Yamaha commemorates an iconic road racing motorcycle

The old adage, “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday” was practically a mantra for motorcycle brands and their dealerships back in the 1970s-1990s. With the popularity of motorcycles here Stateside and the sell-out crowds at motorcycle races, the manufacturers often developed race bikes then incorporated what they observed and learned into their street machines. Even the livery of their factory race motorcycles would be painted on street (and dirt) bikes, making them even more desirable to potential buyers. Cases in point- the HRC Repsol Honda replicas, the Kenny Roberts Yamaha paint schemes, among others. The brands still do that occasionally today, with the “Ago Superveloce”, Suzuki’s MotoGP Legends series, and the 2022 Yamaha XSR900, a throwback to the factory YZR500 two-stroke French rider Christian Sarron raced in the late 1980s.

Christian Sarron in deep lean, 1988. Photo by Yamaha.

Born in Clermont-Ferrand, France in 1955, Sarron made his international GP motorcycle debut in 1976, initially astride a Kawasaki. The following year Sarron took a rain-soaked first win in the 1977 German Grand Prix racing a Yamaha TZ250. Plagued by injuries over the next several years, Sarron nonetheless nearly always posted top 10 finishes in the 250 and 350 classes. In 1982, he took a win and a 2nd place at the Finnish GP in both the 250 and 350 classes, respectively. Known for his exceptional skills as a wet conditions rider, Sarron claimed the 1984 crown in the 250 World Championship astride a Sonauto-Yamaha TZ250.

Jumping up to the 500cc Premier class the following year with the Gauloises-Yamaha team, he won the German GP again, and once again in the rain. Sarron would complete the 1985 500cc championship in 3rd place, behind Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson. In 1989 he again finished in the top three, behind Lawson and Wayne Rainey. In an age dominated by American riders, and on motorcycles that favored the dirt track sliding style most US riders grew up with, Sarron was nearly always a top 10 or even top 5 contender. With a “hang-on” style popular with the majority of riders, his “lean with it” approach was his trademark.

Sarron displaying his signature style on board the YZR500cc two-stroke. Photo by Yamaha.

In 1994, having stepped away from Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1990, Sarron was lured out of retirement and entered the Bol d’Or 24 Hours Endurance Race with younger brother Dominique Sarron and Yasutomo Nagai, the trio riding a YZR750 to victory. The following year Sarron fully retired from competition, taking on the role of team director for Yamaha’s Superbike team.

When redesigning the previous-gen XSR900, Yamaha decided to pay homage to their former factory GP rider and team director with a completely new XSR900 for 2022. The first time we ever laid eyes on it, we at Road Dirt were smitten. We even featured it as one of our “Bucket List Bikes of 2022.” The 1980s boxy tank and squared seat cowl, the paint scheme, and numerous touches that throw back to the factory GP bikes of Sarron’s era, make the completely overhauled XSR900 a bike we’ve been itching to get our hands on.

And now we have one.

The Frenchman with his YZR500, and the XSR900 it inspired. Photo by Yamaha.

Yamaha has signed us out this beaut for the next few months, and we look forward to telling many stories of and with it. Since naked sport bikes and modern retros are my personal faves right now, we’ll put a lot of miles on this XSR. So stay tuned, as we’ll give first impressions, road tests in various conditions, and a long-term evaluation of this cool-looking motorcycle.


Yeah, this will be fun.

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