Three Weeks With the Yamaha SCR950

The great scrambler renaissance kicked off three years ago, hot on the fender of cafe racers. Like cafe racers, scramblers have one rear tire rooted in history, harkening back to the days when manufacturers didn’t build dirt bikes. So riders modified street bikes to go off-road. The aptly named SCR is Yamaha’s first foray into the motorcycle category featuring rigs built for mixing it up on the road and the dirt.

A member of Yamaha’s “sport heritage” line, the SCR is specced with a low-profile bench seat, retro racing side number plates, and fork boots. Underneath the vintage-looking facade, Yamaha does a great job hiding the modern tech on this five-speed 942cc air-cooled V-twin.

Yamaha fans will recognize a lot of similarities between the SCR950 and the Bolt, a popular cruiser with a V-twin that's been available since 2014. Essentially, Yamaha hot-rodded the Bolt in the bodywork (including awesome steel fenders) as well as footpeg positions, tweaking exhaust, and here’s the big one — a new chassis sub frame that makes the SCR more aggressive, nimble, and responsive than its Bolt brethren.

Put your hands on the grips and throw your leg over the bike, and one of the first things you’ll notice is the motocross-inspired handlebar. Taller and wider than those found on a pure street rig, it keeps the rider in a more upright position while still responding quickly to rider input. And the flat seat that’s 32.7 inches tall and centrally mounted footpegs make it easier to throw the low-profile bike around in the dirt.

There's also a no-nonsense digital speedometer. Fire it up and hit the road, and the hum of the dual-purpose tires reminds you that this bike is ready for off-road. We took in on some trails in Southern California and up and down Angeles Crest Highway, a.k.a. Highway 2, as well as the L.A. moto standby routes like Mulholland and all over Topanga. The 41mm fork that offers 4.7 inches of travel paired with the 2.8-inch rear reservoir shocks deliver basic, non-adjustable suspension that’s adequate and provides predictable handling, even when standing.

The SCR is versatile and efficient, getting you more than 50 miles per gallon. It's a fun daily ride, especially for beginners and intermediate riders, that’s capable of weekend on- and off-road forays, and its price tag makes it one of the least expensive scramblers available. And thanks to classic, stock good looks, modifications will make this playful ride even easier on the eye. [$8,699; yamahamotorsports.com