[Our Canadian MO compatriot, Justin Mastine-Frost, gives us his perspective on the Yamaha XSR900. Since he can’t shoot photos and ride simultaneously, we’re providing the photos from our Yamaha XSR900 Corral shootout. – EB]
Getting some ride time with the Yamaha XSR900 took a fair bit of planning, between some personal scheduling issues and internal delays in getting the bike from Yamaha Canada, and by the point everything came together my eagerness to get out and ride the ‘neo-retro’ naked was at its peak. We first ran a review of the bike back in 2016, and it seemed that just about everyone I spoke to gave the mean middleweight reasonably high praise. I’d already taken a shine to the current MT-07, and at a conceptual level the XSR ticked all the boxes to be a new personal favorite – modern running gear, retro styling, upright posture, a torquey powerplant, and sharp suspension tuning. The challenge with expectation is always the same. So, the question is, did it live up to the hype (and where did Yamaha make improvements over its 2016 sibling)?
You’ll note a color scheme difference between the bike we rode and the 2020 offering – the sole update came in the form of a slightly altered paint scheme. While the ’19 models were available in grey and red, fitted with black wheels and a black front fender, Yamaha has shifted to another retro-themed combo of white and red, adding a red front fender and contrasting gold wheels.
Looking at the XSR, I’m really on the fence as to whether or not the XSR900 has aged well (or will) since its launch in 2016. The whole retro-cafe bike scene is still booming, though the market seems to be pushing in the direction of scramblers. But the more I look at the countless players in the ‘retro bike’ field – from this XSR, to the Ducati Scrambler, to the Suzuki SV650X Cafe – I can’t help but think we may one day look back at these the same way we do the PT Cruiser, the Plymouth Prowler, or the godawful Ford Thunderbird reboot of 2002. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, and when compared to some of its counterparts, the XSR900 is fairly subdued in design. It’s a classic and simple profile, and from most angles, it’s a fine and understated bike.
However, it’s in dire need of a tail tidy (deleting the goofy high brake light), and a stripping of those useless (albeit well made) brushed aluminum brackets for its headlight and below the seat. It’s details like these that make someone imagine a bunch of product planners sitting around the room going “But how do we hammer home the point that it’s Neo-Retro? I know, let’s make some brackets!” While we’re on the topic, the retro-for-the-sake-of-retro headlight on the XSR900 certainly looks the part, but leaves room for improvement once you’re out on a dark sideroad without street lamps.
Throwing a leg up and over the XSR900, I’m immediately in familiar territory. The posture is upright and neutral, much in the same vein as Yamaha’s MT models (maybe a hair more upright). With my being 6-feet, 1-inches tall and mostly leg, the peg position works reasonably well for my lanky frame. Between its slipper clutch, traction control, and trio of ride modes, dialing into the right comfort zone for your riding style is relatively straightforward, though I’d be remiss to call this thing “idiot proof.” If anything it’s the kind of bike that’ll teach you a lesson or three real quick. The crossplane crankshaft concept three-banger is fast-revving and makes no qualms of putting its 115hp and 65 lb-ft of torque down in a hurry. Ride along in Standard mode for a while and keep the traction control engaged, and you’ll note it still takes very little effort to get the nose feeling weightless when taking off from zero. Bump up to the more edgy ‘A’ setting, or take the traction control down a notch, and it immediately starts living up to its wheelie machine title.
Though the bike entirely deserves to be dubbed a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s by no means a purebred hooligan bike. Rather, much like the MT-07 and MT-09, it’s an extremely liveable ride, that just so happens to have the ability to dial up real speed with very little adjustment. A lack of wind protection keeps it from being a real long-haul ride, but a standard-length commute or a good afternoon cruise are comfortable and effortless whether on the highway or blasting through city traffic. That said, I’ll take any opportunity I can to spend a day out on this thing with access to smooth winding roads. Once you’ve gotten a proper handle on its throttle response it’s (relatively) easy to mitigate taking the weight off its nose when launching out of a corner, and its assisted clutch makes life easy for banging through downshifts should the aforementioned corner sneak up on you.
This is an interesting one, because there are a handful of obvious players to consider. On the one hand the slightly less retro and more forward- leaning CB1000R tries to play the same game as Yamaha, and while it wins out by being bigger, more powerful, and more aggressively tuned, the Honda loses a bit of its momentum and enjoyment when ridden at a normal pace. Flip the coin over, and you’ve got the Kawasaki Z900RS (or my personal favorite, the Cafe version). The Kawi is a more hefty and low-tech feeling bike by comparison, and while it’s still a treat to ride, it doesn’t benefit from the same modern retro feel of the XSR900. In a sense, between this trio the XSR lands as the third bowl of porridge in our little goldilocks conundrum. Some might like things a little hotter or cooler, but there’s nothing wrong with landing square in the middle, all while coming in at a sticker price that’s lower than either extreme ($9,499).
|2020 Yamaha XSR900 Specifications|
|Type||847cc liquid-cooled inline 3-cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||78.0mm x 59.1mm|
|Fuel System||Yamaha Fuel Injection with YCC-TY|
|Valve Train||DOHC; 4 valves/cylinder|
|Transmission||6-speed; slip/assist clutch|
|Front Suspension||41mm inverted fork, adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in travel|
|Rear Suspension||Single shock, adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.1-in travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 298mm discs; ABS|
|Rear Brake||245mm disc; ABS|
|Seat Height||32.7 inches|
|Curb Weight||436 pounds|
|Fuel Capacity||3.7 gallons|