Yamaha combined high performance with retro good looks in the new-for-2016 XSR900, which includes traction control, a ride-by-wire throttle, and ABS brakes. This sport naked marks the return of a category called the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM). Popular in the 1970s, the UJMs were both performance-focused and comfortable. They were built for the way most of us ride: sneaking out for fast rides on weekends and commuting during the week. Think Honda CB750, fun and classic. We have a UJM in our garage, and like many others, we lament the fact that Honda stopped building this UJM in 2003.
Thanks to folks at Yamaha, the UJM is back in a big way. Built on Yamaha’s FZ-09 platform, a powerful but flawed bike, Yamaha engineers fixed FZ-09’s abrupt throttle response problems as well as suspension issues and added traction control, a slipper clutch, and ABS. These updates more than justify the $1,300 price difference between the XSR900 and FZ-09.
Like the FZ-09, the XSR900 is powered by 847cc inline three-cylinder that produces 115 horsepower and 65 lb-ft of torque, available even at low RPMs. Get even slightly grabby with the throttle and you can lift the front wheel with ease. And the power snowballs through the rev range. The upgraded front fork includes springs with different rates than those on the FZ-09, plus improved rebound, compression, and increased fork oil levels that do an admirable job smoothing out the road when the asphalt gets funky. Another nice spec choice? Tires. Yamaha spec’ed a common sport bike tire size, meaning you can choose from a wide variety of great rubber when it’s time to replace your treads. A lot of the retro moderns fail on this front.
Taller riders will enjoy extra room in the cockpit; shorter riders may have a difficult time throwing a leg over the 32.7-inch seat. The gas tank holds 3.7 gallons. Yamaha claims the XSR gets about 44 mpg, and that mileage is close to what we experienced in our more than 550 miles of riding around Los Angeles and up and down Angeles Crest.
Riders can toggle between three engine modes by tapping a button located next to the throttle. But know the XSR900 is no Sunday driver. This bike wants to go like a greyhound wants to chase a rabbit — it’s in the bike's DNA to want to go fast out of the gate. And the XSR900’s performance might be too much of a good thing for some riders. On the highway, it feels like it’s just starting to stretch its legs at 80 mph. It's fun, but it might earn you a point or three on your license.
The bottom line: The XSR900 is on the short list for one of our favorite bikes of the year. If you’re looking for one of the best UJAs in the U.S. and have some experience under your helmet, it’s tough to come up with many reasons not to consider the XSR900. Just be careful, especially if you currently own an older UJA like we do. A few miles on the XSR will make the prospect of returning to a bike of yore all but impossible. The XSR900 with an aluminum finish will set you back $9,490, and the 60th Anniversary Yellow is an additional $500. [$9,490; yamahamotorsports.com]
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