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Yamaha XJ 900S Diversion
Not Yamaha's most glamorous model, the XJ900 Diversion is nevertheless a long-running, popular bike. First introduced to replace the XJ900 in 1994, it is an excellent budget tourer. The 892cc air-cooled engine is dated, but has proved its economy and reliability since first appearing in the 1985 XJ900. The eight-valve design is strong at the bottom end of the rev range, but quickly runs out of go at higher speeds. A five-speed gearbox provides well-spaced ratios for relaxed touring progress, and the smooth shaft final drive is virtually maintenance-free. The 900 Diversion's frame-mounted half-fairing and tall screen give good weather-protection, and a roomy dual seat allows many miles to be covered two-up in comfort.
We all like a drink, but most of us know when it's time to pack it in, drink as much Perrier as possible and hit the sack. On the 900 Diversion launch one person in particular (no names, no Kenny Packdrill) overstepped his Jees-I've-had-it mark by a considerable margin.
He started the final evening by drinking more schnapps than the Japanese, French, Spanish and English journalists put together. Then he disgraced himself by attempting to sing Mace Lads songs on the guitar, followed up with some embarrassing scenes involving two Yamaha promo-girls and concluded the evening being dragged up to his room, where, as soon as his head hit the pillow, a cream of mushroom soup type substance put in an appearance.
Luckily for Kenny, the two day, 715km tour of the Swiss and Austrian alps was over, and tomorrow he could stay in bed (or in his case, the bath) till he felt a little better, bless him.
Yamaha were taking a big risk with this bike. It could have been crap. A short journey on a crap bike's one thing, but having 440 miles to find every little niggle is another. Most of the roads on the route didn't allow much thought for technical analysis anyway. Mountain passes tend to be more of a lock the front wheel up round a 180 degree hairpin and take a quick look to the right at breathtaking scenery, all at the same time. With the dreadful road surfaces in the Alps and the Diversion's less than sticky Dunlops, locking the front was an all too common experience.
Diversion styling is, er, conservative to say the least. The neighbours aren't likely to rush outside with the camera every time you wheel it out of the garage but, according to the Yamaha blurb, they're not supposed to. This is the socially acceptable face of motorcycling and is guaranteed to blend in with all the grey company cars and window boxes down Acacia Avenue. This bike wasn't meant to be sprayed pink and have an Alfa 4 into 1 cross threaded onto it. The environmentalists won't complain about it either. The Diversion has an air induction system which cuts emissions by up to 40%. It does this by adding air to unburnt gasses after they leave the exhaust port then igniting them. This creates puffs of black smoke on the overrun, good fun down steep hills.
It's an extremely heavy bike, weighing in at 239kg. That's only 9kg lighter than the FJ1200. But thanks to the sloping engine design which lowers the centre of gravity, it never feels it. The steering did, at walking pace it seemed way too heavy, I bored everyone about this at every opportunity until someone noticed that my tank bag was resting on the bars, oops. After that, low speed steering was fairly light and controllable.
Launches normally turn into Death Race 2000 with lots of get-offs and even more "cor, I nearly died stories" — not so on this launch. It's fairly difficult to ride the Diversion at speed. When you think you're starting to wind it up a bit, the bike throws in little warning signs, like the tyres squirm or you get thrown off line bumping over a raised manhole cover. Nothing too drastic, but just enough for the bike to tell you "slow down boy or we're gonna crash". A lot of bikes in the sports tourer bracket let you get away with murder, then, when you cross the mark, throw you in the ditch. I wonder if these warnings were part of the design brief? I think not.
The suspension is at its best on fast A-roads, anything twistier and it soon starts complaining. At the end of the first day we took the Julier pass over the Swiss alps and down the other side to St. Moritz, which consists solely of 1:4 downhill straights and hairpins for about 10km. Squeezing the brake lever hard for the hairpins nearly always produced a bounce-skid-bounce-skid off the front wheel as the forks tried hard to cope with the situation. On the exit the rear squatted down under the Diversion's weight and tried lumberingly to find a smooth route over crusty cow pats, frost damaged tarmac and cement dust. Then it rose up and topped out on the brakes 200 yards later as we entered the next hairpin. A good enough test for any suspension. Raising the rear preload would help the situation a little but both ends need more damping to stop wallowing on uneven surfaces.
The shaft drive is excellent. There's no torque reaction and, of course, none of that aerosol and adjusting bollocks every ten miles.
Yamaha say they've tuned the engine for bottom and midrange power to make the bike easier to ride. True, it is easy to use, but boy is it boring. Perfect for two up trips to Grimsby but there ain't much in the way of roll on delivery. Not for a 900 anyway. If you're expecting an FJ1200 neck strainer — forget it. It takes a fair while to get moving and when it does it's nothing to write home about. Individual bikes varied too. The bike I rode most of the time vibrated through the bars and pegs from tickover to around 3000rpm, while another bike with almost the same mileage didn't tingle — weird.
Getting up to touring speed along the autobahn is what the Diversion is about. A very comfortable seat behind an effective, wind tunnel designed screen turns the Diversion from an average bike into an excellent one. You've got time to forget the bike, sit back and enjoy the scenery. It was almost a shame to turn off the major routes and head for the more twisty roads where concentration becomes a little more important.
The 900 Diversion may sound like a total loser in the excitement stakes, but it isn't. If you don't push it too hard and expect too much it'll get you to work comfortably, take you and your partner on your hols and make you smile on your favourite A-road. The trouble is about three million other bikes on the market do exactly the same thing, including the 600 Diversion which is cheaper to buy (£4399) cheaper to insure and cheaper to run. Mmmm.