MCN Fleet: All about the looks with the Yamaha XSR900

Published: 18 May 2016

Sometimes a bike just resonates. The colour, the look, the sound…  whatever it is, it reaches out and talks to you.

Coming from a misspent youth of smoke-belching two-strokes, Yamaha was the brand I turned to most frequently as a spotty teenager in search of cheap thrills.

An RD200, led to a 350 Powervalve which led to an RD500. So when the first proper pictures of the new XSR900 hit the desks at MCN, my jaw dropped. The yellow and black 60th anniversary speedblock colourscheme took me back to those heady days. And while it may seem somewhat superficial to want a bike purely based on what it looks like – that’s kinda the whole point of the XSR.

Because it’s essentially the MT-09 restyled, if you go for an XSR over the original 850cc triple, then you’ve chosen it because of what it looks like. It goes the same and handles the same, pretty much.

So I wanted the XSR900 because of what it looked like. I had visions of me riding into the MotoGP at Silverstone in black leather jacket, the yellow bike beneath me glinting in the sunshine. Of Rossi politely asking to see the bike that looked so much like the special M1 he rode at Goodwood last year. Of scything through country lanes with Highway to the Danger Zone playing in my head! Expectation and reality rarely mesh into a seamless progression. The dream does not always cross into what actually happens out on the road.

XSR's best bits


Retro-yet-modern single round clock is all digital and displays
your riding mode plus all the usual info

Yamaha has sold out of the speedblock bikes but the silver tank
looks cool and offers decent range

LED rear light looks like a 1970s sci-fi vision of the future.
It’s a stroke of design genius from Yamaha

“What do you mean you have no yellow ones left!”

The dream is over… or is it? The yellow tank is actually two yellow panels and a centre piece. Yamaha say they can source yellow  panels for £335. The other changes are the headlight body (£79.86), the fork tubes (£290) and the mudguard (£100.44). That’s a whopping £800-plus to get to a bike that only costs £150 extra from a showroom – only you can’t get the anniversary one as it’s out of stock.

So the Garage Metal XSR900 was secured with every intention of it not staying Garage Metal (silver to you and me) for very long. Only as I wandered around my new bike, I liked the brushed ally effect on the tank. The silver suits that retro, café racer look. And with a stack of aftermarket accessories to really turn this into a time machine, I was dreaming once more.

The first few hundred miles also delivered a few home truths. And some that I wasn’t expecting. This bike is fast. With a snarling 850cc triple engine I should have expected no less. But I had. I thought it was a retro bimbler. A bit like the MT-07, which I’d run previously, but a tad faster.

The 14-litre tank had me worried. Filling up every 90 miles is not my idea of fun. So far that’s another fear that’s proved unfounded. I’ve had 112 miles on the trip before fuelling and only managed to squeeze in 11 litres. So the XSR should be more than capable of a 140-mile tank range – and that’s not too shabby.

The much-maligned fuelling glitch of the MT-09 is barely evident on the XSR. There are three engine modes – A, STD and B. A is a bit snatchy, B is dull and frighteningly blunt while Standard is spot on. It still delivers the full 115bhp in this mode but just softens the throttle response a tad. I ride most of the time in Standard mode, although I don’t reckon A mode would take a lot of getting used to.

There a few early niggles too. The mirrors offer a good view of what’s behind but blur badly over 70mph and the sides of the seat dig into the underside of my legs. Hopefully the seat will soften or my legs will harden!

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