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
Helmet: Arai RX-Q Vibe
Jacket: River Road Women’s Sapphire
Gloves: River Road Women’s Tallahassee
Jeans: Uglybros Guardian-G
2015 Yamaha SR400 Specifications
- 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
- 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
- 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: