Common Tread

2016 Yamaha XSR900 first ride review

May 06, 2016

Have fun. Be comfy. Wrench, but don't kill yourself. Repeat.

That was my basic plan when I started riding umpteen years ago. I am drawn to bikes that make me feel happy and comfortable when I ride them, and are quick to maintain or repair. As such, I started my bike life on across-the-frame Japanese fours, intermingled with naked sport bikes later on. In my mind, they are the same class of bike, separated only by their eras.

Over time, the standard UJM sprouted minimalist bodywork, morphing into the naked class. In 2003, production of the Honda Nighthawk 750 stopped. Little did I realize at that time what a great bike that was, or how we all took it for granted. Classic styling with performance that was more than adequate for most street work was discarded by many for the allure of race-rep bikes. Pity. That was probably the last real UJM. But now we have the Yamaha XSR900, which is way better.

Naked bike with ship
The USS Midway lives in San Diego, too. That carrier was the biggest aircraft carrier in the world for a decade. It's so big it couldn't utilize the Panama Canal when it was built! Notice the lack of plastic on both of these vehicles. RevZilla photo.

Yamaha places the XSR900 in what it calls the "Sport Heritage" class. In this case, that means you get UJM ergonomics combined with modern running gear, like a three-cylinder engine, triple disc brakes and sport-sized rubber, along with some unique retro styling cues. Yamaha kept the price at four figures: $9,490 for the matte gray and $9,990 for the 60th Anniversary paint.

Palm tree
Sunshine during the day, and cool weather at night. I would happily take a return trip to San Diego. RevZilla photo.
Yamaha invited RevZilla to San Diego to try it out. I rode the bike for approximately 150 miles: definitely enough to get a first taste and divine some thoughts on the bike, but not nearly enough to give it the deep coverage of a full-on ZLA bike review. San Diego was a charming proving grounds. We had easy access to a metropolitan area, canyons, and all the sunshine I could handle.

I will never, ever tire of this livery. RevZilla photo.

Ol’ Yammy let me have an XSR tricked out in their iconic speed block color scheme. This should not matter for a professional motorcycle tester. A professional motorcycle tester, however, I am not. This paint makes me weak in the knees. Maybe I’m not Kenny Roberts, but you couldn’t convince me of that. The whole bike is an exercise in asymmetry, and it does not look at all contrived. For instance, the fuel filler cap and gauge cluster are both slightly offset to the right, and there’s also a small nacelle above the headlight that sits off to the side.

Subtle asymmetry. I'm reminded a little bit of a Yamaha Radian. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

I got on, and was struck by a few things. First, this bike’s not small. More than a few riders will have the XSR on their short list along with the Ducati Scrambler, but a simple straddle of each bike should make the correct choice apparent. The XSR feels substantial to me, where the Scrambler feels a bit more toylike. The XSR’s seat height is 1.6 inches higher, which is not an insignificant difference. I’m six feet tall and felt comfy in the XSR’s cockpit, but the Scrambler makes me feel a bit squinched up, like I’m on a Sportster. It should be noted that if I tucked my heels in, I was contacting a heel guard on the right, but the swingarm on the left. That was no big deal for me, but it might bother some folks, especially if you use that area for action camera mounting. It gets cramped in a hurry.

Left side
The XSR presents a handsome profile, with touches of vintage style blended with a capable, modern streetbike. RevZilla photo.

The XSR fired right up with an interesting — but effective — sliding kill/start switch. I pulled in the clutch lever and found it to have a really light pull, thanks to the slipper-assist clutch. I clicked down into gear and I was underway. It took me a few miles to become acquainted with the XSR.

As we reported when it was unveiled at EICMA, the XSR900 is powered by Yamaha's 847 cc Crossplane Crankshaft Concept inline triple, which is also in the FZ-09 and FJ-09. This bike has loads of pop and sizzle, like a large parallel twin, but the whole powerband is usable from idle right up to the redline. This streetable power makes the XSR900 a hoot to ride compared to an inline four. There is no need to “get to the power.” The power is ever-present, all around the tach dial.

After getting comfy and finding some lonely roads to ride, I began to play. The bike offers different traction control options. I experienced nothing but dry weather, so I turned it off totally. It should be noted that disabling T/C is not “sticky.” You have to turn it off every… damn…  time. Furthermore, while you can cycle through throttle modes on the fly, the bike must be stopped to disable traction control. Lawyers, man.

Lemmy on the XSR
The XSR900 was just as at home on winding canyon roads as it was on San Diego's urban streets. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

The bike has three throttle modes: A, Standard, and B. Happily, these settings are sticky. The B setting I could have done without. It made the throttle sluggish to respond, which is its function, I guess, but even my hamfists have enough finesse to bypass B mode. Standard splits the difference between “scalpel” and “sledgehammer.” I put the bike in A mode and never looked back. It offers the sharpest control of the throttle. Fueling felt wonderful here. I was able to power wheelie this bike very easily at speeds under 20 miles an hour, which impressed me. I’ve avoided “retro” bikes because they always seem like a huge performance compromise, but this XSR basically turned my riding style from “he seems conservative” to “that guy.” My only knock against the powerplant was its fairly weak engine braking. The bike has brakes, too, so I wasn’t too concerned about it, but it deserves mention.

I personally prefer dual analog gauges, but it would have been hard to get some of the electronics info into that type of setup. All things considered, the dash is useful and uncluttered, and it's easy to make sense of it after only a short time on the bike. RevZilla photo.

Riding the XSR was like wearing an old pair of jeans. I was like Goldilocks — everything seemed to be juuuust right. The wide handlebars had enough rise so I could sit up comfortably. They have a 1⅛-inch clamping area, so streetfighter or dirtbike bars could be swapped in very easily. The seat was wide, firm, and unbelievably comfortable. I love buying aftermarket seats, but I wouldn’t for the XSR. I like to think I’m particularly callipygian, but perhaps Yam just gives you a good seat. Ergos on this bike were classic UJM: all comfort and no wind protection. I feel like if that bothers you, you probably should not have bought a bike with no wind protection, yannow?

Here’s the long story made short: I enjoyed riding the XSR, and cannot wait to do a full review on it. I had fun. I was comfy. I didn’t have to fix anything, but everything was right out in the open where a long-term owner can get to it with ease.

Before I cut this review short, though, it turns out some of our followers on the ol’ Instagrams (@revzilla) had a few questions. I hate cliffhangers, so let me address them.

(Dangeruss_photography): Will it do dank whoolie? Yes. Yes it will. The XSR will lift even a tubby guy like me up high enough to say, “Wheeee!” with alarming ease.

Dank Whoolies
Dank whoolies. RevZilla photo.

(shifther): Why did they make the headlight, gauge, tail light, etc., round, yet use a square brake reservoir? *twitches* Also, how's the comfort level of the seat? It’s a parts-bin bike. Not every piece on here was specially developed for the XSR. I think it’s actually kind of neat; there are a lot of recognizable parts from other Yam models that look cohesive. The seat, as I mentioned, is a nice middle ground between “sport” and “ass massage.”

(stevemowitty): Did they put new suspension on it? Especially the front forks? Yep. They didn't just take the fork off the FZ-09. The springs have different rates, and according to their press kit, rebound, compression, spring free length, oil quantity/level, and adjustments all differ. I’ve heard the FZ-09 complaints, and though I have not ridden one of them, 275-pound me felt very happy on the XSR. I had the bike for such a short period of time, though, I did not toy with settings. Stay tuned for the full review for more input here. I’m gonna try to get on a stock FZ-09 to compare.

(fredlyweapon): The XSR700 (not yet available in North America) has a really easily removed subframe, lending itself to modifications. I haven't heard this said about the XSR900 in any reviews though. What's the story? I am a huskier fella, how does the bike handle the weight of a Lemmy-sized person? I am really excited to see this bike get a RevZilla level in-depth review. Thanks folks! I think I got the suspension stuff out of the way in the previous question. The subframe does indeed appear to bolt on, so I think if one was inclined to re-work the tail, it would be feasible, but you’re still gonna have to be a decent fabricator to do the job.

Fat guy on the XSR.
I fatted up the XSR quite a bit compared to your typical urban barista, and it didn't even break a sweat. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

(fredlyweapon again): Also, do they offer optional black radiator side covers? Can't imagine why anyone would want to draw attention to the radiator. I don’t think so, but it’s four bolts to pop ‘em off. Paint or powder as you see fit, drink a beer, put ‘em back on. Done.

Radiator side covers
Yamaha emphasized the appearance of the aluminum radiator trim used on the XSR, but I think it only serves to call attention to an area of the bike that's not the most aesthetically appealing. RevZilla photo.

(cklee6): How's the torque? Uh, the XSR pulls like a train. It's not as strong as a race-bred literbike, but its powerband is way more accessible for street duty. It just has big, punchy power downstairs. You could short-shift all day and still smile so hard your trendy three-quarter helmet will fall off.

(bds200): How's the suspension and fueling compared to the FZ-09? As mentioned, I have not ridden a stock FZ-09. I will try to have some time on a comparo bike before we get this for Round Two.

(indo.mitable1): Is it too much for a first bike? Yeah. If the XSR700 comes stateside it might do the trick, but this ain’t a rookie scooter.

There you have it, folks. Check the picture gallery and captions for some more nuggets about the bike, and keep your ear to the ground for the full pull on this scoot later this summer.