Bike reviews

Yamaha XSR900

yamaha xsr900 review

In a world of ever-expanding choices of rider aids, connectivity and increasing array of specification, the XSR900 (and smaller-capacity XSR700) shun almost all of them in favour of a more pure riding and ownership experience.

In terms of the basic bike; you have the choice of three different colours – but that’s not far from all of the choices you need to make. At least before you start any potential customisation of this retro roadster which is aimed at taking a slice of the retro modern marketplace.

The XSR900 was introduced in 2015 for the 2016 model year and there have been just a few modifications made to the bike since then apart from annual colour changes. New for 2019 is the Garage Metal paintscheme which features a clear-coated brushed aluminium and red colour on the fuel tank covers. It suits the retro style of the bike well, and the link back to old Yamaha racing bikes is clear to see.

The new colour trades heavily on Yamaha’s long history of motorcycles and looks perfectly in keeping with the retro style of the XSR900.

At the heart of the bike is an 847cc, inline, water-cooled three cylinder motor which first appeared in the original MT-09 naked bike. There are no changes or attempts to detune it for the XSR900, which means 113bhp and a creamy triple soundtrack to listen to.

While it’s true the XSR900 is a simple motorbike, it’s not true to say there are no electronic aids it has traction control, ABS and two different riding modes to choose from.

While these rider aids will help out in the event of an emergency, like a sudden need to brake, or an unexpected change in the surface conditions, what they don’t do is detract from the riding experience or baffle with complexity like some can do.

The rider modes have two standard modes, with one for normal road riding and a softer option being made available for less than ideal riding conditions. The traction control also has two settings for minimal or maximum intervention, and this can also be switched off by the rider too.

Riding the XSR900 is a simple yet rewarding experience which is exactly what you would expect from a bike that takes the concept of an engine, two wheels, fuel tank and the minimum of any other parts as the overriding concept.

There’s little or no wind protection as there’s no windscreen or front cowling (although you can buy official Yamaha accessories to customise your ride and improve the wind protection) and everything is exactly where you would expect it to be.

Up front is a single round headlight which has a simple digital circular clock which contains all of the main elements needed, in terms of fuel level, a clock, revs. Rather oddly the two switches that control the functions on the clocks are mounted on the right of the screen which means changing the display while riding (to change the trip meter for example) requires you to lean over with your left hand to reach them.

In contrast to the retro look is the performance from the three-cylinder engine which delivers and urgent, rev-happy and thrilling-sounding backing track that runs alongside more than enough speed and acceleration to keep it fun.

In some ways the performance is a little shocking, and by shocking we mean that it’s a rapid machine which belies the retro styling. Wheelies off the power are not uncommon and it’s the lack of wind protection that ends up being a limiting factor to how fast you can go; which on today’s busy roads is no bad thing.

The bike’s natural habitat is as a fast, nippy urban bike. It has oodles of style but can back that up with enough performance to move it far away from the poseur’s bike.

The suspension is another element where the low cost of the bike manages to not get in the way. Despite the XSR900 costing just £8999, that low price doesn’t seem to have reflected in cuts to the quality of the bike that in any way spoils the bike.

While Yamaha has been very clever in keeping plastic coverings to a minimum to ensure the XSR900 has a quality look, although the cost-control can be seen with the suspension set-up, which is lacking  the full adjustment options you would expect on higher ticket models.

The handling is tidy, sharp and the bike can be thrown around fairly hard before any issues arise. With a decent braking set-up to fall back on, the XSR900 has enough performance to be more than entertaining and those simple rider aids are there as a bit of electronic back-up if you need them.

In all honesty, the standard set-up is more than enough to satisfy the vast majority of road riders and those who are riding hard enough to want for more are probably on the wrong bike and would be better off with something like a sportsbike.  


The Yamaha XSR900 is a fairly rare thing in being a combination of form and function with neither of these normally exclusive elements being left out at the expense of the other.

While there have been a few mild tweaks to the bike over the time it’s been around, the overall package is much the same and remains great fun, great to look at and very keenly priced.

Best of all for the retro bike enthusiasts out there is there’s a huge amount of Yamaha official accessories to choose from to make your own bike very much your own and for riders who really like to modify their bikes, there are lots of aftermarket options too.

The retro bike class is pretty full of rivals but the Yamaha manages to keep itself well accounted thanks to great styling and that performance punch. The sharp edge of that modern three-cylinder motor gives it a clear distinction from more traditional two cylinder retros like the Ducati Scrambler, Moto Guzzi V7 and Triumph Bonneville models, making the Yamaha XSR900 a thoroughly modern roadster with a neat retro twist.

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