The Yamaha XSR900 Is Great, But It Isn't The Bike You Want | Cycle World

The Yamaha XSR900 Is Great, But It Isn't The Bike You Want

How power and performance can get in the way of a fun ride

2016 Yamaha XSR900

The 2016 Yamaha XSR900

Courtesy of Yamaha

Yamaha has had the throttle pinned on new model creation for the past few years. The Bolt, C-Spec, FZ-09, FJ-09, XSR900, FZ-07, and new YZF-R1 were all good if not great bikes. They’ve just announced the FZ-10 is coming to America, as well as the addition of the SCR950 to its lineup, and we expect to see a new YZF-R6 this year alongside whatever else they're dreaming up. Seriously, I don't think they let their development teams eat or sleep.

All of that is great, but there's one problem: they’re underutilizing the best (okay, my favorite) one. The FZ-07 is the modern-day Suzuki SV650, and Yamaha isn't milking it nearly enough.

Recently I got a chance to go on the press launch for the new Yamaha XSR900. Several weeks later, I had to take a quick trip up to San Francisco and the XSR900 looked the most comfy for a jaunt up the coast, which meant I got to spend another 1,000+ miles feeling it out.

2016 Yamaha XSR900

The Yamaha XSR900 taking in the sights of Highway 33

Photo by Sean MacDonald

It’s a nice bike. It has tons of power, handles pretty well, stops pretty good, and puts a big ole grin on the face of anyone atop it. I’ve gotten to write about it several times now and, each time, I find the article coming off quite positive. Sometimes even more positive than I initially intend for it to but, when I go back and look to try to edit my thoughts, I can find no fault with my feelings about it.

And then I realized what the problem was: it’s just too much. The XSR is billed as this around town/fun bike, but it’s actually a naked sportbike that’s just nicer to look at than most of the others. It’s the same reason I’ve always gravitated toward the FZ-07 over the FZ-09 (and why multiple friends have thanked me months after talking them into purchasing the 07 instead of the 09). This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist, but it does mean that I think it isn’t the bike you want.

While the XSR900 is great, the bike you really want is the Yamaha XSR700 - the bike that Yamaha still claims they have no plans to bring Stateside. Because it’s just the right amount of bike for the riding position and the way most people looking to buy this bike want to ride.

2016 Yamaha XSR700

The 2016 Yamaha XSR700, which currently is only available in Europe.

Courtesy of Yamaha

I just rode to San Francisco and back on the XSR900 and guess wasn’t awesome. That motor screams “I want to go 90!” while the riding position says, “can we please keep it around 60?” I folded my body flat, parallel with the tank to get out of the wind during some of the freeway stretches, which resulted in a great ab workout and a badly scratched center plastic piece...and still a decent amount of fatigue.

Around town, you feel the extra weight of the bike (compared to the FZ-07) and, while totally manageable, the power the motor is capable of producing is never far from the front of your attention. On the triple, you spend time thinking about not overdoing it. On the twin, you spend time thinking about how to flog it. Which of those sounds like a more enjoyable ride?

2015 Ducati Scrambler

For most kinds of normal and daily riding, the Ducati Scrambler is still one of my favorites.

Courtesy of Ducati

Not only did Yamaha bring the XSR900 Stateside instead of the XSR700 but then, when looking for bikes to base their “scrambler” SCR on, they overlooked it AGAIN. Instead, they chose to use the guts from the Yamaha (previously Star) Bolt. Because a bulky and slow-revving 942cc V-twin motor and 547 pounds is totally the recipe for a great scrambler. Did the FZ-07/XSR700 say something mean about the brass over there at Yamaha? Make a distasteful joke at the dinner table? Where’s the love?

When I got home from the XSR900 launch, a buddy who’d been eyeing it called to ask what I thought about it. “Great,” I told him. “Much better. They fixed a lot of the stuff they messed up with the FZ-09 when they launched it and it’s very capable. But all it really made me want to ride is the XSR700.”

2015 Ducati Monster 821

The XSR900's real Italian competition is this Ducati Monster 821

Photo by Scott Sorenson

Bikes like this are meant to be lighthearted, lightweight, and fun. They should be small, should ride small, and should encourage you to hop a curb or two—not do 130 on the freeway and worry about keeping the front end down.

Let me be clear, this isn’t to say that the XSR900 (or FZ-09) are bad bikes. They're actually quite good. But, for all of you asking “XSR900 or Ducati Scrambler/Triumph classic?”—I’m going to pick the Ducati or Triumph every time. If you were shopping for a used KTM Super Duke, Ducati Monster, Kawasaki Z800/Z1000, Suzuki GSX-S750/1000 or some other naked sportbike, I would totally recommend the XSR900 as being a great option that gives you better performance than the other Japanese options and is more affordable and reliable than the European ones. But. BUT. If you want to do around town things, look stylish, and have fun—there really isn’t a better way to go than the Ducati Scrambler or XSR700.

2016 Yamaha XSR700

The 2016 Yamaha XSR700

Courtesy of Yamaha

Give the people what they want, Yamaha. Bring us the XSR700. Then put that motor in a SCR700, too. Please and thank you.


More Stories