Ian Kerr MBE takes a look at Yamaha’s Sport Heritage XSR900
WHATEVER your particular two-wheeled interest is, whether it be sports bikes – on or off-road, adventure machines, touring or classics, no doubt you have a sneaking admiration for the custom/alternative bike scene. Let’s be honest, you may not want to ride some of the most extreme creations, but you just have to admire the dedication of the builders, not to mention the skilful engineering and or paint schemes.
It is big business, especially in the USA with numerous firms providing telephone directory (remember those?) thick catalogues with thousands of bolt-on goodies to personalise machines to help those without access to engineering machine shops. For those who do not have the time, vision or patience to create their own, there are many firms that will create something special – albeit at a price!
Custom bikes have of late become more mainstream, as have many of the events like the Bikeshed experience in London, which is supported by some of the manufacturers. And even British marque Triumph has now started producing a ‘Bobber’ model – but they are way behind Yamaha who have been at the forefront of factory-produced custom bikes, under the ‘Faster Sons’ banner, for several years now.
The Japanese giant has commissioned specialist builders around the globe to customise some of their models and, based on some of their work, have produced their own factory versions. In addition they have made a whole host of factory goodies to allow owners to take it as far as they want in order to make a bike very much their own, while enjoying warranty and dealer facilities.
One such machine, that stars in Yamaha’s Sport Heritage line-up and is a good example of the genre, is the XSR900. Like other, manufacturers, Yamaha uses existing parts, such as the engine, to keep down costs and links the whole model range to their own illustrious past. Hence the XSR pays tribute in some small way to the XS750 and 850 from the late seventies.
The bike is based on the standard MT-09, a stunningly good all round motorcycle which has spawned derivatives like the touring Tracer model. So, you have the very latest in technology dressed up slightly differently, but in a bike that can be used in so many ways and will no doubt surprise a lot of sports bike riders when it comes to the traffic light GP!
However, it is far more than a straight line blaster. It is a machine that handles far better than its looks suggest, and is equally at home filtering through congested traffic or blasting around twisty back roads – throwing up a shower of sparks when pushed.
Visually the XSR900 looks very similar to the smaller XSR700, with neither being the best looking kids on the block. However, they have been created as a base for owners to start the process of making them their own by removing, replacing or adding to them from the extensive official range of extras.
The seat height is high enough to accommodate people like me, who are over six foot, without it feeling cramped, as is the overall riding position. In fact the bike is quite comfortable even at motorway speeds, Quite a neat trick! As is the use of the 847cc, liquid cooled, in-line triple power plant from the MT-09, complete with the cross-plane crank for a very distinctive feel and sound.
Free-revving with plenty of torque, it has three riding modes which alter the engine’s characteristics. So, when the standard all-round mode is not required you soften things down or ramp them up for more aggressive power when on the back roads. Contrary to popular belief the outright power or speed is not changed, just the way the engine delivers it!
You do realise you have three cylinders working away beneath you giving the familiar feel of the triple engine, but in this case the exhaust note has been muted into a more pleasant growl than a howl when the taps are opened. Of course, this does lead at times to keeping the bike in lower gears to push the note higher up – for maximum enjoyment purposes only – despite peak torque being at 8,500rpm!
The gearbox is a typical Yamaha precision item with first gear clonk mated to a new and 20 per cent lighter slipper clutch. For safety the three –stage traction control has been retained, in case you get carried away with the bike’s performance and response to the light action throttle, pushing the normally standard-fit brilliant Bridgestone Battlax S20’s a little too hard.
Despite its ‘custom’ looks, it handles better than it has the right too, being quite agile. And until you ride it, it is difficult to believe the corner speed you can carry. However, like anything, it does have it’s limits, which are determined by suspension that is best described as adequate. The good news is that this is very easy to upgrade (like most things on the bike) if you need it!
For the record, at the front are inverted 41mm forks, adjustable for rebound damping, and at the rear is a linked-type monocross unit adjustable for rebound damping as well.
Under normal sensible riding the twin 298mm diameter front discs perform well, just as you would hope, backed up by a single 245 rear disc. This is all plumbed into the ABS system, which again is another advantage of having a factory base machine.
If ridden sensibly, the slim 14 litre tank will give over 50 to the gallon, meaning a stop every 150 miles or so. Despite the overall comfort, this is enough for most people. And its single LCD display is easy to read with all the relevant information you need, including a gear indicator in digital format.
To quote Naoki Koike from Yamaha’s Product Planning department it is designed as “A cool garage style bike with a no-nonsense design and lots of riding fun.” It also has a no-nonsense price tag of £8,499.