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2022 Yamaha XSR900 First Ride Review

The 2022 Yamaha XSR900 looks right at home on any stretch of canyon road.

The 2022 Yamaha XSR900 looks right at home on any stretch of canyon road. (Adam Campbell/)

Riding the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 from Ventura, California, to the outskirts of the Ojai Valley is a lesson in well-executed compromise. A streetbike this well-suited to laid-back beach towns doesn’t usually make the best dance partner on snaky mountain roads. And yet the XSR900 feels just as comfortable at the apex of sweeping third-gear corners as it does relaxing alongside sandy surfboards. That is the beauty of blending classic styling with modern technology, a trick Yamaha is getting better at all the time.

Yamaha has had years to perfect the recipe. The MT-09-based XSR900 was introduced in 2016, and while critics noted the imbalanced chassis and aggressive power delivery, there was no denying the platform’s potential. A yearslong development cycle to determine the right balance of style, performance, and character resulted in an all-new MT-09 in 2021 and, now, in an all-new XSR900.

Editor’s note: We reviewed the ‘21 MT-09 during the Yamaha Builds a Better Triumph – 2021 MT-09 Review and 2021 Yamaha MT-09 MC Commute Review articles and videos. Read the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 First Look Preview to learn about its technical improvements.

The smooth, elongated tank feels just right with your knees tucked into the pockets; Legend Blue paint looks amazing in the sunlight.

The smooth, elongated tank feels just right with your knees tucked into the pockets; Legend Blue paint looks amazing in the sunlight. (Adam Campbell/)

More Than a Makeover

The first thing you’ll notice about this naked bike are its striking new lines, which give no clue to the challenges Yamaha has to overcome when trying to keep its Sport Heritage lineup from becoming stale. How do you keep a retro-inspired design feeling new? Yamaha’s solution was to borrow design cues from its early-to-mid ‘80s GP machines, which had boxier bodies and more diagonal lines than the 1970s machinery that inspired previous XSRs. Squint your eyes as you look at the latest-generation XSR and you’ll see parts of a 1984 TZ250. Sweet, sweet heritage.

For proof of Yamaha’s commitment to the redesign, look no further than the D-ring fasteners on the side covers, the hidden taillight, and the purposeful void between the seat and tank, which echoes the gap between the fuel tank and cowling on early-’80s GP bikes. Other nice touches include bar-end mirrors and the foldaway passenger footpegs that help the bike maintain its sleek shape when tucked away.

The XSR900’s full-color 3.5-inch TFT display is small but effective. Information is easy to read at a glance and you can easily toggle through settings using the handlebar switches.

The XSR900’s full-color 3.5-inch TFT display is small but effective. Information is easy to read at a glance and you can easily toggle through settings using the handlebar switches. (Adam Campbell/)

Of course, how something goes is just as important as how it looks, and the Sport Heritage machines are meant to be decidedly sporty. To that end, Yamaha continues its proven formula of borrowing hard parts from the MT-09 and sprinkling model-specific pieces throughout.

The 890cc three-cylinder engine is the first of those pieces to be borrowed from the MT-09, but it’s worth mentioning that this was an all-new engine in 2021, the result of efforts to meet Euro 5 standards without sacrificing performance. Almost every part of the engine, from the pistons and connecting rods to the crankshaft, camshafts, and crankcase, was redesigned.

Nearly every major component, from pistons and connecting rods to the crankshaft, camshafts, and crankcase, has been redesigned and lightened for reduced overall weight and increased torque.

Nearly every major component, from pistons and connecting rods to the crankshaft, camshafts, and crankcase, has been redesigned and lightened for reduced overall weight and increased torque. (Adam Campbell/)

A few updates are particularly noteworthy. The crankshaft is 3mm longer and has 15 percent more inertia, but to avoid changing the engine’s overall dimensions, Yamaha shortened the connecting rods by 1.5mm. The result is a 43cc-larger, longer-stroke engine that produces a claimed 6 percent more torque, weighs 3.75 pounds less than the outgoing engine/exhaust package, and fits into the chassis just as it did before to prevent discrepancies in overall packaging. Think mass centralization and weight bias.

When strapped to the Motorcyclist dyno, our test unit produced 105.97 hp at 9,970 rpm and 63.49 pound-feet of torque at 7,030 rpm. Compare that with the previous-generation XSR900, which produced 103.98 hp at 10,150 rpm and 58.92 pound-feet of torque at 8,050 rpm on the same dyno.

Changes to the intake system add to the XSR’s performance, rideability, and cleanliness. A new airbox works with new throttle bodies and reduced intake port volume to increase intake efficiency and improve fuel atomization; the result is a claimed 11 percent improvement in fuel economy, from 44 to 49 mpg. A small change, perhaps, but sometimes that’s the difference between enjoying your last stretch of curves and worrying where the next gas station is.

Spin-forged wheels are 700 grams lighter per set and reduce rotational mass by 11 percent, which contributes to the XSR’s nimble handling.

Spin-forged wheels are 700 grams lighter per set and reduce rotational mass by 11 percent, which contributes to the XSR’s nimble handling. (Adam Campbell/)

The XSR’s powerplant is bolted to an MT-09-sourced frame, revamped at the same time as the engine with thinner cross sections, 50 percent increased lateral rigidity, and a 30mm-lower steering head pipe. All this results in a more aggressive profile compared to earlier MT/XSR models.

While the main frame is the same as that on the MT-09, Yamaha has outfitted the XSR with a model-specific tubular steel subframe and a 59mm-longer swingarm that mounts within the frame for increased rigidity. Yamaha says its biggest goals here were to help the XSR remain more composed through a corner and to increase feedback from the tires.

A Brembo radial brake master cylinder hints at the performance side of the XSR900. Brake feel is good all the way through the pull.

A Brembo radial brake master cylinder hints at the performance side of the XSR900. Brake feel is good all the way through the pull. (Adam Campbell/)

Previous XSRs were known for moving around as the pace picked up, so it’s no surprise to see Yamaha making such a push to increase overall rigidity of the platform. That effort can also be seen in the suspension, which gets dedicated settings for 2022. The fully adjustable 41mm KYB fork has a 7 percent stiffer spring rate and added compression damping, while rebound damping goes down a touch. Meanwhile, the shock has a 21 percent stiffer spring rate and increased compression damping; rebound damping is down here as well. The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound only.

An updated set of spin-forged wheels perfectly matches the XSR900′s personality, part performance and part style. Compared to the outgoing set, they’re 700 grams lighter, stronger, and reduce rotational mass by 11 percent. The XSR900 has dropped a total of 5 pounds this year, now rolling in at a claimed 425 pounds. That mostly matches what we found when parking a fully fueled test bike on the Motorcyclist scales, our 2022 test unit weighing in at 428 pounds. Compare that with the previous-generation XSR test bike, which weighed in at 433 pounds on the same scales.

Bar-end mirrors are a nice detail and offer good visibility of what’s behind you. The added style is worth the relatively minimal width they add to the bike.

Bar-end mirrors are a nice detail and offer good visibility of what’s behind you. The added style is worth the relatively minimal width they add to the bike. (Adam Campbell/)

A new Brembo radial brake master cylinder and electronic brake control bring things to a stop, more proof that the XSR design team takes the Sport part of Sport Heritage seriously. This is Yamaha building a bike that works as well as it looks, with the technology and components needed to bring it all together.

Yamaha says, in fact, that the electronics package is trickle-down MotoGP technology. The XSR900′s rider aide suite takes cues from the R1′s electronics package, which was in turn designed based on what Yamaha learned from its MotoGP efforts, so there is, technically, a connection. Whatever the case, this Sport Heritage bike’s long list of features includes traction control, slide control, lift control, lean-sensitive brake control, drive modes, cruise control, and a bidirectional quickshifter. Settings for each system are managed with relative ease through the XSR’s small but well-organized TFT display and handlebar-mounted switch gear.

The XSR900’s seat feels flat and firm, but extremely comfortable, with lots of support toward the back of the rider portion. The tall, tapered passenger section might be less welcoming.

The XSR900’s seat feels flat and firm, but extremely comfortable, with lots of support toward the back of the rider portion. The tall, tapered passenger section might be less welcoming. (Adam Campbell/)

City Streets and Beyond

It may feel strange to put so much emphasis on the XSR’s performance features, but keep in mind that Yamaha never intended for the bike to be a styling exercise. That the bike looks so good parked on the California coast is an added benefit. The real joy is tackling the winding roads that lead inland.

And as the road begins to tighten up it becomes apparent how much more composed the chassis is for 2022. Earlier-generation XSRs would come unwound over almost any pavement imperfection and took far too long to settle down, while the new model quickly absorbs those hits and lets the rider get right back into the throttle.

The 2022 XSR900 is 5 pounds lighter than its predecessor and steers into a corner with absolute ease.

The 2022 XSR900 is 5 pounds lighter than its predecessor and steers into a corner with absolute ease. (Adam Campbell/)

Thanks to a combination of reduced weight and a sportier riding position, the XSR feels nimble and goes right where it’s wanted, making the bike both fun to ride and less taxing over a full day of riding. This bike can actually be enjoyed at a brisk pace. The only real complaint came with the bike at full lean, where the fork still feels slightly vague. That might be remedied through fine-tuning, and doesn’t detract from the more balanced, confidence-inspiring feel of this latest version.

Refined power delivery adds to the experience and is a testament to the work Yamaha has done to both the CP3 engine and its electronic management. Four drive modes are available, though the bike feels perfectly manageable in the most aggressive mode, simply labeled 1. We occasionally experimented with mode 2, but never felt a need to go higher as power delivery was smooth and predictable on even the tightest sections of road.

An all-new chassis helps the 2022 XSR900 feel more composed as the pace picks up.

An all-new chassis helps the 2022 XSR900 feel more composed as the pace picks up. (Adam Campbell/)

The engine itself feels snappy and fun, but never abrupt, as the throttle is cracked. It’s tractable as the revs rise, thanks in part to the new crankshaft. The XSR could be treated like a hooligan bike if desired, but it’s just as happy to cruise down the road with a level of maturity and composure that never showed through on earlier versions.

The XSR900 flicks easily from side to side, with the lightest of inputs to the repositioned handlebar.

The XSR900 flicks easily from side to side, with the lightest of inputs to the repositioned handlebar. (Adam Campbell/)

Some might argue that its new refinement robs the XSR of the character that’s made the MT/XSR platform so entertaining. Perhaps. But maybe it’s more fun to be in control than to be riding on the edge of your seat.

Speaking of the seat, the XSR is a surprisingly comfortable motorcycle. Yamaha’s design team deserves kudos for designing a bike that hits their design goals without sacrificing comfort. The ergonomics are more aggressive than before, but the average rider will hardly notice that the hip position is moved forward 5mm and down 22mm. Similarly, handlebar touch points are moved forward 14mm and down 35mm, but there never seems to be too much weight on the wrists, and the bike never felt uncomfortable over the course of a 170-plus-mile ride. The handlebar and footpegs are also two-position adjustable, so it’s easy to adjust the ergonomics to your liking. Shorter riders will also appreciate that the seat height was dropped from 32.7 inches to just 31.9 inches.

Yamaha’s updated CP3 engine is as fun as ever on a flowing section of canyon road.

Yamaha’s updated CP3 engine is as fun as ever on a flowing section of canyon road. (Adam Campbell/)

Retro Done Right

The more time you spend on the XSR the more you realize how well thought-out the bike is. Sure, there’s a collection of exposed cables up near the handlebar, but those tend to be forgotten the second the sun hits the Legend Blue tank. Or, for that matter, while going effortlessly through menus on the TFT display, which is easy to navigate and doesn’t interfere with the bike’s retro looks. Sliding back into the square edge of the seat leads to reminiscing about roadracers of yesteryear, while sliding a knee along the perfectly rolled edges of the tank just feels right.

It must be a challenge to build a really good Sport Heritage bike, creating a motorcycle that speaks to riders on an emotional level without sacrificing performance. Yamaha has always had the formula, and with a little fine-tuning, it has managed to create a much better XSR900. That it’s been able to do this with a package priced at just $9,999 is impressive, whether the bike is dominating the view on the local beach or going up into the mountains for a full day of flogging.

It’s hard to argue against the XSR900 in Legend Blue, but Raven is an option for those opposed to attracting attention to themselves.

It’s hard to argue against the XSR900 in Legend Blue, but Raven is an option for those opposed to attracting attention to themselves. (Yamaha/)

2022 Yamaha XSR900 Technical Specifications and Price

MSRP: $9,999
Engine: DOHC, liquid-cooled inline-three; 12 valves
Displacement: 890cc
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 62.1mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain
Motorcyclist Measured Horsepower: 105.97 hp @ 9,970 rpm
Motorcyclist Measured Torque: 63.49 lb.-ft. @ 7,030 rpm
Fuel System: Fuel injection w/ YCC-T ride-by-wire
Clutch: Wet, multiplate slipper/assist; cable actuated
Engine Management/Ignition: Electronic (transistorized)
Frame: Control-filled die-cast aluminum Deltabox
Front Suspension: KYB 41mm inverted fork, spring preload, compression and rebound damping adjustable; 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension: KYB shock, spring preload, rebound damping adjustable; 5.4 in. travel
Front Brake: Dual 298mm discs w/ ABS
Rear Brake: 245mm single disc w/ ABS
Wheels, Front/Rear: 10-spoke, aluminum spin forged; 17 in./17 in.
Tires, Front/Rear: Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22; 120/70ZR-17 / 180/55ZR-17
Rake/Trail: 25.0°/4.3 in.
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Ground Clearance: 5.5 in.
Seat Height: 31.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal.
Motorcyclist Measured Wet Weight: 428 lb.
Contact: yamahamotorsports.com

The XSR900’s swingarm is 59mm longer than the MT-09’s.

The XSR900’s swingarm is 59mm longer than the MT-09’s. (Adam Campbell/)

A collection of switches make it easy to manage ride modes, rider-aid settings, and cruise control.

A collection of switches make it easy to manage ride modes, rider-aid settings, and cruise control. (Adam Campbell/)

A round of applause for the design team that came up with the graphic treatment for the XSR900.

A round of applause for the design team that came up with the graphic treatment for the XSR900. (Adam Campbell/)

While the XSR900 handles better than ever, the front suspension still feels somewhat vague as you roll through a corner.

While the XSR900 handles better than ever, the front suspension still feels somewhat vague as you roll through a corner. (Adam Campbell/)

Ergonomics are sportier than in years past, but the XSR900 is still incredibly comfortable.

Ergonomics are sportier than in years past, but the XSR900 is still incredibly comfortable. (Adam Campbell/)

While previous-generation XSRs struggled with chassis movement and a touchy throttle, the latest version is much more composed and easier to ride.

While previous-generation XSRs struggled with chassis movement and a touchy throttle, the latest version is much more composed and easier to ride. (Adam Campbell/)

Yes, the XSR900 still wheelies, longer swingarm and all.

Yes, the XSR900 still wheelies, longer swingarm and all. (Adam Campbell/)

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