First ride: Yamaha MT-10 SP review

Yamaha MT-10 SP

SPecial, SPectacular and expensive

UNLESS you spent last year living under a rock, you’ll know all about the Yamaha MT-10.

It’s the king dick of Yamaha’s popular MT range – notorious for its distinctive looks and R1-derived 998cc four-cylinder crossplane crank engine.

The MT-10’s motor includes new pistons and a new cylinder design, a new airbox, heavier crank and gearing thanks to a 43-tooth rear sprocket.

It’s tuned to be more useable on the road, with a greater spread of torque through the midrange. The result is 160hp and 81.9lb/ft torque, plus near-universal praise from the majority of people who’ve had a go on one.

Now Yamaha has decided to ramp things up with the new MT-10 SP - a sportier version of the MT-10. The recipe for this new SPecial version of the already not-at-all-run-of-the-mill MT-10 is: take one MT-10, add Öhlins active suspension front and rear, a colour TFT instrument panel, R1M-inspired paint job, plus a quickshifter, and enjoy.

And enjoy I did – you’d have to be dead inside not to enjoy riding this bike. It’s got an engine that had me cackling wildly inside my helmet every time I got on the gas with intent.

Some super nakeds such as the S1000R are an amazing all-round package, some (like the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100) are near race bikes with missing fairing, and some have character or looks that have you lusting over then. With the MT-10, the engine is the star of the show. Open the throttle and there’s what feels like a never-ending swell of power to propel you forwards as furiously as you can handle. But it’s no animal. Power builds smoothly from low revs, and if for some reason you aren't fully awake, the rush of pwoer at 7,000rpm will focus you as the MT-10 SP really takes off before it needs another precise clutchless upshift from Yamaha’s quikshifter prior to the 12,000rpm red line.

Just like the standard MT-10, the SP is a ludicrously, joyously fast bike, set to the otherworldly flat, metallic drone from the crossplane crank engine. It wants to wheelie everywhere and once the coast is clear, it entices you to do bad things. It’s naughty and exhilarating. Thanks to a greater spread of torque through middle of its rev range compared to the R1, all the power is within reach on the road. Oh, and it’s got cruise control, if for some reason you want to ride at a constant speed… You have to be in fourth gear or above and it’s easy to set with a couple of button on the left switchgear.

The MT-10 SP comes with a bit of refinement because just like the 2017 MT-10 and the MT-10 Touring Edition, the SP features new engine mapping and a change to its power modes. A, B and Standard mode have been replaced with 1 (Sport), 2 (Standard) and 3 (Soft). Each mode delivers full power but with differing throttle response; no prizes for guessing which is sharpest and softest.

One major criticism of the MT-10 was that the sharpest throttle map (B mode) was a bit snatchy when going from closed to open throttle. Now, with the SP in power mode 1, that initial jerky response has been eliminated and the SP (along with the Touring Edition) brings a bit more civility to the MT family.

Further electronic whizz-bangery is present in the form of three-stage traction control – one is least intrusive, two is for street riding and three is for rain. You can also turn the TC off. I spent most of the day flitting between settings one and two and wasn’t troubling it but with traction set to level three in the dry, I could feel it holding the engine back under hard acceleration. Yamaha's TC system will also let the bike wheelie.

Using the buttons on the left switchgear, switching between different traction and power modes is simple, and can be done while riding, with a closed throttle.

Where the standard MT-10 has its mode select button on the right switchgear, the SP has a scrolling menu wheel. Flick it and gorgeous, info-packed colour TFT display will show you trip meters, odometer, fuel consumption and temperature information. I found it a little busy – there’s a lot going on but once I’d attuned to it, it was OK. I was quite fond of the gear position indication animation – the circular scrolling motion as the GPI changes is a small, slick touch.

The menu wheel really comes into its own when you want to really customise the MT-10 SP to your liking. Pressing it in and holding it for a second brings up the menu system, which is where you’ll find the Yamaha Ride Control menu. YRC allows you to easily customise an A, B or C riding mode to your liking, just like the R1.

Importantly, this magic little wheel is your access point to the suspension settings.

Ah, the Öhlins suspension - by far the trickest item on the MT-10 SP’s spec sheet. At the front, there’s a 43mm Ohlins USD NIX 30 fork with 120mm of travel and in the rear sits an Öhlins TTX 36 EC shock. Both front and rear suspension units use electronically controlled bleed valves for compression and damping.

The MT-10 SP has five suspension modes – two of them are active (and can be fine-tuned) and three are manual. The manual modes will let you set your own compression and rebound damping settings at the front and rear, via the YRC menu and in that instance, the menu wheel on the right switchgear acts like a digital screwdriver. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be in danger of ending up with some wonky manual settings but everything back to factory setting with a couple of button presses, so it’s well worth experimenting with different damping options.

The two active suspension modes are called A1 and A2. A1 is the firmer of the two and switching between suspension modes can be done while riding. Yamaha says that A1 is a sport mode and A2 is for touring, so I expected to feel a big difference between the two but on the road, flicking between them didn’t result in much of a change. A1 is certainly firmer, but A2 is also firm, it’s just a little bit more yielding over bumps.

And firm is good. The support on offer from the shock is superb in both modes, so spanking the throttle open doesn’t result in the SP’s rear end squatting and momentarily sapping the explosive acceleration on offer from the engine. Instead, the sensation of drive is instant and it makes the SP feel poised and lively.

HANDLING is similarly impressive, and with top dollar suspension and the frame from the R1, I’d expect so. The SP steers effortlessly, precisely and quickly, although from memory, I’m sure the BMW S1000R and Aprilia Tuono V4 will both get on their sides a bit quicker. Nonetheless, the chassis feels taught and precise and the SP’s 210kg wet, fully fuelled weight is perfectly managed.

With the assist and slipper clutch, diving into a corner on the brakes and changing down before swinging into a bend is a slick affair. Best of all is that the active suspension means plenty of support regardless of the pace and the SP never had anything less than a superbly stable connection to the road.

The stock Bridgestone S20Rs deserve some bigging up here; I couldn’t fault them for grip the offered and on one occasion when I overcooked it into a bend and had to thow the MT round and pray and bit, the tyres weren't troubled.

The certainly weren’t troubled by the brakes. As with the standard MT-10, the SP uses a pair of Yamaha’s twin, radially mounted four-piston calipers biting on to 320mm discs. The power is there, but I had to seek it out with fair bit of lever squeezing. The brakes are the MT-10 SP’s one real weakness; to be capable of cashing the cheques being written by the engine, they need to offer a much sharper initial bite, like the Brembo stoppers on the S1000R and Tuono.

And while I’m criticising, here’s something worth thinking about: the standard MT-10 is a phenomenal motorcycle. Although it lacks the techy, leccy Öhlins, it has decent suspension. It also makes the same power as the SP, and now has the same quickshifter as standard. If you bought a standard MT-10 and got it set up for your weight or riding preference, I think you be more than happy, which means you’re going to really have to want that active suspension, colour scheme and colour dash to justify the extra outlay. I think to really be the full SP - it would be nice to see 10hp more and some better brakes.

The seat is firm, so this ain’t the bike for big miles, more eyes-on-stalks Sunday blasts and track days. Leg room and ergonomic comfort is fine though – the bars are wide and flat – just the thing for levering through technical turns or haulin’ round a track.

The MT-10 SP’s final flourish is its unique silver and blue colour scheme and blue wheels. It looks ace, as does the whole bike. I wouldn't call it good looking, but it is bold, striking and distinctive. If you see one at a bike meet or café, that front end (with its near non-existent wind protection) doesn’t sink into the background. Make your own judgement call on the MT-10’s controversial looks, but whatever you say about it, you can’t call it boring.

Instead, call it obscenely fast, thrilling. Call it excessive, intoxicating and brilliant. The MT-10 SP is the kind of bike that makes me fearful that if some grey faced Department for Transport desk jockey ever experienced the performance and power it puts on the table, all bikes that aren’t Honda ageing Honda Deuvilles would be banned.

WHILE we were in Cape Town for the MT-10 SP launch, Yamaha announced the MT-10 Tourer Edition and luckily for us, they brought some along to have a go on.

Where the MT-10 SP is designed to be the most hedonistic version of the flagship MT, the MT-10 Tourer Edition is the most practical incarnation – a bike that Yamaha says is designed for, well, distance work, and as a more engaging and practical day-to-day bike.

Technically, it’s received all the changes that the 2017 MT-10 has – so it’s packing a quickshifter as standard, and has new engine mapping which means a smoother throttle response in the most aggressive power mode.

Touring credentials come from soft panniers,a pannier frame, a screen, GPS bracket, hand guards and comfort seat. There is also the option to buy a TomTom Rider 410 satnav at a special price, as part of a partnership between Yamaha and TomTom.

The panniers, made by SW-Motech and made of a ballistic nylon material, are lightweight and offer enough space to hold a load of spare clothes or kit for a few days away from home, blowing out the cobwebs.

The comfort seat is more comfortable than the MT-10’s standard, fairly firm perch, and during the 130 or so miles I was on the bike, I couldn’t fault it. The lip at the back of the rider’s seat is great for pushing against but I think that really serious miles on this bike will be punctuated by frequent to stops to massage your behind and stretch your legs every now and then - the peg position is unchanged so the MT-10 SP still puts you in a sporty position

And there will be plenty of opportunity to that because the MT-10 Tourer Edition has a fairly small tank range for proper touring; it needed fuel after 119 miles and according to the information on the dashand, returned an average of 36mpg.

The screen is a welcome addition as serious motorway miles on the standard MT-10 becomes a chore without one, especially if it's windy.The screen on the Tourer edition isn’t amazing and I doubt it’ll prevent neck ache after a long day in the saddle (especially if you’re tall), but crouch down behind it and you’ve got an effective refuge.

Performance is unfaltering with those panniers and hustling the Tourer Edition on the bendy roads of the test ride ride wasn't hampered by the new load lugging capability. I forgot I had panniers and space for luggage – the performane of the bike can’t help but shine through.

Choosing this over a more conventional sports tourer depends on what you want. With MT-10 Tourer Edition, speed and a bit of practicality is the name of the game, rather than being able to hit warp speed for a long time in complete luxury as you cross Europe.

Model tested: Yamaha MT-10 SP / MT-10 Tourer Edition

Price: £13,399 (SP) / £11,649 (Tourer Edition)

Engine: 998cc liquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke inline four-cylinder

Power: 160hp at 1,500rpm

Torque: 81.9lb/ft at 9,000rpm

Frame: Aluminium Deltabox

Suspension: Front – Öhlins 43mm USD NIX 30 fork with electronic damping control, 120mm stroke (SP) / Fully-adjsutable KYB USD fork (Tourer) / Rear – Öhlins TTX 36 EC shock with electronic damping control (SP) / Fully adjustable KYB shock (Tourer)

Brakes: Front - Twin radial four-piston calipers and 320mm discs / Rear – Single-piston calipers and 220mm disc

Seat height: 825mm

Fuel capacity: 17 litres

Wet weight: 210kg (wet, full tank of fuel)

Colours: Silver Blue Carbon (SP)

Availability: Mid-March