Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yamaha SR400 Ride Review

This is a very brief ride review of the newly introduced Yamaha SR400.  I am of the age that grew up with bikes that looked and performed very much as the SR400 does today.  Make no mistake that bikes have advanced in performance and technology since the heyday of single cylinder motorcycles.  The SR400 smiles in the face of those advances, and instead of giving us cutting edge performance and advanced gadgetry, it gives us an uncomplicated ride through our world.

If you want the hard numbers on the bike, you can find them on Yamaha's website, but you need to ride this machine if you are to appreciate what it is and is not.  The bad thing is, there will be few of these bikes brought in to the US this year, so you may have trouble finding one to ride.  Yamaha says they plan to bring in 500 units.  I suppose they will see who buys them and what demand they bring.

Physically, the SR400 is small.  Most dimensions are within an inch and a half of the Suzuki TU250.  It also tips the scales at only 384 pounds with a full load of fuel.  The paint is very well done, flawless and with a nice silver grey metallic finish.  The frame welds are smooth and pretty, at least if you are strange enough (I am) to think a well done weld can be pretty.  There is little plastic on the bike and the chrome is smooth and bright.

Let's start it up and take a quick ride.  Turn on the key and you'll hear a subdued hum as the fuel pump builds pressure for the fuel injection system.  Swing the kick start lever out into position and push it through gently and feel when the engine comes up on compression.  Release the kick start lever to the normal position.  Now pull the compression release lever with your left fingers and press the kick start lever slowly until you see the silver indicator in the little window on the top of the right side of the cylinder head, then release the compression release and return the kick start lever to the normal position.  (with practice, you can do this without looking at the little window, but for now...) Once you have completed these little tasks, the engine is in a position that you can build a little momentum before it comes back up on compression as you kick it through.  Put your foot on the kick start and kick down like you want to start the engine.  Nothing crazy here but you do need to use a solid quick movement, after all you are starting a motorcycle engine.

The engine will come to life on the first kick and settle into an immediate and smooth idle.  Let the bike warm while you pull your helmet and jacket on and it is ready to go.

I have very few miles on the bike so am still following the break-in procedure that limits engine RPM.  Nevertheless, the bike pulls away from a stop effortlessly and works smoothly through the gears.  I have been riding it at only about 45-50 mph to stay within the break-in limits.  At these speeds it is smoothish.  Not as smooth as a multi cylinder engine, but then how could it be with just one piston moving up and down.  It has gotten smoother as the miles have built, but I suspect it'll always let us know that it is a single cylinder engine.  There is no where near enough vibration to make hands or feet tingle like we have had on many bikes of the past.  Instead, there is just enough to let us know that it is alive and enjoying the ride with us.

Riding the bike is very simple, it is light to the touch with no twitchiness.  It seems to follow the curves just by thinking about making the curves.  The light weight and the 29 inch wide bars make steering a breeze.  The narrow tires track straight and true through the curves and it is easy to change lines mid curve.  It is as if the road is suddenly wider than you remember it being.

The SR400 had a full tank of fuel when I picked it up at the dealer and the first fill-up netted 74.6 miles per gallon.  The tight engine no doubt reduced the mileage and the gentle riding increased the mileage.  We will keep an eye on it and report back as it breaks in.

This bike is everything the TU has been for us.  It invites us to enjoy the ride, the journey, the world.  It does not have a clock and that is good.  You are not supposed to ride this bike just to get somewhere and especially if that means getting somewhere at a specific time.  Instead it wants to show you the long horn cattle that you would otherwise blast past.  It wants you to enjoy the serenity of a stop at a park, or to ponder the past and the future fate of a vacant building.  To smell and feel your world.

The Yamaha SR400 may very well be a time machine that can take us back to a more relaxed state of mind.  A gentler and kinder world where we appreciate the sight of dragon flies and the smell of horses.

The SR now has a few more miles on it and it is getting smoother and freer everyday.  The engine revs easier and feels less tight.  I'll be changing the oil and setting the valves soon as it is nearly due for the first check-up.

So far the bike is everything we expected it to be.  That is it is light and agile enough to make you feel the bike reacts to your thoughts rather than your inputs.  It has taken us down some nice back roads and yet it is capable of cruising at highway speeds.  Still, like the Suzuki TU250, it is not very happy on a turnpike or any other real highway.  It wants to enjoy a more leisure poke through a rural setting.

Last tank of gas gave 75+ MPG.  I have still been riding it gently, so we'll see if it continues to get this mileage as I begin to ride it a little harder.

Yamaha SR500 / SR400 Review

Airboats, Alligators, and riding Florida Back Roads

We had a nice day on the Vulcan last weekend.  The plan was to explore the back roads around home and stop for a sandwich at one of the many fish camps in the area.

We rode south on Canoe Creek Road toward our first planned stop at the no name park on Lake Marion.  As we arced past a small stand of cypress trees we came across a small group of bison.  Florida does have a small herd of re-introduced bison, but these big guys were more likely an experiment by a cattle rancher.

Bison remind me of a powerful steam locomotive.  All strength and business.  They were not super happy with me trying to take their pictures, they all turned their backs to me and ambled away.

A few miles south of our "buffalo" stop we had to slow to a near stop to let a couple sandhill cranes cross the road.  Sandhill cranes are big, they can get 4 feet tall and their wingspan stretches to 7 feet.  They are also one of the tamest of wild creatures.  We have had them walk into the garage while we were in the driveway washing our bikes and they will peck seeds out of your hand if you allow them to.

Sandhill Cranes
We continued to shuffle our way south and found ourselves on the Pea Vine Road, a small gravel road the runs from near Kenansville to near Yee Haw Junction.  Pea Vine meanders through pasture lands and hammocks.  There is little traffic and plenty to look at and enjoy.  The smell of the hammocks was wonderful and we tried to keep breathing in and not let the air back out.  It seemed a perfect place to snap a few shots of the Vulcan.

I brag about the beauty of central Florida's "old Florida" and then make everyone look around my bike to see what it looks like...

From the southern end of Pea Vine, we worked our way north and east to make a stop for eats at the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp.  I had my usual dish of gator tail.  While at the fish camp we talked our way into an airboat ride on the St. Johns river.  The St. Johns meanders through flat swampy land.  A good knowledge of the area is needed or you can find yourself lost and among hungry alligators.

While awaiting our boat ride we found a brown water snake swimming by the dock as well as turtles and gators.

If you are unfamiliar with an airboat, let me tell you that they are extremely shallow draft flat bottom boats that are powered by either older air cooled aircraft engines or modern automobile engines.  Either way, the engines power pusher propellers that propel the boat across the water.  They can slide across damp ground and over plant growth in and along the rivers without leaving any harm.  They are noisy and an absolute blast to ride.  They can also take you very close to wild life such as birds and alligators.

Alligators of all sizes can hide easily in the water

This is a small guy that has just his head sticking out of his den.

He was not happy with me being close to him

Another small one. About 4.5 feet long

This is free range country
A big boy sunning
Florida has quite a bit of free range in this part of the state.  I am told that gators do not bother the cattle much.  There are so many alligators in the area that it would be easy to get into trouble with them if you were not careful.

After enjoying a day on the bike and spending time on the St.Johns, we chugged our way back home and rolled the bike into the garage just as the sun set lit the skies with beautiful shades of reds and oranges.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Yamaha SR400 Teaser

Some photos of the SR400 & TU250.  More when I have a little time.