MT-09 or FZ-09: you decide

Has America got the better version?

YESTERDAY Yamaha revealed its MT-09 850cc triple. And it was good. But overnight it also showed its American-market version. Which, we think, looks better.

First up there’s the name. We get MT-09, which has links to the MT-01 and MT-03. OK, they’re not bad, but neither earlier MT set the sales charts alight and both have image of being slightly oddball choices. Perhaps a whiff of style over substance? MT was originally envisioned by Yamaha as something of a sub-brand – almost what Lexus is to Toyota or Infiniti is to Nissan – but later relented and started adding Yamaha branding and logos to the MT-01.

In short, the message from the ‘MT’ lettering is somewhat mixed. It’s not the blank canvas in marketing terms that a totally new name could have been, and yet it doesn’t have strong, positive overtones. If the MT-09 turns out to be as good as we all hope it will be, perhaps it can create that message, but wouldn’t it have been easier to start from scratch?

The same bike in America is called the FZ-09. Now FZ, in Yamaha terms, is a legendary pair of letters. It’s the root of FZR. It spawned the Fazer. It has legions of legendary bikes behind it – and even if a couple of howlers have also carried the letters ‘F’ and ‘Z’ in their titles, they’re largely forgotten in the midst of all the good stuff. There’s less uncertainty about what it means, too. Say you have an MT and your biking mates might not have a clear vision of what you’ve bought. Tell them you have the new FZ and they’ll know what you’re getting at even if they’ve never heard of the FZ-09.

Then there’s the appearance. The American bike is, essentially, identical to the UK version. In some ways it’s uglier (check out the massive orange indicators and reflectors on the forks) but the colour schemes (or should that be color schemes, given they’re American?) are subtly different. And noticeably better.

One of the first comments we received on our original MT-09 story was that it would look better with a black frame instead of the UK bike’s grey one. Well that’s what the US model has. And instead of all-black, the seat unit gets a body-coloured section to liven it up. The red version is red, not the odd orange of the UK model. Our grey version, for some reason, also gets grey fork legs, making the whole bike look like it’s been photographed in monochrome (or that it’s a two-wheeled version of Spitting Image’s old John Major puppet; “Lovely peas, Norma…”). The American grey bike sticks with gold forks, and gets dark blue wheels. It’s interesting to look at.

Feel free to argue the point, but perhaps Yamaha should have taken a global approach with the MT-09/FZ-09. And let the American marketing department take the lead. What do you think?