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.
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?