A couple of years ago, I sampled the BMW F900R, Kawasaki Z900, and Yamaha MT-09 as part of a $9,000/900cc comparison. My takeaway was that anyone who wanted the Yamaha the most was a “lunatic” as it was the clear favorite for anyone looking for an adrenaline jolt at the expense of civility. But last year, Yamaha revamped the MT-09 and in the process they made it
less insane better. In fact, the revised Yamaha MT-09 was one of my favorite bikes of 2021, but it had one major issue: it was hideous. That’s what makes the XSR900 very appealing to me, as it offers up almost every single positive characteristic of the MT but it looks much better. Now we’re talking!
What I don’t like:
VerdictThe previous XSR900 was basically a MT-09 in drag, but this time around Yamaha has introduced some changes specifically designed to give the XSR a different personality. It gets all of the engine, suspension, and technology upgrades that were bestowed to the MT, but the XSR is now the corner carver of the family thanks to racier ergonomics and a longer swingarm. Combine that with the extra convenience of cruise control as well as a look that’s much easier on the eyes and you get my strong favorite between the two.
It’s $500 more expensive than a MT-09, and it’s definitely worth it. Hell, I’d get the XSR over the $11,099 MT-09 SP.Check out the 2022 Yamaha XSR900!
First Ride Review – 2022 Yamaha XSR900
Photos by Adam Campbell.
StylingThe thing you can’t miss about the new XSR is the gorgeous blue and yellow paint job designed to emulate the Sonauto/Gauloises 250cc ridden by Christian Sarron to the 1984 World Championship. The shape of the tank, tail, the D-ring fasteners, and the gap between the seat and the tank are inspired by the 0W54 GP racers of the early 80s.
I think all the painted parts (tank/fender/sidecover) on this bike look fantastic, though the seat is horrible and the XSR desperately needs a matching tail cowl which I hope will be available soon as a factory accessory. A color-matched belly pan would be lovely (as would a bikini fairing) but now I’m just getting greedy. In addition, I don’t care much for the visuals of the engine and the frame: the left side of the engine in particular has all kinds of exposed plumbing and the front of the frame dominates the visual balance in an unflattering way as the XSR tank doesn’t partially cover up the frame as the MT tank does – every time I notice it I think of a fivehead.
Yamaha wisely only had the blue bike as an option for us testers. I understand why they offer a black alternative that they call “Raven,” but I don’t know if I can be friends with anyone that would pick this over “Legend Blue.” There’s no price difference between the options.
Regardless of the color, there’s a surprising amount of details in the finishing and a whole lot of aluminum – the headlight bracket, dash supports, heel guards, tail undertray, drilled out fork tops, and even a lovely “XSR” plaque underneath the dash that’s a nice space filler when you’re behind the bars.
It also features fold-away passenger pegs, something that MV Agusta has been doing for years and I’ve been waiting for other manufacturers to emulate.
Another Yamaha first in recent memory (according to Aaron Bast, Street Motorcycle Senior Product Planner) is the use of bar end mirrors right off the dealership floor. They look good but it’s kind of a shame that the mount for the left mirror is still there like a vestigial organ.
A friend of mine who owns a 2016 XSR900 also pointed out that the new bike is pleasantly symmetrical from the rider’s view. He pointed out that on the old bike, the gas cap and the dash were slightly offset to the right, and that used to drive him nuts. Now they’re in the center and are more civilized – turns out that’s a metaphor for the XSR in general.
What’s New in ’22?If you’ve been following the updates to the MT-09 and Tracer 9 GT, then most of what I’m about to tell you is old news from last year when the 2021 models got a revamp. I want to cover the highlights but I also want to emphasize that Yamaha’s made a couple of XSR-specific changes that significantly change the character of the bike.
The motor has been stroked out to 890cc and it features a new intake system, forged pistons, cylinder head, camshafts, transmission, and exhaust. Yamaha USA doesn’t officially state horsepower, but they do say that peak torque is up 6% and I’d estimate that it’s putting down roughly 115 hp and 69 ft-lbs. My butt dyno struggles to tell a difference from the old model but I’ve always enjoyed the CP3 engine and it continues to excel here. I feel that the good times start at about 5k rpm, and Yamaha apparently agrees: turn on a setting in the menu called “Tacho Color” and the dash lights up green from roughly 5k-8k (the bike basically tells you when it’s wheelie time) and then yellow from 8k on (presumably advising you to shift up). Here’s a short acceleration clip so you can get a feel for the speed, the noise, and the dash colors:
The cable clutch action is incredibly light and the quickshifter works great in both directions – the drivetrain is a wonderful overall package and it only needs valve checks every ~25k miles. And now you’ll burn less gas between those services as Yamaha says that fuel mileage is up 11% (from 44 to 49 mpg) despite the displacement and power bumps. With the 3.7 gallon fuel tank you’d theoretically have a range of 181.3 miles.
The suspension also gets a serious upgrade: in the forks, the spring rate is up 7%, compression damping is up 31%, and rebound damping is down 27%. Out back, the spring rate is up 21%, compression damping is up 35%, and rebound damping is down 11%. The forks are fully adjustable while the shock is adjustable for rebound and preload. It’s a significant improvement over the previous model and it also eliminates one of the reasons one might want to upgrade to the MT-09 SP – more on that later.
Arguably the most dramatic updates are to the electronics package, which heavily borrows from the R1. New for this year on the XSR is Slide Control, Lift Control, and lean-sensitivity in the Brake Control and Traction Control. All of this is possible thanks to a 6-axis IMU which is performing 125 calculations per second, and Yamaha has thankfully taken advantage of their new capability to offer a “manual” mode which allows the rider to have traction/slide/lift control independent of each other. In other words, you get safety and wheelies at the same time. Brilliant! A new 3.5″ TFT is adequately sized and easy to read in all lighting situations, displaying the usual suspects as well as two small lines which are selectable (fuel mileage, trip meters, coolant temp, etc).
The display side of things is fine and most things are intuitive, but the jog wheel that Yamaha uses kind of sucks. It’s not just a scroll wheel, it’s also a button that must be pushed in to select, and there’s a lot of slop so half the time you end up rotating it when you mean to push it. It’s needlessly fussy and it fails Motorcycle UI 101 at Abhi’s University – don’t make the rider use his or her throttle hand for menu controls.
On the left side, the XSR gets a welcome update that’s not on the MT-09 (only the up-spec SP): cruise control! No complaints here, it works well, is intuitive, and the buttons are big so there’s no problem manipulating them with gloves. There are additional changes that are objectively improvements – the frame is lighter and stronger, the exhaust is lighter, the master cylinder is now a radially-mounted Brembo, the wheels are 700g lighter (reducing rotational mass by 11%), the OEM tires are now Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22s, etc. Almost all of the above is shared between the XSR and the MT. But there are two main areas where Yamaha has changed it up with the XSR, and it leads to a distinctly different riding experience.
First, we’ve got the ergonomics. With the new seat, your hip is located 5mm forward and 22mm lower. The seat height is a very reasonable-for-the-class 31.9″ (a Z900RS is 1″ taller), but a lot of that is due to how thin the seat is. Consequently, the seat is also hard, and it gets uncomfortable after about 40 minutes. The new handlebars bring your hands 14mm forward and 35mm down (you can flip the mounting clamps to get them another 9mm forward and 4mm up if desired). The pegs are 2mm back and 7mm down (but you can adjust the mounting point to get them 14mm up and 4mm back as well). In other words, it’s a sportier position that gets more weight over the front wheel and makes it a better handler than the MT. Though Yamaha says that it’s a “riding position inspired by legendary 80s Yamaha road racing machines,” the ergos are still fairly upright and comfortable. If you’re 6’2″ like me, consider getting a thicker seat, though.
Secondly, the swingarm deserves special mention. It’s 59mm longer than the unit on the MT-09 – in fact it’s actually the same as the sport-touring sibling, the Tracer 9 GT. The old swingarm was mounted around the frame, but the new frame was built wider in the area so that the swingarm can be mounted inside of the frame. It provides more rigidity and you really can feel the difference when you’re on the side of the tire.
Mini bonus: despite all the extra goodies (including the longer, heavier swingarm), wet weight is down from 430 pounds to 425. But that’s two straight features that dramatically help with handling, and the end result is that the XSR is way more fun to ride on a long series of twisties like Highway 33 in Southern California. Guess where we spent the day?
ConclusionAfter a few hours going up and down 33, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one of my peers who enjoyed riding the XSR900. It still offers the joy of the MT-09’s excellent motor but now it handles better, looks better, and as long as you don’t need the rear shock to say “Ohlins”, it gives you the extra features of the up-spec MT-09 SP. After our day in Ventura I rode it back home and spent some time on the highway – it does better there as well because the slight forward lean means your torso is less of a sail compared to when you’re on the MT.
At this point, I don’t know why you’d buy a MT over the XSR unless you love robot aliens, you want something a little twitchier, or if your whole life is about doing wheelies. But for most people, the XSR is the clearly superior option, and an extra $500 for better looks, better handling, and cruise control is well worth it. You may not agree with every single change (I do love my wheelies), but it’s nice to see that Yamaha has evolved the XSR to be more than just a reskin of the MT, it actually provides a different riding experience as well.
The XSR is available in two colors: Legend Blue (the one you should buy) or Raven, and either option is $9,999. By the time you read this, it’ll probably be too late to find one in your local dealer – the first shipment was quite small and it seems they’ve all sold out. More will obviously be available soon, and you can always check Yamaha’s demo truck schedule to see when it’s coming near you so you can try a XSR yourself and tell me if I’m right or wrong!
P.S. Yamaha’s triple line up is currently quite impressive with the MT-09, MT-09 SP, XSR900, and Tracer 9 GT. Hopefully, they’ll take a page from their ~700cc line-up and add a “R9” sportbike like they did with the R7.Check out the 2022 Yamaha XSR900!
Your QuestionsBefore I went to the launch, I asked you guys and gals what you wanted to know. I think I was able to answer all of the questions up above except for these two:
1. Bill Waters – “Fueling! Abrupt, snatchy fueling full of flat spots would be a deal breaker for me. Additionally, really pleased to see cruise control included. I could love this bike if it runs right.”
Euro 5 has made good fueling so difficult nowadays. I originally wasn’t going to mention this in the review because I’ve only been riding brand new bikes around the last few weeks so the fueling seemed normal, but a couple of days ago I spent some time on a Euro 3 bike – when I got back on the XSR I felt like something was up. Specifically, the fueling right when the throttle is JUST open (whether you’re opening it or closing it), the transition on of off is just a little jerky. It’s not a big deal and just about every new bike has something similar, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Sadly, it seems that a tune is required on just about every new Euro 5 bike nowadays.
With that said, I don’t think there’s any flat spots. The motor is definitely stronger at 5k and above but there’s nothing uneven when you’re going through the revs.
2. Larry Kahn – A “comparison to the Kaw Z900RS would be interesting.”
It’s been a while (five years) since I’ve ridden the Z900RS (here’s my review), but it’s probably the closest competitor to this bike so it’s definitely worth discussing.
First of all, I have to note that the XSR costs $9,999 while the Z900RS starts at $11,749 (but you really should be paying $12,049 for the 50th Anniversary Edition). I do think that the Z looks better, especially in that 50th Anniversary livery.
Quickly comparing my fresh XSR experience with my 5 year-old memories of the Z900RS, I’d say the Kawasaki isn’t just prettier, it’s also smoother and more comfortable (though I did have some issues with a snatchy throttle and I don’t know if they’ve fixed that with the newer models). It’s the better modern take on a UJM. But the XSR900 is more fun – it makes similar power, the riding position is a little sportier, and it weighs 40 pounds less. On top of that, the XSR offers better technology in terms of the dash and the IMU, and…it’s $1,750 cheaper. I’d love to try a Z900RS and a XSR900 back to back just to make sure I remember the Z correctly, but if I had to pick between the two today I’d be heading to my local Yamaha dealership.
Thanks for reading!