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Bike test: Yamaha’s MT-09

2014-01-27 08:32


STREET WARRIOR: Yamaha’s MT-09 has both the poise and the punch to take on the opposition. Images: DRIES VAN DER WALT

It seems fitting to kick off 2014 with a review of what might well be one of the most significant road bikes to be introduced to the local market in recent months – Yamaha’s MT-09.

It’s aimed squarely at Triumph’s 675 Street Triple and has a brand-new three-cylinder 850cc that endows the bike with a generous helping of torque.

Yamaha MT-09 image gallery

Pinning their hope on the MT-09 to spearhead a new design philosophy, the Triple Tuning Fork people say that they have combined the best characteristics of both the four-cylinder engine and the parallel twin in a lightweight three-pot unit that offers a new and exciting riding experience. Looking at the bike, it seems that they have stripped away anything that is not strictly necessary and reduced it to the bare essentials of an engine, two wheels and the means to control it.

The naked body is a nod towards super motard styling, and it does feel like one when you’re in the seat. There is little to obstruct your view forward, bar an almost ridiculously tiny instrument pod that is offset slightly to the right of the bike’s centre line.


Small as it may be, the LCD panel contains comprehensive information: a bar-graph rev counter, large digital speedo, clock, odometre and trip meters, engine temperature gauge and average as well as instantaneous fuel consumption readouts.

The ergonomics are relaxed with an upright sitting position that is perfect for commuting. The single-piece seat is comfortable enough for the bike’s intended role as an urban mount – I haven’t had the opportunity to spend more than an hour or so at a time in the seat, so I can’t comment how effective it will be on a long haul.

On the other hand, long hauls are not the territory of naked bikes, so it may well be a moot point.

With the motor running, the short underbody pipe emits a restrained purr, a sound not unlike that of an in-line four, but higher into the rev range the growl becomes increasingly more assertive, leaving you in no doubt about the engine’s configuration. On the review bike there was a distinct mechanical clatter at bigger throttle openings, which could have been due to incorrect cam chain tension.


Throttle response is immediate. It took me a while to learn how to be smooth, because there is not even a split-second lag between twisting the throttle and getting a response. This responsiveness, combined with the torque that is available from low revs, it what makes the bike a total blast to ride both in and out of traffic.

Light, narrow and manoeuvrable, the MT-09 lane-splits with disdainful ease, ensuring that traffic jams become complete non-events.

Despite how much it shines in this role, the MT-09 is not a dedicated commuter like the Honda NC700X (or the recently announced NC750X) – it is a street fighter at heart. With power output straddling the gap between the 600cc-class and the litre bikes, and torque closer to the latter category than the former, it is outrageous fun.

Twist the throttle without reserve and the bike accelerates like a bat out of hell, requiring a conscious effort to keep the front wheel on the tarmac. Ride it hard and you will practically taste the adrenalin in your mouth. It’s the kind of bike that begs you to ease up on the reins and have some fun.


That said, it is not without fault – the most notable being an annoying flat spot around 2 500rpm. Although not an issue during normal riding, the fact that it is compounded by the instant throttle response does catch you out occasionally when lane-splitting.

Despite little niggles such as this, the MT-09 is pure, unadulterated fun. When it was announced in the middle of 2013, Wheels24 reported that Yamaha couldn’t confirm whether it would make it to our shores. We suspect that a lot of buyers will be very happy that it did.

Yamaha MT-09 - R109 950

Technical Specifications
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