don’t even think about it.

  • Lisa Williams

    (The thing is — you really don’t have to kick it that hard. There’s a knack to it, and once you get it, it’s really not a lot of force).

  • ColdKicker

    Thank you, thank you for this article! I just bought the SR400 and I wasn’t even allowed to ride it until after I already bought it. Everywhere on the internet people say how easy this thing is to kick, but I have had the most difficult time. I am 5’4 and weigh 100 lbs and I guess this is the reason. However, it kickstarts so EASY when it is cold, but after I have ridden it, turned it off, and then try to start it back, I can never seem to get it started. I love the bike, other than the kickstart.

  • KHill

    I had a problem starting mine when I first bought it. Sometimes 4 or 5 kicks before it would start. The spark plug was gapped wrong. I gapped it a little wider and it now starts one kick. Love this bike.