The international motorcycle press has hailed Yamaha MT-09 with numerous accolades, some calling it the best Japanese bike since the Honda Fireblade, praising its user-friendliness blended with nimble handling and a characterful engine.
For sure, just as it is in the car world, making a new product with an exciting product brief – even on paper – isn’t hard, but bringing it into the real world is quite something altogether. The draw of the MT-09 is that it promises to blend the best of Japanese bikes with a little something extra that’s always eluded them: an exciting engine that needn’t be a racing screamer, a playful chassis that pleases both veterans and newbies, along with the most important bit of all – a price tag that won’t cause divorce proceedings.
The MT-09 is actually the third bike in Yamaha’s MT range – the first was the MT-01, a techno-cruiser that became a cult classic in Europe, and the upright, single-cylinder MT-03, and neither sold in huge quantities. So it’s very interesting that the MT-09 sounds like the two bikes combined: two plus one cylinder equals a triple, and all packaged in an upright ‘street motard’ body style.
‘MT’ itself stands for, in a uniquely dramatic Japanese way, ‘Master Of Torque’ and the MT-09 does its name quite a bit of justice. The 847cc triple engine has been designed, says Yamaha, for strong and linear torque, and that it delivers almost everywhere.
Nearly 90Nm of torque in a bike weighing less than 190kg spells for quite a surprise, even for experienced riders, and the Yamaha delivers excellent drive everywhere. The burbling triple soundtrack is a little more distant and muted than that of its arch-enemy, the Triumph Street Triple, but the instant whoosh and kick of the tremendous push is addictive and enjoyable.
Not only does it have tons of torque, it’s flexible too, it’s as if gears four, five and six are all the same. The ratios feel quite closely packed, so much so that rolling off in top gear brings quite a bit of deceleration, but conversely, rolling on is rewarded with instant, powerful acceleration. It’s a bike you could ride all day long in fifth and sixth gear alone.
The MT-09 has a hybrid seating position, so it’s not so much like a UJM/Fazer, but even more upright. The high-rise of the steering head and long-travel forks (137mm) plus the relatively flat bars put you into a motard-esque position (Ducati’s Hypermotard feels similar) which affords good visibility and comfort, although high-speed touring without a screen with no doubt give you a neckache.
It tucks into corners easily and cleanly, while maybe not as eager to chase the apex as the Street Triple or a proper motard, it’s still very agile, eager and not a bit unsettling, so it should prove accessible to newbies and veterans alike.
It’s particularly fun to boot the torquey beast out of corners, fast or slow, with the plastic edging of the tank and the sticky seat helping to keep you glued in position.
The ride quality is on the side of sporty, although it’s not uncomfortable and you won’t be thrown out of your seat, there is some low-level thumping over bumps, especially from the rear shock. On the other hand, pushing the MT shows up some shortcomings of the chassis – although the suspension is adjustable, with rebound for both, and preload too for the rear.
At lower speeds it’s equally well-behaved, with generous steering meaning U-turns are easy, although it does highlight where dynamics aren’t quite spot on.
Like many of Yamaha’s latest machines, your right hand doesn’t control a conventional cable that’s connected to the throttle bodies. The Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T), as found on the YZF-R6, has an ECU as a ‘gatekeeper’, so you do your thing, the ECU decides what and how much to give to the engine, depending on a number of factors.
In conjunction with this is Yamaha’s D-Mode system, which is three preset throttle maps with A as most aggressive, B as relaxed and STD as standard, selectable by a bar-mounted button. Experienced riders will probably not find this particularly useful as newer ones, since the MT-09’s surfeit of torque makes it easy to ride, although A mode does make for a sudden burst that can catch napping riders unawares.
All of this works fine 90 percent of the time, but at small throttle openings, no matter what gear or riding mode, you can feel the bike hesitate. Throttle – hesitate – then the power comes in with a small jerk. It’s nothing you can’t ride around – at low speed slipping the clutch covers this – but a fact highlighted by the MT-09’s otherwise superb nature.
But that all falls by the wayside when you look at the MT-09 as an entire package. The build quality and the level of componentry is very high. The aluminium frame and swingarm are lovely to behold, as is the neatly organised wiring. Even bits you can’t see, like the underseat area and throttle slack-adjuster feel well made.
All of the switchgear feels sturdy and polished, as does the appealing dot-matrix computerised display that’s easy to read in all conditions, while even the paintwork is of a very high standard – it looks black here, but is actually a sort of deep metallic eggplant purple. The triangular mirrors aren’t just nice to look at, but easy to use as well and are free of vibration.
I wouldn’t say it’s the best Japanese bike since the original 1993 Honda Fireblade – that’d be doing talented machines like the Kawasaki Versys 650 and Honda CB 1100 an injustice – but especially like the Versys, it combines enough do-it-all talent in a novel and interesting way, enough for it to be a strong seller anywhere in the world.
As it is, the MT-09 is a fun-filled naked bike that looks a little different from the rest of the pack and has punch and emotional appeal of a triple. Yet, looking at the sub-$20k price tag makes its stock value skyrocket immensely. Bung in the appropriate accessories (screen, hand guards, a good quality rear shock) and the MT-09 becomes a bike that can do everything, including most important of all, putting a smile on your face.
Don’t Ride Without Protection
Tasteful R&G bits will help keep your ride in great condition, despite mishaps
R&G Racing is a British firm that’s become one of the best-known suppliers of aftermarket crash protection for bikes, although it now produces a huge range of products, everything from knee-sliders to exhaust hangers. Our Yamaha MT-09 test unit came with a whole range of goodies made specially for the model by R&G, thanks to the brand’s exclusive local retailer, Ban Hock Hin.
Accessories like these are essential for any bike, as it’s always a matter of if, not when, you’re going to drop a bike. With OE parts sometimes costing much more than swankier aftermarket ones, anti-crash bits are a great way of saving your sheet-metal. Most of the kits are ‘direct-drop in’ and come supplied with replacement bolts so they’re very easy to install.
Engine Cover Set – 3-pieces including clutch, starter and generator $330
Front Crash Bungs – Aero Style – Pair $130
Middle Crash Bungs – Aero Style – Pair $130
Fork Sliders – Front – $65
Cotton Reels – Swingarm – $101
Footrest Blanking Plates $122
Engine type 847cc, 12V, inline 3-cylinder
Gearbox type 6-speed manual
Max power 115bhp at 10000rpm
Max torque 87.5Nm at 8500rpm
0 to 100km/h 3.5 seconds (est.)
Top speed 230km/h (est.)
Wet Weight 188kg
Seat Height 815mm
Fuel Tank 14-litres
Price $18,200 (OTR without insurance)
Contact: Hong Leong Yamaha
Telephone 6749 0588