An affordable and charismatic retro triple that bangs hard
Test by Jock McLauchlan, Images by Geoff Osborne
When we tested the all new, and rather cool Yamaha XSR700 LAMs machine (link to test), we came away more than a little impressed. Now we’ve stepped things up a bit with the XSR900, which is even more impressive and something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Our blue-tanked 900, while still looking retro cool, definitely embraces Yamaha’s Faster Sons philosophy, almost looked a little dowdy when compared to the startling performance and exuberant excitement this baby delivers when the throttle twisted.
The XSR900 engine architecture is more or less the same as that of the excellent MT-09 motor. However, power modes and traction control now come fitted as standard.
It’s an 847cc four-stroke triple that is liquid cooled, with an 11.5:1 compression ratio. It has twin overhead cams and a total of 12 valves (four per cylinder if my maths is correct), a six-speed gearbox with slipper clutch and produces a strong 115hp at 10,000rpm.
The fuelling in A mode, the most aggressive mode, is very crisp. B mode is mellow and very controllable, while standard mode is somewhere between the two. The traction control has two on-the-fly adjustable settings and an off setting.
One mode has low intervention and the other high… so, I imagine most people will be able to find a power mode and TC position that suits their requirements.
In full power mode the acceleration is genuinely exhilarating and the front wheel seems quite allergic to the road surface – it really does not want to be there! Even in second gear at a decent speed the front goes light when accelerating hard and third gear only requires a bump and a flick of the clutch to be in the full anti-social fun zone.
No question, this is a fast engine and will surprise quite a few given it is only an 847cc. It’s not just an excellent hoon machine though, especially given the other mode choices, and is actually a delight to ride around town, in traffic and out on the open road.
The 900 is light at only 195kg fully fuelled and dripping wet. While it still feels a solid enough lump to push around the garage, out on the road the handling is light and responsive. The suspension action is also very good, a marked improvement from the first MT-09 that I rode with its very soft, underdamped forks.
As with the MT-09, steering turn-in is agile, aided by the 25-degree caster angle, and accurate too. The steering in general exudes confidence. The wheelbase is a short 1440mm, which explains some of the propensity for wheelies, but despite this I was completely happy with the stability on some quite bumpy stuff I encountered, and in the fast turns.
The XSR holds its line very well and doesn’t require any special effort to keep it there… bearing in mind, of course, I want to retain my licence and don’t go too nuts too often.The suspension is middle of the road stuff, but I think it punches above its weight performance-wise.
The forks are 41mm USD units with 137mm of wheel travel and are adjustable for preload and rebound damping only – there is no compression damping adjustment. I have to say, I liked their action; they didn’t bottom hard if the front dropped quickly from a wheelie, were compliant and held up well under hard braking without delivering harsh feedback to the rider. The forks are great.
Likewise the rear suspension is great too, and does not have compression damping adjustment either. The shock is horizontally mounted on a rising-rate linkage back to the swingarm. The swingarm has a very pronounced bend in it on the right hand side to allow clearance for the cool-looking stubby muffler.
Rear wheel travel is 130mm; spring preload is adjustable along with rebound damping. The action is surprisingly plush given its progressive nature and reluctant to bottom out even in quite decent bumps and potholes. Well done Yamaha.
ABS comes fitted as standard and while not the cutting-edge lean angle sensitive stuff it is, none-the-less, solid in performance and I have no complaints. Early ABS intervention is not an issue while riding on the road, the stopping ability is strong and the braking feel excellent.
Like almost everything on the XSR900, the brakes are better than the spec sheet seems to suggest. Twin 298mm floating discs with radially-mounted calipers do the business up front. While at the rear a single 245mm diameter disc is solidly mounted and has a single piston floating Nissin caliper.
The rubber is a decently sized and quite sticky; a 120/70-17 front tyre and 180/70-17 at the rear.The ergos are very pleasant with a roomy and comfortable footpeg, seat height and handlebar relationship. The riding position is relatively upright and the handlebars straight and high-ish, resulting in a commanding operating position for the XSR.
The only downside is the tall-ish 830mm seat height, which could be a struggle for shorter riders and it actually feels higher than those numbers suggest, possibly because of the relatively wide seat.
The lever and pedal controls however are smooth and nice to use. The fit and finish looks to be excellent with very nice detailing throughout and the polished alloy brackets add to its appeal. The mirrors are clear and don’t vibrate but are set too close in to offer any view of what’s going on behind.
All I could see was an excellent view of my forearm without taking my hand up off the bars or bending it up and out and then looking underneath. Perhaps shorter riders with shorter arms, which won’t obstruct the mirror, will be ok but for tall riders the mirrors are pretty hopeless.
The dash is a single round multi-function LCD display that is clearly a modern take on an old-school basic analogue speedometer. It looks very basic and plain until the XSR’s igntion is turned on and then it becomes a very tasty looking bit of kit.
Warning lights are displayed around the outside edge, rotating around inside of them is the tachometer, in a block in the middle are large clear numerals for km/h and also the various power, TC and ABS modes. Finally the fuel gauge is located at the centre bottom.
Overall the Yamaha XSR900 is a very impressive machine, particularly at the price. This retro style of machine is currently very popular, but while it looks a little old-school it sure as hell doesn’t go like it’s old school – it goes like a cut cat.
Yamaha have also designed it with personalisation in mind…fit those knobbly tyres or go the cafe racer look with low clip-on bars and a sleek rear guard, your Yamaha dealer has a book full of options. In fact, go ask him for a test ride first.
Yamaha XSR900 Highlights
Strong points – Great engine; handles great; very comfortable.
Weak Points – Tall-ish seat height; mirrors are hopeless for tall riders.
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