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Reviewed: Yamaha XSR900 (2022)

2022 Yamaha XSR900

The sports heritage market has grown massively over the past 10 years or so, going from absolutely nothing to a sector that now includes everything from retro inspired adventure bikes (we’re looking at you, Moto Guzzi) to high-spec roadsters with a twist of classic bike in them (hi Triumph). But right at the core of the retro market is a selection of sporty, retro machines that don’t quite break the bank, using modern technology to offer a decent level of performance, while being dressed up in a package that pays homage to the days of old. And that’s exactly where the ‘Faster Sons’ range of Yamahas sit, with a model for every age and capacity, from 125cc all the way up to 900cc. And for 2022 they’re back in the party once again, with their highest performance sports heritage model yet – the new XSR900.



Just like the MT-09 platform upon which it is based, it really is new for 2022. Yamaha have gone the whole hog with an updated chassis, engine and tech platform, alongside that ‘80s inspired facelift. This means that not only is the new XSR lighter, at just 193kg ready to roll, but it also has a bigger, more efficient engine than before, producing 6% more torque at 93Nm, and 3% more power at 117bhp. The first two gears are now longer and there’s also a 15% increase in crank shaft inertia, for a bit more ‘character’. That’s a lot of go for a modern retro machine, but Yamaha have also tweaked the exhaust and intake too, in order to create a more characteristic growl.

2022 yamaha XSR900

That’s complimented by the chassis which is not only 2.3kg lighter than the previous model but also has 50% more lateral rigidity, with a 30mm lower headstock, new subframe and a five degree rotation in the engine placement. Compared to its sportier MT-09 brother (with which it shares so many components) it’s actually got a lengthier swingarm, giving the XSR a 16mm longer wheelbase for a bit more stability. Hidden away at its heart is a six-axis IMU, which powers a whole host of riding aids and four different riding modes too. As standard, the XSR also comes equipped with a quickshifter and autoblipper. There’s nothing at all retro about the spec sheet.

So it may have all the joys that the modern world brings in terms of tech and capabilities, but Yamaha have then been hard at work at really creating a seriously spicy looking machine, with a big nod to the early ‘80s – when arguably Yamaha were at their zenith with regards to the machines we consider classics today. At £10,200, it’s incredibly competitively priced, but as Yamaha’s flagship sports heritage machine, does it offer enough performance to keep things exciting? Well, we did over 160km on the glorious roads of Tuscany to find out.

The ride

For starters, it’s worth mentioning just how good the XSR900 looks. In a world where so many bikes are absolutely covered in plastic and clutter, it’s so refreshing to see the bare metal and elements of the machine oozing through. Little bits like how the pillion pegs completely fold away show just how much attention to detail has gone into the appearance, while the blue colour scheme looks absolutely stunning as well. I have to say, although I didn’t like that heavily sculpted seat unit at first, it does look the part up close.

Jumping on, the XSR really surprised me. Where the MT-09 has quite an aggressive, supernaked-esque stance, the XSR couldn’t feel more different; in a homage to the machinery from the ‘80s, I was surprised at just low the seat is, and how relaxed the riding position is. I actually didn’t like it much at my first sitting, as thanks to the elongated tank the bars sit quite far out, which is a little alien in comparison to sporty, modern machinery, but you get used to it and in turn it does make the XSR900 an incredibly gentle and easy machine to ride, as with the 810mm seat height I could go both feet on the floor and navigate at slow speeds with ease.

As with the MT-09, the first thing that got me was the 890cc three cylinder engine. Out of all the modes, Mode 1 is still very aggressive, so I spent most of the day in Mode 2 (full power, but with a softer throttle response), and although it’s still on the sharper end of the spectrum, for me it was absolutely perfect whether you fancied riding flat-out or rolling along. And that’s the beauty of this engine; although it’s not at the top end of the capacity scale, it’s an absolutely glorious bit of kit. From the first twist of that electronic throttle grip not only is that extra power and torque evident throughout the rev range, but the sheer character and abundance of playful acceleration is all you’ll ever need to have fun with on the roads, and to sweeten the deal it offers a blisteringly addictive soundtrack too, as is the case with most triples. It’s worth noting that if you want to ride a bit steadier and safer then the electronics do an incredible job of keeping things in check, although for me the ABS was just a little too intrusive under heavy braking. If you want to have a bit more fun and let things loose than the XSR is more than happy to oblige as well, with an easy to navigate system in terms of switching things off. Sure, it’s not as aggressive as the MT in terms of its hooliganism, but it really isn’t far off if that’s your thing.

2022 yamaha XSR900

And the same goes for the XSR’s handling abilities – it’s a huge leap forward from the previous generation. Although the swingarm is 16mm longer, which has increased the wheelbase compared to the MT, it still handles with incredible accuracy. Sure, it’s not as sharp at direction changes, but it’s still incredibly flickable, and actually offers way more in terms of stability, which eggs you on to push harder in the corners. With the new lighter chassis, lighter wheels and more rigidity in that Deltabox-style frame, even with the slightly softer sprung suspension it takes some hard riding to get anywhere near the limit of the XSR. It’s not a case of style over substance by any stretch of the imagination. If you’re after some serious performance, then you won’t be disappointed by the XSR900’s abilities. It really can hustle.

On the downside, if you’re after some mile munching then this bike definitely isn’t the tool for the job – even though it comes with cruise control as standard. This is because the XSR900 comes with one of the thinnest, hardest, seats I’ve sampled in a long time, and after a few hours of riding I really could feel it. If I owned the XSR, I would’ve moved the bars back a bit too, as it’s quite a far reach if you don’t have a lot in terms of arm length. But then again, you don’t buy a bike this to tour the Andes – you buy a bike like this to look and feel cool, without the need to sacrifice any tech or performance. And in that respect? The XSR900 is sublime.

Conclusion

The previous generation XSR900 was okay, but it was far more towards the heritage side of the sport heritage sector. With the injection of this new engine, chassis and electronics platform, Yamaha really have instilled a serious amount of modern capabilities, in a bike that not only goes and sounds the part, but looks it too. Sure, it’s not the comfiest machine in the world, nor is it the sharpest, or fastest. Yet it offers near enough all of the MT-09s incredible capabilities, in a more attractive package for many. If you fancy going down the retro route but still want to play, it really is all the bike you’ll ever need.

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