Yamaha’s triple treat: Firm’s XSR900 DB40 Prototype hints that new retro sportsbike is incoming

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Yamaha’s XSR900 DB40 Prototype revealed at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed is the firm’s strongest hint yet that they’ll produce a 900cc middleweight sportsbike to sit between the 72bhp R7 and top-of-the-range 197bhp R1.

An ‘R9’ spin-off of the MT-09 has seemed obvious to just about everyone since the R7 was created from the bones of the MT-07, and that’s the second comment everyone around the DB40 makes after suggesting it looks like a YZR, TZR, TRX or OW-01.

Yamaha’s official line is that the bike is a celebration of the firm’s four decades using ‘Deltabox’ aluminium frames on their race and road bikes, beginning with Kenny Roberts’ 1983 YZR500 Grand Prix bike, then filtering down to road bikes with the 1985 TZR250 1KT (which the UK didn’t see until ’86). And in simple terms, it’s a Yamaha XSR900 dressed up with a fairing and a different exhaust.

Yamaha DB40 concept fairing

But there is almost certainly more to it when you look at the hints and read between the lines of the non-committal press information.

For a start, the bike isn’t simply a production XSR stripped and customised: it’s built from a bare frame and engine, both of which bear low-series pre-production serial numbers. There’s no need for a customised, one-off XSR to use such parts.

And secondly, manufacturers in Yamaha’s league rarely create something in an official capacity like this: they already have the ‘Yard Built’ programme to promote and nurture a custom scene around the bikes, which they typically invite dealers or custom bike builders to participate in rather than built themselves.

Yamaha DB40 concept ridden at Goodwood Festival of Speed

The so far un-named Yamaha Motor Europe staffer who created the bike is a TZR250 and TDR250 owner, as well as a fan of 80s/90s bikes in general.

“There’s not too much to it,” he said. “I started with a bare frame, which I removed the paint from and rubbed with a Scotchbrite pad after testing a polished look, but I prefer this. The swingarm and yokes are treated the same way, and also the side covers on the engine.

“The seat cowl is similar to the one we offer in the ‘Racer kit’ accessory pack, and the fairing is inspired by some of our 1980s bikes, but not a direct copy. Something like a YZR500, TZR250 or even an OW-01, as some have commented.”

Yamaha DB40 concept tank

Technical changes are limited – LSL raised clip-ons replace standard riser ’bars, an Öhlins shock (but not the production part fitted to the MT-09SP) and forks treated to all-black finishes. There’s an Akrapovič exhaust from the official options list, relieved of its catalyst and baffle for maximum noise as a rolling exhibit.

Riding the Yamaha DB40 prototype

MCN’s Chris Newbigging rode the DB40 on the Goodwood FoS hillclimb track.

“After riding it, I hope any production bike – which seems very likely after the reveal – also takes the XSR range somewhere sportier, because it makes perfect sense. 

Yamaha DB40 concept burnout

“I won’t pretend the short run up the hill amounts to a serious test, but I can tell you the XSR naturally lends itself to this kind of treatment – those clip-ons with a decent rise and some wind protection instantly change the feel of the bike compared to high handlebars.

“You’re much more connected and able to enjoy a spirited ride, but without the discomfort of the head-down Yamaha R1 and the middleweight parallel-twin Yamaha R7. The fun factor of the XSR/MT-09 is still there, too. There’s no downside.

“And speaking as a fan of 80s bikes, I think all the manufacturers are overdue modern tributes to some of their defining models from the period – a production DB40, and maybe a Z900RS-powered GPZ900R evocation would be more than OK with me!”