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Yamaha TDM900

June 2003 - Road test by Dick Henneman

Once Upon a Time a motorbike was a motorbike was a motorbike. It had two wheels, an engine, brakes, controls, a fuel tank and somewhere for the rider to sit. They were fun to ride, got us from A to B (well, sometimes), and took the intrepid biker to all sorts of new and varied places. But like all new species arriving on this planet, the motorbike began to evolve and become specialised to better exploit a whole new bunch of environments. And to do this the motorbike developed new varieties with longer forks, steeper head angles, stiffer suspension, shorter forks, longer swing arms, softer suspension, shorter swingarms. Engines had anything from one to six cylinders, in vee, parallel, transverse, and longitudinal layouts. But they were all still motorbikes.

Then someone reasoned that to sell different types of motorbike just wasn't enough. There had to be some way that "Joe Public" could tell one type from the other. They needed some kind of classification. So some bright spark got onto their marketing department and before you say "double overhead camshaft" we had Sports Bikes which went pretty fast, Supersports Bikes which went even faster, Tourers for covering trans-continental distances, Traillies for green-laning, Race-Replicas for trackday wannabe's, Cruisers for people who like polishing things, Off-Roaders for those who don't like roads, Commuters to go to work on (yawn), Muscle Bikes, Street Bikes, Customs, Adventure Sport Bikes . . . . the list was endless. However, even this wasn't enough as we then had bikes that wouldn't fit into the marketeer's categories, so we got Sports Tourers and Street Traillies but so far no one's come up with a Supersports Custom Cruiser - well not yet thankfully!

Now if you're still reading this, you're probably wondering why I'm rambling on about types of bikes? Well the truth of the matter is that the TDM900 seems to be one of those bikes that defies all the existing classifications. Developed from the TDM850, in 2002 the TDM got a bigger engine, a new cast aluminium chassis, revised suspension, a whole load of useful bits from the R1-family and a styling makeover. Yamaha's marketing people now call it a Sports Tourer, but they do the same with the FJR1300 and the YZF600 Thundercat, two very different bikes from the TDM.

First of all the TDM900 is very much a "traillie/supermoto" styled machine with a relatively high seat height, soft(ish) suspension with a good range of travel. Next, it has a larger than usual (18 inch) front wheel which isn't going to give you the turn-in you'd expect for press-on riding. And finally, the bars are raised to give a relaxed and upright riding position that's certainly not associated with corner attacks, and getting down behind the small fairing is not a real option - let's face it, you'd look a right ******* if you tried it. So it doesn't seem to fit into the "Sports" category. Well, what about touring? No heated grips, only a half-fairing and small screen, and no centre-stand, but the seat is well padded, hazard indicators are standard and the pillion position has good hand grips and low pegs. Aha - there's side cases and a topbox in the accessories book, as well as a centre stand and heated grips, so I suppose it could pass at a pinch. But that puts well over a £1,000 on the price, so it's looking a bit pricey.

Anyway, enough of these suppositions and preconceptions. It's time to ride. And I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a competent and very good motorbike with a good standard of finish.

The combination of wide bars, a well-padded but narrow seat and low foot pegs gives a relaxed position that allows you to ride all day without a twinge or an ache developing. I spent three consecutive 10 hour days in the saddle of the TDM and clocked up over a thousand miles during the course of this test and I didn't get a single ache - anywhere. And the half-fairing does an excellent job at keeping the wind off. Even highly illegal three-figure speeds don't pull your arms out of their sockets. In fact motorway cruising at a ton-plus is a doddle, although air turbulence on the arms does tend to make the steering twitch a little bit. But it's nothing to get all het up about. And it's pretty good at filtering through motorway traffic jams as well. The wide bars make it very manoeuvrable and the high riding position gives you good advance warning of cars changing lanes just to get another ten feet up the road. Even bouncing off wet cats-eyes doesn't upset the handling, although surprisingly the front wheel has a tendency to tramline in the dry on road imperfections. It could be that 18 inch front wheel or maybe the tyres. The TDM came fitted with Metzeler Mez4s and I've never seen this on other bikes fitted with this rubber. The suspension has preload and compression adjustment at the front, and compression, rebound and preload at the rear, so probably a bit of fiddling would dial this out.

But you need to get off the motorways and dual carriageways and onto the A and B roads to start having some real fun with the TDM900. It revels in being thrown about the twisties and those wide bars are just the tools for the job. The high ground clearance means the low pegs are in no danger of touching down, and you can get the tyres right to the edge without any danger of grinding off those nice shiny stainless silencers. But don't get too carried away. Upping the pace to sportsbike levels will cause that large front wheel to start to run wide in the corners, something that's relatively easily corrected (most of the time!) with a bit of extra countersteering.

The handling package is beautifully complemented by the gloriously grunty 896cc parallel-twin engine. Yamaha have used a 270 degree crankshaft to make it feel and sound like a V-twin, and it certainly drives wonderfully out of corners although the noise is muted by the 80dB silencers that everyone's having to fit these days. The engine pulls hard all through the rev range and the fuel injection has no glitches, even rolling on and off the throttle at low revs and low-speeds doesn't cause the the bike to go into "lurch-mode". The six-speed gearbox is positive and never gave any false neutrals, although it does go in with a bit of a "ker-chunk", especially from rest. And don't bother with clutchless upshifts, it's not the best way to make smooth progress.

Stopping the TDM is no problem with those twin R1-spec calipers and discs at the front. Brake action is smooth and progressive from the span-adjustable front lever and even the rear brake with its single disc is unusually effective and offers levels of feel that will surprise most sportsbike riders.

The instruments are also straight off the R1 and the large central rev counter with digital clock, and the digital speedo are easy to read. The two trips are useful for logging miles when touring and the fuel gauge has an electronic reserve that gives you plenty of warning when the level in the 20 litre tank is getting low. And the good news is that you won't always be looking for a petrol station. At one point I saw 174 miles before going on to reserve, and the overall fuel consumption for a three day period that included high-speed motorway blasts and quick A and B road work averaged out at 56 mpg. That's pretty amazing. In fact I checked the figures twice because I didn't believe them the first time.

Looking at the practical side of owning a TDM, the finish looks good although only exposure to a good old English winter will tell exactly just how good it is. The exhaust is stainless throughout so that should last the distance and the paintwork has a good, deep finish. There's reasonable underseat storage and the toolkit includes a C-spanner to adjust the rear pre-load making it a two-minute job to go from solo to two-up touring mode. And there are four bungee hooks for getting those essential six-packs back from the off-licence.

I've only got a couple of niggles. For me the chrome-plated handlebars just don't work with the rest of the styling. They look a bit cheap and tacky and a matt grey finish or colour-matching to the chassis would greatly improve things. The second is the two bare wires that emerge from the sleeved loom and connect to the switch on the front brake lever. These look like someone forgot about these connections when they designed the wiring loom and then had to find a bit of old mains cable to get the brake light to work.That's just not good enough on a bike that costs £6,349, especially when the fix would cost pennies.


I'll be the first to admit that I approached the TDM with a lot of pre-conceptions and most of them were negative or just plain wrong. So I was pleasantly surprised by how good the overall package is. This is a bike that can do just about everything and will surprise the pants off a lot of the sportsbike-obsessed riders in the UK. And it will do it without too much risk to your licence. However, while this country is still dominated by the need to ride bikes that are more relevant to race tracks than roads, the TDM900 is never going to be a big seller over here for Yamaha. The rest of Europe has a much more practical outlook in their choice of two-wheeled transport and the TDM is a good steady seller over there. Their gain is our loss.

Tech Specs

List price £6,349 otr
Liquid cooled 896cc 2-cylinder DOHC parallel transverse 10-valve 4-stroke.
Cast Alloy frame.
Tyres 120/70 x 18 front, 160/60 x 17 rear on 3-spoke alloys
Kerb weight (dry) 190 kg
Seat height 825 mm
Fuel capacity 20 litres
Colours - Galaxy Blue and Silver Tech
Performance -86 bhp @ 7,500 rpm; Torque 65.5 ft/lbs (88.8 Nm) @ 6,000 rpm

Our Rating (out of 5)
Engine 4
Handling 4
Braking 4
Comfort 5
Fun factor 5
MotorBikes Today overall rating - 4




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