Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 10th June 2019

Roland Brown tries out Yamaha’s new, XT500 themed, XSR700 XTribute

Scramblers are all the rage these days, but not scramblers as in old-fashioned motocross bikes – those thumping British singles that wrestled in monochrome mud on BBC’s Grandstand back in the Sixties. It’s street scramblers that we’re talking about: retro-themed roadsters with chunky tyres and high-level pipes, as seen in Ducati’s Land of Joy or with BMW’s R80G/S inspired revamps of the modern day R nineT.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”Yamaha XSR700 Tribute”]

Yamaha understandably want a piece of this action too, and dipped a toe in the water a couple of years ago with the SCR950. That revamp of the ageing XV950 cruiser was inspired by the XT500, the long-running single-cylinder trail bike whose derivatives won the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies in 1979 and ’80. The SCR’s retro style and lumpy charm couldn’t make up for its excessive weight, crude suspension and poor performance, especially off-road, but it did have a certain kind of charm to back up its classic inspired looks.

But Yamaha clearly aren’t giving up, and now they’re back with another attempt at a homage to the venerable XT500 – this time even spelling it out in the XTribute name. This time the donor bike is a lot more suitable. As its full name confirms, the XSR700 XTribute is heavily based on the retro-themed derivative of the MT-07, that brilliant and huge-selling 689cc parallel twin that has also just given birth to the Ténéré 700.

There’s no attempt at providing any of the new Ténéré’s off-road ability here though. The XTribute is an XSR700 with a paint job and some fresh details designed to give a flavour of the XT500. While the SCR950 had a red, white and black petrol tank like that of the original, 1976-model XT, the XTribute harks back to another popular and distinctive variant, the 1981 model with its polished tank and distinctive red and white lettering.

The XTribute’s gold coloured wheels are also an XT500 reference, though they’re cast rather than wire-spoked and come in the XSR’s 18in front, 17in rear diameters. Pirelli’s block-tread MT60RS tyres add a bit of scrambler style, as do the serrated footrests. The new seat is 30mm higher and slightly flatter than the XSR’s. Other new parts include fork gaiters, radiator protectors, billet frame tube caps, and black handlebar and levers.

Arguably the biggest contributor to the test XTribute’s look and feel is an accessory: the Akrapovic exhaust, which replicates the original 1976-model XT500’s system by running low before running up the bike’s right to a high-level silencer below the seat. The Akro gives the 270-degree crankshaft parallel twin a throaty bark that adds to its character and makes blipping the throttle at a standstill very difficult to resist.

In fact juvenile behaviour is tempting at all times on board the XTribute, once you’ve thrown a leg over the fairly tall seat, reached forward to the wide and low handlebar (40mm wider than the XSR’s) and fired up the engine. Like the MT-07 and XSR700 the XTribute is a simple bike, with no alternative riding modes, traction control or cornering ABS. The basic MT family attributes of torquey twin-pot motor in a light and agile chassis are very much in place, making brisk riding, occasional wheelies and enthusiastic cornering almost obligatory.

The engine’s flat torque curve, always an MT-07 strength, means the XTribute is happy to pull away with 3000rpm or less showing on its round, black-faced instrument panel, which is borrowed from the XSR900 and offset to the right. And there’s heaps of life at the top end too. The unchanged maximum output of 72bhp at 9000rpm ensures lively acceleration all the way to a top speed of about 120mph, though the wind-blown riding position becomes tiring long before that.

Like the MT and XSR the XTribute will cope with highway cruising if it has to, but is far more at home on twisty minor roads where its sporty yet reliable handling come into their own. With a fully-fuelled weight of just 191kg it’s very light, albeit a few kilos up on the XSR700, and its wide handlebar enhances its effortless direction-changing ability, without detracting notably from the stability that contributes to its rider-friendly character.

Suspension is borrowed directly from the XSR, which means the forks and shock give 130mm of fairly compliant travel. Ride quality is good, and although hard cornering can generate a bit of suspension vagueness, especially on bumpy roads, the XTribute retains an enjoyably sharp and accurate feel. The Pirellis grip reliably despite their semi-off-road look, and there’s heaps of ground clearance before the footrest feelers eventually touch down.

Braking performance matches that of the XSR700, with the front stopper’s combination of 282mm discs and four-piston calipers giving all the power required by such a light bike. The rear brake pedal requires a lot of travel before engaging rather sharply, harmlessly engaging the ABS if you’re not careful.

For what is essentially a simple naked roadster the XTribute promises to follow the XSR and MT by being respectably practical. Its seat is fairly broad and gives plenty of legroom even for taller riders. With a capacity of 14 litres the fuel tank isn’t huge, but the efficient engine means most riders will average over 50mpg, giving a range of 150 miles or more.

Ultimately the XTribute’s links to the XT500 that it’s named after are tenuous, but its only real drawback is arguably that apart from scrambler style it doesn’t offer anything that the XSR700 doesn’t, yet at £7799 it costs £700 more than the XSR and £1450 more than the MT-07. Adding the test bike’s £1442 Akro pipe takes it right into the £9000-plus territory stalked by some attractive scrambler models from the likes of BMW, Ducati and Triumph.

The XTribute is an enjoyable roadster that works far better than the SCR950 and should quicken the pulse of those who recall the XT500 fondly. It would live up to its name better if it had been given just a bit of the new Ténéré’s genuine off-road ability. But if the XTribute is ultimately more of a heritage-themed marketing exercise than a new model, but being a customised XSR at least ensures that it’s a very good one – quick, light, rider-friendly and fun to ride.

Yamaha XSR700 XTribute
Engine type Liquid-cooled parallel twin
Valve arrangement DOHC, eight valves
Displacement 689cc
Bore x stroke 80 x 68.6mm
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Carburation Digital fuel injection
Maximum power 72bhp @ 9000rpm
Maximum torque 68Nm @ 6500rpm
Clutch Wet multiplate
Transmission 6-speed
Front suspension 41mm telescopic, 130mm travel
Rear suspension Single shock, 130mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload
Front brake Twin four-piston calipers, 282mm petal discs
Rear brake Single-piston caliper, 245mm petal disc
Front tyre 120/70 x 18in Pirelli MT60 RS
Rear tyre 180/55 x 17in Pirelli MT60 RS
Rake/trail 24º50’/90mm
Wheelbase 1405mm
Seat height 845mm
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Weight 191kg wet (full fuel and oil tanks)