Yamaha How did Yamaha fix the handling of the 2021 MT-09?


After spending some more miles on the little Yamaha MT-09, we thought we’d take you through the process that transformed its handling

THE Yamaha MT-09 is a bike that brings smiles to the faces of new and old riders alike. With its excitable, puppy dog dynamics, every trip out on the mid-weight MT was an opportunity to raise a grin.

And that hasn’t changed for the 2021 edition of the bike, it’s still got that entertaining trait to it, although now it’s tempered slightly, allowing this updated machine to push the envelope further and faster.

It was one of the first things I noticed about the previous gen’ MT-09 when I ride it back in 2018. You’d reach a point in a ride when going faster would take more effort and ability. It was like the bike hit a performance wall, and a bump in the wrong place or a dab too much power out of a turn would begin to unravel the machine.

That has all changed with the latest MT-09, as Yamaha has listened to customers and dealers, totally revolutionising the way the middle-weight triple gets down the road. It’s more composed, easier to ride fast, and much less likely to complain when it isn’t all plain sailing.

But how did Yamaha fix the MT-09’s handling?

The story starts with a new front suspension set up, with Yamaha still employing fairly budget hardware – it has to be competitively priced after all – but with new settings and rates to complement the new bike. The forks are shorter than before, but still, boast the same about of travel, and are now adjustable for rebound and compression damping. The engineers in Iwata also worked on the new bikes' centre of gravity, pushing some more of the weight of rider and bike over the headstock of the machine.

It has the effect of loading the front wheel and helping to create a more planted and secure feeling. And the result is noticeable. The latest gen’ MT-09 is much less inclined to shake its head, something the previous machine was prone to doing. The weight distribution does mean a slightly heavier feeling handlebar, especially around town, although it’s not like the bike has become some ponderous beast at slow speed. To be honest, it’s a fair trade-off, I’d much rather have a more secure feeling front end on a fast B-road, and more stability on the motorway, than anything else.

Another major change is the frame of the bike, and how it is linked to the new swingarm. The previous bike had a swingarm that mounted to the outside of the frame, meaning the rear portions of the frame had to be squeezed inside the swingarm pivot. This narrowing created a certain amount of flex at the rear of the bike, something that Yamaha was keen to fix for this year. With the 2022 bike now using a swingarm pivot that is mounted between the frame, the width of the section can be maintained, creating a slightly stiffer item that is much less prone to flex.

And when I say flex, I’m not talking about something you could actually feel. It was more than the rear of the bike just didn’t have the same secure feeling that you get from bikes like the Street Triple, CB650R, and 890 Duke R. You could say that the funky handling of the bike was all part of its Je ne sais quoi, although with the rest of the competition getting serious on the handling front, something had to change. Aside from the mounting method, the new 2022 Yamaha MT-09 also uses an all-new swingarm design, and like the frame, it has been created using a new casting technique that allows for ludicrously thin walls.

The final piece in the puzzle for Yamaha was with the introduction of its innovative spin forged wheels. They maintain the strength required to handle a 100bhp plus machine, despite featuring rims that in some places are 2mm thick – down from 3.5mm. The process helps slash nearly a kilogram from the bike’s overall weight, 189kg ready to ride -4kg, and more importantly its un-sprung mass. Doing so has improved every single handling trait of the machine, from braking, accelerating, turn-in, and stability.

To say that the new generation MT-09 is a step above the previous machine in terms of handling and on-road performance is a massive understatement. It’s more stable, forgiving, and in the hands of more riders, a faster motorcycle. The neatest trick of all though is that it does all of that and hasn’t lost that cheeky fun factor that makes it such an enticing bike.

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