“Revs your heart!” That’s what Yamaha says in the ad for their newly-released Yamaha MT-09. Then they go on to claim that, “Sport riding will never be the same again!” Describing the bike as a “naked motord-style”, they say that it is all about “Emotion, character, excitement, agility and control.” Sounds like a fun bike, doesn’t it! Part of that “agility and control” comes from its light weight: as Yamaha points out, it is even lighter than the R6. They also make a big thing of the engine; and it does mark a new direction for them. Yamaha isn’t new to triple-cylinder engines, but the last one they produced for the road was over 30 years ago with the XS750 and 850 machines. And this bike is very different to those! The 3-cylinder design does have advantages. Firstly, it is obviously shorter (more narrow across the frame) than a 4-cylinder, allowing the bike to have a slimmer design. And it's also lighter than a 4-cylinder. The other thing is that, with a 120-degree crank, the engine has an even firing-order, making it, arguably, even smoother than a 4-cylinder. In their ads Yamaha say nothing about laid-back cruising, or inter-state touring; no, this bike is all about “excitement” and “agility.” That probably means “hooning” to you and me! And if you’ve read some of the launch-reports in the magazines, that has pretty much been born out by tales of wheelies and photos of smoking rear tyres. The bike was apparently designed during the infamous Global Financial Recession of 2008-2009 and so another design brief was to bring the bike to the market at a low price point. Make it new, make it exciting, and make it a bargain: that was their intention. And they seem to have succeeded on all counts. It’s attracting quite a bit of attention and interest too. Even among regular readers of this web-site there’s been some serious interest – and from a surprisingly diverse range of riders. For example, one reader is considering trading his Suzuki V-Strom on one, while another, who currently rides a Yamaha FJR1300, has also been seriously looking at them. It’s getting great reviews, but what it’s like for an older rider? Well, I went to find out!
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Yamaha mentions “character”, and that’s something the new bike has lots of. The minimalist bodywork, exposed frame and mechanicals, and boomerang-shaped swing-arm all give it a very unique, purposeful look. But there is a refinement about it too. “Character” can sometimes be another word for “ugly”, but with the MT-09 Yamaha have managed to give it that “purposeful” character without making it look like it was built in someone’s back-yard shed. The headlight fits right into this image: it looks angry – like a face with a furrowed brow! “Look out, I’m coming through!” One practical advantage of the minimalist bodywork is that regular service items, like the rear brake master-cylinder and the radiator cap, are delightfully easy to access. No panels to remove or fiddly places to access, they’re right there in front of you! Sitting on the bike it immediately feels small and very light. In front of you there is a handlebar and an instrument pod, and not much else. As the sales-manager, Martin, said, “You sit right at the front of the bike, almost like a trail-bike.” It reminded me of the Ducati Monster, except that the riding-position doesn’t have your head poking out in front like the Ducati does. You sit very up-right, in typical motard fashion, courtesy of the high, wide handlebar. It provides excellent control, of course, and encourages confidence with the bike out on the road. The foot-pegs are noticeably rear-set, resulting in a sharp bend at the knees. Probably not a good bike for old blokes with crook knees! Fortunately, my knees are one part of me that is still in good working order, so I didn’t have a problem with it: I just felt a bit cramped, with my legs at a slightly awkward angle. Mounted in front of the handlebar, and off-set to the right, is the instrument pod. There’s a fair bit of information contained in the display, with the number for speed being most prominent. The tacho is a line of numbers along the top of the display. The numbers are small and I found them hard to read: not only because of their size, but because for me, they were partly obscured by the top edge of the surround. When looking at the tacho I had to rely partly on memory of what the numbers were. I guess being a tall old bloke wearing distance-glasses doesn’t help. There is the usual graph for fuel level, and odo, and an always-useful gear-indicator. On the lower edge of the binnacle are the usual couple of buttons that allow access to other stuff. All controls are light and easy to use. On the right switch-block is a small button that allows you to select different engine-modes. The ECU gives you three different settings, STD, A Mode and B Mode. In A Mode you get a sharper throttle response in the low to mid speed, giving what Yamaha describes as, “A more aggressive sport riding experience.” In B mode it is the opposite: a softer throttle response that is more suitable for commuting or, as Yamaha says, riding in “adverse road or weather conditions.” As you’d expect, STD is the one in between, and the one you’d most likely use. Yamaha says that this mode is suitable for, “a wide range of riding and road conditions”.
OUT ON THE ROAD
The seat is fairly hard. It also seems to slope down towards the front: a feeling exagerated by the rear-set pegs. So it’s not a particularly comfortable place to be. There is a bit of room to move around though. I didn’t try the pillion area, but judging from the thin padding it wouldn’t be pleasant. And look how high those foot-pegs are! I’d only gone a few kilometres from the showroom, when I found myself singing that old Mammas & Pappas song, “Go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do ..” No, not because it’s an all-roads bike, but because … but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start it up first. The engine is very smooth; and it remains smooth, right from idle up to, well, up to around 6 – 7,000rpm which is as far as I took it. It didn’t seem necessary to rev it any higher than that; although there’s plenty of tacho left before it reaches the red-line (at 11,000rpm), and apparently there’s even more power up in those higher revs. Right from idle it feels responsive and powerful. It’s also very tractable, pulling away from 2,000rpm without protest. In the higher gears there’s just a slight harshness if you twist the throttle at those revs, but you never have to worry about being in the wrong gear. Out on some quiet back-roads I tried the different modes. (You have to be stationary, with the engine running, to change). It was set to STD when I picked it up. Putting it back to B softens the response and power: it’s far from sluggish, but you need more throttle to make it fly. Putting it back to STD makes it feel like it’s just had a major tune-up: it’s not a huge difference, but it’s significant. Put it in A, give the throttle a twist, and it goes ballistic! Giving it a handful in 1st had me feathering the throttle to keep the front wheel on the ground. The power and the response in A mode is great! You can feel every one of those 85 kilowatts thrusting the bike forwards. It’s good fun, but I put it back in STD so that we – both the bike and me – could progress in a more mild-mannered fashion as I returned to the highway. The gearing is perhaps, appropriately, aimed more at blasting around the ‘burbs and back-roads than it is for interstate cruising. That’s not to say that it won’t do go touring, because obviously it will, but fanging around uphill and down-dale is where it’s in its element. Top gear runs at just under 25 kph per 1,000rpm, so at 100kph it is just getting to 4,000rpm. Cruise it at 120kph or so – which it does easily – and the tacho is nudging 5,000rpm. Don’t get me wrong, the bike is fine at that, and even the wind doesn’t feel excessive, but it just doesn’t have that “next stop is across the border” feel. Further indicating its intention to be used for shorter blasts is the tank capacity of just 14 litres. On any decent run that’s going to have you hunting for a servo somewhere along the way. I thought the gear-change felt a bit clunky; but it probably isn’t, it’s probably just me. Clutch-less up-changes can be done smoothly, with no clunk or snatch. It handles as you might expect a motard to handle – fast but accurate. The steeply angled front-end endows it with quick steering that creates an impression of it being a bit nervous. But you soon learn that it isn’t: there are no wobbles or tank-slappers, it’s just quick and light. The technique is to know where you want to go and use less input at the bars to get there. This is when I started singing that song I mentioned: the bike gives you the confidence that it will go wherever you want it to go, and do whatever you want it to do. You might turn in too quickly and wobble around, but the bike will handle it all: the tyres will grip and the wide bars give you the control to bring it back on course again. It feels a bit iffy, but the bike tells you that nothing is going to come undone, you’ll get it around okay. The bars help, of course: if it was a sports-bike with low-set clip-ons you’d have more reason to worry. To a large extent it’s all a matter of getting used to it: you need to be gentle, with less input at the bars, then it points more smoothly. The ride probably needs to be broken into two areas – the suspension and the seat. First impressions are that the ride is quite firm; and decent bumps, even on the highway, will bounce you off the seat. But on closer examination of what the suspension is doing, it’s actually fairly compliant. Yes, it is set on the firmer side, to reduce front-end dive under brakes etc, but there is a level of compliance there. What lets it down is the seat. A comfortable-riding bike has the seat cushioning the bumps that the suspension lets through, but with this, whatever gets through the suspension is going to smack you straight on the bum! The front forks and rear monoshock are both adjustable for preload and rebound, so if it were mine I’d be backing those off a bit and putting an AirHawk on: that should improve the ride a bit. The brakes are very strong and give an instant bite. If you’re ham-fisted you could end up doing an unintended “stoppie”: but if you’re used to the feel of powerful brakes, and just use gentle pressure on the levers, you get all the braking you need while keeping it all under control. So there it is. It’s a motard-type road-bike, and that gives it certain characteristics that make it a load of fun! But, as I mention in the “Snapshot” below, maybe it’s not the sort of bike that you’d pick for an every-day mount. If the rumoured FJ-09 (and the sales-manager assures me that at this stage it is no more than a rumour; even though Yamaha have apparently applied for a patent on the name) ever does make it to the showroom floor, I think that would be a great bike! For some unfathomable reason, ever since the demise of the much-loved XJ900, Yamaha has abandoned that segment of the market. But if they gave this MT a fairing and a larger tank, and tweaked the front-end and the ergonomics for sports-touring, it would be a most welcome addition to the range and a serious competitor in the sportstourer market. I’m sure it would get a lot of buyers – including, perhaps, the two readers I mentioned up the top – very interested. SNAPSHOT The MT-09 is a road-bike with the heart and soul of a motard. And that character shows through the whole bike; from its small size and light weight, to its ergonomics and seating-position, its cracking performance and quick-response steering. As such it is brilliant! But how well that suits you will depend on your riding style and what type of bike you like. It can be a heap of fun, and there’s more power than you’ll ever need – especially if you flick it into A Mode. In many ways it fulfills everything we might expect a naked bike should be: but it’s not an all-rounder. The hard seat, firm-ish ride, quick steering and motard character see to that.
Engine: 3-cylinder, 847cc. Power: 85kW at 10,000rpm. Torque: 88Nm at 8,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: Upside-down fork (137mm travel). Rear: Monoshock (130mm travel).
Fuel capacity: 14 litres.
Weight: 176kg (dry).
Seat height: 815mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 180 X 17.
Brakes: Front: Twin 298mm discs, Rear: Single 245mm disc.
Price: $10,995 (+ORC).
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