Yamaha’s TDM900 is one of those mythical ’do-it-all’ motorbikes, which can tour, commute and get the adrenaline pumping on a twisty road. It’s also refreshingly easy to ride, even for a relative biking novice.
Alastair Walker checks out the 2003 incarnation of Yamaha´s long distance parallel twin.
I have to admit to liking slow, comfortable motorbikes.
OK, maybe I am just getting old, but I don´t see the point in owning pure sports motorcycles anymore. High insurance, Police vendettas, way too much traffic, chronic back and shoulder ache whilst riding – the day of the sportbike is over, except in the rose-tinted memory of a few thousand diehards.
You see the thing with all-rounders like the smooth TDM900, is that they are motorcycles you can simply ride, anywhere, anytime.
There´s no need to don £1,000 worth of fashionable leathers, boots, colour-coded gloves, knee-sliders and matching hair gel. Nor is it necessary to engage in a full-on round of British Superbike race action, as you travel along the A5.
Instead, you can push the button on the TDM900, sit up straight, let out the clutch and let the 900cc parallel twin thrum happily away, all day long, at whatever speed feels comfortable for you. The chassis is fluid enough to deal with most pot-holes and incompetent road repairs, whilst the superb brakes will save you from hot hatch driving youths, driving home on Sundays after 40 hours of sustained chemical abuse.
Yep, this is a bike you want to ride, for the pleasure of clocking up the miles, rather than the jealous glances of your less wealthy/mental acquaintances. If that sounds sensible to you, then I reckon you´ll love the TDM.
Use it or lose it
The thing about covering a mere 2,000 miles per year leisure biking, is that it just isn´t enough for most bikers to stay sharp. By sharp, I mean capable of riding fast and staying well away from near death experiences. It´s a set of skills which needs practice, preferably on a bike which forgives mistakes.
So a bike like the TDM900 is perfect, because it has all the things you need to enjoy riding, in the right balance. It doesn´t overwhelm the senses, or drop you into some sort of X-Box game, like an R1 or a Ducati 996 might do.
The TDM has a 897cc, four stroke, liquid cooled motor making 85bhp, at 8,000rpm. This means you don´t have to rev its head off to get the machine moving swiftly towards its 130-ish top speed. Plenty of mid-range power for road use.
The engine is torquey, yet silky smooth, thanks to its unique firing order, lighter internals (than the old TDM850), the efficient fuel injection system and a brilliant, slick, six speed gearbox. The clutch is pretty light in its action too, making the TDM so very easy to ride through town traffic jams. There´s none of the `on-off´ power characteristics you get with some V-twins for example and the new 900 engine has shaken off the last traces of its old Tenere XTZ750 roots.
This useful, fluid power, is applied to the tarmac via a narrow, evenly balanced chassis, which encourages the rider to relax, yet make deceptively quick progress. The forks and monoshock can feel slightly soft, but only when you really drive the bike hard into corners on its superb brakes.
Overall, the TDM has lost about 20lbs and is now about 190Kgs dry – but the bike doesn´t feel that heavy, at any speed. The weight distribution has also changed, which definitely makes the whole machine feel perfectly balanced. The 900 also features wider wheels, which give a better choice of modern tyres and I feel that´s another factor in giving the bike better handling, especially at higher speeds.
In every way, the TDM900 is more flickable, steadier, a motorbike which carves a confident path for you. You trust this bike to do what you want, without any drastic surprises to me, that´s a rare thing these days, when so many motorcycles feel like hard work at speed.
One of the things that I liked about the old TDM850 was its riding position and there´s little overall change on the new 900, as far as I can tell. The handlebars are still nice and `low rise,´ the seat seems to be wider and better padded than before and the gas tank has been re-shaped and feels slimmer between the knees.
There´s 20 litres of capacity, which proved enough to get me from Yamaha´s Brooklands HQ to the M42 services, just south of Birmingham, using just over nine quids worth of unleaded in about 106 miles – pretty good going I reckon.
The only obvious improvement the TDM900 could use for everyday comfort is a higher screen on the little bikini fairing. There is an optional higher screen available for sixty quid or so, but I think this kind of bike should have it anyway, the low screen is just too low and you soon feel the wind pressure on motorways above 70mph.
This is one of the few motorcycles on the market where a normal sized pillion passenger could feel pretty much at home. The footpegs are set at a reasonable height on the TDM, not somewhere level with the typical post box. The rear section of the saddle is wide and flat, there are a couple of grab handles, plus a small luggage rack. There are also optional hard panniers available.
Other good stuff includes the dash, which is nice and clear, with a clock, plus the mirrors, which won´t win awards for groovy design, but do give an excellent view of what´s going on behind you. Despite having sensibly low exhausts, the TDM900 also has plenty of ground clearance -you can have fast fun on this thing.
The only niggle which stops this being a spot-on touring bike is the retention of chain drive – why? So many bikes still have this Victorian method of transmitting power to the back wheel, even though the extra few bhp a shaft would absorb is neither here nor there in terms of performance. For further chain-fiddling fun, the TDM900 has no main stand, although it is an option, just a side-stand.
But that apart, the TDM900 is a well thought out, and well made, motorcycle. There are very few signs of corners being cut, the thing looks built to last a few years, even if – shock horror – an owner rode it in the rain.
The only problem for me with the TDM900 is that it lacks a distinct edge, a unique character somehow. There are bikes like the Honda Africa twin for example, or Triumph Tiger, which do a similar all-round job, but have more visual appeal, or just feel more alive, more exciting, when you open the throttle. I still think the BMW R1150GS is unbeatable when you consider the likely resale value, the ability of the bike, its shaft drive and the carrying capacity. The BMW is a machine which easily takes luggage and a pillion, yet feels exactly the same to ride as solo – an amazing feat of engineering.
New rivals like the Aprilia Caponord, Suzuki V-Strom and Ducati Multistrada are all out there as well, giving Yamaha´s TDM900 a hard time in establishing a clear identity for itself in a crowded market segment.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha tdm900.
Engine Parallel twin, liquid cooled, four stroke.
Bore and stroke
92 X 67.5cc
Compression ratio 10.1:1
Claimed power 40bhp @7,000rpm
Carbs None, fuel injection.
Transmission 6 speed
Frame Twin spar alloy, using engine as stressed member
Front suspension 43mm cartridge type forks, multi adjustable
Rear suspension Monoshock, multi adjustable
Wheels/Tyres 120/70 ZR18 front, 160/60 ZR17 rear
Brakes Twin 298mm discs, four piston calliper, plus single 230mm rear disc, twin piston calliper.
Top speed (est) 105mph
Dry weight 190kgs
Fuel capacity 20 litres
Colours Yellow, or Blue/Black
Buying info Two year warranty
Current price £5999 OTR