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YAMAHA SCR950 VS XSR900

Yamaha have created a distinctive retro offering in their Sport Heritage range (also tagged Faster Sons). Some are scramblers, some are roadster come café racers. Yamaha are clearly approach - ing the sector from many angles. Here are two utterly opposing angles. Two 900cc Yamahas that are anything but brothers…

Words & images: JB & Alex Waters

YAMAHA SCR950

The SCR950 kind of leaves us flummoxed. It is the weirdest thing, first thought is pretty much ‘no!’, only it has something – maybe an air of familiarity – that stops us clean running away. There are little features, design nuances, to this bike that make you think somewhere in the R&D team there is at least one man who knows something about real motorcycles. So you kind of hang around.

 

It is one mad machine, though. We’re used to seeing roadsters being converted into scramblers (like Triumph’s Street Scrambler and Ducati’s Desert Sled as seen in RUST #32) but has anyone before taken a cruiser and tried to make it into scrambler?

 

Thing is this bike comes from 2017 (and it’s now 2018) and all sorts of experiments are going on as the mainstream bike manufacturers try to get a handle on the custom-bobber-hipster-scrambler-whatever-it-is movement. Race reps are history, adventure is the new touring (apparently) and so for the cool dude of today stripped-down retro things are the new black. Open face lids, beards and crap goggles are the go, even for mainstream bikers (just like when dads got into wearing cargo pants).

 

So we come back to the SCR950 and we’re not put off. Perhaps it’s that peanut tank – its paint puts us in mind of the old XT500. Perhaps it’s the proper 60s style steel scrambler handlebars (big and ugly just like they used to be). Maybe it’s the knobbly Bridgestone Trailwings and the silver-grey steel mudguards? Definitely, once you press the starter, it’s the noise – for a fully compliant exhaust system it sounds lovely and throbby, even if aesthetically it looks like a matt-black painted dustbin. We’re repelled by the SCR950 – but equally attracted to it.

 

It doesn’t stop confounding, though. You sit on it and it’s higher in the saddle than you first think (830mm) and it’s one firm saddle at that. Then the footpegs – well, they’re just plain wrong, a road race type for some reason and right where you want to place your legs when sat stationary – boy, they annoy.

Then you pluck up the courage to ride off (‘please don’t let anyone see me’) and you get the first whiff of real motorcycle. The motor is tuned just like Triumph’s latest 900 twins with low power but big torque – heck, it’s almost an identical match to the Street Scrambler at 53.5bhp and 79.5Nm, the latter maxing out at 3000rpm. The Triumph has a 270º crank to replicate the feel of a 90º vee-twin, but the Yamaha is a real vee-twin, with a 60º angle (there are probably balancer shafts in there somewhere, too). And so it feels good. Character is lobbed at you by the bucket load, and it’s a curious thing, when something starts to feel right it starts to look right, too. So you gradually let down your guard.

 

The ride position isn’t bad. The bench seat is firm but its okay and the view forward with those crazy old handlebars, tall, but pulled back toward your lap, make you smile, and actually they’re tall enough for a comfortable standing position if you were to go off-road (if…). The speedo unit is a bit odd, being black-bodied and digital, putting us in mind of those first-ever black screen digital (LED?) watches we all had back in the 70s, with the red numerals you needed to press a button to see. An odd choice, but the simplicity is fine and at night actually it makes a pleasing glow!

 

The gearbox shifts sweetly, not that you need it so much given the vast amount of torque, and given a smooth road the SCR, with its belt drive, makes smooth comfortable progress. Despite the upright ride position there’s no major windblast and so you perambulate in some relative comfort. There’s only 110mm of travel in the piggy-back styled shocks (and 135mm in the 41mm forks), so you watch out for the bigger bumps (yeah, forget whoops and tabletops!). And the brakes – they’re fitted with ABS but probably only for legislation’s sake, the two 298mm discs with twin-piston calipers (one front one back) are pretty casual when it comes to the slowing.

And yet, the damn thing grows on you. It makes a great noise, rides like the most chilled-out sofa you ever thought of motorizing, and it gets up no-one’s nose. You might say inoffensive, but it’s actually enough of a looker to gain some curious glances. Yeah, for chilled-out riding it’s rocking it.

Now I’m as skeptical as the next Slower Dad about this Sport Heritage thing and the Faster Sons guff (thankfully the cross bar pad that says exactly that had been removed from our bike) but somehow this SCR950 still found a way of making me smile. In fact the more I looked at it (and rode it) the more the quirky styling worked, I liked the shortened rear mudguard and cool round tail light, I liked the juxtapose of a small tank and wider engine (and airbox), I liked the skinny 19” front wheel sitting out there on raked-out shitty forks with rubber gaiters. It’s doing that anti-thing, breaking all the rules, but nicely, almost quietly. So it does, in the final wash, get away with it. Damn it.

Like a lot of these new scramblers it is in fact an urban animal. It won’t entirely shit itself if you take it into the country, or even down a country track (y’know one without tar-seal) but it won’t be too flash and by heck you better go easy if you do. If you’re thinking this might be an alternative to an adventure bike you’re probably mistaken – or very adventurous indeed. It is then, something of a design affectation, in an age where affectation is increasingly the norm. Why not play at being a hip motorcycle dude for five miles of a Sunday morning (before you hit the cafe lattes and broadsheet papers – sorry iPad subscription there, eh!)? What’s the harm? So enjoy yourself.

And in such context the SCR950 is okay. Yes, it’s a bit fake (but a fake what – really, we can’t quite pigeonhole it) but it’s also a bit honest, and we’re not entirely sure it even takes itself seriously. And it succeeds in making us smile. Against all the odds. It’s actually a nice gentle ride, and it’s got a pretty damn good motor. And it’s not just another Triumph Bonnie-street-scram-bob thing either (no offence).

Who’ll buy it? Well, not us, clearly. But its quite possible the guy in question will be a laid-back dude, who really doesn’t care for what you think, who’s actually a good laugh to be around – and in any case has serious bikes for his serious days. Yeah, sometimes, some days, it pays not to take yourself too seriously, eh? It’s a chill pill, that’s what the SCR950 is.

YAMAHA XSR900

With the XSR900 we jump about three or four decades forwards from where the SCR950 kind of sits. If the SCR950 puts us in mind of a late 1960s scrambler, the XSR900 has a sense of modern motocrosser about it. It’s a street bike through and through, but a modern dirt bike rider would readily relate to it – and love it.

Like the SCR950, you are slightly muddled as to just what it is. The Sport Heritage styling is neither specifically contemporary nor historic. The three-cylinder motor is entirely modern in its tech, albeit triples have that 1970s thing about them given history like the Triumph Trident (racers) and Yamaha’s own XS750/850s. And the whole chassis, from the alloy frame to the USD forks and monoshock rear is ultra-modern. But there’s a definite – and likeable – twist to the styling. It takes the MT-09 (the base to this bike) and gives it a real retro stir. We loved the tank shape and design cues, and you’ll notice the cool repeats of the three holes/circles motif (relating to the triple identity) throughout the chassis and bodywork.

Motocrossers would definitely relate to the fatbar handlebars and then to the distinctly sat-on rather than sit-in ride position. And its roomy cockpit: seat, ‘bars and footrests all suit a taller rider nicely. And the motocross rider would definitely relate to the instantaneous power delivery, which feels immediate, much like a 450 ‘crosser does. It’s a potent, playful package.

This test model came fitted with an optional Akrapovic exhaust – a brand often found in off-road – and so it played a nice melody, not too loud but attention-grabbing, so you’re alert to the beast-within from the get-go. We started out in the sharpest, raciest of the three rider modes that you can choose from (simply called ‘A’) and it was lively. In the London traffic too lively, as it brings the power in hard and fast. Why was it too much? Well, this is no modestly-powered middleweight, it’s clearly borrowing tech from its Big Bro, the R1, as this motor has the same crossplane-crank concept motor, and at 850cc it is virtually three-quarters of an R1, and so it pumps, very easily, a claimed 115bhp – double that of the SCR950 and then some. So it’s a very real hotrod of a bike when you want it to be, and especially in Mode A.

In Standard ride mode the whole plot is fortunately a lot more controllable and yet just as exciting as you’re inclined to play with it more. The third mode, ‘B’, feels like a rain setting and it really lowers the whole game, maybe it’s something like a learner restricted output too, because it feels drastically restrictive. For us Standard is just right.

There’s so much joy in this bike, though. It feels alert and capable and reassuring. You’re a sharper, keener rider on the XSR900. Snappier too, for like the SCR950 it attracts public attention – it is a bit of a looker, on the quiet.

 

This thing has modern brakes or nearly-modern, they look to be of the Sumitomo ‘blue spot’ four-piston caliper type we used to see on R1s not ten or more years ago. They’re powerful and for that reason it’s nice to have the backup of ABS, especially on slick London-in-the-winter roads. Oh yes, and there’s traction control, which could be very useful if you get carried away with Mode A. Ahh, and the suspension is really plush, being firm but not hard. Up to say 70-80mph you couldn’t have a more comfortable ride. After that, like any naked bike you’ll be fighting the windblast.

So the XSR900 takes this whole Sport Heritage and Faster Sons thing and combines it with all the advantages of the contemporary motorcycle to create another niche within a niche. This is the bike for the rider who wants a little of the retro cool but also wants the speed, efficiency – and excitement – of the modern high performance road bike. It looks good, goes good and sounds good.

And yes, we get it. Obviously it doesn’t do dirt, but it makes street feel like dirt! So for us dirt riders it’s ‘the best of street’ in a package that we can relate to. It has the visceral appeal of a 450 ‘crosser, almost the simplicity in use too, only with a cool kinda-retro look. For not much more than the price of a 450 ‘crosser it’s a lot of bike.

 

 

SECOND OPINION

Yamaha SCR950

My first impressions of the SCR aren’t overly positive. It’s just started raining in Epping Forest and I simply can’t adjust to the forward positioning of the foot-pegs or the air cleaner on which I keep catching my right knee. It’s all feels a bit heavy and slightly awkward after jumping off the triumph Street Twin. Photos duly captured and it’s time to head back into town and suddenly it all starts to click. The big twin has a lovely lazy surge of torque and the exhaust note is glorious. Chugging through the London traffic it tools along with a satisfying burble and I start to enjoy the comfort of the seat and well-damped suspension. The SCR is a capable cruiser-cum-scrambler which ticks most of the boxes if you’re looking for a relaxing ride without worrying about speed or power. The low-down grunt of the engine wins me over in the end and with a few tweaks (that air cleaner would have to go) I could learn to love the big twin. Alex Waters

Yamaha XSR900

My initial thoughts on the XSR couldn’t be more different. Wow – this thing is an absolute weapon! Don’t let the retro styling touches fool you, this is a genuinely quick street bike with the superb punchy triple borrowed from the MT-09. The result is an instant hit for me, with substance definitely winning out over style. Not that the XSR isn’t a good-looking bike but the engine is just an absolute peach. If you add to that the quality of the finish with the aluminium tank strips and side panels you wonder how Yamaha are producing this bike for the price point – it’s very nicely put together. Heading out of East London to the photo shoot location it scythes through the traffic like a warmed samurai sword through butter – grin factor 11! Yep, there is really very little to fault about the XSR, it would make a superb commuter with wide flat bars and excellent riding position and would equally be a very capable A-Road slayer at the weekend. I look forward to seeing how its smaller 700 sibling compares later in the year. Alex Waters

YAMAHA SCR950

Specifications

Engine: Air cooled SOHC four-valve 60º vee-twin four-stroke

Displacement: 942cc

Bore & stroke: 85.0 x 83.0mm

Max Power: 40kW (54bhp) @ 5500rpm

Max Torque: 79.5Nm (59lb.ft) @ 3000rpm

Fueling: EFI

Starter: Electric

Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, wet multiplate clutch

Frame: Tubular double steel cradle

Front suspension: 41mm forks, 135mm travel

Rear suspension: Twin shocks, 110mm travel

Tyres: Bridgestone Trailwing 100/90-19, 140/80-17

Wheels: wire-laced spoked wheels

Brakes: Front disc 298mm twin-piston caliper, Rear disc 298mm, twin piston caliper, ABS

Seat height: 830mm

Wheelbase: 1575mm

Weight: 252kg (with oil and petrol)

Fuel capacity: 13 l

Colours: charcoal silver / rapid red

Contact: www.yamaha-motor.com (.eu)

UK price: £8849

US price: $8699

YAMAHA XSR900

Specifications

Engine: Liquid-cooled four-valve DOHC three-cylinder four-stroke

Displacement: 847cc

Bore & stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm

Max Power: 84.6kW (115bhp) @ 10,000rpm

Max Torque: 87.5Nm (63lb.ft) @ 8500rpm

Fueling: EFI,

Starter: Electric

Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, wet multiplate clutch

Frame: Diamond-shaped, aluminium frame

Front suspension: 41mm USD forks, 137mm travel

Rear suspension: linkage type, 130mm travel

Tyres: 120/70-17 180/55-17

Wheels: Cast alloy

Brakes: Front disc 298mm, four-piston radially mounted caliper – Rear disc 245mm, single piston caliper, ABS

Seat height: 830mm

Wheelbase: 1440mm

Weight: 195kg (with oil and petrol)

Fuel capacity: 14 l

Colours: rock slate / garage metal

Contact: www.yamaha-motor.com (.eu)

UK price: £8699

US price: $9499

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