Yamaha XSR900 - A Vintage Enthusiasts First Ride
There's a good chance that I'm one of the people Yamaha hopes to reach with the all new XSR900. With its classic aesthetics and up-to-date technology, the XSR is exactly the kind of modern bike that appeals to a vintage enthusiast like me. While I love older motorcycles, I'm not a purist. I've been seeking a modern bike with all the technology, comforts, and performance to satisfy my everyday need for speed, while still appealing to my personal sense of motorcycle style. It looks like Yamaha's XSR 900 may just fit the bill.
I had the opportunity to test ride the XSR 900 during Yamaha's recent launch event in beautiful San Diego, California on some rad new roads and through all sorts of riding conditions. Overall, the XSR was exciting to ride, offering equal amounts of adventure potential and the reliability and comfort of a modern machine.
Ideally, I'd like to commute with plenty of power in my bike to get out of hairy spots on the freeway, and like to be able to hop on a beautiful scenic road for cruising on the weekend. I also want to be able to get a little sideways in the twisties when I get a wild hair. Yamaha's XSR 900 delivered just that. It was fun with plenty of power and comfortable for any road type or length of riding while being an eye-catching motorcycle with nods to Yamaha’s heritage.
First Time / First Ride
This was my first experience doing a ''first ride,'' and I had so much fun getting to try out the new Yamaha XSR 900. I’ve ridden some modern bikes, but the bulk of my riding experience comes from riding vintage bikes — which is why RideApart thought I'd be the right rider to cover the XSR launch. The most “modern” bike I own is my 1986 XR250 dirt bike (for those “modern” comforts). A few of the bikes I’ve ridden have had fuel injection and ABS, so this wasn’t my first experience. But with the updates Yamaha has made to the XSR, I would say this is the first time that I have really felt these features as a ride perk rather than just noticing a difference. While riding the XSR, the up-to-date technology actually improved my riding.
Don’t tell my vintage-only friends I said that, and don’t assume I’ll be selling my 70s bikes anytime soon. I like being able to wrench on my own machines and know that it would take a lot for me to learn how to service a modern bike. So if I owned one I would definitely be stuck taking it to someone else for maintenance. Which is exactly the barrier that has kept me from getting a modern bike. After the smooth ride and fun I had on the XSR 900, that trade-off is starting to feel like it might be worth it.
We started out the morning at our hotel and when I first saw the bike I couldn’t decide which color setup I preferred. The 60th anniversary yellow was unmistakably vintage looking, with the paint scheme that blacked out half the tank reminiscent of Kenny Robert’s 1975 TZ750, two stroke flat-tracker —a bike I’ve been in awe of since I got interested in flat track racing.
I’ve since spent hours watching old videos of Roberts killing it on that bike during the heyday of flat track as well as his comeback to Indy in 2009. Plus it looked really good with the custom Nexx X.G100 helmet that RideApart's Creative Director Jim Downs had designed especially to match the bike. The Nexx helmet's vintage look, modern comfort and technology was a perfect match for this bike.
But the matte grey/aluminum with the burgundy seat detail really appealed to my personal retro/modern aesthetic. It made me think of Katee Sackhoff’s (Starbuck from BSG) Classified Moto-built sport bike that has similar aesthetics with the aluminum scrubbed tank, seat shape, and color.
Once we got to Jeff Palhegyi’s, I fell even harder for its aesthetics with the added accessories that really made it into a retro modern styled bike.
The aluminum seat cowl would be a necessary addition for me and my no-passenger lifestyle. Additionally, the clubman bars makes it look awesome, but might take away from the versatility that is one of the XSR900's strong points (I feel that way about clubmans on any bike). While I'm definitely into fashion, I feel that clubman bars are more of a fashion statement than anything else. A bike should be a good balance of function and fashion, if you’re into the fashion side of things.
The XSR900 is based on the the successful Yamaha FZ-09, but comes with some big improvements —most notably with the suspension. It has a 140 percent higher compression and 100 percent dampening, according to Yamaha. While I never rode the FZ-09, the consensus was the XSR's suspension is much better than the softer suspension of the FZ. When I got to the shop, I grabbed one of the mechanics and asked them if they could check out the adjustment on the suspension because there had been a couple points where I felt like the bike was setup for someone a bit heavier than me. A couple big bumps sent my small frame bouncing because as it turns out, the suspension was adjusted for a 250lb rider. After a super fast adjustment the bike felt even better and I wasn’t bouncing at all anymore.
The ride from the hotel to Jeff Palhegyi shop was a versatile introduction to the bike. We hopped on the freeway for a group ride through some morning traffic. At a couple points, I got stuck behind a truck or a bit of traffic; however, the XSR had all more than enough power to catch up to the group, allowing me to quickly split lanes to move back into the pack. I even had the bike in its “B” power mode for this early part of the ride, which is the softer throttle response setting. On my vintage bikes, it’s the carburetor's job to mix fuel and air. The function of the engine can be tuned with the carbs, but ultimately the mix is being mechanically initiated with a pull on the throttle. Fuel injected engines use a computer to control the mix of fuel and air initiated by a throttle pull based on a fuel map created by engineers.
The XSR also has an “A” power mode, which offers a sportier response, and a “Standard” power mode with a more versatile fuel map that Yamaha told us was best for a wider range of riding conditions.
We hit a really rough part of the freeway where the road was full of potholes as well as a concrete road with the tiny grooves that usually send me bouncing on my older machine, pulling my tires and making me feel unstable. These all felt like minor conditions on the XSR with the suspension Yamaha has set up just for this bike. All the bumps and pulls were dampened, and I could roll on the throttle and fly right over them with minimal fight in the bars.
For me, the biggest struggle on the bike was figuring out which riding position to take. The responsive throttle and brakes I was experiencing made me instinctively sit and place my feet as if I was riding a sport bike. I mentioned to one of the Yamaha riders that my toes were cramping a bit from the ride and they pointed out that I could be sitting much more flat-footed than I had been. Once I allowed myself to relax into the seating position I was used to, I realized that I could have been seated way less aggressively the entire time. I often shy away from sport bikes with a really aggressive riding position because I'm such a tall rider with a sensitive lower back and knees. I felt much more free and in control once I loosened up and sat more flat-footed, plus my toe cramps went away.
We had lunch and hit the road again and I switched the bike into the sportier “A” power mode as we headed toward the canyons. Riding through twisty roads is where I got a chance to play with my throttle control and really master the fuel injected power that the Yamaha delivered. It seems counter intuitive, but I found better throttle control and shifting in the more aggressive “A” power setting. While in the "B" power mode, I could really feel the bike delivering less power in the lower gears. Shifting into third gear, I felt that the "B" mode's throttle response was a bit unpredictable and jumpy. I didn’t have any of the same feelings in “A” mode where the torque seemed smooth all the way through the gears making for the ride through the canyons a a lot more fun.
The geometry of the XSR900 and the solid grip from the Bridgestone Battlax tires inspired a lot of confidence in the corners. There were even a few points when I pushed myself to take the corner a bit steeper than I would on my vintage machines, and felt the traction control take over. Before experiencing real traction control, I might have shaken my head at the concept. But it turned out be incredible, allowing me to push a little closer to my personal limit without feeling like I would crash out. I’ll admit, the first time I felt the traction control really take over was when I tried to get a little too sideways for the ride-past photo op. On my old bike, things would have gotten squirrely, but the traction control made the bike grip the road and put me back in control. While it was a bit of a shocking sensation, I feel like it would make me a better rider.
After we left the photo op, we got to do more canyon riding on twists and long straightaways where we got to feel the bike’s ability to do high speeds effortlessly. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you I took the bike up past 100mph no problem. I also might have even let out a few whoops inside my helmet because the feeling was so amazing.
I watched a couple riders who were obviously much more into the twisties than I was really pushing the bike. I let them take off so I could catch up doing the straights, which I’ll admit is one of my favorite parts. It’s why I love flat tracking more than any other race. I’ve been on a motorcycle for long enough to know that there’s something in it for everyone and that the only thing that comes from trying to show off is putting myself or the people I’m riding with in danger. The XSR felt like a bike I could push myself on while still being completely in control with the responsive throttle, traction control, and braking power it was offering.
After riding the 2016 Yamaha XSR900 for a full day, I'm looking forward to more time with it to experience its versatility. I was riding the bike on someone else’s terms for the most part and it would be a more thorough test to have the bike for a couple weeks and live my daily motorcycle adventures on it. I have a good feeling that I wont dread riding the XSR every morning in the express lanes of LA's 110. Don’t tell my CB750, but I’m sure I would save a bit of money on gas as well.
The XSR900 is an awesome machine. Its technology really impressed me while still holding true to an authentic style and dedication to quality that I usually find in vintage bikes. The XSR900 is modern bike that respects its heritage and offers a stylish but sporty and comfortable ride. All those elements usually don’t get to sit together in a description of any motorcycle.
If you appreciate motorcycles in the same way that I do, I think you'll feel the same way about the 2016 Yamaha XSR 900. It's already out and available at your Yamaha dealer today.
XSR900 v. FZ09 Specs