Yamaha MT-01 (2005 - present) review

It's big and bold, but is Yamaha's design-leading naked bike any good or just the product of an overactive imagination? Jon Urry travels to South Africa in search of answers

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Mon, 31 Mar 2008 - 12:03

Details
Manufacturer:
Yamaha
Category:
Naked
Price:
£ 9349
Overall
2
On smooth corners the MT-01 hides its 240 kilos really well. It's still a big bike, but it handles far better than it has any right to
Looks aggressive, but that's about it.
Lacks power, too heavy, a bit dull

It's big and bold, but is Yamaha's design-leading naked bike any good or just the product of an overactive imagination? Jon Urry travels to South Africa in search of answers When Yamaha people talk about the concept behind the MT-01 they use words like 'soul', 'heartbeat', 'character' and other such adjectives that aren't often used in reference to Far Eastern bikes. Let's face it, most Japanese machinery is fashion-led and could cruelly be described as 'throw away'. Just one year on and your latest and greatest sportsbike is often reduced to an also-ran. What do you mean it doesn't have radial brakes/inverted forks/titanium valves? Oh, that's so last year darling. But Yamaha is trying to break this mould with the MT-01. How? By letting designers have a much freer hand and introducing a bit of Kodo. Before you start reaching for a phrasebook let me explain what Kodo is. Kodo is Japanese for a pulse or sound that resonates within the mind and body. A bit like the after effects of a Friday night curry, then. In other words Kodo is soul, and that is what they have engineered in to the MT-01. Well, either that or they have just come up with a good excuse as to why the bike vibrates! Personally I have never experienced Kodo (not knowingly, anyway) so I can't tell you if the MT-01 has it or not, but what I can tell you is that riding this new naked bruiser from Yamaha is a completely different experience to that of other naked bikes. And that's all because of the engine. Trundling along a twisty South African coastal road at a steady 60mph the huge 1670cc V-twin motor is virtually ticking over with the rev-counter just nudging above 2000rpm. But even at such low revs the motor is right in the heart of its power band - or torque band, to be more precise. From 1500rpm to the 5500rpm redline the torque curve on the MT-01 is virtually flat. Yamaha claim torque doesn't drop below 95lb.ft anywhere in this range (the firm's own R1 peaks at around 80lb.ft), with a maximum figure of 110lb.ft appearing at just 3750rpm, which I don't doubt at all. The motor will pull smoothly from as low as 1500rpm in any gear, - even top - and then just drive in a totally constant fashion up to the redline with no discernable dips or jumps in power.

Initially it all feels a bit dull, especially if you're used to high-revving inline-fours, but what you've got to bear in mind, and something Yamaha kept on stressing, is that this bike isn't designed for the bad-ass naked bike rider. It's designed for a more relaxed style of rider who Yamaha reckon has either scared themself witless on or simply had enough of big, fast sports machines, and instead wants a bike they can dominate without having to ride too fast or aggressively. Ride it in this context and it's a very nice motor. Despite effectively having only a 3500rpm rev range to work in, the MT-01 is a really relaxing bike to ride. The gear ratios seem spread out far enough not to need continual gear changes to find and stay in the power. Instead it's always there, as long as you aren't in too much of a rush. Despite its bad boy looks I don't reckon the MT-01 will go much over 120mph, and it isn't the fastest accelerating bike in the world. But it isn't meant to be. Rather than search for all out power Yamaha has refined the V-twin motor to make it useable and friendly, but with character. The gearbox has a nice manly clunk about it, but is still very smooth to use, the exhausts have been specially designed to look good and sound good with twin megaphone cans and the motor transmits enough vibration through the frame to the rider to let him know he's most definitely on a big V-twin. Those vibes never get intrusive, though; they're all part of the package. It's that Kodo thing again. So far the bike sounds a bit like a big, friendly pussycat. Which it is, but it also has something of a naughty side. As well as making it look good and sound good, Yamaha has given the MT-01 a decent chassis.

The MT-01 borrows a lot of its running gear and ideas from the R1. It has the R1's wheels, forks and brakes as well as an R1-style long swingarm, which are all the cutting edge of race technology parts. And they all work extremely well together. On smooth corners the MT-01 hides its 240 kilos really well. It's still a big bike, but it handles far better than it has any right to. In handling terms it feels a lot closer to, say, a Honda Hornet 900 or Fazer 1000 than you might expect, and has a very assured and balanced feel. Potential owners may be put off by the possibility of their sportsbike-riding mates buggering off in corners, but I reckon this won't be much of an issue. The engine may hold you back, but the handling won't - as long as the surface is relatively smooth. A couple of times when hitting a bump in a corner the rear end of the MT-01 felt a bit soft and it got a slight wallow on, but then other times it felt too hard and would bounce you out of the seat. Which is kind of strange. I'm fairly sure it was a damping thing, and as both the front and rear suspension is fully adjustable I reckon this could be easily sorted out with a quick twiddle. And while we're talking chassis, top marks to the brakes, which are brilliant. I've always said you can't have too much braking but the MT-01 is borderline. The R1 radial stoppers are fantastic, with loads of power and feel, but are so good they can overwhelm the Metzeler MEZ4 tyre in the dry. A bit of care is needed, but top marks all the same.

It's very hard to judge the MT-01, because there is simply nothing else like it on the market. It isn't a naked bike in the same vein as a Triumph Speed Triple, Aprilia Tuono or Fazer 1000 as the engine's characteristics are completely different. If you are after a hooligan bike and think the big V-twin will provide some thrills then you may be disappointed. It doesn't wheelie very well and isn't that fast, but it isn't meant to be. But if you're after a good looking bike with character that handles well and is relaxing to ride then the MT-01 is worth a test ride. It's the kind of bike you will either click with or not, which is why Yamaha is trying to get every dealer to have one on demo. The closest bike I can relate the MT-01 to is Harley's V-Rod, not in performance terms but riding experience. It's a break from the norm, it looks amazing and gives something back when you ride it. People love the MT-01 and are always asking questions about it, and you can buy into the bike as a lifestyle with loads of carbon extras, branded clothing and watches, plus performance goodies such as titanium exhausts and the like, much like Harley-Davidson do. It's a lifestyle thing, and for that reason I reckon the MT-01 will win friends, which it certainly deserves to do.

TECH: WHAT'S NEW

ENGINE
The 1670cc air-cooled motor is the biggest V-twin Yamaha has ever made. Previously used in the Road Star Warrior cruiser, it has been re-designed for more performance. It's still extremely low revving though - 60mph in top appears at just 2300rpm!

CHASSIS
Yamaha has made the MT-01's engine the centre of attention, so the frame has a minimalistic design. By using aluminium die-casting technology the frame is extremely strong yet small enough not to detract from the motor

FORKS
The 43mm inverted forks are the same as used on the R1, although Yamaha has reworked the internals to cope with the MT-01's extra mass

FRONT BRAKE
Four-piston radial calipers are also identical to the R1's, increasing the bike's sporting potential while looking good

JON SPEAKS TO MT-01 TESTING MANAGER FUMIO TAKATANI

Japanese bikes have been accused of being soulless. Is the MT-01 different?

Yes, very much. It stimulates the mind, body and soul. The engine is like a heartbeat. The MT-01 has Kodo.

Is this a new way of thinking for Japanese designers?

I think so. I want the bike and rider to interact. You should be able to feel an emotion, riding it should be like holding onto the reigns of a horse.

You say the MT-01 has sportsbike handling and there are plans for an MT-01 race series. It this realistic for such a big bike?

Yes. We raced a bike with an MT-01 frame and engine at the Suzuka 8 Hour, and at other endurance races. It will be good.

How did it get on at the 8 Hour?

Not so good, next question.

The Japanese are mad into their karaoke. What's your particular crowd pleaser?

I love Kate Bush. My favourite song for karaoke is Wuthering Heights.

It's big and bold, but is Yamaha's design-leading naked bike any good or just the product of an overactive imagination? Jon Urry travels to South Africa in search of answers When Yamaha people talk about the concept behind the MT-01 they use words like 'soul', 'heartbeat', 'character' and other such adjectives that aren't often used in reference to Far Eastern bikes. Let's face it, most Japanese machinery is fashion-led and could cruelly be described as 'throw away'. Just one year on and your latest and greatest sportsbike is often reduced to an also-ran. What do you mean it doesn't have radial brakes/inverted forks/titanium valves? Oh, that's so last year darling. But Yamaha is trying to break this mould with the MT-01. How? By letting designers have a much freer hand and introducing a bit of Kodo. Before you start reaching for a phrasebook let me explain what Kodo is. Kodo is Japanese for a pulse or sound that resonates within the mind and body. A bit like the after effects of a Friday night curry, then. In other words Kodo is soul, and that is what they have engineered in to the MT-01. Well, either that or they have just come up with a good excuse as to why the bike vibrates! Personally I have never experienced Kodo (not knowingly, anyway) so I can't tell you if the MT-01 has it or not, but what I can tell you is that riding this new naked bruiser from Yamaha is a completely different experience to that of other naked bikes. And that's all because of the engine. Trundling along a twisty South African coastal road at a steady 60mph the huge 1670cc V-twin motor is virtually ticking over with the rev-counter just nudging above 2000rpm. But even at such low revs the motor is right in the heart of its power band - or torque band, to be more precise. From 1500rpm to the 5500rpm redline the torque curve on the MT-01 is virtually flat. Yamaha claim torque doesn't drop below 95lb.ft anywhere in this range (the firm's own R1 peaks at around 80lb.ft), with a maximum figure of 110lb.ft appearing at just 3750rpm, which I don't doubt at all. The motor will pull smoothly from as low as 1500rpm in any gear, - even top - and then just drive in a totally constant fashion up to the redline with no discernable dips or jumps in power.

Initially it all feels a bit dull, especially if you're used to high-revving inline-fours, but what you've got to bear in mind, and something Yamaha kept on stressing, is that this bike isn't designed for the bad-ass naked bike rider. It's designed for a more relaxed style of rider who Yamaha reckon has either scared themself witless on or simply had enough of big, fast sports machines, and instead wants a bike they can dominate without having to ride too fast or aggressively. Ride it in this context and it's a very nice motor. Despite effectively having only a 3500rpm rev range to work in, the MT-01 is a really relaxing bike to ride. The gear ratios seem spread out far enough not to need continual gear changes to find and stay in the power. Instead it's always there, as long as you aren't in too much of a rush. Despite its bad boy looks I don't reckon the MT-01 will go much over 120mph, and it isn't the fastest accelerating bike in the world. But it isn't meant to be. Rather than search for all out power Yamaha has refined the V-twin motor to make it useable and friendly, but with character. The gearbox has a nice manly clunk about it, but is still very smooth to use, the exhausts have been specially designed to look good and sound good with twin megaphone cans and the motor transmits enough vibration through the frame to the rider to let him know he's most definitely on a big V-twin. Those vibes never get intrusive, though; they're all part of the package. It's that Kodo thing again. So far the bike sounds a bit like a big, friendly pussycat. Which it is, but it also has something of a naughty side. As well as making it look good and sound good, Yamaha has given the MT-01 a decent chassis.

The MT-01 borrows a lot of its running gear and ideas from the R1. It has the R1's wheels, forks and brakes as well as an R1-style long swingarm, which are all the cutting edge of race technology parts. And they all work extremely well together. On smooth corners the MT-01 hides its 240 kilos really well. It's still a big bike, but it handles far better than it has any right to. In handling terms it feels a lot closer to, say, a Honda Hornet 900 or Fazer 1000 than you might expect, and has a very assured and balanced feel. Potential owners may be put off by the possibility of their sportsbike-riding mates buggering off in corners, but I reckon this won't be much of an issue. The engine may hold you back, but the handling won't - as long as the surface is relatively smooth. A couple of times when hitting a bump in a corner the rear end of the MT-01 felt a bit soft and it got a slight wallow on, but then other times it felt too hard and would bounce you out of the seat. Which is kind of strange. I'm fairly sure it was a damping thing, and as both the front and rear suspension is fully adjustable I reckon this could be easily sorted out with a quick twiddle. And while we're talking chassis, top marks to the brakes, which are brilliant. I've always said you can't have too much braking but the MT-01 is borderline. The R1 radial stoppers are fantastic, with loads of power and feel, but are so good they can overwhelm the Metzeler MEZ4 tyre in the dry. A bit of care is needed, but top marks all the same.

It's very hard to judge the MT-01, because there is simply nothing else like it on the market. It isn't a naked bike in the same vein as a Triumph Speed Triple, Aprilia Tuono or Fazer 1000 as the engine's characteristics are completely different. If you are after a hooligan bike and think the big V-twin will provide some thrills then you may be disappointed. It doesn't wheelie very well and isn't that fast, but it isn't meant to be. But if you're after a good looking bike with character that handles well and is relaxing to ride then the MT-01 is worth a test ride. It's the kind of bike you will either click with or not, which is why Yamaha is trying to get every dealer to have one on demo. The closest bike I can relate the MT-01 to is Harley's V-Rod, not in performance terms but riding experience. It's a break from the norm, it looks amazing and gives something back when you ride it. People love the MT-01 and are always asking questions about it, and you can buy into the bike as a lifestyle with loads of carbon extras, branded clothing and watches, plus performance goodies such as titanium exhausts and the like, much like Harley-Davidson do. It's a lifestyle thing, and for that reason I reckon the MT-01 will win friends, which it certainly deserves to do.

TECH: WHAT'S NEW

ENGINE
The 1670cc air-cooled motor is the biggest V-twin Yamaha has ever made. Previously used in the Road Star Warrior cruiser, it has been re-designed for more performance. It's still extremely low revving though - 60mph in top appears at just 2300rpm!

CHASSIS
Yamaha has made the MT-01's engine the centre of attention, so the frame has a minimalistic design. By using aluminium die-casting technology the frame is extremely strong yet small enough not to detract from the motor

FORKS
The 43mm inverted forks are the same as used on the R1, although Yamaha has reworked the internals to cope with the MT-01's extra mass

FRONT BRAKE
Four-piston radial calipers are also identical to the R1's, increasing the bike's sporting potential while looking good

JON SPEAKS TO MT-01 TESTING MANAGER FUMIO TAKATANI

Japanese bikes have been accused of being soulless. Is the MT-01 different?

Yes, very much. It stimulates the mind, body and soul. The engine is like a heartbeat. The MT-01 has Kodo.

Is this a new way of thinking for Japanese designers?

I think so. I want the bike and rider to interact. You should be able to feel an emotion, riding it should be like holding onto the reigns of a horse.

You say the MT-01 has sportsbike handling and there are plans for an MT-01 race series. It this realistic for such a big bike?

Yes. We raced a bike with an MT-01 frame and engine at the Suzuka 8 Hour, and at other endurance races. It will be good.

How did it get on at the 8 Hour?

Not so good, next question.

The Japanese are mad into their karaoke. What's your particular crowd pleaser?

I love Kate Bush. My favourite song for karaoke is Wuthering Heights.

It's big and bold, but is Yamaha's design-leading naked bike any good or just the product of an overactive imagination? Jon Urry travels to South Africa in search of answers

When Yamaha people talk about the concept behind the MT-01 they use words like 'soul', 'heartbeat', 'character' and other such adjectives that aren't often used in reference to Far Eastern bikes. Let's face it, most Japanese machinery is fashion-led and could cruelly be described as 'throw away'.
Just one year on and your latest and greatest sportsbike is often reduced to an also-ran. What do you mean it doesn't have radial brakes/inverted forks/titanium valves? Oh, that's so last year darling.
But Yamaha is trying to break this mould with the MT-01. How? By letting designers have a much freer hand and introducing a bit of Kodo. Before you start reaching for a phrasebook let me explain what Kodo is. Kodo is Japanese for a pulse or sound that resonates within the mind and body. A bit like the after effects of a Friday night curry, then. In other words Kodo is soul, and that is what they have engineered in to the MT-01. Well, either that or they have just come up with a good excuse as to why the bike vibrates!
Personally I have never experienced Kodo (not knowingly, anyway) so I can't tell you if the MT-01 has it or not, but what I can tell you is that riding this new naked bruiser from Yamaha is a completely different experience to that of other naked bikes. And that's all because of the engine.
Trundling along a twisty South African coastal road at a steady 60mph the huge 1670cc V-twin motor is virtually ticking over with the rev-counter just nudging above 2000rpm. But even at such low revs the motor is right in the heart of its power band - or torque band, to be more precise.
From 1500rpm to the 5500rpm redline the torque curve on the MT-01 is virtually flat. Yamaha claim torque doesn't drop below 95lb.ft anywhere in this range (the firm's own R1 peaks at around 80lb.ft), with a maximum figure of 110lb.ft appearing at just 3750rpm, which I don't doubt at all. The motor will pull smoothly from as low as 1500rpm in any gear, - even top - and then just drive in a totally
constant fashion up to the redline with no
discernable dips or jumps in power.

Initially it all feels a bit dull, especially if you're used to high-revving inline-fours, but what you've got to bear in mind, and something Yamaha kept on stressing, is that this bike isn't designed for the bad-ass naked bike rider. It's designed for a more relaxed style of rider who Yamaha reckon has either scared themself witless on or simply had enough of big, fast sports machines, and instead wants a bike they can dominate without having to ride too fast or aggressively. Ride it in this context and it's a very nice motor.
Despite effectively having only a 3500rpm rev range to work in, the MT-01 is a really relaxing bike to ride. The gear ratios seem spread out far enough not to need continual gear changes to find and stay in the power. Instead it's always there, as long as you aren't in too much of a rush.
Despite its bad boy looks I don't reckon the MT-01 will go much over 120mph, and it isn't the fastest accelerating bike in the world. But it isn't meant to be. Rather than search for all out power Yamaha has refined the V-twin motor to make it useable and friendly, but with character. The gearbox has a nice manly clunk about it, but is still very smooth to use, the exhausts have been specially designed to look good and sound good with twin megaphone cans and the motor transmits enough vibration through the frame to the rider to let him know he's most definitely on a big V-twin. Those vibes never get intrusive, though; they're all part of the package. It's that Kodo thing again.
So far the bike sounds a bit like a big, friendly pussycat. Which it is, but it also has something of a naughty side. As well as making it look good and sound good, Yamaha has given the MT-01 a decent chassis.

The MT-01 borrows a lot of its running gear and ideas from the R1. It has the R1's wheels, forks and brakes as well as an R1-style long swingarm, which are all the cutting edge of race technology parts. And they all work extremely well together.
On smooth corners the MT-01 hides its 240 kilos really well. It's still a big bike, but it handles far better than it has any right to. In handling terms it feels a lot closer to, say, a Honda Hornet 900 or Fazer 1000 than you might expect, and has a very assured and balanced feel. Potential owners may be put off by the possibility of their sportsbike-riding mates buggering off in corners, but I reckon this won't be much of an issue. The engine may hold you back, but the handling won't - as long as the surface is relatively smooth.
A couple of times when hitting a bump in a
corner the rear end of the MT-01 felt a bit soft and it got a slight wallow on, but then other times it felt too hard and would bounce you out of the seat. Which is kind of strange. I'm fairly sure it was a damping thing, and as both the front and rear suspension is fully adjustable I reckon this could be easily sorted out with a quick twiddle.
And while we're talking chassis, top marks to the brakes, which are brilliant. I've always said you can't have too much braking but the MT-01 is borderline. The R1 radial stoppers are fantastic, with loads of power and feel, but are so good they can overwhelm the Metzeler MEZ4 tyre in the dry. A bit of care is needed, but top marks all the same.

It's very hard to judge the MT-01, because there is simply nothing else like it on the market. It isn't a naked bike in the same vein as a Triumph Speed Triple, Aprilia Tuono or Fazer 1000 as the engine's characteristics are completely different. If you are after a hooligan bike and think the big V-twin will provide some thrills then you may be disappointed. It doesn't wheelie very well and isn't that fast, but it isn't meant to be. But if you're after a good looking bike with character that handles well and is relaxing to ride then the MT-01 is worth a test ride. It's the kind of bike you will either click with or not, which is why Yamaha is trying to get every dealer to have one on demo.
The closest bike I can relate the MT-01 to is Harley's V-Rod, not in performance terms but riding experience. It's a break from the norm, it looks amazing and gives something back when you ride it. People love the MT-01 and are always asking questions about it, and you can buy into the bike as a lifestyle with loads of carbon extras, branded clothing and watches, plus performance goodies such as titanium exhausts and the like, much like Harley-Davidson do. It's a lifestyle thing, and for that reason I reckon the MT-01 will win friends, which it certainly deserves to do.

TECH: WHAT'S NEW

ENGINE

The 1670cc air-cooled motor is the biggest V-twin Yamaha has ever made. Previously used in the Road Star Warrior cruiser, it has been re-designed for more performance. It's still extremely low revving though - 60mph in top appears at just 2300rpm!

CHASSIS

Yamaha has made the MT-01's engine the centre of attention, so the frame has a minimalistic design. By using aluminium die-casting technology the frame is extremely strong yet small enough not to detract from the motor

FORKS


The 43mm inverted forks are the same as used on the R1, although Yamaha has reworked the internals to cope with the MT-01's extra mass

FRONT BRAKE

Four-piston radial calipers are also identical to the R1's, increasing the bike's sporting potential while looking good

JON SPEAKS TO MT-01 TESTING MANAGER FUMIO TAKATANI

Japanese bikes have been accused of being soulless. Is the MT-01 different?

Yes, very much. It stimulates the mind, body and soul. The engine is like a heartbeat. The MT-01 has Kodo.

Is this a new way of thinking for Japanese designers?

I think so. I want the bike and rider to interact. You should be able to feel an emotion, riding it should be like holding onto the reigns of a horse.

You say the MT-01 has sportsbike handling and there are plans for an MT-01 race series. It this realistic for such a big bike?

Yes. We raced a bike with an MT-01 frame and engine at the Suzuka 8 Hour, and at other endurance races. It will be good.

How did it get on at the 8 Hour?

Not so good, next question.

The Japanese are mad into their karaoke. What's your particular crowd pleaser?

I love Kate Bush. My favourite song for karaoke is Wuthering Heights.

Score Breakdown
Overall
2

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