“Moooommm!!! Dad’s hooning again!” – I can imagine my daughter yelling back to her Mom as I take off down the street on the 2016 Yamaha XSR900.
The best part is, Mom isn’t likely to believe her. The Yamaha XSR900 just looks so innocuous. So clean-cut, so mild-mannered. It’s the sort of bike your parents or spouse will look at approvingly.
Which is not to say the XSR isn’t good-looking: it really, really is. Stunning, in fact. The red-wine suede seat is spectacular, the proportions all dead on. Only the fuse box up near the steering head breaks up the otherwise flawless elegance of this bike. The taillight and speedo are deliberately matching and both are fetching little units. The shape of the aluminum tank is spot on. It might be the best-looking standard on the market.
But it’s a bit of a sleeper. It looks great, it just doesn’t look fast.
And yet it is.
The XSR900 is powered by the now-ubiquitous Yamaha triple. All 847 cc of low-down, adaptable, rideable excitement. My favourite motorcycle engine of 2016, it takes this gentlemanly looking Yamaha and thrusts its front wheel skyward like the most savage of middle fingers.
The three-mode traction control kicks in to keep you on the right side of the law, but a long press of the TCS button will soon release that leash. The XSR pulls with supreme confidence through the 11,500 rpm redline, the silky triple less of a roar and more a steady surge of volume and pitch as the speedo climbs.
Yamaha’s D-Mode system allows for three different throttle response maps for sporty riding (A), normal riding (STD) and wet riding (B) – I put mine in A and left it there all week. The D-Mode can be adjusted on the fly, as can traction control; however, if you’ve turned TCS off you can’t turn it on again without coming to a complete stop – which I think is flawed logic.
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The clutch is light and well-defined, gears snick into place with the gentle ease befitting a bike that looks this elegant. The slipper clutch is a welcome bonus
The suspension is buttery soft, which makes for a comfortable ride if not a sporty one. There is very little wind protection so longer rides will mean you have to deal with some wind buffeting, but of all the bikes I’ve ridden more than 100 km at a stretch recently, this is still the one that left me least fatigued. On the highway there was more than enough grunt to squirt out of harm’s way or into a gap in traffic, on the on-ramps and off-ramps the XSR tracked truly and accepted big lean angle – up to 50 degrees is possible according to the factory.
The brake lever and clutch lever are appreciably firm with good feedback. Most importantly, the brakes offer good stopping power and ABS for the squirrely moments. I felt a lot of pitch and dive under braking courtesy of that soft suspension, but it was precisely this sort of movement that made the XSR so damned fun to ride.
The soft seat is set to a height of 830 mm which is short enough for my 5’6” frame to feel comfortable but tall enough not to cramp more regularly sized people. The bars are a good height and nice and wide which again opens up that comfortable riding position.
There is a hell of a lot of bike here for the $10,699 starting price. Three-mode traction control, ABS, three drive modes, slipper clutch, curved swingarm, 41 mm upside-down fork and some of the best build materials for the seat, tank and grips this side of a luxury car. All those nanny aids, and the upright riding position make for a bike that is supremely easy to ride.
Which is dangerous, and here’s why: You know that comfort level I spoke of before from your loved ones? How they’d look at this bike and think, “Well, he won’t get into much trouble on that”? The XSR900 is so comfortable, and easy to ride that you’re very likely to fall into the same trap – and that could catch you. Maybe it’s the short wheelbase, the low gearing, or the engine (have I mentioned how much I love this engine?) – but if you’re at any stage inattentive with your clutch and throttle inputs things will get very exciting very quickly.
And how can you not love that?
Key Specs: 2016 Yamaha XSR900
Engine: 847cc, triple
Horsepower: 115 hp (official)
Torque: 65 lb-ft (official)
Curb weight (wet): 195 kg
Seat height: 830 mm
Length: 2,075 mm
Wheelbase: 1,440 mm
Width: 815 mm
Tires front/rear: 120/70ZR17, 180/55 ZR17
Fuel capacity: 14L
Suspension: 41 mm conventional fork 137 mm travel
Rear – adjustable link monocross (offset) with 130 mm travel.
Frame Type: CF (Controlled Filling) die cast, twin spar, diamond-type, aluminum frame – engine is a stressed member.