The new TDM900: Suspension and big arches over the wheels say " I’m an off-roader, me. " Deltabox twin-spar chassis and sporty road rubber say " Not really, I’m all about the Tarmac. " Sounds like a supermotard? Well it ain’t one of those either.
The new bike we’ve been riding in Fuertaventura replaces the old TDM850, but Yamaha is claiming a lot more than sandpapering an extra 49cc out of the barrels.
The engine, while based on the old bike’s parallel twin unit, has been seriously overhauled. Yamaha claims the upshot is not so much a boost in power, as a smoothing out and flattening of power and torque curves. Being a big twin, the engineers have concentrated on low and mid-range power. Sure, torque is up by a claimed 11 per cent, and power by five per cent, but it’s the lack of holes on the way there that Yamaha thinks we’ll like.
The frame has switched from steel to aluminium, cutting weight by 29 per cent while increasing rigidity. Weight saving off the old model slashed 11kg from the dry weight. Adding fuel injection and catalytic converters in the exhausts added three kilos – so the new model undercuts the old one by a total of 8kg.
The new rear shock has a full range of adjustments, making it better suited to the role Yamaha sees for the bike. According to product planner Oliver Grill, the TDM was developed in the mid-80s to answer the question, what would make the best, most fun bike to take on mountain roads? That could be solo, two up or two up with luggage. To cover all those situations, they felt the fully adjustable shock was vital. To make the bike better balanced, the engine has been canted to a more upright position and shifted further forward. The rider has followed the engine forward, giving a 49.8%:50.2% front-rear weight balance.
Get on board and it feels familiar – the upright, comfortable seating arrangement remains the same. Thumb the starter, listen to the bike settle into a familiar burble and feel for the vibrations. They’re there, but not obtrusive.
Then you let the clutch out and start and the lumpiness of the two big cylinders starts to get through.
On the open roads the first impression is one of slight disappointment. Your mind is telling you this is more or less a litre-class twin. But there simply isn’t the punch at low revs that you expect from, say, a Ducati 996. It may be down to the engine lay-out – even with a 270 degree crank to help it emulate a V-twin, the TDM remains a parallel design – but instead you find you have to rev the motor surprisingly hard.
Steering, by total contrast, is something you don’t have to try even remotely hard with. The first road we take is a fast sweeper with a couple of tighter hairpins thrown in. The wide bars give you a lot of leverage from the shoulder and that means you barely have to think about making it change direction – it’s so easy to take the bike from upright to fully cranked that you’re free to concentrate on traffic and the best line instead.
As the going gets tighter, the bike continues to prove its agility. Through some super-tight twists where you can only see from one corner to the next by looking back over your shoulder, the bike flicks lightly from side to side. In this sort of environment, concentration is vital. If your bike made you work hard you’d get tired and that makes it harder to concentrate on where you’re going. With the TDM you could keep going all day with straining your upper body muscles.
But you’ll have to keep your eyes off the dash. The new display gives you a big digital speedo and a central rev counter, and it’s the latter you might want to avoid looking at. The red line – or rather zone – starts at 8000revs and ends the dial at about 9500rpm. And the needle clearly has a travel pass for all zones – it’ll happily spend all day in the red. Getting in and out of the tight turns, the engine felt happiest revving hard.
The R1-related brakes work fantastically. A whirr of pad on disc, a controlled dive on the softish forks and a dramatic reduction of speed. Let them off, tip in and there’s still plenty of time to make the corner.
The brakes aren’t just for emergencies, either. There’s good feedback from both ends, and the balance is good too, making it a doddle to keep the bike settled and the tyres planted as you chuck it from apex to apex.
This is a bike almost anyone will be able to enjoy.
There’s even more on this test in MCN, published November 21, 2001
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