First Ride

First ride: Yamaha XSR900 review

Tom Rayner is in Fuerteventura to ride Yamaha's new XSR900

THE latest member in Yamaha's eclectic and rapidly multiplying range of Sports Heritage bikes is the XSR900. With its fashionable retro looks and the DNA of the hugely-successful MT-09 – what could possibly go wrong? Very little is the answer.

The smooth and twisting roads of Fuerteventura provided a great stage for the XSR900 to perform. The first word on my lips after a strong black coffee at the first rest stop was 'fun'. The three-cylinder engine loves to be revved and pulls hard all the way to 10,000rpm. Firing an XSR out of corners in second and third gear is going to surprise a lot of people and its mild appearance belies its performance. Retro or not, there's still 115hp on tap from this explosive in-line triple.

The MT-09 came in for criticism for a snatchy throttle response and thankfully the issue is now well and truly resolved. Of course, one man's 'snatchy' is another man's 'aggressive' and with this in mind the XSR's three riding modes should suit every style. There's 'A' mode, let's call it aggressive, 'B' mode which delivers power as smoothly as a twist-and-go scooter and finally 'Standard', which sits somewhere between the two.

MT-09 riders will feel instantly at home in the saddle of an XSR with both bikes sharing the same lightweight aluminium frame. The grips and pegs are also in the same position. Riders sit slightly higher and 5cm further back in the XSR's saddle so it's a better bet for taller people. The saddle is also wider and more comfortable so it's a better bet for everybody.

Traction control can be set to low, maximum, or turned off entirely – all with the flick of a switch on the handlebars and without the need to cut the engine. The assisted clutch is also lighter than the MT-09.

Fully-fuelled the 195kg XSR felt chunky and heavy with both feet on the ground at a standstill, but I was impressed with how nimble it became once the wheels were rolling. Even performing tight U-turns as we rode back and forth for the photos was easy, with the weight planted low and the wide bars making possible a shallow turning circle.

The suspension too is impressive for a sub £8,000 bike, with adjustment for rebound on the front and rebound and pre-load on the rear. The bike stayed in shape in all but the most extreme circumstances and the radial mounted twin discs at the front are up there with the best in this class and price bracket.

The combination of a smooth engine, a comfortable riding position and sophisticated electronics inspires a lot of confidence to ride faster. Intermediate riders will improve in leaps and bounds on an XSR and quicker riders will enjoy taking the machine to the edge of its considerable capabilities. Novices might prefer the softer XSR700, but the power delivery is more than smooth enough on the bigger brother for right wrists still learning their limits.

There's so much torque on offer that even if you're in a gear too high on the exit of a corner it quickly picks up. Despite complying to increasingly strict Euro emissions regulations the XSR produces a decent noise from its standard cans. It's never loud but the three cylinders howl towards the redline and I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing some aftermarket exhausts.

Riding on the featureless volcanic rock of Fuerteventura feels a bit like riding on Mars at times, but I bet there are more petrol stations on Mars. My menacing reserve warning counted up to 25 miles before I finally found fuel. The tank was dry after 123 miles. A steady throttle and fewer volcanoes to climb will certainly return a better figure but I'd be surprised if many owners achieve the 56mpg and 168-mile range Yamaha promises from the 14-litre tank. Mid-40s is a more realistic figure.

We're living through an age in which motorcycles can be classified as 'neo-retro'. What this means in reality is a modern lightweight frame, a modern lightweight engine, modern electronics and rider aids, a round headlamp and the shameless appropriation of former glories - in this instance the XS750 from the mid '70s.