I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of cafe racers. Sure, they've got an iconic silhouette and usually make for a halfway decent ride, but it seems like every motorcycle manufacturer on the planet is leaning hard into this vintage style. I say it's time to find a new altar at which to worship -- something that looks beyond the '50s, '60s and '70s. And wouldn't you know, Yamaha seems to agree.
Enter the 2022 Yamaha XSR900, a bike that takes its inspiration from the wild two-stroke grand prix racers of the early 1980s. It's a good look, and more importantly, it's a great ride.
The XSR900 is based on Yamaha's excellent MT-09 naked bike. That means it shares most of the MT's mechanical bits, including its absolutely stellar CP3 inline three-cylinder engine, which got a displacement bump last year, from 847cc to 890cc.
That bump in displacement gave the XSR900 an output of 117 horsepower and 69 pound-feet of torque, but even better, it made the engine incredibly tractable which, by extension, makes the XSR900 an incredibly easy bike to ride at low speeds. The engine's power is routed through an excellent six-speed sequential transmission that offers delicate, precise shifts whether you're using the included quickshifter or the light and easy-to-modulate clutch lever. That quickshifter works both up and down the gears, too.
One of the best parts of any triple-powered motorcycle is its soundtrack and the XSR900 doesn't disappoint. The experience is -- by necessity of Euro 5 emissions and sound requirements -- dominated by induction howl, but that's not a bad thing. Above 6,000 rpm you get a very naturally aspirated Porsche 911-like yowl that builds and builds until it's downright maniacal. Thanks to a redesigned and simplified under-slung exhaust system, the exhaust sound isn't unpleasant, either, but the XSR would absolutely benefit from an aftermarket setup if more noise is what you're after.
The XSR900's drivetrain may be identical to the MT-09's, but there are some differences in the chassis. The biggest change comes in the form of an extended swingarm borrowed from the Tracer 9 GT sport touring motorcycle. The new swingarm is 2.3 inches longer than the MT's, making for a bike that feels much more stable and relaxed in corners. The XSR900 also benefits from retuned suspension, which is dimensionally the same as the MT-09 (41-millimeter inverted KYB adjustable fork in front; adjustable KYB monoshock out back), but it's stiffer, which also helps make for a more controlled ride. Yamaha equipped the XSR with Bridgestone's excellent Battlax Hypersport S22 tires which, short of a full-on track day, will provide all the grip you could ask for on dry roads while still offering decent tread life.
The front brakes feature dual 298-millimeter discs and radially mounted 4-piston calipers. These are paired with a new radially mounted Brembo master cylinder for improved brake feel under hard deceleration. The rear brake is a single, 245-millimeter rotor with a single-piston caliper, and it gets a Brembo master cylinder of its own. Lean-sensitive antilock brakes are standard equipment.
Making that lean sensitivity possible is a six-axis inertial measurement unit borrowed from the Yamaha R1 superbike. It is arguably the most important upgrade of this XSR900 over previous generations because it makes features like wheelie control and lean-sensitive traction control possible, and dramatically increases the margin of safety for less experienced riders.
The XSR900's electronics package is accessed through a 3.5-inch color TFT display which, while serviceable, is a little smaller than I'd like. The display can feel a little cramped for the amount of information it provides, and it can get a little washed out in direct sunlight. On the other hand, Yamaha's simple and intuitive menu system makes configuring the bike's settings a breeze.
Features like four pre-programmed ride modes (1 being the most aggressive and 4 being a reduced power mode for rain, etc.) are adjustable while riding, while the user-adjustable manual mode can be accessed when the bike is stopped. The 2022 XSR features a ride-by-wire throttle, which is calibrated to be significantly smoother and less snatchy or jerky than previous versions. It also makes the bike's standard cruise control possible, which is a nice feature to have, even if this isn't a bike necessarily suited for longer trips.
Yamaha's designers gave the XSR900 a more aggressive riding position than the MT-09 with higher footpegs, a lower seat and a longer reach to the slightly lower handlebars. The difference isn't massive, but it is noticeable, making it a little easier to tuck in and cheat the wind at higher speeds. The new seat design makes you feel as though you're sitting down in the bike, rather than on top of it, and while it doesn't offer a great deal of room to move forward and back on longer rides, it's still fairly comfortable.
That lowered seat also has the benefit of making the XSR more accessible for more riders. The bike has a seat height of 31.9 inches, which is 0.6 inches lower than the MT-09. It's not exactly cruiser low, but it does mean that shorter riders should have less of an issue getting their feet on the ground at a stop. Adding to that sense of confidence at low speeds is the XSR's pleasantly low wet weight of 425 pounds, which includes a 3.7-gallon tank full of fuel.
Despite its generous fuel capacity, the XSR900 manages to appear fairly svelte. It's an incredibly handsome motorcycle, with its fully vinyl-covered tail section and nearly invisible taillight, as well as its hidden passenger pegs. The Legend Blue and gold color scheme is stunning, especially in bright sunlight. There's a black colorway available, too, but trust me, you don't want that. It's boring. Don't be boring. The whole aesthetic of the bike does a great job of paying homage to one of the greatest eras of motorcycle racing while also looking like a modern motorcycle, and that's no small feat.
The XSR900 is an incredible machine that stands a good chance of being all the motorcycle that most people, even very experienced riders, will ever need. It's fast, comfortable, easy to ride and packed with modern safety technology. It looks amazing, and the best part is that it's not going to break the bank with its very reasonable $9,999 starting price. Look for it in dealerships now.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.