The first custom bike I built was a 1966 Honda CL77 Scrambler. Yup, Scrambler, that’s what it was actually called half a century ago, and Honda were a decade late to the desert sledding party even then. I restored mine, (see here) fitted trials tyres, alloy mudguards and exhibited it at the 2nd Bike Shed show. People still wax lyrical about the bike as if I’m some sort of design genius, but in reality I didn’t really do a huge amount. It took ages but most of the bike is still bone stock. I just looked at old pictures of Bud Ekins and Bill Robertson Jr doing the Baja 1000 reconnaissance run in 1962 and began to daydream.
Those guys ran the smaller CL72, all the way from Tijuana to La Paz non-stop in a whisker under 40 hours. One bike dropped a cylinder towards the end but carried on and Bud spun around at the finish and rode his CL all the way back home. To me this is amazing, not just because of the incredible feat of endurance but because in 2017 I can’t think of many bikes that’d be worse for such a trip. By today’s standards the CL is more than a bit shit. But, given the opportunity I’d follow in Bud’s wheel tracks on my little Honda and enjoy the adventure. Why? Because I didn’t just buy a cheap shitter from the eBay, I bought into the dream.
The scrambler moniker has already been toted by nearly all the other manufacturers so Yamaha opted for SCR950 to name the new version of their XV950 (Bolt if you’re American). Yamaha aren’t suggesting customers are stupid enough to be hoodwinked by a word but they just needed an angle. The all-new Jacked Up XV With Knobblies doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. The company responsible for kickstarting the custom scene at manufacturer level with their Yard Build programme the thick end of a decade ago are of course totally serious with their intensions – to build good motorcycles and sell them, but there’s also a seam of fun running through the organisation and product lineup.
For me, the XV950 has yielded some of the best Yard Builds. The Walzwerk Racing and Numbnuts café racer come drag strip efforts are standouts and the burly, alloy tanked Speed Iron by Moto di Ferro is beautiful but Yamaha know that sacrificing an eight and a half grand donor bike for it to be turned into something so juxtaposed to the showroom models serves as a great marketing and inspiration for customers, but it’s not exactly going to shift XVs to normal folk who prefer riding to angle grinding. If you can’t quite bring yourself to become a H.O.G. member, still want a good looking air-cooled engine, but not bolted to a cruiser, the choices are pretty limited these days.
So what is the SCR? Well, the motor is the same 942cc air cooled V-twin found in the XV with ceramic bores and roller rockers, pumping out 52hp and 80NM of torque. I’ve heard on the greasy grapevine that there’s another 10 horsepowers chomping at the bit behind the restrictive air filter housing and exhaust. Longer forks, with rubber gaitors, and piggyback shocks combine with a taller steel subframe to move the SCR away from its cruiser roots. The flat saddle looks the part and is aimed at allowing the rider to move around, rather than just providing a pillion perch. Pegs are shunted rearward 130mm and up 30mm for a more dynamic riding position and with weight shifted off the rider’s sitting bones comfort should be an improvement over the XV (not that I’ve ridden one, I’m just tainted by a brief encounter with a Harley 48).
Apart from the Tenere and dedicated off-roaders the SCR is now the only spoked-wheel product on Yamaha’s books. And they’ve not scrimped, alloy DID rims come as standard. Bridgestone’s Trailwing is in charge of keeping the whole lot upright on Tarmac, gravel and everything in-between. Bars are a braced MX type complete with Faster Sons pad and half waffle grips. The speedo is an evolution of the simple, round LCD gauge found across the Sport Heritage range, on the SCR though it’s black. Unfortunately the plug is a different fitting to the XSR or I might have tried to lift one for my JVB Super 7.
My favourite part is the classically shaped, XT500 inspired fuel tank which has been produced without a visible seam. A+ and a gold star from me, I hate seeing big budget customs roll off a bench with a crimped and spot welded example of mass production on show. The underside is really well finished and the fuel pump is integrated. I’d wager that I’ll be seeing a few non-Yamaha projects using an SCR tank once the secret is out. Standard colours are Racing Red (not something I’d usually go for but this is a nice tone) and black with a white pinstripe which looked classy.
But before anyone get’s their panties in a bunch about the off-road capabilities of the SCR, or any other neo retro, new wave, authentic, heritage motorcycle with dual sport tyres, here’s the definition of scramble – to make one’s way quickly or awkwardly up a steep gradient or rough ground using one’s hand and feet. Nowhere does that suggest that a scrambler must be capable of clearing a 60ft tabletop or navigate a gnarly enduro track. Yamaha haven’t actually called the bike a scrambler but the test route covered rough ground with a moderate gradient, and for the most part we were all attached to one of the test fleet by hands and feet.
In a bid to persuade us to say nice things Yamaha chose Sardinia for the press launch as it offered the optimum mix of road surfaces and the correct weather to test such a bike (any bike). Yamahas are the bestest bikes in the world ever, you must buy one, maybe two, immediately.
On the sweeping roads along Sardinia’s southern coast the SCR kept its promise of a comfortable, upright riding position and the torquey engine provided a characterful soundtrack. There’s plenty of shove for a spirited ride and I did see a few decent wheelie attempts from the UK press pack but power sliding out of hairpins definitely wasn’t on the cards. The V-twin is happy to rev hard although there’s little point as short shifting and riding the torque is more relaxing. Engineers did actually do-away with rubber engine mounts in a bid to add visceral vibes. Pegs touched Tarmac on the first corner out of the hotel and over zealous attempts to carry speed led to sparks from the thick steel mounting bracket. Shifting one’s arse on the bench seat reduced the chances of lowsiding off a cliff but I’m sure that people who’ve actually saved up enough pocket money to afford an SCR won’t be riding them with quite the same reckless abandon as a bunch of hairy children on a 100km press dash.
My two-finger braking habit didn’t offer quite enough pressure for the single disc and I found myself trailing into corners a bit deeper than I’d have liked. ABS is of course fitted but I’d rather not rely on gadgets. But to be fair to the SCR it does weigh a quarter of a tonne and wasn’t designed to be ridden quite so quickly. The steering is incredibly light considering the bulk and only the smallest of tugs on the bars are required to swap from one hero blob to the other. I’d have liked a bit more steering lock, three point turns during photo shoots were easier dismounted. The clutch was lighter than expected from a litre twin and would be ideal for scything through traffic. The gearbox is a five-speeder with firm actuation required, but it’s not a patch on the Milwaukee Stamp needed to move off on a 48.
As soon as the Tarmac turned to boulder strewn, potholed tracks the SCR came into it’s element. It’s not a capable off-roader, far from it in fact, but what it delivers are smiles, I could hear giggling above the clatter of rocks on sump guards – it was a bad day to be a bumpstop! It’s heavy, the short stroke shocks struggled and the slow-pulsed ABS on the rear brake didn’t allow for mega skids but nobody cared, we were too busy having fun. Standing, sitting, trying to jump and drift, race starts – whatever we threw at the SCR it accepted the challenge graciously.
Comparing the SCR with other bikes intimating the scrambler pseudonym is potentially unfair, some of those models have been designed with way more emphasis given to off-road capability. The most direct comparison I can think of is the Moto Guzzi V9 Roamer, and the SCR runs dusty rings around that. The other thing to remember, especially if you’re a city dweller like me, is that huge parts of the world’s road network are still unpaved. There might not be many green lanes left in the UK but everywhere I’ve ridden in Europe has never been too far from a fire trail, track or gravelled path. If I worked in Rome I’d gladly battle traffic in the week on an SCR and hammer a white road at the weekend.
There are obviously a host of upgrades you can order from your Yamaha dealer but as I’ve reported before, their bikes are so easy to modify that you’d have to be pretty rubbish with the spanners to not have a go yourself. Grandfather of the new wave custom scene and founder of Tokyo and California based workshop Brat Style added ‘Chequered’ to the Yard Build roster late last year. It’s slightly arrogant to mention my own bike building skills in the same article as Brat Style’s founder Go Takamine, let alone the same paragraph, but his less is more approach has resulted in a corking looking SCR950 that proves the base model is actually a really good looking motorcycle. Like my little Honda. Phew, that was nearly the same sentence.
There was a tricked-out SCR parked outside our hotel with alloy sump guard, Öhlins shocks, Akrapovič pipe and the black paint scheme. Shrink the indicators, pull the reflectors off, ditch the mirrors and it’s already a really well proportioned and handsome machine. A simple air filter upgrade and a smaller headlight wouldn’t go amiss but there isn’t really a lot of work to do. Just ride the thing.
Even if you have no plans to conquer the Baja 1000, or don’t even know where it is, but want to ride around living the dream the SCR950 could be for you. Pretending never hurt anybody and if more people diverted seriousness to the important things in life and remembered that motorcycles are supposed to be fun escapism then we’d all be better off. I’ve got an enduro bike, a motocrosser, some flattrackers, an adventure bike and my beloved classic Scrambler but so far this year I had more fun messing around with my mates on the SCR.