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First ride: Yamaha MT-07 launch report

Yamaha keeps it simple with MT-07 revamp

Alan Dowds's picture
Submitted by Alan Dowds on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 11:29

THEY do love an acronym your Japanese bike firms, don’t they? For the past few decades, we've been assailed by a veritable alphabet-soup of nutty nomenclatures, for some rather dull engineering setups. Yamaha's no exception of course, going right back to the 1980s and its YPVS Yamaha Power Valve System on the RD family of two-strokes. Fast forward a few decades, and we got Y-CCT (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) for the firm's ride-by-wire electronic throttle control.

But after a day riding the new 2018 MT-07 on the roads round Marbella, I've got a new one for them. Y-KISS, or Yamaha – Keeping it Simple, Stoopid. Because the smart 689cc twin is simple in so many ways – yet is also a fun-packed, capable little performer.

The tuning fork folks have been selling the MT-07 for four years now, and it's been an enormous hit. Yam dealers have shipped out nearly 70,000 of the buggers to commuters, novices, training schools and women riders – all of whom have fallen big time for the middleweight twin. The recipe was – yes – simple: a lightweight naked roadster, with a grunty motor, natty MT-family styling, and just enough chassis kit to handle it all. A barrel-load of optional accessories meant you could fettle away till your heart's content building your very own interpretation of the MT dream – and it all came at a very reasonable price.

The few criticisms levelled at it centred on the suspension: the forks and shock were entry-level items, and while they didn’t have that really nasty feel you used to get on budget/novice bikes, there was definitely some room for improvement. So, for 2018, Yamaha's taken the simple (!) step of adding a rebound damping adjuster to the shock, while pumping up the spring rates and damping levels both front and rear, for a more taut, sportier feel. While they were in the revamp room, the designers got busy with some new bodywork, giving a slightly different look, and a new seat/tank setup improves comfort.

And that's your 2018 update. It certainly made for a brief tech presentation – which is always a good thing – but would there be much difference? Only one way to find out: a day thrapping the very bejayzuz out of the wee beastie on the luscious mountain roads between Marbella and Ronda. We wake up to a blessed day – 14° already at 9am, and after a quick brekkie and a route briefing, we’re up and out and off to the hills.

The last few bikes I've spent much time on have been full-bore, bells and whistles and kitchen sink behemoths – the Ducati Panigale V4S, Ducati's Multistrada 1260S and Triumph's Tiger 1200 XRt. So the first few miles on the MT-07 are spent looking for the fripperies I've got used to. Where's my up- and down- auto-blipping quickshifter? My 17 different rider and power modes? My fully-adjustable electronic semi-active suspension control nexus? 28-inch widescreen 3D OLED touch-screen dashboard? Nope – the little Yam has none of these decadent add-ons. There's a perfectly adequate LCD dash, a cooking ABS system – and that's it. Front brake lever, clutch, rear brake pedal and a gearshift pedal. Oh – and a proper twist grip, with Bowden cables leading to butterfly valves on the throttle bodies. Simplicity itself – and really refreshing.

What's also refreshing is the wake-up call I'm getting as I try to keep up with the Yamaha test rider. He's up to full ramming speed in no time, and the cobwebs are soon blown out of my Arai as I jam the twistgrip wide open, following our motley crew of Brit journos up into the Andalusian backwoods. The engine is the highlight of the MT of course – and could well be one of the real classic powerplants. It manages to feel a good bit more potent than its actual 70-odd bhp might suggest, and combines strong, urgent grunt with a tasty top end. If you're an experienced rider, there's loads for you here – you can dial in the perfect amount of rear-wheel thrust at any point, whether you're wanting to nail a corner exit on a trackday, hoik up a second-gear mini-minger past a bus queue, or grab a tight overtake on a narrow country road. Yet if you're a novice rider, the clean fuelling and progressive power delivery will take you by the hand, and help you get the maximum out of your riding too.

We're well away from the urban coastal areas now, and there's a chance to explore a bit more  of the MT's abilities. The suspension is under the microscope now of course, and the signs are very encouraging. I've not ridden the old bike for ages, so a direct back-to-back comparison will have to wait for an old-v-new test. But one of the other journos on the launch actually owns an old MT, and he was very complimentary about the improvements.

Even taken in isolation, the new bike's chassis is eminently capable – the forks and shock feel a level above the standard fare you'd have expected in this sector even just a few years back. Basic damper-rod forks and simple monoshocks, with no adjustment, can give a real pogo-stick, under-damped feel, reminding you of a cheap 125cc scooter rather than a proper motorbike. But the new MT has none of that – the wheel control is civilised and sophisticated, and I didn’t feel like I needed anything else from it, even for the fairly committed road riding we're on today. Ditto the brakes – Yamaha's trademark four-piston front calipers do great work, even with the smaller 282mm discs on there. There's stacks of power and feel through the span-adjustable lever, and while the ABS setup is a little old-school, it never got in the way on our rideout.

What I'm not so happy with is the stock tyres. Of course, this is a budget machine, aimed at commuting and practicality, so you can't expect super-grippy sporty rubber. But the Bridgestone BT-023s on there are an old design, and they're not giving a lot of confidence this morning. Once or twice on a very twisty section, I lose the front, then the back, and once managed to have them both go at once, erk… Partly that's down to cool Spanish asphalt, which is polished and dusty in places, and works better in the blazing heat of summer. But if I was haggling at a dealer for one of these, I'd be asking for some sharper rubber to be fitted as part of the deal. A slightly sportier profile will add even more agility to the front end, while improving the feedback and grip no end.

No harm done though – and on UK Tarmac, riding at a more sensible pace, you'll probably have no complaints at all. Indeed, later on, when we get to some warmer, better-surfaced roads, the tyres feel much better, and you could easily sling it on its ear, then grind the footpeg hero blobs into atoms all the way through a bend. Simple pleasures…

And by the end of the day, I'm loving those simple things more and more. In particular, the lack of traction control and wheelie control makes life much easier when you're hooning about. On too many bikes nowadays, it takes a series of button presses and menu navigations, just to get a wee wheelie organised. Then, as soon as you stop for fuel, or turn the engine off, the nanny electronics turn themselves back on, and you're back where you started. But the MT has none of this – it’s a little bit like riding a bike from the late 2000s, when life was easier…




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