Poised at the intersection of style and substance sits the updated 2022 Yamaha XSR900, Iwata’s fastest son in the Sport Heritage family, fulfilling the discerning rider’s desires for a machine with performance and looks in equal measure. Slotting itself directly between the standard MT-09 and upgraded MT-09 SP, both in terms of cost and features at a competitive $9999, the XSR900 demonstrates why tarting up a proven sport model is a path to success.Based on the recently updated third-generation MT-09 platform, the fashionable XSR900 is riding high on that mechanical windfall, wrapping the new 890cc triple-cylinder engine, stiffer frame, and IMU-supported electronics in retro-racebike garb. Things go beyond skin-deep by adding in a few model-specific chassis and ergonomic tweaks to give it a distinct personality. Now, let’s get on with the Fast Facts.
Welcome back to the 1980s, friends. The first-generation XSR900 took inspiration from the sights and sounds of the 1970s. However, designers leaped forward a decade and referenced the tuning fork brand’s rich racing history via Christian Sarron’s 1984 250cc World Championship winning GP machine, evidenced in the Legend Blue livery. Smatterings of ’80s racebike design elements are cleverly folded into the mix, beginning with the elongated flat-topped 3.7-gallon fuel tank and slick side covers, replete with D-ring fasteners. What captures the era above all else is a big, boxy, and bold one-piece seat and tail section, all but begging for a number-plate-laden passenger seat cowl.
Details make the difference, and the XSR has a few tricks up its sleeve. Anyone can appreciate a clean look, aided by fold-away passenger pegs, which I now firmly believe all motorcycles with compatible exhaust systems should have. Bar-end mirrors are another win in the styling category. Other elements, such as the attractive badges and a new aluminum under-tray panel, promote attention to detail. In addition, a fitting round LED headlight with clean brackets, plus an inconspicuously integrated taillight, look the business. As with any stylish machine, its appearance is examined under a microscope, where some offending wiring routing in the cockpit and the horn placement could improve.
A racier rider triangle awaits. Designers wanted a classic sport feel, nestling you into the 2022 Yamaha XSR900. This was accomplished by lowering the backswept handlebar a touch, nudging it out slightly, while the new steel subframe and seat bring the saddle height down a half-inch—the latter pairing well with the narrow frame for riders with shorter inseams. Lastly, the adjustable rearsets are shifted accordingly. The gingerly canted-forward riding position encourages you to get your elbows out and doesn’t get wristy at low speeds, yet offers a modicum of wind protection. That all sounds peachy, and it is, though the firm seat does take its pound of flesh after a few hours.
Snarling and refined, the triple-cylinder 890cc CP3 engine is a well-rounded piece of kit. The 890cc CP3 has grown up, yet it hasn’t lost its punk attitude via the 3mm longer stroke’s resulting displacement bump. A slew of new engine bits expands the repertoire beyond playing simple power chords, delivering a claimed six percent boost in torque. New heads, cams, forged pistons, intake design, and heavier crank—you get the picture—make for a smoother motor, delivering a more dynamic range that’s friendly off the bottom before building into fist-pumping midrange punch and a hard-charging top-end crescendo.
The soulful intake howl and exhaust growl add to the thrills of the 2022 Yamaha XSR900. Quite a bit of thought when into the new intake system, featuring variable-length intake funnels and finished by a revised exhaust system that’s shed 3.7 pounds. When you boil it all down, the little things like a wicked sounding intake and exhaust keep a smirk going under your lid.
Gearbox updates and an up/down quickshifter keep things quite sporty. During the last MT-09 update, engineers aimed their sights on the transmission, bestowing the CP3-powered motorcycles with a new assist-and-slipper clutch and shifting fork, resulting in far slicker shifts. Taking the edge off the CP3 are longer 1st and 2nd gear ratios, with the final piece of the sporting puzzle being an awesome up/down quickshifter, allowing you to blast through the gearbox with glee.
Four selectable ride modes alter the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 throttle response on the fly. Significant strides have been made in the electronics category, particularly with the ride modes, levels 1-4. Just as you guessed, Level 1 is the most aggressive and well-suited for spirited canyon rides or perhaps a track day. Level 2 softens the initial hit of power of the XSR, while Level 3 blunts the midrange quite a bit but still provides full peak power at higher rpm. Level 4 is your rain mode, curtailing performance for lousy weather.
Superior six-axis IMU-supported electronics are standard. Derived from the Yamaha YZF-R1 superbikes and simplified for street use, the latest MT-09/XSR900 motorcycles boast an impressive package of electronic rider aids. We’re working with cruise control, cornering ABS, traction control, slide control, and wheelie control—save for ABS, everything is three-level adjustable and can be disabled for proper naughtiness in the manual mode. Levels 2 and above keep it all buttoned down in a cordial manner. Drop things down further, and you’ll be able to sow your wild oats while still having a nice safety net.
Chassis changes help define the XSR900 riding experience. Stiffer and lighter are the headlines regarding the recently updated twin-spar aluminum frame and a lowered head tube that distributes weight farther forward for improved front-end feel and quick direction changes. Yet, the XSR separates itself from the naked herd by pilfering the stately Tracer 9 GT’s longer swingarm, extending its wheelbase by a sizeable 2.6-inches over the MT-09s. That notable figure hasn’t entirely dulled the retro racer’s sharp handling wit. Instead, it steadied its nerves, and the XSR is one cool customer whilst flipping through the canyons, leaning on solid stability from the mid-corner and exit.
Steering sweep does edge towards the narrow side. Now, I wouldn’t consider this a dealbreaker by any means. Tight, low-speed maneuvering can be an eye-opening experience if you’re unfamiliar with this steed’s narrow steering sweep. Once you know the limits, you’ll figure out U-turns in no time.
Updated suspension settings kick things up a notch. To be exact, Yamaha did some fiddling with the standard MT-09 suspension—firmer springs, more compression, and less rebound at both ends. Combined with the chassis updates, the new XSR900 strikes a nice balance between sportiness and comfort, capable of wicking it up in the back roads without rattling fillings out over rough stuff. There are no stern words for the fork, though my 180+ pound frame would appreciate another few clicks of compression damping in the shock—unfortunately, that’s the only non-adjustable aspect here. A turn or two of preload can work as a stopgap for the time being, offering improved support through dips and hard acceleration.
Less weight and more fun: A moto that we can all get behind. A litany of components contributes to a slimmer build—five pounds have been shaved from the outgoing edition. Astute spec-sheet observers will note that the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 is a few pounds heavier than the MT models, mostly chalked up to the heavier steel subframe. Of course, the handling can give the nod to lighter spin-forged 17-inch wheels that reduce unsprung weight. Plus, we have the sticky Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 rubber to keep the shiny side up.
New Brembo bits class up the joint. With the snazzy looks, we also get an upgraded Brembo radial master cylinder, still connected to four-piston Advics calipers via rubber lines that I’d credit with the hint of sponginess at the adjustable lever. Overall, the initial bite leans towards a street-savvy mindset, and outright braking power is more than present. Dig in, and you’ll get a nice serving.
Two-mode ABS settings are available. In the BC 2 setting, your XSR900 employs cornering ABS that is up to snuff with riders who have spirited aspirations. Even if you do trigger ABS, it comes in soft and doesn’t curtail brake pressure massively like systems of old. Place it in BC 1, and you’ll gain an extra sniff of braking potential at higher lean angles due to the IMU being disabled. Other than ripping a track day where trail braking becomes more crucial, BC 2 seems most appropriate.
The 2022 Yamaha XSR900 balances aesthetics with performance, and we’re all the better for it. Sometimes, styling exercises can please the eye and offend the senses in motorsports, but the updated XSR900 does nothing of the sort. This motorcycle has plenty more going for it than just a pretty face, between a wickedly fun triple-cylinder engine, the statelier chassis, and engaging riding position; the XSR900 impresses with its features and looks while keeping the value to thrills ratio right on the money.
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!