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Review: 2016 Yamaha XSR700 & XSR900

Posted on June 16, 2016 by Andrew in Review. 44 comments

Yamaha’s MT range is a funny old thing. With 2005’s wild MT-01 and then the very mild MT-03 in 2006, the segment seemed to be pretty much done and dusted with Yamaha’s announcement in 2012 that the MT-01 was kaput. With the GFC barely over and Japan still reeling from the tsunami, few expected Yamaha to replace this ostentatious, genre-defying brute. And yet they did just that. 12 months later and hey presto, we get the MT-07 & MT-09. Well, not so much ‘we’ as ‘they’ because we’re guess there’s not too many Pipeburn readers who’d be desperate to own one. But now Yamaha has tried to redress that with their XSR700 & XSR900 bikes. With similar underpinnings to the MT models, they’ve enlisted the help of Shinya Kimura and Roland Sands to appeal to ‘us’ and the new-school custom scene as a whole. So, have they succeeded, or have they flunked out? Step into today’s class and let’s find out.

The ‘big one’ – the XSR900 with three cylinders and perimeter frame

After the epic battle with nature that was our last review, you might have been thinking that a little breather was in order. And you’d be right. So, what better way than to have the next bike review set in your own backyard? When Yamaha Australia contacted us to come and try out their new models, they told us that the ride was to happen in the Royal National Park, directly south of Sydney. Colloquially called ‘The Nasho’, it’s the world’s oldest National Park. And it just so happens to be the place where little old me learnt to ride, soI know it pretty well.

Kicking off from Deus ex Machina in the Inner West, we headed out for the day. Making a brief stop at Port Botany, Sydney’s cargo container terminal and the city’s pre-eminent ‘quite industrial place to practice burn-outs and wheelies’ location, we did a few photo runs up and down a deserted road right by Botany Bay. Then we flipped our environs 180 degrees and rushed head-long into the rainforests of the park to see just what the MT with the fancy new initials was capable of. Here’s how it went down.


First impressions

The meet and greet held at Deus the previous night had allowed us a ‘look but don’t ride’ preview of the new bikes. With a few pre-customised examples along with a bunch of stock bikes, we got to jot down some thoughts while the Yamaha team ran us over the finer details of their creation.

Let me give you the short version. There’s two bikes. They are ‘clean slate’ designs that have exactly nothing to do with the MT-01. The XSR700’s a twin cylinder with a (take a deep breath) hybrid tubular backbone meets trellis style frame. There’s also a horizontal monoshock and all the usual ABS And TCS gadgets. It was inspired by the Yamaha-commissioned, Shinya-built, MT-07 ‘Faster Sons’ custom. It’s been sleeved and made ‘learner legal’ in the locally, but buy one outside Australia and you’ll be getting a 689cc twin donk that puts out a claimed 74bhp and twists itself to the tune of 50ftlb or torques.

The bike’s Mister Hyde variation is the 900. Packing a 849cc triple with 115bhp and 65ftlb’s of torque, it’s something that’s most definitely not for first timers. Inspired by the Roland Sand’s ‘Wasp’ MT-09 custom build, it’s got a cast perimeter frame and USD forks with a decidedly more sportsbike feel than the 700. In a big up to the company’s engineers, the three cylinder unit is Yamaha’s first triple since the XS750 & 850 models from the mid ‘70s. The bikes are fairly similar when placed side-by-side and initially the differences aren’t all that obvious. Mostly, it’s down to the pipes and the forks. I won’t go into the minutiae of what it costs wherever you happen to live, but suffice to say it’s probably cheaper than you think.

The XSR700 – trellis frame, two cylinders and learner-legal in OZ

What also stands out is the bike’s rather large radiator. While it doesn’t go so far as to spoil the looks of the bike, it does make you wonder why they had to choose such a huge unit. In fact, they didn’t. It’s the same unit that’s on the MT bikes – and one that’s hidden by that model’s plastic fairings. With that plastic ditched in the XSR’s design, Yamaha were left with little choice but to let it all hang out, quite literally. Sure, they could have built something bespoke to better suit the bike’s lines, but then you wouldn’t be able to have the bike in your driveway for such a reasonable price, now would you?

The other ‘things that make you go hmmm’ moment had been during Yamaha’s presentation at Deus. De rigueur for all bike launches, these are the mass of Powerpoint slides that are designed to get a bunch of bike info across to the press pack before they ride the bikes on the road. Much to the amusement of the audience, Yamaha pronounced that the bike was targeted at ‘Hipstars,’ a term that nods to their ‘Star’ range of cruisers. Cue the muffled chuckles. Now unlike some of you, we’ve got nothing against hipsters. We also like to think that we know what bikes they would like. Shitty old 70s XS650s or AMF Harleys with pipewrap, mismatched tyres, beer stickers and 27 zip ties? Hell yes. Brand new 110bhp Yamahas with ABS, traction control, LCD displays and 11,000rpm redlines? Not so much.

Not sure the XSR is right for you? Check this out

“The Yamaha tech types were quick to point out that this power plant is the same one making waves in the US flat track scene”

On the Road

I decided I wanted to check out the smaller of the two bikes before planting my ugly butt on the full-strength option, as I figured that going from the 900 to the 700 would only lead to me overlooking its positives. It’s weight was the first thing to strike me. At 186kg (or 410 pounds) wet and a seat height of 815mm (or 32 inches), the thing is silly easy to handle. Turning the engine over also surprised with its rather un-learner-esque sounds. The Yamaha tech types were quick to point out that this power plant is the same one making waves in the US flat track scene. Not your average learner’s lump, then.

Despite photos of old timey stuff, they feel much more ‘sportsbike’ than they do ‘retro’

And off we rode. While a decent twist of the 700’s giggle stick didn’t wrap our eyelids over the tops of our heads, this bike isn’t going to run out of fun anytime soon. Especially for those without the multitudes of moto notches carved into their bedposts. The highest compliment you can pay to a bike aimed at new riders is that you might consider keeping it after you have improved, skill-wise. If ever there was a bike that fit this brief, the XSR700 is it. It’s far more of a ‘proper bike made learner legal’ than the ‘learner bike trying not to seem like a toy’ that you so often find.

“The highest compliment you can pay to a bike aimed at beginners is that you might consider keeping it after you have improved”

900’s dial looks sexy, scratches easily

Settling in for the short ride to our first photo session, I started to make a few mental notes. While initial visual impressions and the company’s Recommend Retail Price on the bikes seems too good to be true, the more touchy feely parts of the bike do show that it’s been built to a price. This is especially evident for the switchgear and, on the 700 at least, the dial. While they aren’t bad, they certainly aren’t slick, either. My main gripe was the horn’s rather comical placement directly alongside the indicator switch. While this does fall into the ‘you’d get used to it after a while’ basket, I winced a few times as the drivers looked at me with those angry car eyes that are reserved especially for us horn-happy bikers. I didn’t mean to beep you, I promise!

The dial on the 900 definitely lifts things, though. Thankfully, it lacks the faux Playstation vibe of its LCD contemporaries, and even manages to look quite subtle when not shown with all its light ablaze as in the photo above. Unfortunately, it looks like the gloss plastic covering the whole unit might need to be treated with a little care, as the displays on the test bikes were already showing signs of scratches with barely a day’s ride registered on their virginal odometers.

The tank looks slick and panels are swappable

Then it was on to the 900. From the moment the engine spun up, it was clear that this bike’s similarities to the 700 were merely skin deep. That familiar, tightly-toleranced whine that modern, high-tune engines make was present in spades. Blipping the throttle saw the tacho travel up and down its rev range in less time than your average Australian Prime Minister takes to get kicked out of office. There’s no mistaking it, this bike has sports blood in its veins. It also has the oh-so-hot-right-now 270˚crank for that more meaty exhaust note and power delivery. While it seems a little bandwagonesque, what with all the manufacturers switching to the same set-up, we should remember that Yamaha was the first out of the gate with this whole crossplane business.

Anyway, it’s hard to complain when it makes bikes sound and feel this good. Laughing wildly as I gave it way too much throttle, the thing made a hooligan out of me in no time flat. Early reports on the MT-09’s throttle as being snatchy seem to have vanished without a trace. With heaps of power and torque, and a non-existent learning curve, I was throwing the thing all over the place with scant regard for the rules, road or otherwise. The fact that it’s the same size as the 700 didn’t help things either. They felt less like two different bikes, and more like someone had unexpectedly plumbed your regular ride with a supercharger as a surprise birthday present.

“speeds rose and corners were consumed with the ravenous gusto of a truffle pig on a fungal bender”

Deciding that I much preferred the 900, I steadfastly occupied the bike for the rest of the day. Sharing be damned. And while it’s charms were immediately apparent, they did nothing but improve as we descended into the green wilderness of the park. With the roads now flowing and mostly clear of traffic, speeds rose and corners were consumed with the ravenous gusto of a truffle pig on a fungal bender. While it’d be unfair to say that the 700 was a city bike, there’s a clear preference for the 900 here amongst the trees. With enough cojones onboard to leave the box in third and just surf the torque, I focused on taking it to the corners.

Clearly the photographer had a short right leg

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and that’s pretty much exactly what I had for the Nasho on that day. With the perfect weather and its habitual roads, I’m happy to say that the 900 was a bike that encouraged better, harder riding. With oodles of comfort, balance that I couldn’t fault, a slipper clutch and well-tuned traction and ABS, the thing just pleaded to be pushed. Glancing at the speedo in your favourite corner and realising that you’re taking it 15km/h faster than normal without really trying is quite the testament to the bike’s abilities. It making you feel like a better, more adept rider is yet another.

Tail section could do with some tidying up

With a distinct lack of calamitous weather and unfamiliar routes, I found myself at peace with the ride and very much able to take the bike at face value. There were no holiday romances here. I was busy judging the bike on its merits, not marvelling at the scenery and wondering what the road would do next. And what I found was good. But with my head still full of hipster wonderings and sportsbike thoughts, I was glad to finish the day with a minor revelation. None of that really mattered. Whether you find yourself sporting a waxed moustache or fluorescent green knee sliders, this bike is just plain good on so many different levels. It’s as simple as that.

Surf’s up. And down


In the end, the main question I kept asking myself was ‘is this bike right for Pipeburn?’ Yes, it’s a sweet bike, but the obvious crotchrocket-ness of the platform points the bike down a path that Pipeburn rarely treads. And despite the abundance of custom add-ons, the bike’s sky-high redline, instant-on power and boomerang swing arm all clearly say more ‘R1’ than ‘SR’. Undoubtedly, there will be those of you who won’t be able to get past this fact. And that’s cool; each to his own. May we humbly suggest that maybe Yamaha’s new SCR950 is more your style?

So, what about the whole ‘Hipstar’ thing? Chuckles aside, I think that it’s simply Yamaha’s way of saying that they are targeting the twenty-something custom scene. While alluding to hipsters in a presentation may be a little heavy-handed, it’s clear when you look at marketing materials for Ducati’s Scrambler or Triumph’s Street Twin that they are all targeting this segment with guns blazing. Check them out and you’ll get just about as much facial hair, checked shirts and top knots as you can possibly handle. Sure, the bike doesn’t have the ‘authenticity’ and ‘character’ that the hipster stereotype seems to crave. You could argue that none of the manufacturers manage this. But what it does have is pretty damn good.

And what of the XSR700? While there’s more choice than ever for new riders out there, I can’t think of a better, cooler bike for beginners than the XSR700. While Ducati now offers the Sixty2, it’s a more cash than the XSR700 and it has barely 60% of its engine. There’s plenty of others too, but most of them don’t offer you the looks or customisation options that the XSR does. And unlike when us oldies were learning how to ride, this isn’t a bike that you’ll be itching to ditch out of sheer embarrassment. Like we said, it’s tricky to tell it from the 900. And when’s the last time someone mistook a learner’s bike for a 110bhp brute? Never, that’s when.

If you’re a custom bike fan who wants something in their arsenal that’s got some modern bells and whistles along with comfort and a decent amount of oomph, this is the bike for you. Or, to look at it another way, maybe you’re reading this because you’re tired of the sore wrists and Power Ranger looks of your sportsbike but still like its contemporary engineering and sharp handling. Whatever the case, we’re here to say that if you value a great ride over and above meaningless pigeonholes, the XSR is a  bike that you’re really going to enjoy. Just don’t tell the hipsters.


– Does a whole lot of things really well
– Supremely easy to ride
– The 900 brings out your inner hooligan

– The barn door radiator
– Controls feel a little cheap
– Pretty sure the hipsters won’t like it

[Photos by Josh Evans. Helmet from Icon. Jacket from Pagnol. Pants from Draggin. Boots from Icon]

The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, we feel it’s best to mention that Yamaha Australia paid for our trip to the Nasho to see their new bikes and also shouted us a few beers afterwards. Rest assured that if the bikes weren’t up to scratch, we’d have no problems in saying just that, and that we will always endeavour to give you guys the best reviews possible without fear or favour; Japanese Corporations bearing gifts included.

  • John_Tangeraas

    I think these bikes are the sort of machines that look less good in pics, but actually quite nice when you see them in real life. The top pic gave me a RD250/350lc vibe, it looks kind of similar.

    • Don’t be so sure John. I saw them in the flesh a month ago and in my bare eyes they looked even worse than the photos. I didn’t even want to swing a leg over them to see their ergonomics.
      Yamaha must take notes from Roland’s & JVB’s version.

      • the watcher

        I’m always reading similar sentiments, GK; the old “if Honda (Yam, Suz etc) built this I’d buy one in an instant” cliche. But then you wouldn’t have the fun of building it yourself, would you? And now I think of it, Suzuki have done something similar for years – their sports bikes have stonking motors so owners tend to have big fun with brakes, suspension and on ad infinitum (indeed, their oil-cooled bikes will definitely be the next big trip). Point is, not Yamaha, you!

      • Ergonomics were almost perfect. We didn’t do any major mileage on them, but after a solid day’s riding my 40-something-year-old bones were fine.

  • stan or thereabouts

    Good article and I wish you success in learning to write in English.

    • …says ‘stan’ with a lowercase s.

      • stan helps uncle jack off a horse while the rest of us help Uncle Jack off a horse.

        • You win the internet for today.

        • guvnor67

          Omg!!! Bit slow today me, just got it! Haaaaaaaaaa, haa, haha, haaaaaaa!

  • Hardley T Whipsnade III

    Its kind of ironic that despite this being a very contemporary M/C in both aesthetics and engineering Yamaha is trying desperately to market it to the Retro crowd . Pure blatant marketing silliness if you ask me . The sad thing is that moment of silliness might well cost a pretty damn fine M/C a whole lot of sales unnecessarily . Especially in light of the fact that the Retro crowd they’re trying to market this to for the most part aren’t buying new bikes . Ahhhh , genuine OED irony . It never fails to amaze .

    • Hambler

      retro not selling? What about bonnevilles, thruxtons, the R nine T? Lots of people want ‘retro’ styling with modern technology. It can be seen in many aspects of design, not just motorcycles.

      • I think he means retro’s not selling in the ‘hipster’ sense. It’s a fair call to say that they (i.e. hardcore hipster bikers) wouldn’t buy a new bike. Especially an XSR. But I’m pretty sure that Yamaha, like the other manufacturers, target them as a key demographic but end up selling to a much wider audience of 20 & 30 somethings who aren’t hipsters but who’s till appreciate the custom, retro aesthetics.

        • bazmondo

          Average age of XSR900 buyers (according to owners forum poll) is currently 41. Very similar to the avg age of the Holden Monaro buyer when it first appeared. Same with the re-born Mini Cooper S. These manufacturers probably know what they’re selling, and who’s buying.

          • Dan Favata

            I always said that when you could buy a fast sportbike that you could ride without hunching over the tank and without full of plastic fairings, I would buy one. Hence this great bike is now in my garage!

    • Ron Bo

      50-something looking to buy a bike after not riding for four years. Tons of sportbikes, now I want an upright with a decent power to weight ratio. Yamaha has exactly targeted me. Had the 150 hp Blackbird, had the Ninjas, want a retro version of my old VFR. Ducati Scrambler, Triumph Thruxton, oh look: let’s check the Yamaha power to weight ratio. Well, gee….

  • Hardley T Whipsnade III

    PS Andrew . Not to be pedantic or anything but here’s a little history lesson for you ;

    #1 Yellowstone USA 1872

    #2 Mackinac Island USA 1875

    With then y’all picking up on our big idea with ;

    The Royal National Park AUS 1879

    Seriously Andrew . Everybody knows we [ the US ] created the very concept of the National Park starting with Yellowstone .

    • “Founded by Sir John Robertson, Acting Premier of New South Wales,[3] and formally proclaimed on 26 April 1879, it is the world’s oldest surviving purposed national park (pre-dating Yellowstone in the United States),[4][5][6][7] and the first to use the term “national park” anywhere in the world. Its original name was National Park, but it was renamed in 1955 after Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia passed by in the train on the way from Wollongong during her 1954 tour.[8] The Royal National Park is the oldest gazetted national park because Yellowstone’s original gazetting was “public park or pleasuring ground”.[9]”

  • the watcher

    Err, MT-03 anyone? No? Oh Hell, why should we expect journos to know a fucking thing about the subject at hand, there’s no precedent for that. As for the XSR, it’s just Yam’s latest, thinly disguised, Ducati look-a-like. BTW, shouldn’t “pretty sure the hipsters won’t like it” be in the “things it does right” pile? Tiddly pom.

    • Technically, you are correct. Shame you made the point in such an unpleasant way. As for the Ducati reference, I have no idea what you mean. Couldn’t be more different to a Ducati. PS. who’s yr crack dealer. I’m almost out… 😉

      • the watcher

        You’re right Andrew, I apologise for my ascerbity, but it’s partly excused by the fact that there’s about 3 MT-o1s on the streets of Great Britain whereas there’s about 3 MT-03s down my street alone. Not the simplest of oversights, is it? Many people will tell you that the 660cc, XT-derived roadster is a far better, and certainly more relevant, bike than the MT-01 could ever be. And if you can see no similarity between the XSR and the Scrambler, I can see why you’re out of crack.

  • Don’t be so sure John. I saw them in the flesh a month ago and in my bare eyes they looked even worse than the photos. I didn’t even want to swing a leg over them to see their ergonomic.
    Yamaha must take notes from Roland’s & JVB’s versions.

  • Nolo Kontendere

    At 400 lb & 75hp the XSR700 is a lot of motorcycle. Characterizing it as a beginner bike is silly….

    • “It’s been sleeved and made ‘learner legal’ in the locally, but buy one outside Australia and you’ll be getting a 689cc twin donk that puts out a claimed 74bhp and twists itself to the tune of 50ftlb or torques.”

      So locally, it’s making 50hp. A perfectly fine output for a beginner, me thinks.

  • need the XSR700 in the US

    • Indeed. Weird how you guys miss out. With your population and the US dollar, I have no idea why you wouldn’t get all Yamaha’s models…

      • bazmondo

        Don’t feel too sorry for the US – they got the XSR900 in the 60th anniversary speed block paint. So did Europe/UK actually. Oh and Japan. But not in Oz.

      • bill smith

        Yes, I would love to have a Kawasaki W800. But they are not available either.

  • Kim Armand Nielsen

    I’m not found of the casted aluminium frames of the MT-type, but this pipe-frame is too flimsy!
    The rest of the design should have been much more straight out classic like the former XJR’s instead of this wich just is a little adaption to the MT design (the sidecover moving forward to become at carb-cover – *SIGH* )!

    • I very much doubt that any mass produced ‘pipe-frame’ would be flimsy these days. In the 60s, sure, but with modern CAD/CAM systems, you can calculate torsion, flex, stretch, and strength to precise degrees and have the factory consistently bang them out with only tiny variations from bike to bike. I’d say it flexes pretty much exactly how Yamaha designed it to – no more and no less.

      • Kim Armand Nielsen

        As I use the terms ‘not found of the alu-casted one, ‘flimsy’ is likely a judgement of the looks and not a doubth of ridgidness!

  • Lowflying

    Well, I’ve been watching the XSR900 for a year, and took delivery of a Garage Metal bike about two months ago. I’ve been riding a while and currently I’m lucky enough to have an ’83 Cb1100f and an ’85 RZ350 in the stable.

    IMHO, the XSR900 is the bomb. Sure, we can nitpick about styling cues, retro and beards, blah, blah, blah, but get on it and give it a flog. Controls smooth, riding position great for the street. Motor, man, I can’t believe the low and mid-range throttle response. I haven’t even redlined it yet as I’m still breaking it in, but you don’t even need to go there as it’s got plenty of stonk for the street.

    Of course it’s not for everybody, but to me it’s awesome. You could argue it’s almost got too much motor for the street, but we’ve been arguing about that on motorcycle forums since the Internet was invented. Last I checked, the argument hasn’t been settled yet. 😉

    • Cruelly, the test bikes we rode were also brand new, but it didn’t stop any of us from hitting the redline. Used Yamaha, anyone? 😉

      • guvnor67

        Ok, will u take $1500, a couple of Kidz and a case of Aldi Red Wine???

    • the watcher

      My buddies and I have been dicussing it since the (fast) motorcycle was invented and it’s settled; too much power is never enough!

  • reynaldog.bunque

    it looks like a scrambler copy!!!

    • the watcher

      ha ha! Take that, Andrew.

  • guvnor67

    The modded job with the blue paint and bikini fairing looks awesome!

    • Agreed. That really impressed me. And it’s just a case of getting yr local dealer to add them to the bike when you buy it. If yr really clever, you could probably get them thrown in for free… 😉

      • guvnor67

        🙂 !!!!

  • xb12r

    Really, really, REALLY wish Yamaha Oz had ok’ed the 60th Anniversary model. This would be me…

  • Robert Spinello

    I want a green XSR700 – in the US

  • Dan Favata

    Looked great to me, so I bought one! This is one extremely fun bike to ride! More power than I will ever need! I will never have any problem getting in front of anyone driving a car whether passing or just getting clear away. This bike is a true road rocket!