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First ride: Yamaha XSR900 Abarth review

Café racer styling. 115hp. Speed blocks. What’s not to like?

Steve Farrell's picture
Submitted by Steve Farrell on Wed, 29/03/2017 - 21:03

YAMAHA'S MT-09 is a great naked bike - lightweight with a very nice spread of torque and power from its three-cylinder engine. That's a given.

It follows that the XSR900, an MT-09 under the skin, is a very good bike dressed up in what Yamaha calls ‘neo-retro’ styling.

By the same logic, the limited-edition XSR900 Abarth should be a very good café racer.

It's a collaboration between Yamaha and car maker Abarth. Hence the name.

A run of 695 are to be made, each with its own number engraved on a plaque attached to the diamond-type aluminium frame.

Only 100 are coming to the UK and about 50 have already been reserved, according to Yamaha. 

To transform it into the special-edition Abarth, the XSR900 has been given a carbon-fibre body kit, including a single-seat tail unit which tapers around a round tail light, making it look a bit like an afterburner.

At the other end is a carbon handlebar fairing very similar to the one on Yamaha’s now-discontinued XJR1300 Racer.


In fact, aside from the engine, the whole bike is reminiscent of the XJR1300 Racer, with quite an extreme riding position courtesy of the swallowtail handlebar, another special feature. The bars are slung very low.

The exhaust is new Akrapovič full system with stacked twin silencers.

And there are lots of special styling features, including a stitched suede seat with waterproof membrane, and special grey/red paintwork on the aluminium tank covers featuring Yamaha speed blocks. Which obviously all Yamahas should have.

The platform, including frame, engine, suspension wheels and brakes, is the same as the XSR900’s. That means it also benefits from XSR’s rider aids, consisting of traction control with three intervention levels including off, plus three riding modes altering the aggression of the throttle response. And of course ABS.

It is, truth be told, roughly 80% styling exercise. The other 20% - the bit you’ll notice when you’re on it – lies in the new riding position and the different exhaust note from the Akrapovič system.

But even without technical upgrades, the XSR platform is enough to make this Abarth special the ‘most effective and powerful café racer on the market’ according to Yamaha.

It’s probably the most powerful, with a claimed 115hp from the 847cc triple. BMW’s 1170cc boxer-engined R nineT Racer makes 110hp while the figure for Triumph’s 1200cc parallel-twin Thruxton R is 97hp. 

I wouldn’t argue with its effectiveness either. I could never tire of an MT-09 engine. Every time I experience it, I find I’ve forgotten how good it is.

The torque starts from right at the bottom of the range. You barely need to change down for any but the slowest of corners. Just leave it third.

You may end up taking one more slowly than you anticipated and thinking ‘I should have changed down for that’, but when you open the throttle you discover there was no need after all. There’s still plenty of drive.

And the initial throttle response is so smooth that it’s easy to feed it in seamlessly from low revs through the turn and out of it.

The first MT-09, in 2013, was accused by some of having a snatchy throttle response but that is long gone, fixed in a round of updates for 2016.

I haven't even got to the best part of this engine. It’s not the bottom-end. It’s the mid-range and top-end that follows, like a cake that you eat and then find in the cupboard and then eat again. Twice.

It just builds and builds and then takes off, as revvy and smooth as a four-inline but with the mid-range and bottom-end of a twin. This is why, some say, the triple is the greatest of engine configurations, delivering the best of all worlds. This one does it as good as any.

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