2016 Yamaha XSR900 First Ride Review
You might quickly dismiss the 2016 Yamaha XSR900 as nothing more than restyled Yamaha FZ-09. While it certainly is that, there are also substantial functional and technical differences that make them two distinct motorcycles. This ride review and test will tell you exactly what Yamaha did to transform the FZ-09 in the the new 2016 Yamaha XSR900.
1. The 2016 Yamaha XSR900 is not simply an FZ-09 with retro-inspired styling. Although the visual differences between the XSR900 and the FZ-09, on which the XSR is based, are cosmetic, there are a number of important changes under the skin.
2. The Yamaha XSR900 gets traction control. Not available on the pure-sport FZ-09, even as an option, traction control with three functional choices—maximum (TCS-2), minimal (TCS-1), none (TCS-Off)—is standard on the XSR900. My first ride was in dry conditions, and if there was a difference between TCS-1 and TCS-Off, I couldn’t feel it. If it were wet, I would be selecting TCS-2 in a heartbeat, as the XSR does have a snappy motor. When it was dry, I didn’t feel any disadvantage using TCS-1, so it makes sense to make that your default. Changing between 1 and 2 is easy—just a button on the switchgear—but you do have to stop to turn the traction control off.
3. There’s a new clutch on the XSR900. We’ve been seeing a lot of the new Assist and Slipper Clutch technology. Basically, instead of relying wholly on springs to keep the clutch plates together when you’re riding around, the Assist technology uses the torque of the engine to help prevent the plates slipping. This allows the XSR900’s clutch to have three springs rather than the six in the FZ-09. Yamaha claims a 20-percent reduction in clutch pull effort. It works, and I rode the XSR900 for an entire day, with lots of urban traffic, and never once thought about the clutch. We’re all familiar with the slipper aspect, and it works fine on the Yamaha XSR900 as I downshifted hard repeatedly and couldn’t get the rear wheel to misbehave.
4. ABS is standard on the 2016 Yamaha XSR900. You won’t find ABS on the FZ-09, but electronically controlled ABS—separate for front and rear—is part of the XSR900 package. I never try the front ABS just in case, but the rear ABS channel was excellent. You feel a single pulse when pushing down hard on the brake lever, and then the brakes just work without skidding. If you live somewhere that is often wet, this can be a lifesaver.
5. Yamaha reworked the suspension settings when converting the FZ-09 into the XSR900. The big news is that Yamaha significantly increased the damping for the 41mm inverted KYB forks and linkage-assisted KYB shock on the XSR900, compared to the FZ-09. Additionally, the XSR900’s fork springs are dual-rate, compared to the single-rate springs on the FZ-09, and the spring length at both ends of the XSR900 are longer. Yamaha says that they increased the damping to make the bike feel more stable—and it does just that.
This is a great improvement over the FZ-09 settings, though a bit counterintuitive. You would expect that the sport bike would have firmer suspension than the upright retro urban bike. The FZ-09 handles great in the canyons, and the XSR900 has a superb feel for the pavement. Both the FZ-09 and the XSR900 have adjustable rebound damping at both ends, and fixed compression damping. The spring preload is three-position adjustable on both, also. In the city, you feel the imperfections of the road more with the firmer damping, but Yamaha hasn’t made the FZ-09 suspension harsh, so I have no complaints.
6. The new seat on the 2016 Yamaha XSR900 is not just a cosmetic change. The flat, wide seat on the XSR900 also changes the riding position. While Yamaha didn’t move the footpegs or grips, the seat sits over a half-inch higher and almost two inches farther back. This changes the FZ-09’s almost supermoto-like seating position into a more traditional—naturally—sporting position. The bars and footpegs sit lower and farther forward, relatively speaking, and it feels perfectly natural. This gives you a bit more of an aggressive look on the bike, which fits in with the intended visual presentation of the XSR900 and its rider. While the seat feels hard initially, it has great support and I was comfortable on an all-day ride that included significant doses of canyons, urban areas, and backstreet hooliganism.
7. Yamaha shod the XSR900 with Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20 tires, exclusively. The FZ-09 comes with either the aforementioned Bridgestones, or Dunlop Sportmax D124 rubber. I’m good with either, but if you’re a Dunlop die-hard, you will have to see if you can work something out with your dealer.
8. Yamaha has positioned the 2016 XSR900 as part of its new Sport Heritage category. Joining the XSR900 as Sport Heritage bikes are the SR400, plus two bikes from the Star Cruiser Line—the Bolt C-Spec, and the VMax. Very quietly, Yamaha has repositioned the Star brand. Instead of a quasi stand-alone brand, Yamaha-built cruisers are now part of the Star Cruiser Line under the Yamaha brand name, similar to how Suzuki calls its cruisers Boulevard.
9. Yamaha did a great job of integrating the XSR styling throughout the bike. The big focus is on circles. The headlight, taillight and instrument pod are all round. There are round holes in the sweet aluminum headlight bracket, along with the function-free aluminum “side covers” near the back of the seat. Aluminum also shows up in the front-fender mounting bracket, which looks quite impressive in person. The abbreviated fenders, front and rear, look cool. The motor (including exhaust) and chassis are visually interchangeable between the FZ-09 and the XSR900, so the XSR retains contemporary accents.
10. Riding the 2016 Yamaha XSR900 is a blast. Even more than the FZ-09, which is great fun, the XSR900 encourages that old-time hooliganism. I’m not a wheelie guy, but I was lifting the front end at will. In fact, the torque from the 847cc triple is so impressive that I inadvertently carried a long, low altitude, fully in-control wheelie when coming out of an uphill corner. My riding buddies were doing all sort of crazy stoppies, and the XSR900 just eggs you on from the moment you fire it up. If you think the XSR900 looks like fun, just wait until you ride it!
11. You have an choice of finishes. You can get the standard version, which has hand-brushed aluminum tank covers. While that sounds cool, I thought they looked like plastic in person, until I got very close. If I chose the Matte Gray/Aluminum version, I’d have those covers down to someone for some polishing to highlight the fact that they are aluminum. The 60th Anniversary Yellow speedblock version is my favorite. It hearkens back to Kenny Roberts’ TZ750 flattracker, and that’s good enough for me!
12. Yamaha gets an additional $1300 for the standard XSR900 over the FZ-09. If you don’t like the Sport Heritage looks, then it’s a non-starter—go with the FZ-09. However, I like the technical upgrades (traction control, firmer suspension, sportier ergos, ABS) and it would be hard for me to pass those features up.
Action and location photography by Brian J. Nelson
- Helmet: Arai Defiant Chronus Yellow
- Eyewear: Maui Jim Bamboo Forest
- Communications: Sena 20S
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Meta-X
- Gloves: Racer Race Carbon
- Jeans: Drayko Drift
- Base Layers: Fly Racing Heavyweight
- Boots: Joe Rocket Big Bang 2.0
2016 Yamaha XSR900 Specs
- Type: Inline 3-cylinder
- Bore x stroke 78.0 x 59.1mm
- Displacement: 847cc
- Valve train: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
- Cooling: Liquid
- Compression ratio: 11.5:1
- Fuel Delivery: Yamaha Fuel Injection w/ Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle
- Ignition: Transistor Controlled Ignition
- Transmission: 6-speed; multiplate assist-and-slipper wet clutch
- Final drive: Chain
- Front suspension: 41mm inverted fork, adjustable spring-preload and rebound damping; 5.4 inches of travel
- Rear suspension: Linkage assisted single shock, adjustable spring-preload and rebound damping; 5.1 inches of travel
- Front brakes: Dual 298mm discs w/ radially mounted calipers
- Rear brake: 245mm disc
- ABS: Standard
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20; f: 120/70ZR17; r: 180/55ZR17
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- L x W x H: 81.7 x 32.1 x 44.9 inches
- Seat height 32.7 in
- Wheelbase 56.7 in
- Rake: 25.0°
- Trail: 4.1 inches
- Fuel capacity 3.7 gallons
- Estimated EPA fuel economy: 44 mpg
- Wet weight: 430 pounds
- Warranty: One-year, limited factory warranty
2016 Yamaha ZXR900 Colors:
- Matte Gray/Aluminum
- 60th Anniversary Yellow
2016 Yamaha XSR900 Price:
- $9490 MSRP for standard
- $9990 for 60th Anniversary Yellow