Most motorcycle companies are looking forward when introducing new models, but lately we've seen a lot of retro thinking, from Ducati's Scrambler line to Triumph's revamp of the Bonneville line and more.
A few months ago, Yamaha showed the tantalizing XSR700 concept bike with retro licks of its own and it set lots of tongues to waggin'. Photos and some basic specs were released, but very few industry insiders actually got to ride one. The XSR700 seemed like a sure hit, given the recent retro bike craze, but the big question was, "Will it be available as a production model in the United States?"
Now we have an answer. And it's "no," but in a good way.
At simultaneous press events in Milan, Italy, and Los Angeles, Yamaha announced the XSR900, a bigger and most likely better version of the XSR700. The definite answer to the Scrambler it is not. Many assumed it would be a bike built for bearded Williamsburg and Silver Lake noobs looking to add to their hipster cred. It's also a staunch middleweight performer that should be just as capable on the freeway as it is on city streets.
Yamaha clearly does not want this bike merely to sit pretty in front of the local coffee shop. The biggest difference between the XSR700 and the 900 is, of course, the engine. The XSR900 is powered by Yamaha's 847 cc Crossplane Crankshaft Concept inline triple. The bike is equipped with Yamaha's YCC-T ride-by-wire throttle, and Yamaha's D-Mode selector. Riders will be able to select three different throttle response options on the fly.
The XSR900 has a six-speed transmission, and an assist-and-slipper clutch that Yamaha says will provide greater clamping force and back-torque reduction while reducing clutch lever effort by 20 percent and minimizing rear-wheel hop when riders decelerate aggressively. Front and rear suspension are adjustable. The front features an inverted fork that provides 5.4 inches of travel, while the rear monoshock provides 5.1 inches. ABS will come standard.
Aesthetically, the XSR900 bridges the gap between the café racer and modern naked bikes. Certainly, the riding position screams old school, with a 32.7-inch seat height. Does it look a lot like Scrambler? Sure, but it's numerous little details that give the XSR900 its own particular appeal. The buffed aluminum gas tank, headlight and fender supports (and those great, round LED head- and taillights) bring to mind the metallic vibe of the Confederate X321 Hellcat.
Watching the unveiling in Milan, RevZilla product guru Ed "Buzzsaw" Wildman noted that it was easy to overlook how much effort Yamaha had put into avoiding the use of plastic parts. Lots of those little pieces you see, which you might expect to be plastic, are really metal.
The XSR900 will also be released in a yellow-and-black Yamaha 60th Anniversary Edition, but personally I'm partial to the matte gray and aluminum look. Yamaha promises a full range of accessories to complement the bike's performance and looks — the rear seat cowl in particular is worth the extra bucks.
Both models will be available in spring 2016. The standard XSR900 will hit dealerships in April, while the 60th Anniversary model arrives in May. No pricing has been announced. That'll be cause for intense speculation among those who may want to wait to pull the trigger on a Scrambler (or perhaps any of the new Bonneville models).
It would seem to make sense for Yamaha to come in below the Ducati and the Triumphs. Yamaha has had tremendous success over the past three years, showing rates of growth three times higher than the rest of the motorcycle industry, according to Yamaha spokesman Aaron Bast. Reasonably priced bikes like the FZ-07 and FZ-09 are no doubt a big part of that. Extensive dealer support may also help drive sales of the XSR900, especially when compared to Ducati's stateside dealership network.
Yamaha has been releasing new bikes at a breakneck pace — 28 new models in 32 months. I can't wait to get my hands on an XSR900 when the bike hits the street next year.