Curiosity, and maybe the feeling of perceived threat, compelled me to open the ChatGPT website. In the prompt field, I typed, “Write a 1,300-word first-person review of the 2023 Yamaha XSR700.”
Within seconds, the artificial intelligence created a wordy compliment befitting the North Korean state news agency’s description of its Supreme Leader—if he were a motorcycle.
I like the XSR too, but no bike measures up to that kind of hyperbole.
I then asked the AI to tell me something negative about the motorcycle. It returned a paragraph about the disappointing noise emanating from the bike’s muffler.
I checked my notes. Indeed, I had written that the sound of the XSR700’s stock muffler is nothing to write home about. However, when the intake, engine, and under-engine exhaust sounds combine, they produced a pleasing cacophony.
The real problem with the exhaust is the pre-chamber, located high up in the system where the two exhaust pipes come together to form a bulbous, ugly bulge hiding behind a thin cover that does as much to disguise the eyesore as a palm tree hiding a cartoon elephant.
When I asked the AI why the XSR’s exhaust is ugly, it schooled me on the subjectivity of ugliness and the ubiquity of opinions. Really? Does anyone think that tumorous growth is attractive?
Overall, I’m attracted to the unique styling of the XSR700, and the XSR900, too, for that matter. For those who are not, Yamaha serves up the same bike(s) in a very different flavor with the MT-07 and MT-09, both for less money than their XSR counterparts.
Launched stateside in 2018, the XSR700 is the 689cc parallel-twin sibling to its 890cc in-line three big brother, the XSR900, which was released two years earlier. Both are unabashedly ’70s funk on two wheels, with a proclivity for redlining in the fun factor, making either bike wheelie fun to ride.
The 700’s lower displacement and power output mean it’s not as prone to loft the front wheel as the 900 is, but it’s no wallflower, either. A quick launch or abrupt roll of the throttle in lower gears in the fat of its torque curve will easily have the front wheel off the ground. At $8,899, the 700 is the more affordable model of the two, if only by $1,300.
A cityscape is where the XSR700 feels most at home. Commuting, errand running, frequent starts and stops, and jockeying through dense urban traffic are the XSR’s true callings.
With a claimed 410-pound curb weight, a low center of gravity, and a 55.3-inch wheelbase (3.6 inches shorter than the 900), the XSR700 seems custom-built for flitting around cagers and avoiding road hazards.
The fuel-injected parallel-twin of the XSR700 features a de rigueur 270-degree crank, lending the XSR a snappy, low-end feeling of torque that pulls through its mid-range. The engine kindly continues revving quickly up to its peak horsepower output of 74 hp at 9,000 rpm, but if you want to stay in the thick of its torque curve of 50 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm, you’ll be rowing its six-speed gearbox to keep the kettle boiling.
Exercising your left ankle is all part of the fun with this bike. Considering its light clutch pull and responsive gearbox, I never once lamented the omission of a quickshifter (they don’t usually work so hot at around-town speeds anyway).
Besides ABS, there are no other electronic rider aids such as traction control, a slipper clutch, or cruise control. However, considering the bike’s MSRP and its intended purpose, I can’t really make too much of a fuss about not having these technological niceties.
Bits and Pieces
The seating position of the XSR is about as standard as it gets with just a touch of forward lean. The reach to the handlebar is equally comfortable, while the grips themselves are wide enough to provide great control for maneuvering the XSR in tight confines or making quick U-turns.
The bike’s rider triangle will accommodate most sizes of riders, although the 32.9-inch seat height might be of some concern to those with shorter inseams. The seat foam’s density is on the thin, soft side, which is semi-comfortable during shorter, around-town commutes. Longer rides will have the pilot dancing to change pressure points.
Dual four-piston monoblock calipers gripping 282mm discs perform front braking duties. At the rear, a single-piston caliper pinches a single 245mm disc.
As I mentioned, ABS comes standard on the XSR700, complementing the all-around strong braking performance. The front brake lever has five settings of adjustability.
The single, round instrument cluster is positioned off-center and a fair distance from the cockpit. The LED readout is highly legible, even with it containing a plethora of information, including rpm, speed, gear position, fuel gauge, and a clock.
The round shape of the XSR’s head and tail lights, the latter perched atop the rear fender, maintain a consistent styling from stem to stern. The thin, elongated blinkers don’t quite fit with the bike’s ’70s motif, but who wants to ride around with four huge, orange dinner plates for directional indicators (Google the XS650 for reference).
At the front of the bike, the blinkers are mounted to flimsy plastic radiator guards that feel as though they might just wiggle and fall off.
The non-adjustable 41mm telescopic fork and preload-adjustable single shock each have 5.1 inches of travel. Both units provide a good balance between comfort and performance and managed to maintain their composure while bombing through Long Beach traffic, avoiding all the potholes brought on by last year’s rain.
Amazingly, the XSR700 returned upwards of 45 miles per gallon, and that’s with me riding in hooligan mode. With a fuel capacity of 3.7 gallons, that equals 166 miles per tank.
That’s a lot of around-town riding between fuel-ups and it’s also great for weekend jaunts down your favorite twisty two-laner. Considerations for longer rides might include a more distance-friendly seat, a small windscreen, and saddlebags.
AI vs. HI
While composing this review of the Yamaha XSR700, I kept returning to ChatGPT and plugging in specific inquiries about brakes, suspension, rider comfort, and whatnot. This exposed the limitations of the technology, with the AI often returning something like: “To get accurate and current information about the Yamaha XSR700's braking performance, I recommend checking recent motorcycle reviews from reputable sources, such as motorcycle magazines.”
Whew—a sigh of relief for human intelligence and moto journalists everywhere. At least until the AI learns the nuances of objectivity and critical thinking.
Somewhere down the road, those algorithms will probably exist and be downloaded into the latest generation of Yamaha’s motorcycle-riding humanoid. Don’t be surprised if the author of the next XSR review is Motobot.
Or, perhaps, the future of our scene lies in autonomous motorcycles and journalists will be reporting on the XSR’s ability to ride itself. Note to future self, brush up on the latest Tesla reviews.
For now, though, rest assured that I am a fellow flesh-and-blood motorcycle enthusiast using cranial gray matter and years of riding experience to report the following: the 2023 Yamaha XSR700 is a fun and useful motorcycle for its price.
It’s not perfect, but a more comfortable seat and a full aftermarket exhaust system will get it pretty close.
+uniquely styled, great gas mileage, fun to ride
-uncomfortable seat, $700 more than the MT-07, ugly exhaust
Engine: liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline 2-cylinder, 8-valve
Power: 74hp @9,000 rpm; 50lb-ft @6,500rpm
Transmission: constant mesh, 6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch, chain final drive
Weight (Wet): 410lbs
Seat Height: 32.9in
Fuel Capacity: 3.7gal
Fuel Consumption: 45mpg (as tested); 58mpg (claimed)
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Raven Black