Working weekends is sometimes acceptable, particularly when it involves pulling mahoosive wheelies and shredding rubber in sunnier climes, and post-ride Spanish-spec G&Ts. You know, the goldfish bowls? As the front wheel returned from Earth’s troposphere for the umpteenth time that day, the 2017 Yamaha MT-09 convinced me this notion is entirely correct. Is this the ultimate roadster?
If Yamaha’s MT range appeared on X Factor, they’d smash it, and hopefully do wheelspins on Honey G’s face to boot. Since neglecting conventional four-pots and opting for twins, triples and crossplane doodahs for their naked division, the Euro-inspired MTs have rescued Yamaha sales and supplied us with an ultimate, intangible X factor and sheer thrills – all without breaking the bank. Put simply, Yamaha has owned Japanese naked sportsbikery.
The hypernaked sector makes up a whopping 43% of European motorcycle sales and, while the hugely versatile MT-07 has been Yamaha’s blockbuster, the MT-09 isn’t too far behind. Considering its frugal price tag and fun-packed protocol, it’s no wonder the 09 – the MT originator – has proven popular, but there was an element of unfinished about it: the suspension was a bit shit (lacking progression and damping control) for more experienced, faster riders and poor ride-by-wire execution felt as though it was mapped as a GCSE students’ project. It was so bad for some, Triumph dealers were rubbing their hands in ecstasy, acquiring numerous Street Triple orders on the back of being scared-off by its rival’s shoddy throttle, but most learned to ride around the issue and were rewarded with the MT’s fundamental tekkers.
Without delving too far into the press guff, the 2017 model is a case of modest evolution and, on paper, Yamaha fixing previous issues. Those bereft of exceptional vision could well assume that 2017’s changes are minimal to say the least. Obvious aesthetical tweaks aside, next season’s primary upgrades include new forks, a revised shock, a quickshifter and slipper clutch, plus some essential ride-by-wire tweaks. The core remains, so the same 115bhp CP3 triple-treat motor (with Euro4 compliancy) is housed in an identical chassis, duplicating geometry from the previous MT-09.
Fresh lines and a new frontal arrangement ensure the 2017 model is more likely to get a right swipe on Tinder. Not that I know what that is, babe, ok? There’s more substance to it, more beef, taking heed from the MT-10. The Marmite single-sided reg-plate holder has been introduced to accentuate that stumpy, sporty rear-end and Yamaha has reworked the saddle – another grievance from last year’s version.
With countless corners and sexy stretches of tarmac, not to mention Magaluf, Yamaha chose Mallorca to showcase 2017’s model. However, not even the Balearic Islands are safe from precipitation in December. After an initial few dry miles and balmy playtime, the surface turned damp following overnight rain and rendered the job in tatters for the morning. Some call it real-world testing parameters, I call it shite, but this truly was the perfect proving ground to assess everyday chores. Instantly, the throttle is a massive improvement: direct enough to provide a decent connection to the rear wheel and soft enough to allow you to ride damn thing without SHOUTING AT THE BIKE. It’s still super-light and there’s still a portion of arcade functionality to digest, although the CP3 motor’s anger management issues also take some responsibility.
Iffy conditions meant even staying on the bike was an achievement, yet the MT’s abundance of mechanical grip was highlighted. It’s a bike that provides chassis confidence from the outset – even more so now the ride-by-wire has been fixed – and feeling for grip was eased with feedback oozing through the ‘bars. Bridgestone S20s are OE fitment, albeit Yamaha-specific, which could mean anything, although they coped well with the shower of abuse throughout the 220km route and provided decent feedback on dodgy surfaces. I left the TC setting on level 1, as wheelies and dicking about are an absolute no-no with level 2. And this bike is all about wheelies. Wheelies.
Thankfully, the afternoon delivered pure sunshine and dry roads, and allowed the MT to show off its new suspenders. Fully adjustable 41mm forks ensure the MT no longer feels like it’s suspended by tawdry pogosticks, and the shock has been pilfered from the XSR900 to offer more support at the rear. The combination isn’t groundbreaking but simply sanctions the chassis to perform to its true potential. The front-end now brags an executive sensation to the stroke, plush at any given time and far less bouncy. Previous MT-09s had a minor tendency to resemble a chopper during mid-corner antics, squatting at the rear and consequently losing confidence in the front but the new model remains sublimely neutral, more poised for attack. Undulating roads still highlight a penchant for a bouncing botty, as the shock simply cannot cope with too much of a workout. Far from unstable, there’s a slapstick action that wallows until damping recovers.
Ex-GP star Taylor Mackenzie – who weighs as much as my ballbag – reckoned that the suspension was slightly too stiff for him in certain scenarios. With a normal-sized pilot onboard, it can often feel too soft, especially during initial braking when the front-end dives and pings back up again on releasing the lever. Both can be resolved via adjusting compression and rebound, although I doubt stiff, racy suspension would work on a sprightly weapon like the MT-09.
Its predecessor’s motard swagger meant that conventional kneedown felt mildly peculiar but, ridden hard, the 2017 bike responds beautifully with far more sporting talent than previously. That trademark MT lightweight feel and innate flickability equate to class-leading steering pace and precision – you just have to look at a corner and the front-end guides you to the apex. And that’s the key word for next season: precision. With controlled suspension comes newfound accuracy and control. That last few percent of its chassis has been unlocked.
I tried my absolute cock off to upset the bike on corner entry and not once was there any backing in, rear wheel hopping or unwanted instability. It was also a nice reminder that the stock brakes are truly epic, and zero ABS intervention was a bonus. As a by-product of the slipper clutch, Yamaha claims the clutch lever’s action is 20% lighter. My finger dyno reckons more like 5% but the slipper’s presence lends a more fluid nature to far more than cornering.
Euro4 compliancy hasn’t scuppered performance by any means. In fact, Yamaha has touched little internally, instead focussing on the cat-converter and engine mapping. There’s still that intangible connection that incites needless throttle abuse: the noise, the ceremony, the sixth-sense being aroused. For a 115bhp, it really does belittle its numbers with a linear yet enthralling delivery. Such is the crossplane magic, very rarely are you left chasing revs as the CP3 motor plays catch up with your throttle inputs, but when you do, there’s a rewarding induction shriek – heightened by a Euro4 audio castration.
Just as comfortable at 2,000rpm as it is bouncing off the limiter, there’s a delicious spread of power whenever needed: hard-hitting and punchy when called upon and docile enough for everyday errands, now ably assisted by those R-b-W tweaks – it’s a far more usable affair. Far from the raging, unhinged animal of its big brother, rarely does the front wheel leave the ground without provocation and it could be described as the perfect blend of power and control. I use the word control loosely as, regardless of improvements, I still think Yamaha could further develop and refine the MT’s ride-by-wire. Holding a constant throttle shouldn’t be such an arduous task but the whole system is vastly improved, specifically during slow-speed drudgery and urban environs.
STD (not sexually transmitted disease) is the standard throttle setting. A is more aggressive, while B is for soft lads, or those who prefer a more tranquil life and a heavily digitalised throttle. Having spent most of the morning in STD, I gambled on A-mode and was instantly compensated with urgency in the power delivery, like an additional 5bhp at 5,000rpm. Yes, it’s direct and not for newbs, but there’s an added dose of midrange and amplified drive as the motor spins with extra verve. Other than lacking the ability to cure deadly diseases, we cannot fault the powerplant other than a rather rudimentary quickshifter function, which prefers high rpm and momentum. Still, ripping through the ‘box is now even sexier and aids straight-line prowess, and those of you who prefer an organic shift sensation can turn the system off if needed.
In terms of trivial practicality, we didn’t get the chance to burn a full tank of gasoline, as the tanks were filled just before lunch; comfort has been improved with that new seat, although anymore than an hour in the saddle was getting mildly irritating; I’d highly recommend the factory aftermarket fly screen, even if wind protection isn’t too bad at 80mph; we love the riding mode memory feature, meaning you don’t have to toggle through and change back to your personal preferance, wasting valuable wheelie time in the process; and the dash’s new positioning makes a big difference, meaning you don’t have to move your head to read the blighter.
But, in truth, the MT-09 is all about shits and giggles, and ticks every box imaginable for a fun-packed roadster. If you’re fussing over fuel consumption and mile-munching comfort, go and have a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Some bikes entice inexplicable naughty behaviour. The MT-09 is one of those bikes and it’s bloody brilliant.
It’s also currently in a class of its own. Although sportier, the MV Agusta Brutale 800 is an extravagant playboy’s toy in comparison. Ducati’s 821 Monster is a pure pussycat to the MT’s tiger, and we’ll have to wait until the new year to observe Triumph’s new Street Triple. Given the relatively close price points, we’ve also had various enquiries about choosing between the MT-10 and MT-09. For me, the 09 is now a better roadster. Sure, if willy-waving and gratuitous wheelies are priority, the MT-10 will service your needs but it’s almost as if Yamaha had listened to press and consumer opinion, remedying the MT-09 through evolution over revolution.
And one of the MT-09’s finest features? The price, although due to dealer embargos, we’re refrained from announcing its RRP until Wednesday. Let’s just say the 2017 model is over £7,000 and under £8,000, therefore a bloody bargain. UPDATE: it’s £7,779! On one hand, considering its measly asking price, we could forgive some of the MT’s economical foibles. Then again, it has stupendous potential and we’re not alone in lusting after an SP model: Gucci suspension and a few choice enhancements would genuinely put it amongst the finest supernakeds.
If an MT-09 is top of your Christmas list, don’t be fooled by dealer mega deals on 2016 models. By the time you’ve factored in the quickshifter, slipper clutch, suspension and tastier ride-by-wire, no amount of discount can offset 2017’s offerings. It’ll be in Yamaha dealers in January and available in three colours – for those of who cannot tolerate the lairy wheels, a more sophisticated Race Blu and the stealthy Tech Black should quench your pantone pallet. My performance pallet was resolutely quenched during the 2017 MT-09 press launch and, if there’s a better value petrol burner, I’ve yet to find it.
Video dropping soon…