2020 Yamaha TW200 Review: Fat Tires Live!
Sometimes a bike has been around so long that it blends into the scenery, even when it sticks out like a sore thumb. Half-motorcycle/half-ATV, the Yamaha TW200 dual sport motorcycle has been riding under the radar since the 1900s. However, with the onslaught of new riders getting on the trails, we thought it was high time to give this beginner-friendly fat-tired motorcycle another look.
The TW’s retro-futuristic look reminds us of 1970s drawings of bikes of the future. Actually, the Yamaha TW200 dates back to 1987 with the concept of a fat-tired dual sport bike originating with the 1972 Suzuki RV-90 Rover. Given that there’s no competition for the TW—especially now that the Suzuki VanVan 200 is gone—we don’t have to wonder if the TW is the best bike in its class. Instead, we are just judging if it’s good enough.
In many ways, the TW200 may be the perfect beginner motorcycle for someone who requires a street-legal machine. Virtually every aspect of the 200’s design focuses on ease of use.
The motor is a novice’s dream. An electric starter means no frustrating kicking, and the power won’t intimidate anyone. The rider will have to learn the intricacies of a clutch and five-speed gearbox, though the light-touch levers help matters along. Also, because it is carbureted, the use of a choke is another primeval skill to be mastered, especially in cold climes.
It’s really a fun canyon and neighborhood motorcycle. Keep it off the freeway, as it is not thrilled about to cruising above 55 mph and tops out at around 70.
Again, it’s the fat, round-profile tires to the rescue as the 200 will lean into a turn at angles that would send a traditional dual sport bike sliding. Although street acceleration isn’t staggering, an aggressive twist of the throttle will put some space between you and nearby cars coming off a red light. The front disc brake and rear drum are fine, given the light weight of the TW200, along with its limited engine performance and large-footprint tires.
You can go on all-day urban rides and enjoy absolutely every single minute. People smile at you, and if you have to blaze a trail not strictly approved by the authorities, the Yamaha TW200 graciously obliges in an amenable manner. I was able to take the TW200 on some urban trails surprisingly close to downtown Los Angeles without attracting negative attention. One local saw me, and smiled at my cute little whispering steed. That wouldn’t have happened had I been on a KTM 500 EXC-F—the LAPD would have been helicoptering in.
Thanks to an ultra-low seat height of just over 31 inches—nearly an inch lower than the Yamaha XT250—the rider’s boot soles will be on a first-name basis with the dirt. This translates to serious confidence boosting. If there’s a problem, it’s easy to put an authoritative foot down, or paddle along, as needed. While the 2020 Yamaha TW200 isn’t especially light, its center of gravity is low enough that its 280 pounds rarely overpower the rider.
Two factors keep the TW200’s seat height low. First, the suspension is short—only about six inches at each end. Second, those fat tires have mini-size diameters —18 inches up front and 14 inches in the rear.
The Bridgestone Trail Wing tires work far better off-road than you might think. They slow the handling down to a beginner-friendly pace, plus they’re more than happy to climb out of ruts and find traction where standard-sized narrower dirt tires will spin. If mud or sand is on the menu, the TW gobbles them up nicely, as it puts a lot of rubber on the terrain.
We can’t muster up quite the same enthusiasm for the suspension. It is harsh and short. You will be familiar with every pebble on the trail and every ripple in the pavement. If you push the TW hard, something that no sane person would do, the forks flex like a gymnast while the shock predictably jolts you.
Still, if you’re patient and persistent, the TW can take you almost anywhere. It does have something of an all-terrain pedigree thanks to the tires—anywhere you can’t ride it, you can easily hop off and push it! We were repeatedly surprised at where the little 196cc motor was willing to take us.
In a world where wives, girlfriends, and daughters (no, you shouldn’t have all three) are getting into off-roading, the 2020 Yamaha TW200 offers a street-legal option that goes out of its way to accommodate the rankest of beginners. It certainly won’t get you off your traditional dual-sport mount. Still, if you are forced to take a spin on it, you may hand the squatty fat-tired dual-sport motorcycle back to your significant other with a generous smile on your face.
Photography by Kelly Callan
2020 Yamaha TW200 Specs
Bore x stroke: 67.0 x 55.7mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Valvetrain: SOHC, two valves
Fueling: Mikuni 28mm carb
Transmission: Constant-mesh 5-speed
Final drive: Chain
Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable fork; 6.3 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Non-adjustable shock; 5.9 inches
Front tire: 130/80-18
Rear tire: 180/80-14
Front brake: 220mm disc
Rear brake: 110mm drum
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 52.2 inches
Rake: 25.8 degrees
Trail: 3.4 inches
Seat height: 31.1 inches
Ground clearance: 10.4 inches
Fuel capacity 1.8 gallons
Estimated fuel economy: 78 mpg
Curb weight: 278 pounds
Color: Sandy Beige
2020 Yamaha TW200 Price: $4599 MSRP