2016 Yamaha XSR900 First Ride Review

Naked, Fearless, Fun

2016 Yamaha XSR900 First Ride impression
Turn-in is easy and handling is terrific. At 430 pounds, the XSR900 is a lightweight in the class, making it nimble on backroads and manageable in town.©Motorcyclist

Yamaha says: “Authentic and honest.” Motorcyclist Magazine says: “Honestly a ton of fun.”

Yamaha's ability to spin multiple motorcycles from a core platform is starting to make it look like a Harley-Davidson from the east—or perhaps even Triumph. How many Bonneville models are there now? Anyone able to put a number on the various Sportster permutations?

For Yamaha, the number is three. First the grunty, somewhat unrefined FZ-09, which we all fell in love with at once, then came the more mainstream FJ-09. Now we have the retro-styled XSR900, which we've previewed before (CLICK HERE to see the XSR900 First Look). To recap, this is basically a lightly updated FZ-09 chassis and engine with new bodywork, updated electronics (now with ABS and TC standard), refined riding position, and slip/grip clutch system added to the 847cc triple.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, 60th anniversary yellow
The 60th anniversary paint scheme packs a punch, bringing extra retro character to the XSR900’s overall styling.©Motorcyclist

Just as in the FZ-09, the XSR's rumbly triple gives the same grunty torque that brings out the hooligan in any rider. Twist the throttle in any gear, and the engine just pulls and pulls. Some might call the XSR a wheelie machine, but I call it pure adolescent fun. To go with that sense of joyful thrust, the XSR's steering remains light and responsive, like the FZ-09's. And at only 430 pounds, a slight bump on the Naked Nine, the XSR acts like the quick, nimble urban machine that it is. In other words, when Yamaha reskinned one of our favorites roadsters, it did nothing to make it any less fun loving.

A Video Overview of the 2016 Yamaha XSR900

2016 Yamaha XSR900, handling
Suspension has been improved for the XSR, with dual-rate springs up front, and re-valved shock in the rear.©Motorcyclist

In truth, Yamaha did more than just fit new bodywork. While the XSR's chassis is based on the FZ-09, the suspension got a touch-up for this role. We've dinged Yamaha on the FZ-09's suspension plenty of times, and have acknowledged that the adventure-themed FJ-09's is a step forward. Now XSR's fork, while sharing the FZ's layout of a spring in one side and damping in the other, gets a dual-rate spring pack, with the softer spring about 7 percent softer and the stiffer about 27 percent stiffer. The similar KYB shock gets "revised damping" but the same spring rate as the FZ-09's.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, new digital gauge
The new digital gauge on the XSR900 maintains a classic look with its round shape, while displaying info of the modern features. TC, ABS, gear indicator, ride mode, and fuel level are shown, along with trip, odometer, miles per gallon, speedometer, and tach.©Motorcyclist

All of this is in the service of better, more confident handling than you'll find in a stock FZ-09. Around town, with settings set right at midrange, suspension feels firm; hard-edged bumps and dips transfer to the seat a bit more than is ideal. It's not a kick-you-out-of-the-seat kind of firm, just firm. And that firmness helps the XSR once you head out to the twisties, where it commits much less of the pogo-sticking FZ-09 owners come to tolerate (or fix). It steers where you want it to go, holds a line well, and gives no indications that you're rushing the pace.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, controls
The XSR’s adjustable traction control is adjusted by a toggle switch on the left handlebar. You get two modes plus off, just for you hooligans.©Motorcyclist

Brakes are improved, too. While the XSR has four-pot Advics up front, and a single-piston Nissin in back, just like the FZ, the new braking system incorporates ABS. Compared to the FZ, the XSR’s front binders have more Initial bite; not frighteningly so, but certainly noticeable. ABS kicks in without being jarring, inspiring confidence for emergency stops.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, ergos
Ergos on the XSR are a bit roomier than the FZ-09. With a seat height of 32.7 inches; the seat itself is set back 2 inches further than the FZ’s. Taller riders will appreciate this change.©Motorcyclist

The XSR has the same three ride modes as the FZ-09: A, B, and Standard; however, initial throttle response feels a bit more refined now in each mode. On my personal FZ-09, I tend to keep it in B mode (for easier throttle response), but on the XSR, I was happy with Standard, and found B mode too soft at the bottom end. A mode brought about a Mr. Hyde-like rider persona, so I kept that off for most the day. Traction control is another modern feature on the XSR, with 3 modes: TC 1 (road), TC 2 (rain/sand), and off.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, engine
No (major) changes here: Yamaha carried over the 847cc triple from the FZ-09 in mechanically unchanged form. The only alteration? Different ECU mapping to “match the character of the XSR.”©Motorcyclist

In addition to the rider aids of traction control and ABS, the XSR900 comes with a new slipper clutch, giving the left lever a light feel. Seat height is definitely taller than the FZ-09, which put me, with my 30-inch inseam, on my tiptoes. Seat position is set a little further back (50mm to be exact), stretching my torso a bit to reach for the bars. This makes freeway riding a bit less turbulent, as the ergos encourage a sportier tuck than the super upright FZ-09. Nothing exaggerated, but again, noticeable. This bike will probably be a little more comfortable for riders taller than my 5-foot-5 self.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, brakes
Brakes up front are four-pot Advics gripping 298mm discs. Yes, exactly like FZ-09 brakes. But they have stronger initial bite than the Fizzer’s setup and the benefit of ABS.©Motorcyclist

Styling of the XSR is a bit polarizing. Like BMW's RnineT, it's a quasi-retro, picking up elements from more traditional standards without using any of them wholesale. Kind of a mishmash, actually, but mostly it works. I love the round headlight and taillight. I don't mind the more modern angular frame leftover from the FZ-09; it reminds me of the second-gen Suzuki SV650. The biggest warts of the XSR are the incongruous boxes bolted to the front frame elements, there merely to hide additional electrical bits for the added modern amenities. The new tank, while the same 3.7 gallon capacity of the FZ-09, offers removable side panels which can be swapped easily, or taken off to be painted. And you might be tempted to do just that, since the XSR currently comes in only two colors: brushed aluminum/grey for $9,490, and the 60th anniversary yellow and black for $9,990.

2016 Yamaha XSR900, exhaust
Unlike the angular FZ-09’s layout, the XSR900’s exhaust was given a round shape to tie it in with the round headlight and taillight.©Motorcyclist

Long story short, this is a fantastic bike. I had so much fun braaping about town, and through the twisties in the surrounding hills. While the ergos are a slight stretch for me at standstill, once I rolled the throttle on, I was happy as a clam. Plenty of room without cramping my knees, and enough height that I was nowhere near scraping pegs. That familiar CP3 engine is just as fun as in the FZ, but with new suspension and more modern rider amenities, Yamaha’s third slice of this platform pie—joining the FJ-09 and FZ-09, which isn’t going anywhere—could be the tastiest one yet.

2016 Yamaha XSR900
With improved suspension, ABS, TC, and that familiar three-cylinder of the FZ-09, the XSR900 makes a great urban retro hooligan bike. Or an urban retro bike. Or a hooligan retro bike. Or an urban hooligan. Take your pick!©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Borrowing bits from Yamaha’s FJ-09 and FZ-09, the “heritage” XSR900 is both distinctive and familiar.
RIVALS
[BMW RnineT][], [Ducati Scrambler][], [Harley-Davidson Sportster][], [Moto Guzzi V9 Roamer][] and [Bobber][], [Triumph Street Twin][] and [T120][]
TECH
PRICE $9,490
ENGINE 847cc, liquid-cooled inline-three
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER NA
MEASURED TORQUE NA
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Advics four-piston calipers, 296mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.7 gal.
MEASURED WEIGHT 430 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [yamahamotorsports.com.com][]
VERDICT
A dynamic improvement over its platform-mate FZ-09. New suspension and rider aids make the XSR900 an awesome around-town and weekend hooligan bike.