Yamaha XSR900

Does adding of­fi­cial bolt-on ac­ces­sories cre­ate an emo­tive café racer or ruin a bike’s pure ap­peal?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jon Urry MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Even­tu­ally, ev­ery trend is forced to break from its un­der­ground roots as com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion takes over. The anti- cap­i­tal­ist hippy gen­er­a­tion soon saw their tie-dye T-shirts in main­stream shops owned by multi­na­tion­als and it wasn’t long be­fore the anti-es­tab­lish­ment at­ti­tude of punk leaked into high street fash­ion. And now we are see­ing the same thing hap­pen­ing within the mo­tor­cy­cle cus­tomi­sa­tion scene.

Based on the ethos of small in­de­pen­dent back­street work­shops or sim­ply a bloke in his shed, the cus­tom cul­ture is now far from the un­der­ground move­ment it once was as ev­ery ma­jor man­u­fac­turer tries to tap into this fash­ion. If you haven’t got a brochure full of blokes in beards sip­ping craft beer while hang­ing out with their equally hir­sute mates in a café/work­shop next to your retro bike then you are miss­ing a mar­ket­ing trick. And this des­per­a­tion to sat­isfy fash­ion has seen man­u­fac­tur­ers not only un­veil­ing a rush of new retro bikes, but along­side them the kits re­quired to trans­form them into some­thing unique such as a café racer or scram­bler. Well, as unique as a mass-pro­duced item al­tered with other mass-pro­duced items can ever be!

Two man­u­fac­tur­ers lead­ing the way when it comes to these cus­tom retro bikes are Tri­umph and Yamaha. Like an old rocker rolling up his sleeves to once again dis­play his tattoos, Tri­umph aren’t ex­actly fresh to the café racer scene while Yamaha are the rel­a­tive new boys, ar­guably lack­ing that cru­cial dol­lop of au­then­tic­ity. And that means they are tack­ling the task in two very dif­fer­ent ways.

When de­sign­ing the Thrux­ton R, Tri­umph went as mod­ern as pos­si­ble while en­sur­ing the bike looked vis­ually pe­riod. Touches such as the ex­posed en­gine fins and spark plug, tank strap and Monza filler cap be­lie the fact wa­ter-cool­ing, ABS, trac­tion con­trol and ride-by-wire hide be­hind the retro façade. This is a bike de­signed and built ground-up as a pack­age di­rectly tar­get­ing the picky mod­ern clas­sic mar­ket, un­like the XSR900.

In­stead of cre­at­ing a be­spoke retro

bike, Yamaha took an ex­ist­ing model (the MT-09) and used it as a base and added styling touches to cre­ate their own ver­sion of a mod­ern retro. And this fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in de­sign leads to a very dif­fer­ent feel when it comes to how their bikes re­spond when you add their fac­tory-fit cafž racer kits.

Dressed in its half-fair­ing, the Thrux­ton R looks ev­ery inch the au­then­tic cafž racer. The fit, feel and over­all im­pres­sion is just right and af­ter an es­ti­mated fit­ting time of two hours Ð it took Rel­phy four and he is good with span­ners Ð you are left with a truly beau­ti­ful cafž racer. In con­trast the Yamaha screams Ôbodge jobõ as its clip-on bars con­tort the var­i­ous lines and pipes into awk­ward shapes while the seat hump looks out of place. Itõs a bike be­ing forced against its will to adopt a dif­fer­ent per­sona and, like your dad wear­ing jeans and a base­ball cap, it sim­ply does­nõt pull it off. And the ride is even worse.

IÕM hon­estly strug­gling to think of a bike more un­com­fort­able to ride than this XSR cafž racer, aside from the equally hideous XJR1300 Racer, which I think shares the same aw­ful bars! Not only are they dropped at such an an­gle that they put im­mense strain on your wrists, they are oddly wide and make con­trol­ling the bike tricky. Maybe itõs the added pres­sure on your wrists, but the XSR just does­nõt have nat­u­ral han­dling with these bars fit­ted and the sus­pen­sion, which I re­mem­ber be­ing quite soft and for­giv­ing with the stan­dard flat bars, is harsh and jolt­ing. And then, just when you think the ride canõt get any more mis­er­able, you start to feel the cold seep of wa­ter onto your bum and you re­mem­ber the suede seat acts like a sponge in the wet.

Are there plus points? IÕM strug­gling to find them. Such is the dis­com­fort that you canõt en­joy the truly won- der­ful triple en­gine or XSRÕS nim­ble chas­sis, the alu­minium seat hump looks OK but slightly out of place with­out a half-fair­ing and the fly screen is a bit point­less. I quite like the rearsets, but af­ter a while the lack of rub­ber on the lever started to rub my foot, so plus points are scarce and when Rel­phy of­fered me the Tri­umphõs keys with a com­ment of Òthe kit re­ally en­hances the rideó, I nearly cried with joy.

Talk about chalk and cheese. The Thrux­tonõs clip-on bars are only a touch lower than stan­dard to stop any

‘I’m strug­gling to think of a more un­com­fort­able bike to ride than this XSR racer’

in­ter­fer­ence is­sue with the fair­ing and are all-day com­fort­able. Yet this sub­tle drop means you feel more in tune with the bike while tuck­ing be­hind the fair­ing (I love the neat cut-out in the screen) with your chin on the tank and the sound of the fruity, yet far from of­fen­sive, V&H pipes trans­ports you back into the days of the rock­ers. Only with mod­ern ma­chin­ery - and this is key to the Thrux­ton.

The Thrux­ton R café racer is not only great look­ing, the fact it has top qual­ity mod­ern brakes and sus­pen­sion, as well as a great chas­sis, means it de­liv­ers where it counts. The fact your weight is set slightly fur­ther for­ward makes the han­dling a touch sharper, the en­gine feels fresher thanks to the re­vised fuel map to suit the af­ter­mar­ket pipes and the fair­ing ac­tu­ally does de­flect a rea­son­able amount of wind when you up the pace. Cru­cially, un­like the Yamaha, it hasn’t sac­ri­ficed any prac­ti­cal­ity or per­for­mance in the name of fash­ion­able styling.

I love the XSR900, I re­ally do, but this mish-mash of ex­tras nei­ther have the style nor the prac­ti­cal­ity to bring any­thing much to the party aside from dis­com­fort. In­stead they tar­nish what was once a great-rid­ing bike.

The Thrux­ton R, on the other hand, is en­hanced in ev­ery sin­gle way by its café racer styling and it shows the ben­e­fits that clever ad­di­tions can do to both a bike’s look and feel. Tri­umph keeps on get­ting it right when it comes to seam­lessly blend­ing old and new and the Thrux­ton R with the café racer kit is their best ef­fort to date. The XSR café racer looks good from a dis­tance, but that’s about as good as it gets.

Lord Hu­mun­gus re­ceived a road­side tick­ing off...

Wear­ing clas­sic rid­ing gear is ac­cept­able on the Thrux­ton R

You can hear the rider curs­ing those bars over the en­gine’s note

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