’17 Yamaha XSR900
Let me be honest, the naked style of the XSR is not really my glass of milk and I didn’t expect to test ride this bike when I walked into Cycle Craft Yamaha in Durban, but after only a few hundred meters up the road I’m glad I swung a leg over – it’s fantastic!
Influenced by the classic “XS” series from the ’70s and ’80s, the XSR shows its roots with retro styling and stepped seating combined with just enough modern tech that you know you’re in the 21st century. At first glance, it looks like a nice little bike — compact and sporty. On second glance…and third…it looks like a whole lot of bike for an affordable price. I wasn’t expecting dual 298 mm front disks, beefy inverted forks and respectable power-to-weight ratio for a lot less than what Nkandla will cost you.
When you hear retro, you automatically think stripped down, low tech and completely practical with old-school styling. Not so with the XSR900. With traction control, ABS and ride-by-wire and three power modes that you can switch on-the-fly, this little bike has a nice mix of retro looks and modern tech — a nice combination that we don’t always see at this price.
Add that to what could be called ’ordinary’ tyres. Why is this important? With a 120/70 tyre on the front and a 180/55 on the rear — typical sport-bike sizes — as an XSR900 owner, you will enjoy the benefits of being able to find really good tyres so you don’t have to sacrifice performance. That can’t always be said of other retro-styled bikes that keep the charm of the old-school looks right down to the tyre sizes, limiting your options for performance.
Looking around the bike, I like some of the feature and details, such as the easy to read (without dipping your head down) and operate dash. It may look a bit odd stuck up in the air, but it’s simple, functional with a gear indicator to a fuel gauge.
There’s no denying it’s a well put together bike, with nice paintwork that incorporates brushed alloy stripes on the tank and great welds on the frame and swingarm. One thing I don’t like is the backlight, it’s like Yamaha forgot to incorporate a light into the rear tail unit and bolted this one on as an afterthought.
The exhaust, however, is a thing of beauty; the short stumpy muffler really opens up the swingarm and gives the bike a sportier stance.
Hitting the M7, M19, N2 to M4 Sibaya Casino strip and the road to Richmond (twisties, yeah baby), the XSR is at home and feels really light and sportier than its looks would suggest. The gearbox is spot-on smooth and has a light feel at the lever with an assisted slipper clutch to stop rear wheel lock-up on downshifts.
The front suspension feels a bit on the soft side, but I don’t mind a softer sprung bike and it’s still capable of surprising a sportsbike or two in the right hands. The ergonomics are just right for me and the seat is the best I’ve sat in for a while, you could easily suck up vast distances in comfort on the XSR, or just use it for your daily commute or take it for a scratch down your local twisty road – the choice is yours.
The XSR comes with three map modes A, Std and B. Flicking between modes I find B is super smooth and would be my mode of choice in traffic and any wet conditions, it reduces power lower down in the rev-range and smooths the throttle out so much, taking away any hint of on-off throttle snatching. On the other hand, A mode (A-hell) gives you full power and sharpens the throttle response. This mode is fun to ride in, but you’ll sacrifice smooth throttle a little. I can live with that!
For me Standard mode was the best, the throttle response was slightly smoother and you still get full power making it easy to bring in those ponies in a safe predictable manner. Over the years I’ve grown fond of triples and Yamaha’s 900 is right up there with the best of them, the engine is better and has plenty of pulling power at seemingly any revs. The traction control is good, with three levels, and can be switched off for wheelies. The ABS is also very effective.
Yamaha used this opportunity to run its 847cc, Crossplane Crankshaft Concept engine — a water-cooled triple based on the FZ-09 breed.
Staggered intake funnels and four-valve heads feed the 78mm x 59.1mm cylinders, and the factory used its fracture-split technique on the crankshaft end of the conrods, a procedure that produces superior fitment to conventional machine work, at least according to Yamaha. The staggered intakes work with the ride-by-wire throttle to help even out power delivery across the range, and while it isn’t quite as sexy as Ducati’s variable intake system, it’s certainly better with a nice progressive touch.
A well-exposed, aluminium frame forms a sort of stylized Trellis skeleton with the engine as a stressed member to complete the assembly on the XSR900. This future/alien look carries right over onto the asymmetrical swingarm that features a split member on the left side to accommodate the drive chain and its guard, and a sharply kinked member on the right.
The frame is certainly more decorative than usual, but since it’s a naked bike with everything exposed to the world, it makes sense to use it as part of the overall visual appeal rather than simply a functional component. Yamaha was really going for a clean-looking bike with this effort, and the tucked-away monoshock tidies up the rear end nicely.
Dual front brakes sport 298mm discs and four-pot, opposed piston callipers with a 245mm disc in back, all under ABS protection. At 830mm tall with 127mm of ground clearance, the XSR900 is typical of the naked streetfighter genre; built for handling, not necessarily for easy ground access. Still, the narrow waist and tapered seat should offset that somewhat. Cast-aluminium rims slipped into 120/70 front and 180/55 rear rubbers make the final connection to the road surface.
The 14L fuel tank features deep knee recesses and stylish curves. The ‘bars are tapered cast alloy and feature a new slide type starter switch that incorporates the kill switch. The cafe racer style LCD display includes a gear position sensor as well as tacho and speedo.
So, if you’re into retro hipster style bikes, drag out those 80s style clothes and start growing your beard as this is the bike for you!
I think then the XSR could surprise many riders. It certainly surprised me!