First Ride

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.

If you had to put a price on that, what would you choose? Yamaha has gone for £13,399. That’s £2,600 more than the base MT-10 and £1,750 more than the MT-10 Touring Edition (more about that at the end). The MT-10 SP’s natural semi-actively suspended super naked rival is the BMW S1000R Sport. There’s a new one out soon, and prices are yet to be announced but expect the MT-10 SP to have a comparable price to the S1000R Sport (the current model with semi-active suspension costs £12,365).

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.