A day at Road Atlanta with Yamaha’s modern retro race replica
Exiting turn 7 at the top of the track some racers call “the North Georgia rollercoaster”, I’m hard on the throttle as the XSR900 uprights, and clicking up through the gears as I rocket down the long, undulating back straight of this famous course, the Yamaha triple howling down the hill. Road Atlanta is legendary for its highly challenging layout, which winds up and down a hillside that could easily have been a ski slope in colder climates of the country. From the tight twisty “Esses” after climbing turn 1, to turns 6-7 at the pinnacle, down the long back stretch to the 45 degree pairings of 10A and 10B, then floating the front up under the bridge before the free fall to turn 12 and the front straight, Road Atlanta is a wild ride of technical curves and elevation changes.
And here we were putting the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 through its paces.
I love Road Atlanta, such a thrilling track to thrash a motorcycle on. Photo by Highside Photo.
After we received the bike from our friends at Yamaha Motors USA for a long-term review, we published a story on the inspiration behind this year’s model redesign, highlighting the career of 1980s Yamaha factory racer and Grand Prix team leader Christian Sarron. It seemed only appropriate that we bring this commemorative edition bike to a classic racetrack, and tip our helmet to its race pedigree. Yamaha liked the idea, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta put me in touch with Track Day Winner, a track riding company hosting an upcoming weekend, we reached out to Raul Jerez of Highside Photo who was happy to shoot us around the track, and a plan was hatched.
I had already put a few hundred miles on the XSR900 in the weeks prior, riding the north central Georgia countryside and familiarizing myself with its features and handling. I’ve come to love modern retros and naked sportbikes in recent years, for their more comfortable ergos paired with thrilling performance. I own a 2017 Triumph Bonneville Street Cup and love it, but the 1980s GP styling of this latest XSR already has me considering a trade. Yamaha lumps it in with their “Sport Heritage” line, and I’d say that’s an apt description for it.
Early morning, ready to hit the track.
Cycle Gear supplied a matching helmet in the form of an HJC i10 Robust, the perfect lid for this bike’s paint scheme. For the track, OneX USA provided a fantastic set of color-matched leather gloves from their Pro Race line. I set about prepping the bike for a day at Road ATL, pulling fuses for the lights and signals then safety taping them all up. I had been studying up on the XSR’s multiple rider aids, practicing with different settings on the street and for the track.
This bike, that helmet, this track- perfect day. Photo by Raul of Highside Photo.
The 2022 model features a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with a pair of sensors measuring 3-axis angular velocity and 3-axis acceleration. This gets fed into the ECU for the lean-sensitive Traction Control System (TCS), the Slide Control System (SCS), Front Wheel Lift Control (LIF) and a Brake Control System (BC) with lean sensitive ABS, all of which have multiple settings. Whew, an array of tech built in there. After some experimentation, I set the XSR in D-Mode 2 (Delivery, essentially ride modes), the TCS and BC at level 2, and left the rest in the factory settings including the front and rear suspension, which came to us fairly stiff already. As a side note, the XSR900 also comes equipped with cruise control- which I find quite pointless on a bike like this.
Other features I’ve enjoyed on so many of these modern retro, naked sport, sport heritage, whatever, bikes are the slipper clutch and quick shifters the manufacturers are equipping them with. This Yamaha setup is solid and smooth, not as buttery as the Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS and RR we sampled, but nicer than the (still good) one on the Honda CB1000R. On the street, I appreciated it. At the track, I came to love it.
Early laps, getting familiar with the race lines, brake points, etc. Photo by Highside Photo.
After the morning check-ins, tech inspections, and group briefings, each class prepared for their sessions on the track. I opted to ride in the Novice class, as it had been 6+ years since I’d ridden a track day, was still fairly new to the XSR900, and in general wanted to play it safe with a bike that didn’t belong to me. Track Day Winner had coach/control riders assigned to smaller groups of 5-6 riders, and a gal named Tasha was assigned to my group. She was a fantastic tutor and leader around the track in the first session sight laps, and monitored each of our progress in getting familiar (again) with the technical course.
As I got more comfortable on-track with the XSR900, I increased my speeds, worked on deepening my lean angles and hitting the race lines, and fell into a rhythm with each session and lap. The XSR has no fairing of course, so the wind buffet above 100 mph down the back straight and across the front run is a bit substantial, with nothing to tuck in behind. It certainly was no deterrent to the pure delight I experienced in throttling the 890cc triple around this legendary track. The Yamaha spec sheets state the XSR900 will max out at 150 mph, but I topped out about 125, which was plenty for me with no wind protection.
Getting comfortable, diving deeper through 10A and 10B. Photo by Highside Photo.
Coming back to the quick shifter and slipper clutch (QSS), the system works in conjunction with Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle, which is essentially the YZF-R1 Accelerator Position Sensor Grip (APSG) adapted to the XSR. Its a full ride-by-wire system with a sensor in the throttle grip that replicates the varying degrees of resistance of a traditional cable throttle. Roll-on and off is instantaneous, and with the QSS, up/down shifting quickly becomes second nature. I’ve felt a bit clunky at times between 1st-2nd in upshifts out on the streets, but never dropped below 3rd on the track, so shifting and throttle delivery became practically unconscious with each lap.
Coming up underneath the bridge after 10B. Photo by Highside Photo.
The Yamaha crossplane crankshaft triple mill absolutely howls through the intake and exhaust system. The air ducts on either side of the tank have actually been intentionally designed and tuned to replicate those mid and high rpm sounds the rider almost feels as well as hears while on the gas. The underslung exhaust can, though cumbersome looking to meet emission requirements, actually has two exhaust tips, one pointing out under each side. I must say, for a stock exhaust, it emits a throaty growl at lower rpms, and howls up in the rev range. Nice work, Yamaha.
Enjoying every lap on this fun bike. Photo by Highside Photo.
I attached a GoPro mount and camera to the tank but had to tether it according to TDW requirements, which meant a series of goofy-looking zip tie loops which can be seen in the onboard video I shot. The whole rig passed inspection, never snapped or fell off, but I removed it for my final session on track so I could throttle harder and hit higher speeds without being concerned about my improvised setup.
In all, I must say that as a street bike so far, the 2022 Yamaha XSR900 is top shelf, pure hooligan fun to ride. And at the track, the bike performed admirably, living up to its heritage. I thoroughly enjoyed throttling it around Road Atlanta, my favorite track in the South.
I could ride this bike all day, street or track. So much fun. Yes, I am smiling, on the inside. Photo by Raul of Highside Photo.
I want to thank Gerrad at Yamaha for supporting my crazy idea, Dustin at Road Atlanta for approving, John and Samir at Track Day Winner for allowing me to join in with them, Raul of Highside Photo for his outstanding photography, Anthony at Cycle Gear for the bike-matching helmet and Tulio with OneX USA for the best track gloves I have ever worn. And to Mike, my paddock neighbor and new friend, of whom I could write a separate “Ride Life” story just about his journey to motorcycling and track riding. A great day indeed.
Don’t miss our ride video below!
For more about the 2022 Yamaha XSR900:
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For our onboard track footage, click here without ever leaving this page: