Today’s motorcycle market has a hunger for the right combination of classic looks and modern performance. The recent success of bikes like BMW’s R nineT, Ducati’s Scramblers, and the ongoing strong sales of Triumph’s modern classics like the Bonneville and Thruxton are indicators of this particular segment’s appeal. With the announcement of its forthcoming 2016 XSR900, Yamaha becomes the latest OEM to throw its hat into this lucrative ring.
The XSR900 features the same engine and frame as Yamaha’s naked hooligan machine, the FZ-09 (and by extension, the sport touring-oriented FJ-09). And to anyone who likes the XSR900’s vintage inspired looks, that’s a very good thing; the power plant is an 847cc liquid-cooled inline three-cylinder that, in the FZ-09 at least, puts out 115 horsepower and 65 pound feet of torque.
In spite of the engine’s well-documented throttling issues (which have since been greatly improved, if not completely fixed), the triple is a gem of a motor. Powerful, smooth, and with plenty of torque throughout the rev range, it’s a lively and character rich power plant that checks all the right technical and emotional boxes, and with that addictive three-cylinder sound, too! The triple boasts fracture-split connecting rods (a feature also found on the new R1), a geared counter balancer to reduce vibration, and staggered intake funnels that are said to aid in the engine’s ample torque production. Power is funneled to the rear wheel through a compact, six-speed transmission and chain drive. The XSR900 even gets a slipper clutch, a rare performance enhancement for a vintage style machine.
The bike also gets a host of electronics that further distance it from most other bikes in the modern classic category. These include ride-by-wire throttle with selectable ride modes, three level traction control, and ABS.
As previously mentioned, the XSR900 also borrows the FZ-09’s aluminum frame along with its sport-oriented geometry. The suspension consists of 41mm inverted forks that are adjustable for both rebound and damping. The rear mono-shock is similarly adjustable. The performance parts carry over to the brakes, too. Up front twin 298mm floating discs are squeezed by radially mounted four piston calipers. A lower-spec unit with a 245mm disc resides out back. The wheels are lightweight 10-spoke cast aluminum pieces that fit standard sport bike tire sizes (120/70ZR17 front and 180/55ZR17 rear).
That these parts, which are right at home on a high-performance naked machine, all reside on what Yamaha calls a “neo-retro” motorcycle bodes very well for the XSR900’s riding experience. In the styling department, Yamaha has done a great job of making the bike look classic without making it seem flat-out old. The modern dimensions, chassis, forks, brakes, and engine certainly aid that cause. The beautifully curved swing arm and low mounted shorty exhaust are also nice touches.
Perhaps the only major visual miscue is the large radiator, but that’s the price you pay for all that power! A single round headlight pokes out in front of the bike’s wide, flat handlebars. There’s absolutely no wind protection (if that’s what you’re looking for, check out the FJ-09), but the seating position is upright and comfortable. The bare aluminum tank looks gorgeous, but unfortunately only holds 3.7 gallons of gas. That two-level seat is a nod to UJMs from the 1970s, but the instrumentation is fully modern with a round LCD display that handles speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, and a host of other functions.
Yamaha has promised to announce pricing information this coming February. With the much more bare-bones FZ-09 retailing for $8,190, expect the XSR900 to command a bit more than that.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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