Custom cafe racers were all the rage when the Yamaha XSR900 debuted for 2015. If that wasn’t evident in the XSR’s classically shaped tank, round headlight, and optional seat cowl, then the ’70s-esque paint schemes certainly drove the point home. Try as it might, however, the XSR900’s cafe racer aspirations never quite gelled with the sloping lines of its twin-spar aluminum frame and stressed-member inline-Triple.
Trends evolve over time, and so has the XSR900. Updated for 2022, the latest XSR has a newly sculpted fuel tank, race-style side panels, a squared-off passenger seat, and Grand Prix livery inspired by the 1980s Sonauto Yamaha race team.
Yamaha matches that beauty with brawn and brains, giving the XSR the revised CP3 (Crossplane 3-cylinder) engine and 6-axis IMU also found on the MT-09 and Tracer 9 GT. The retro roadster courts the cultured crowd with throwback threads, a tubular-steel subframe, a longer swingarm, and a Brembo radial front master cylinder. Here’s what we learned after bending the new XSR900 through California’s curve-happy State Route 33 and beyond for nearly 200 miles of unfettered fun.
Yamaha’s inline-Triple has always been a terrific powerplant. The latest iteration displaces 890cc, and Yamaha claims the bike’s new intake system, cylinder head, camshafts, and exhaust give it 6% more torque (68.6 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm) and 11% better gas mileage (49 mpg).
Those adjustments have improved the CP3’s road manners, and the torquey Triple remains as engaging as ever. Upon initial throttle crack, the rider is aware of the power at their right wrist – and for good reason. One complaint about the previous-generation XSR900 was its snatchy throttle response. Yamaha has largely smoothed things out. In 1st and 2nd gears, throttle pick-up and roll-off aren’t completely jolt-free, but by 3rd gear, throttle response feels just right.
The new quickshifter delivers clutchless upshifts with smooth yet positive engagement. Downshifts are no different, allowing riders to stomp down through the gearbox with impunity. Whether you ride with a devil-may-care attitude or more like an angel, the revised Triple is happy to oblige.
That’s most evident with the newly updated ride modes. Yamaha drops the three-setting system (A, Standard, and B modes) of the past and now offers four ride modes designated by number (1, 2, 3, and 4). Whether you’re cruising the boulevard or hunting apexes, the XSR changes personalities at the touch of a button.
Modes 1 through 3 provide full power but with progressively softer throttle response. Mode 4 reduces power and provides the gentlest throttle response for low-traction conditions. We enjoyed sunny weather while aboard the XSR, so we mostly kept the roadster in Mode 1 and only taste-tested Modes 2 through 4. The thrilling throttle response, meaty midrange, and husky exhaust note are addicting and will keep riders coming back for more. The punchy Triple spreads the fun across the entire rev range too, with torque-rich tug down low and a spirited surge of power kicking in above 7,000 rpm.
Power is nothing without control, and the XSR900’s redesigned chassis harnesses all that potency to perfection. Yamaha repurposed the die-cast aluminum frame underlying the MT-09 and coupled it to the extended swingarm found on the Tracer 9 GT sport-tourer. Measuring 2.3 inches longer than the MT-09 unit, the in-frame-mounted swingarm optimizes rigidity and stability. The XSR dives into corners with a predictable yet urgent steering rate.
Yamaha also updated the damping rates on the XSR’s KYB suspension, which pairs a fully adjustable 41mm inverted fork with a preload- and rebound-adjustable rear shock, with 5.1/5.4 inches of front/rear travel. Yamaha increased the fork’s spring rate by 7%, boosted compression damping by 31%, and reduced rebound damping by 27%. Out back, the shock benefits from a 21% stiffer spring rate, 35% more compression damping, and 11% less rebound damping.
The benefits of the updated suspenders are most apparent at lean. The front wheel tracks true to the rider’s initial input but easily adapts to mid-turn steering adjustments. The fork also withstands heavy braking while remaining compliant at high lean angles. Even when cranked over on its side, mid-corner dips and undulations don’t compromise the XSR900’s composure. The direct and precise maneuvering also pays off in the S-curves, with the neo-retro flopping side-to-side seamlessly.
Some of the XSR’s newfound nimbleness is attributable to new 10-spoke aluminum wheels made using Yamaha’s exclusive spinforging process, which shaved off 3 lb of unsprung weight. Overall, curb weight has been reduced from 430 lb to 425.
The new Brembo radial master cylinder gives the XSR better feel at the front brake lever, helping riders modulate brake pressure with more precision. Dual 4-piston front calipers with 298mm discs and a 1-piston rear caliper with a 245mm disc provide ample stopping power, complemented by the prodigious grip of the Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires.
Of Man and Machine
Befitting its GP-inspired styling, the new XSR900 has a more aggressive riding position. Compared to its predecessor, the seat is 0.9 inch lower and 0.2 inch farther forward. Similarly, the handlebar grips were moved forward by 0.6 inch and down by 1.4 inches, and the footpegs were moved 0.3 inch lower and 0.1 inch back. In the cockpit, the new rider triangle feels sporty but never approaches uncomfortable. The generous tank cutouts accommodate riders over 6 feet tall, and a rider’s upper body only slightly looms over the tank.
The XSR offers some ergonomic adjustability. Rotating the handlebar clamps 180 degrees moves the handlebar forward and up by another 0.4 inch in each direction. The footpegs can also be repositioned 0.6 inch higher and 0.2 inch farther back.
The new R1-derived electronics package adds lean-sensitive traction control, slide control, lift (wheelie) control, and cornering ABS. The 6-axis IMU-based system automatically syncs slide and lift control to the selected traction-control setting (Modes 1 and 2), but users can customize the experience with the Manual Mode or turn off the rider aids altogether. Sticking to the streets, we kept the XSR900’s traction control in Mode 2 for most of our test ride. Though TC was rarely called upon in the dry conditions of our test ride, it’s always reassuring to know those safety nets are there if you need them.
Gone is the previous generation’s round LCD display, replaced with a new 3.5-inch color TFT screen. Featuring a bar-type tachometer at the top of the layout and the numerical speed readout and gear indicator displayed in a large size, users can quickly gather critical data at a glance. On the other hand, the limited screen size renders the ride mode, traction-control setting, time, fuel gauge, and tripmeters difficult to read at speed.
Additionally, navigating the system isn’t intuitive or self-explanatory. With the menu scroll wheel at the right handgrip, the user will need to stretch to reach the controls without chopping the throttle when in motion. Once inside the submenus, the spartan user interface is easy to navigate despite the scroll wheel occasionally confusing inward presses for upward rolls. While the setting menu prioritizes simplicity, the same can’t be said for the ride mode/traction-control system switches.
Located at the left handgrip, the Mode button forces users to toggle between the ride mode and traction-control panes before adjusting each setting with separate up/down switches. Of course, centralizing the scroll wheel and separate-function buttons on the left switchgear would have been the most user-friendly option, but the cruise-control module takes up a large portion of the left controls.
Dawn of a New(er) Era
Most motorcycle enthusiasts categorized the previous-gen XSR900 as a vintage-clad MT-09. The XSR and MT may share the same 890cc CP3 Triple, cast-aluminum frame, and R1-derived electronics system, but like fraternal twins, they also possess their own identities. The XSR900 stands apart not only with its unique styling but also with its stiffer suspension, longer wheelbase, and Brembo radial master cylinder.
The new Sonauto Yamaha-inspired design takes the XSR900 in a new direction, and Yamaha believes the model will serve as a canvas for customizers. The new tubular-steel subframe enables easier customization, and we can’t wait to see what builders do with the new platform.
Trends come and go, but with equal measures of form and function, the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 has all the elements of a classic in the making.
2022 Yamaha XSR900 Specs
Base Price: $9,999
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline-Triple, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 62.1mm
Horsepower: 108 @ 10,000 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Torque: 63 lb-ft at 7,200 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.0 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 31.9 in.
Wet Weight: 425 lb
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 49 mpg (claimed)