YAMAHA XSR900 - RIDE REPORT
By GARETH CHARLTON - 11 Aug 23
Let's get one thing out of the way, I bloody love this motorcycle. If you are looking for a balanced opinion-piece with multiple angles of analysis, jog on. Sure, I have one, maybe two niggles, but they are so irrelevant within my overwhelmingly joyous experience of this machine, that they are but a footnote to an unapologetically enthusiastic word dump on the awesome Yamaha XSR900...In truth, I have wanted a crack on one of these ever since it's release. I had a few miles on its admittedly excellent predecessor, but was never truly compelled by it. So why the excitement for the revamp? Call me fickle, but those late 80's / early 90's inspired visuals immediately turned my crank. That the swathe of launch reviews unanimously raved of its power, new-found composure and all-round abilities, did little to quash my appetite for this XSR.When I finally threw a leg over that boxy tail section, we got off to an inauspicious start. A drizzly, British summer's day™, a spanking new set of nib-fresh tyres and an eagerness to ride that failed to observe the maximum power and minimum traction settings previously dialled in... resulted in some gut clenching mini-roundabout negotiations. This is one snap-happy motor. A toy with the settings thumb-wheel on the right bar (see footnote) led to a palpable adjustment to the power delivery, and over the following miles we quickly became better acquainted.Did I say snap-happy? This motor is so much more than that. Yamaha's 890cc, 117bhp, inline triple dubbed the CP3, continually draws the highest of praise in its deployment across the Tracer, MT and Niken ranges. And it is easy to feel why. Those 117 horses are eager to engage across the mid-range, but still hold back an intoxicating kick for the finishing straight. It is a joyous engine to use, an ever active and engaged participant of each and every journey.Orchestrated by your right wrist or a flick of your left boot via the quick-shifter, the motor sings with an evocative triple note that begs to be heard, even through that stock underslung Euro 5 appeasing pipe/box/pan/carbuncle... Which is substantially less visually obtrusive in the metal than via the lens of a ground hugging photographer.Back to that quick-shifter. As a general rule I tend to recoil from tech which looks to remove a hard earned skillset from the riding experience, but again, this is simply a joy to use. Blasting up a slip-road or pounding down the ratios on the approach to a junction, the accuracy and speed of the changes is glorious. Up and down arrows on the seemingly Casio inspired TFT dash glow to indicate when the QS can be utilised, but you soon get the gist of it. I remember back when my dad was teaching me to ride, he put great sway in the accurate blip-matching of revs on a downshift. It has been an action I have relished ever since, but having it auto-executed to perfection each and every time is perhaps even more satisfying. I am officially converted.I assumed the inclusion of a slipper clutch was purely for track work or the ham-fisted, but hearing that it also eases general mechanical wear and tear can only be a good thing. In my riding, I didn't notice its presence. Neither, thankfully did I need notice the lean sensitive ABS, but I was more than happy to know it was along for the ride. Speaking of the ride, that beautiful Delta-box frame (in common with the MT-Wheelie-09) is mated in the XSR to the longer swingarm of the Tracer 9 and XSR specific adjustable suspension to create a wonderful road package. It forces me to combine words that have no logical sense in their pairing. Agile yet planted, firm yet plush, aggressive yet compliant... Really bloody good, and really bloody naughty.With a strong rapport firmly established, I sought to further increase compatibility between man and machine ahead of a lengthy trip. Rotating the bars forward 10mm or so put the levers in a better ergonomic line from my lofty shoulders, but having initially got excited to read the footpegs had various mounting options I was disappointed to find them already in the lowest spot. By this point I was settled on power and traction modes 2 of the 4 available, but it was nice to know that a track, or more likely a rain-day, could illicit a tactical adjustment in either direction.Despite the lost hope of slightly slackening my knee and hip angles, I faired better than expected on a day in the saddle, with the cruise control further easing the monotony of dreary motorway miles. The previous iteration had a strong reputation with the long of leg, and if I had the slightly lower seated current model of my own, I would be tempted to raise it with an inch or so of foam to truly accommodate my 6'4' frame. One of my own... Now there is a train of thought I would happily pursue, and I am delighted to see a few custom builders have done exactly that. At the 2023 Bike Shed Moto Show Yamaha Yard-Built showcased their stunning Faster Sons collaboration with @caferacersofinstagram, a fully carbon faired XSR leaning even further into those blocky 80's visuals. Elsewhere Velocity Moto showcased their epic RD500 inspired do-over kit and Yamaha brought along the black variant clad with their newly launched "Racer" aftermarket parts. The seat cowl looks superb.Clearly the XSR is a machine that speaks to builders and riders of a certain age, but that is hardly a surprise. Over the past few years we have seen the inspiration sources for custom builders creeping chronologically forward. At recent Bike Shed shows more and more machines have looked not to the 60's and 70's, but to the 80's & 90's. Of the current mainstream market, the XSR900 is for certain the machine most overtly aping that era. Whilst that bravery needs applauding, it is also perhaps simply strong sales nouse to align product design with the poster bikes that would have graced the teenage walls of that ever profitable demographic of riders now flirting with their forties and fifties. And judging by the splendid styling of our restaurant crew in Shoreditch, it is a time-frame that also happens to be bang in fashion with the youth of today, which certainly can't hurt either.Yamaha clearly aren't yet done with the era. At the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed the hill-lined crowds were treated to a fleeting glimpse of their stunning DB40 prototype. Essentially an XSR with clip-ons and a half-fairing, and lashings of TZR / YZF / TRX nostalgia. Just look at that brushed frame and swingarm. That frame is actually the source of the machines moniker, with DB celebrating Yamaha's DeltaBox frame construction and 40 being the number of years they have utilised it.Dear people of Yamaha controlling the production green lights... Pretty, pretty please. And so to conclude on the 2023 XSR900. It is fair to say that the aesthetic revamp had me at hello, but as important as that visual connection is in our experience of a motorcycle, from the saddle it is rendered all but redundant. And from the saddle is where I truly fell for this machine. That motor, the quick-shift, the handling, the comprehensive tech-support, that sound... I squeezed more trips, long-way commutes and late night errand runs into my two weeks with this machine than I have on any other test bike. I wanted to ride it as often as I could, and I sure as hell did not want to give it back...That footnote: The menu navigation wheel come button on the right handlebar is fiddly and difficult to use, and the lovely bar-end mirrors are too wide for serious traffic cleaving. But I really couldn't care less.