Review: 2016 Yamaha XSR700 & XSR900
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.