Yamaha XSR900 (2016) - First Full Road Test

IF the retro-look genre of motorcycle is good enough for that Rossi chap then it’s good enough for me. Ok, so he gets paid by Yamaha to say nice things about their bikes but I’m thinking he’s not the kind of chap who’ll promote something that’s no good.

Welcome to the latest in Yamaha’s Sport Heritage line-up, the XSR900, which pays tribute to some of the iconic models of Yamaha’s past including the XS750 which became the 850 around ‘76. Unveiled by the aforementioned 9-time World Champion at the Milan-based motorcycle show last November, the beautiful looking three-cylinder powered machine was said to be high on his shopping list. And judging by the 150 miles I’ve just ridden on it, the latest Yamaha will be on mine too.

Bike Social was among the first to get a taster of the XSR900 at the world’s riding launch on the super smooth mountain roads of Fuerteventura.

Comfortable, quick, entertaining and versatile - the XSR900's got the lot

It’s hard to believe that so much motorcycle is available to you or I at our local Yamaha dealership by the end of February for less than £8,000. And that represents a mere £500 above the standard MT-09 on which it is heavily based. I say 'so much motorcycle' because the Yamaha fits so many purposes from cruising around on a Sunday and filtering through city traffic to blasting around the B-roads out-performing its retro looks. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is another one of those sit-up-and-beg nakeds. Oh no, this is very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Yamaha’s marketing chaps have developed a sport-heritage-range-wide philosophy which is designed to encourage customisation, very much the current trend. On first inspection this new bike looks very similar to the smaller XSR, the 700 based on the MT-07, launched towards the end of last year. It too had the Faster Sons concept in mind where Yamaha take inspiration from the past then add a heap of new technology and build something for the future. The two XSR’s aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing motorcycles on the eye but they have been created in basic form so the owner can choose to remove, replace or add to from the official range of goodies. That said, the three colours in which the 900 is available are very suited, my preference is the super stylish Matt Grey but the Rock Slate and special 60th anniversary scheme (also includes the gold anodised forks) are sure to be just as popular.


The XSR900 comes in three colours though the 60th anniversary scheme is an extra £150The XSR900 comes in three colours though the 60th anniversary scheme is an extra £150The XSR900 comes in three colours though the 60th anniversary scheme is an extra £150

So, take your mind off the sheep’s’ clothing for a moment, which is easy to do when you’re perched on top of the 835mm high (+15mm over the MT-09 and only 10mm lower than the Tracer) saddle and you will quickly become friends with the heartbeat of said wolf; the very same 847cc, liquid cooled, in-line triple from the MT-09. Boy is it good. Free-revving with plenty of torque makes this retro-machine an unlikely sports-bike challenger away from the traffic lights. Be careful though because too aggressive with the sensitive throttle and the front wheel disassociates itself with the ground with ease. The bike’s acceleration is partnered with all the grunt required to pull hard out of 2nd or 3rd gear corners or even when overtaking.

The engine is equipped with three riding modes, or ‘D-Mode’ as Yamaha would like to like to call it, which alter the engine’s characteristics. The ‘Standard’ mode is surrounded by ‘A’ which probably doesn’t technically stand for ‘Aggressive’ but that’s what I’ll call it. Then there’s ‘B’ which should be S for Smooth. All three modes still offer the same 113.4 bhp but they deliver it in differing manners. A is obviously the more sporty and sensitive while B is a bit more chilled and linear. Standard sits in between them and in all honesty the difference is subtle enough not to get too preoccupied. To change modes is easy; tap the so-called button on the right handlebar to toggle between the three options which will be apparent on the single, round instrument panel then to make your selection just throttle is closed momentarily.

The XSR900 from Yamaha is the modern day 'every bike', the only it doesn't do well is tour

The familiar howl of a three-cylinder bike is closer to a growl on the Yamaha. It’s Euro4 friendly and the short stubby exhaust note gives you a real buzz when you wrench the throttle open. It is very easy to succumb to the XSR900’s persuasive nature of coaxing you into accelerating harder and for longer just to listen to that menacing, head-turning bark. The revs quickly build toward the 11,000rpm redline and the bike keeps on pulling hard through the mid-range, it’s favoured place, though it runs out of steam a little once past the peak of its torque curve at around 8500rpm. No problem because the sweet little gearbox, ably assisted by a new and 20% lighter slipper clutch making for smooth changes both up and down, is on hand. Take a little resistance off the throttle and you can make the changes clutch-less. Not if you want to preserve your ‘box mind.

Another additional new-age extra is the three-stage traction control. Once again, this is operated via the handle-bars though a spring-loaded vertical switch on the left-side this time allows you to switch between settings 1 and 2 while on the go. However, to turn the system off will mean being stationary. If so, you are putting a huge amount of faith in the standard-fit and super brilliant Bridgestone Battlax S20’s because the torque on offer sure made the TC work, especially if only in mode ‘1’.

The agility and ability of this, the bigger of the two XSR’s, does not befit its shape or stature. From the front it appears narrow but a glance at the side silhouette and you wouldn’t believe the corner speed one can carry. OK, so the suspension isn’t the finest, a little hard and bumpy in places, and while the bike is clearly not built nor designed to be capable of R1-dexterity, nonetheless it can still give the more experience rider a proper grin. From Fuerteventura’s fast and open sweepers to the Isle of Man TT-style mountain section threading our way between mountain face on one side and a sheer drop with nothing but a breezeblock as a barrier on the other, the Yamaha kept on impressing with its pace, punch and precision. The hard-braking elements of the road test at least allowed for the ABS to come under scrutiny. The twin 298mm diameter front discs performed just as you would hope, they shed enough speed when required and only once did the rear get a little light and squirrely as the ABS cut in. The overall price of the bike means high-spec suspension and brake components were never going to make it onto the production model but what Yamaha provide are more than capable for everyday riding or a weekend jaunt.

Weighing the same as a CBR600RR, the XSR900 is vastly capable in the corners

With the front forks diving a little when trail braking leaving an ever-so-slightly unsettled feeling, the response was to start balancing the bike by dabbing the rear too. These were extreme circumstances and ones that are unlikely to be replicated and indeed aren’t supposed to. It was all in the name of a thorough test you understand! The upside-down 41mm forks are adjustable for rebound damping and are the same as found on the MT-09 though because of the additional traction control they get their own bespoke settings. At the rear, the linked-type monocross unit is adjustable for rebound damping as well as preload.

The XSR900 has identical foot peg and handlebar positions as the MT-09 despite its seat being 15mm taller. It’s also 5mm further back thanks to a longer fuel tank, and slightly more tilted towards its narrow front where it meets the tank. I found the bike narrow and tall not only from its stance but while riding, for such a look you wouldn’t expect it to handle as well as it does. The riding position felt slim, my knees close and that resulted in very little leg stretching despite cover in excess of 150 miles during the day. Clearly a lot of thought, research and design has gone into the comfort of the rider, the raised handlebars are ideally situated for my 6ft frame and though slim it is still roomy enough to slide back or move around for a more aggressive cornering position.

A heavy appearance is unrepresentative, it also doesn't look fiesty but it is

The bike weighs in at 195kg, about the same as a Suzuki SV650 or Honda CBR600RR, though it’s 4kg more than the MT-09 which, according to Yamaha, is because of aluminium parts replacing plastic. It looks heavier than it feels, if that makes sense. The exposed motor and array of metal on show gives an appearance that you’re about to get on a 240kg XJR1300 but as soon as you get to that first turn, or even manoeuvring at low speed and you’ll be impressed. And that of course contributes heavily to the XSR’s classy handling.

The single and slightly off centre LCD display is easy to read with all the relevant information including a gear indicator, in digital format. Two further adjacent buttons toggle two trips, temperature, mpg, odometer and clock display.

Having covered 150+ miles at road test pace, the display read the equivalent of 42.8mpg while Yamaha’s official and verified tests state the bike will, when ridden sensibly, achieve more than 54mpg from its 14 litre tank. 

The wolf has an impressive bark and strong performance from its gem of an engine, while the sheep side of the bike is ready for customising. Yamaha have over 40 accessories on offer. I have to underline that while I’ve noted the most micro-issues with the suspension and ABS, bear in mind this is no sportsbike and the £7849 price tag represents extraordinary value for such a complete package. The XSR900 is an easy bike to get on and ride, there’s nothing too complex about it. It’ll suit many different types of riders or rides.

Small, neat and compactMode button sits below the one-piece ignition/kill switchThe twin 298mm, ABS-equipped discs could have been a little bigger

YAMAHA'S PROMO VIDEO (ft. Kenny Roberts)





Engine type

847cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-stroke, 4-valves, 3-Cylinder, Crossplane crankshaft technology

Bore x stroke

78.0 mm x 59.1 mm

Maximum power

113.5 bhp @ 10,000 rpm

Maximum torque

64.5 ft-lbs @ 8,500 rpm

Transmission system

Constant Mesh, 6-speed, chain drive







Front: Adjustable telescopic 43mm upside-down forks with 137mm travel

Rear: Swingarm, adjustable monoshock (Link type suspension) with 130 mm travel

Brakes (with ABS)

Front: Hydraulic dual disc, Ø 298 mm

Rear: Hydraulic single disc, Ø 245 mm


Front: 120/70ZR17M/C (58W) (Tubeless)

Rear: 180/55ZR17M/C (73W) (Tubeless)




Length, Width, Height

L: 2,075 mm

W: 815 mm

H: 1,140 mm

Seat height


Wheel base


Min Ground Clearance


Weight (wet)


Fuel Tank Capacity

14 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed)

54.3 mpg

CO2 emission

120g/km, Euro 4 compliant


60th Anniversary, Matt Grey, Rock Slate


From £7849



Helmet: Arai RX-7V 

Helmet paint scheme: by Richard Stevens at RichART

Jacket: Tucano Urbano Selvaggio

Jeans: Resurgence Ultra Lite 

Boots: TCX X-Rap W/P

Gloves: Alpinestars Oscar Robinson

Like the style of the XSR range?  or