2016 Yamaha XSR900: Two Wheels, Three Cylinders, High Fives!

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Brian Nelson

With its latest XSR900 model, Yamaha has spawned an exciting sibling from the FZ-09, one with a neo-retro look that’ll make you nostalgic for the ‘70s.

The reason for the XSR900’s styling is to appeal to young—and young at heart—riders who want an old-school look with modern features and dependability. The bike is designed to customize to personal tastes. Metal bracketry and other more substantial components are used in places where plastic might be found on competing models. A single round headlight mounted by aluminum brackets and a round taillight atop an aluminum fender mimics the style of a ‘70s cafe racer. The gas tank cover on the matte gray/aluminum-colored bike features a brushed-aluminum panel that Yamaha told us is hand-buffed before a clear coat is applied. Various aluminum hardwire bits and covers continue this theme on the XSR. They even reshaped the exhaust muffler tip to round with an aluminum cap instead of the FZ-09’s angled triangular tip.

The new XSR shares the FZ-09’s potent 847cc three-cylinder engine and high-tech aluminum frame and swingarm, along with adjustable KYB suspension. Traction control and ABS, borrowed from the FJ-09, add modern touches, while the unique styling cues take us back to the “heritage, authenticity, and simplicity” of motorcycles from the 1970s and ‘80s.

Powertrain and Performance

The XSR900 features Yamaha’s Crossplane Crankshaft Concept liquid-cooled DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder engine based on the FZ-09, but with some calibration tweaks. The bike’s ride-by-wire YCC-T engine control, adjustable D-MODE throttle response, and adjustable traction control system allow the rider to make the most of the potent engine and chassis. Three rider modes—A, Standard, and B—change throttle response, but not peak power. The two levels of traction control can be changed on the move (with closed throttle) or can be shut off completely with the motorcycle stopped in neutral. 

The three-banger blends the best characteristics of both a twin- and four-cylinder engine, with nice midrange torque and a strong top-end pull. Yamaha rates the engine at 115 hp at 10,000 rpm and 64 pound-foot of torque at 8,500 rpm, and redline is at 11,250 rpm. This bike is deceptively quick, and without the traction control it would be a wheelie machine. The 270-degree firing order makes for an enticing growl from the stock pipes; it must be even better with an aftermarket system.


The clutch has been designed to reduce lever effort by a claimed 20 percent, while also being a slipper unit, which helps prevent rear-wheel skidding during rapid downshifts. Both features work well. The six-speed transmission feels like it came out of a sportbike, and makes going through the gears a pleasure, with smooth quick shifts and easy access to neutral. Ratios are well spaced and get the bike going nicely.

Chassis and Handling

The frame is the same cast aluminum diamond twin spar as the FZ-09. Front suspension is via a 41mm inverted fork with a 25-degree rake and 4.1 inches of trail for quick steering, with preload, rebound damping, and 5.4 inches of travel. Rear suspension is by a cast aluminum double-sided swingarm with a monoshock, adjustable preload, and rebound damping, and 5.1 inches travel.

Our test riding was done in and around lovely San Diego, CA, including many twisty backroads with plenty of elevation changes. The XSR900 turns in nicely, with little effort, and can rail through a turn with aplomb. You can hold a line through a corner, or change mid-corner if you need to; the bike is forgiving, too. At high speeds, it tracks well and feels stable, even going over bumps, thanks to its relatively long travel suspension for a street bike. The ride has a sporty feel, and the suspension offers a considerable amount of adjustment.

Braking is strong, yet requires little lever effort, thanks to the big dual 298mm front rotors and four-pot calipers. Standard ABS provides a welcome safety net and works as it should. Standard fitment Bridgestone S20R tires, in sizes 120/70ZR17 front and 180/55ZR17 rear, deliver good grip in all the conditions we encountered. However, thanks to Southern California’s drought, wet wasn’t one of them.

According to Yamaha, the XSR900 weighs a claimed 430 pounds with a full tank, which is 16 pounds more than the FZ-09, yet still relatively light compared to competing brand models. On the road, it feels nimble and easy to lean from side to side. 

Features and Ergonomics

The new round LCD instrument cluster includes a digital tach, speedometer, indicators for gear position, eco mode, TCS, and D-MODE. Wait, there’s more! Ambient, coolant temperature and instant and average fuel consumption readouts, a fuel gauge, trip computer, clock, fuel reserve trip meter, and twin trip meters are also featured. 

The stepped saddle has burgundy color faux-suede panels with red stitching and an XSR900 logo embossed at the rear. Seat height is 32.7 inches, which is about a half inch higher than the FZ’s perch and the rider is positioned about two inches further aft. This creates a slightly more aggressive riding posture, while the taller seat provides somewhat more legroom. A wide handlebar offers good leverage and the overall riding posture is comfortably upright.

To be a passenger, it helps to be young, slim, and nimble, as pillion accommodations are basic. Yamaha offers a wide selection of accessories, including a choice of windscreens and soft luggage, to customize the bike to your needs and tastes.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a fun machine that’s well suited to urban and suburban riding, with forays into the hills and yonder. It’s nicely designed and built, and displays quality components and attention to detail. Without a windscreen and luggage, it’s best for day trips, but that can be changed with factory and aftermarket accessories. You can choose the Matte Gray/Aluminum color scheme for an MSRP of $ 9,490, or pay an extra $ 500 for the handsome 60th Anniversary Yellow livery if you want to channel Kenny Roberts!