Hot new bikes
TESTED: Yamaha Abarth, SCR950, and new Indians
Yamaha’s 2016 XSR900 is a streetbike success story. It takes the MT-09’S charismatic 847cc, 115bhp inline triple, die-cast ally frame, upgraded suspension and suite of traction control and engine mode electronics – and endows them with vintage colour, styling and ergonomics to create a great middleweight roadster.
The limited-edition XSR900 Abarth takes the base XSR900, alters the riding position and adds tasty cosmetic mods to create a collision of new tech and old style. It’s a 1960’s café racercum-modern sportsbike mash-up – and it’s another classic Yamaha. But it’s a classic that won’t suit everyone.
Yamaha built the new XSR special in collaboration with Fiat-owned Italian car-tuning company Abarth. Both have a long-term association with Yamaha and sponsor the Motogp team. Restricted to a once-only run of 695 bikes, the XSR900 Abarth is made up of parts from Yamaha’s accessories catalogue and existing models – ace bars, Akrapovič steel and titanium exhaust, the nose cone from the XJR1300 Racer – mixed with bespoke Abarth items – a striking ‘afterburner’ tail unit, solo sports seat and special grey and red paintscheme with Abarth logos on the fuel tank, front mudguard and tail.
The Abarth’s ace bars are the same item as offered in Yamaha’s catalogue for the regular XSR900. They’re a nod to the inverted cowhorn bars riders reversed on their road bikes back in the 1960s, to get a low-down racer look as they bombed round London’s North Circular. The bars are extremely low, dropping upper bodyweight onto forearms and wrists, and bringing the Abarth’s speedo almost up to eye-level.
The riding position declares itself immediately. There’s no escaping it; it’s radical alright. It feels cool and purposeful to ride with hands down by the front wheel spindle, but after a few minutes the only way to continue is to shift weight distribution. The best technique is to grip the tank, sit forward, tense long-neglected abdominal muscles, and rotate wrists as if doing press-ups. It sounds uncomfortable – but as a coping strategy it works well and the Abarth could be ridden a fair distance this way.
But everyone knows the best way to deal with a sports riding position is to speed up. And the Abarth is very good at speeding up, thanks to a barrage of glistening, pristine torque spun from the three cylinder’s crank like a layer of fine silk wrapped round a flying house brick. The engine pours it out, significant and immensely controllable. It’s a solid, road-based power figure too – 115bhp is in the Goldilocks zone of performance, neither too hot nor too dull; just fast enough to be the thrilling side of interesting.
The Abarth’s suspension is more civilised and sophisticated than the MT-09’S, letting the bike sweep through bends in a stream of feedback, digging in when grip is needed front or rear. Top brakes too – power and control, when you need it.
The effect of the riding position, chassis ability and power delivery produces an outstandingly sporty, Sunday ride. You’d think twice before taking the Abarth on a motorway slog, but for short-range chicanery it’s hard to think of another bike that’ll do it with such panache.
‘The best way to deal with a sports riding position is to speed up’