My Thoughts: 2015 Yamaha SR400

In the past couple of years there’s been a resurgence in small displacement motorcycles, with even Harley-Davidson deciding to build a newbie-friendly 500cc bike. Manufacturers are finally realizing that not everyone wants a monstrosity of a motorcycle, and let’s face it, gas isn’t getting any cheaper.

sr400

Straight outta 1978. Photo credit: yamahamotorsports.com

Yamaha had been a little left out of the small bike market in North America, with nothing in between the ancient V-Star (a re-badged Virago) 250 and the 600cc sporty-but-comfortable FZ6R. Enter the SR400. Its looks can only be described as retro…so retro that owners will be fielding questions from strangers asking how long it took to restore it. Though the bike is fuel-injected (rated at 66 mpg!), the modern touches stop there. The engine is air-cooled, and rear stopping power is provided by a drum brake. And then there’s the component that I believe will really hurt sales: the kickstart.

I know what Yamaha was trying to do with this bike. By not installing an electric starter they’re keeping costs down, and at the same time appealing to the niche market of flannel-shirted, Blundstone-wearing motorcyclists that want to be able to kickstart their bike. Fair enough. To be capable of kickstarting a motorcycle is “cool” or “macho” I suppose, or perhaps even “hip”. If you grew up around dirtbikes, kicking over a motorcycle is a no-brainer; top dead centre, compression release, KICK and you’re moving. However, if your only previous experience on two wheels was your old CCM 10-speed, a kickstart-only motorcycle might be a little intimidating.

If I was in the market for an economical standard motorcycle, I would NOT consider the SR400, for the same reason why I refuse to ride Mark’s DT200 in traffic: the kickstart. Sure, I have no trouble getting the bike started in a parking lot, where it doesn’t really matter if I have to kick her over three or four times before I get it right. But my extremely vivid imagination conjures up scenarios in which I’m casually cruising through downtown and because of construction I get detoured up Hill O’Chips. I inadvertently stall the bike (which I never do, but this isn’t the logical side of my brain talking), and then have to struggle with holding it upright on a very steep hill while I try to kickstart it…with the line of traffic behind me growing increasingly impatient. Thanks but no thanks. A kickstart is a great option on a bike in case of battery failure, but I really need an electric start and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that.

I think that Yamaha’s decision to make the SR400 kickstart-only will serve to put off the very market that they’re trying to break into. Nice design guys, but how about offering an electric start as a low-cost option?

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Posted on April 20, 2014, in Behind the Visor and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Krista:

    I think you’re right. A kickstarter as an emergency way to start your bike when the battery fails, not to use everyday

    My friend loaned me his XT500, which was a single and had a compression release so you could find TDC in order to start the bike. Unless someone showed you how to do it, I don’t think you could start the bike

    I love the styling of the SR400/500/600 series. I also think it should have disc brakes, back and front

    bob
    A weekend photographer or Riding the Wet Coast

    • Disc brakes on the rear would be a nice feature, and safer as well. I guess it’s hard for manufacturers to strike the right balance between retro and modern…

    • Robert Spinello

      The rear disc was removed in 1980 (in the US) because it had a tendency to lock up. It happened to me on my ;79. just slid through an intersection! True retro thumpers (50’s) would be drums front and rear which was later adopted on the final SR500s, but a compromise has yielded back to the front disc, which is best.

    • Lone Browncoat

      Don’t be stupid people, with my 1978 XS750 [true it had electronic ‘no points’ ignition] all I had to do was feel when one of the cylinders was at “top dead centre” and it never took more than two kicks, and 99% of the time only one, to fire it up. The electric starter was the one I used in an emergency, like a red-light stall, in rain or on muddy ground, for with fairing and hard bags and the rest approaching 900 lbs, getting it uptight after a tipping was a pain. It made me miss my Honda 450 scrambler or that I had bought the XS650 instead. So I’m sticking with the middle-sized bikes.

      • Lone Browncoat

        To add, if you have a battery failure, defunct charging system or left your lights on, you’re still not going to get started, not without a magneto, because a drained battery will not provide spark, these days you’ll only find magnetos on custom builds.

  2. I agree with your comments re: the kickstart-only feature on the new (“old”) SR400. It is a cool lookin’ Bike though (sadly not yet available in Canada from what I’ve read) and with this re-surgence in “Retro” lookin’ motorcycles it be nice to see Kawasaki introduce their W800 “Bonneville” to North America.

  3. Robert Spinello

    Who would have ever thought Yamaha would bring the SR back to the U.S. after 3 decades! I bought a new black ’79 SR500 leftover in 1980 for $1700. It was my first bike and something about it attracted me…probably its good looks and how it felt..nimble, light. I bought a Ruby Red ’80 SR500 used a couple of years later (missed my ’79 after selling it) and kept it 10 years. I sold it in 1990 for a mere $600. (couldn’t give it away then. I always toyed with going for an XS 650 or Maxim 650 but I always come back to the SR
    I will be buying a new ’15 SR400 next month…The first one to arrive at the same dealer (and salesman) I bought the ’79 from. I don’t care if its $5000 or $6000. If you plan on keeping it for 10-20 years does it really matter? If it was $2000 35 years ago, $6000 isn’t unreasonable. I’m very excited I can buy my favorite bike all these years brand new. I might even buy another ’78-’81 SR500 eventually.(I was planning on that this year) But there is something about a new one. It is hard to resist despite the cost. I heard they will be limited. Because of its limited availability, the new one might end up more rare than the surviving originals. I will not miss out on what could be the only chance to buy a brand new SR.. I love the handling, the thumper sound of the big single and the bike’s clean good looks. I do prefer the alloy mag wheels of the original over the spoke wheels of the new one however and wish there were color options. Can’t have everything.
    On the kickstart- This is a retro bike it was in 1978 and it is in 2014. An electric start does not belong on it. and the Fuel injection is only there to pass emissions or it would still have the carb. It’s no big deal kick starting this bile and the new doesn’t even need or have a choke to complicate the starting procedure

  4. I too am picking one of these up. One of the first coming into to the Bay Area. Should be here within a couple weeks. Mixed feelings at first, but after having owned several bigger, faster street bikes and lots of dirt bikes, this just seems like the right bike for me now. I’ll either keep it and make it my own with mods, or sell it and not loose too much. Plus, it’ll be perfect to ride along side my daughter on her new Honda Grom!

  5. Robert Spinello

    I rode an SR500 from 1980 to 1990. I might have stalled it once or twice..just push it to the side man. No big deal. I don’t expect the EFI version to EVER stall.(I’m buying a 2015. Yep hooked for life.The bike is worth the extra effort…Try one.

  6. Robert Spinello

    Yamaha doesn’t want to attract everyone with this bike, They’ll only sell 1,300 in Japan this year and it’s been available there SINCE 1978. It is a limited production bike, and as good as it is, it’s not for everyone.

  7. I see no need for an electric start for this bike. Easy to kick over with compression release. Electric start will also add some weight, albeit not much, but part of the appeal is the light weight and nimble handling of this bike. Riders who are new to the sport should be taking rider education courses anyway so that they can become more confident in their riding abilities, including how to deal with a stalled bike in traffic on a hill. I agree with a previous comment, maybe this bike isn’t for everyone. However, I think this bike will appeal to the younger generation as well as those of us who grew up in 70’s riding bikes like these.

  8. Robert Spinello

    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.

  9. Robert, thank you for your review, it was helpful. My wife and I had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of an Sr400 at a local dealer. Finally the call came that one had been delivered (but was sold). Within one hour we were on our way to see the new bike. The first thing that I was thrilled to “not” see on the bike was the evaporation canister that I had seen in all the early photos, I couldn’t believe that Yami would deliver the bike with such a hideous contraption in that awful location. The bike really looks beautiful in person, I love all the vintage styling details: frame style, chrome fenders, tail light, signal lights, gauges, seat and grab bar & center stand. The kickstart was easy to operate, the bike started on the second kick and idled smoothly. We didn’t get to ride it as this unit was sold but I think it will be the perfect bike for my wife. We have been looking for a reliable 70’s style bike to replace her somewhat temperamental 76 RD200. Hoping to surprise her for our September anniversary!

  10. Thanks for all the comments folks, it seems that the SR has a very passionate following. It seems I’ve touched a nerve by saying that an electric start should be available! I guess Yamaha intends this to be a niche bike, a niche that I just don’t fall into. But that’s ok. It’s not available in Canada anyways 😦

  11. I bought a new sr500 in 79.I really liked that bike it was motorcycle art.My only minor complaint was the lack of accesories available for it.
    As with the SR 400 simplicity is the utmost in sophistication.

  12. I can’t believe these wimpish comments about the klickstart. My 1997 Yamaha trail bike is kick start only and it starts easily, whether on a hill or not. Go back to your pablum ya’ bunch of crybabies.

  13. Is there a place in Canada where they sell the SR 400… used or new? Thank you! πŸ™‚

    • As far as I know the SR is not available in Canada. Depending on how close to the border you live maybe it would be worth having a conversation with a dealer in the US?

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