First ride: Yamaha MT-09 review

Three years after its debut, with the addition of traction control and an improved throttle response for 2016, the MT-09 is still an astonishing bike for the money

LIGHT, torquey, good value: that’s the recipe that has made Yamaha’s MT range such a success.

Three years after its introduction, the model that launched the range, the MT-09, still does the recipe better than any to follow so far.

It’s had a modest update for 2016, with the addition of traction control and a ‘refinement’ to the engine mapping, to address complaints of a slightly snatchy throttle response. And some new colours.  

Do those updates amount to justification for another press riding launch of the MT-09? If Yamaha’s only reason was to remind us how good it is, the answer is probably yes.

It takes very little distance to register that this is a convincing motorcycle for the price, which is £7,349 plus tax and registration, the same as last year. The thought had formed by the time I reached the exit of the car park.

Three things contribute to an immediate positive impression. The first is the MT-09’s size: it’s barely much bigger than an MT-07. The second is the riding position, which is relaxed and natural, the bars high and close to your body, your elbows bent. The third is the front tyre skipping at the first experimental input of throttle, a surprising, friendly warning of the mid-range at the end of the leash.

On twisty Spanish roads, the 847cc triple is strong from 4,000rpm in third gear. It’s got the balance of mid-range and top-end that characterises triples, so there’s a linear rush to toward the 11,000rpm red line.

There are three riding modes and none of them is troubled by throttle snatch now. Even in level one, the sportiest, the torque response to throttle input is aggressive but it doesn’t jerk at the initial movement; it’s easy to feed the drive in smoothly.

The middle mode, ‘Standard', delivers the same peak figures of 115hp and 64.5lbft, so allows you to go just as fast but asks for a bigger wrist movement to do it. This seemed best suited to the winding tarmac, demanding less precision than level one but eating up the straights just as quickly. Level two trims about 4hp off the peak and offers the softest throttle response by some margin. It would be useful for carrying a pillion as well as riding in the rain.

As a corner arrives, there’s lots of power from the four-pot calipers on twin floating front discs, a two-finger input the only requirement for rapid and controlled deceleration.

A non-ABS MT-09 is available for £6,949 but only while existing stock lasts. I’d find the extra £400 for this one.

The system intervened once under hard braking on a slightly dusty, uneven patch of road, the caliper momentary releasing and sending a pulse back through the lever before resuming the business of stopping. It’s as good as any ABS, apart from the most sophisticated systems that also work mid-corner – but no bike has that at this price.

The aluminium chassis offers stability under hard acceleration and braking. The natural, almost supermoto-like riding position and wide bars help minimise the effort of tipping the MT-09 in and out or turns, as well as aiding low-speed manoeuvrability. 

The suspension isn’t fully adjustable, only for preload and rebound damping at both ends, but it’s capable. It was taut and well-damped enough to keep the MT-09 unrattled by anything on the test ride but soft enough for comfort throughout. With a morning on the MT-09s before switching to the new MT-03, the ride felt if anything cut short. I’d happily go much further on the bigger bike, although the absence of wind protection would probably make hard work of long motorway rides, especially without the benefit of Spanish sunshine.

Leg room’s okay and the seat is low enough to let an average-height rider easily get both feet flat on the ground, while cornering clearance is also good.

The electronics are simple to adjust, with no instructions required. You change riding mode with a single button, pressing it until you get to the one you want. You have to close the throttle as you push it, or it won't work, but because it’s on the right there’s a tendency to do that anyway.

With its strong mid-range and decisive throttle response, the original MT-09 was said to spin up easily in the wet if not treated with appropriate respect, so the addition of traction control is significant. There are three levels: one, two and off, and you choose between them with an up/down slide switch on the left bar. Level one intervenes later than two and allowed some spin in the rear Bridgestone Hypersport S20. You can choose between those two levels on the move but you have to be at a standstill before it will accept your choice of off altogether.  

Despite its small size, there’s a lot going on in the digital dash. Among other things, it can tell you the ambient air temperature and your current and average fuel consumption (42.1 mpg by the end of the test ride, meaning a theoretical range of 130 miles from the 14-litre tank).

The range could no doubt be improved on a different ride but not the dash. It's neat and matches the machine’s stripped-down look but because of the concentration of information, it's not easy to read at a glance. It took several looks to check what riding mode I was in and more to find the gear indicator.

With time your eye might become better at finding that information but not the numbers of the rev counter, which were hidden from my view. They run along the top of the display and, because the dash is angled slightly too low, pointing at my chin rather than eyes, they were obscured by the top edge of the unit unless I lowered my head. I’m 5’9”, so tall riders will definitely struggle to see them. The angle of the clocks is not adjustable. It’s something that could have been improved with the update but hasn’t.

For me, a thing that has been improved is the colours. Of the schemes available last year, the one that was supposed to be flashy, with bright blue-purple wheels, reminded me of a make-up counter. The alternative single-colour options didn't seem hooligan enough for the bike. Now there's a new choice of grey bodywork with bright yellow wheels, as seen on the MT-10 (a naked R1) unveiled in November and on the MT-09 I'm pictured on here. It's called 'Night Fluo' like a viral infection that strikes after dark, and its brashness seems to suit the attitude of the bike. There's also a new 'Lava Red' option. That's basically a darkish red with the word 'Lava' in the name to add drama. 

Aside from the dash, everything about the MT-09 seems difficult to fault, from the generous pillion seat to the view in the mirrors. It’s an exceptionally capable all-round motorcycle for the price. If I was in the market to spend around seven grand on a naked bike, it would definitely be this one. 


Model tested: Yamaha MT-09

Price: £7,349 (£6,949 without ABS)

Engine: 847cc three-cylinder DOHC four-valve

Power: 115hp @10,000rpm

Torque: 64.5lbft @ 8,500rpm

Wet weight: 191kg (188kg without ABS)

Frame: Diamond-type aluminium

Suspension: Upside-down fork and single shock, both adjustable for preload and rebound damping

Brakes: Radial four-pot calipers on 298mm twin floating front discs; single-pot caliper on 245mm rear disc

Tyres: Bridgestone Hypersport S20s, 120/70x17 rear, 180/55x17 front, tubeless

Seat height: 815mm

Fuel capacity: 14 litres

Colours: Grey/yellow (Night Fluo), silver/blue (Race Blu), matt grey, red (Lava Red)

Availability: Mid-March

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