Yamaha have just launched the 2021 MT range, with a road ride north of Sydney and some time on a private road to check out the new MT-09, updated MT-07, as well as the continuing MT-03 and MT-10 models.
2021 marks a major evolution with the third generation of the MT-09 – the line’s flagship model which started it all. When you consider where the MT-09 kicked off in 2013, it’s quite the transformation, while retaining an ultra-competitive price, all things considered.
Naturally the MT-09 was hot property thanks to receiving the greatest make-over, with both the standard model and the up-spec SP available to ride. So what’s new in 2021?
It would probably be easier to just mention what hasn’t been updated, which is essentially the calipers and rotors, and when Yamaha state this is an all-new model they aren’t over-exaggerating.
As a quick recap that’s a higher capacity triple, totally revised frame including significantly altered geometry, updated suspension to match, refined ergonomics, extensive electronics package with TFT display and of course styling to more closely align with the last MT-03 update. You can find more details when we originally covered the update here – MT-09 gets major update for 2021.
Gone is the MT-10 styling, however the MT-09’s electronics have more in common with the R1 now thanks to an IMU, while the SP version offers a bump up in suspension spec’, as well as cruise control and unique aesthetics. Most of those updates carry across from the previous SP, but of course you’re now benefiting from all the standard updates to boot.
The front headlight will no doubt be a polarising point, however with the smoked accessory screen fitted to the SP, I think it works well, although I’m more inclined towards futuristic themes. It’s just a bit of a shame that screen isn’t standard fitment really.
Unless you are really attached to the older look, the new model’s ride should be more than enough to convince you to upgrade or buy one, as it’s transformational and in my mind brings the MT-09 much closer to the MT-10 in many ways. And the new higher spec’ brings it closer to competition like the Street Triple R and 890 Duke, for instance.
Jumping on the MT-09 for the first time, in some fairly wet weather up the Putty Road, the first point that struck me peeling into the first corner is that the motard feel of the old model is gone. Lowering the steering stem has totally altered the handling, while the bike itself feels much more balanced, taut and agile overall. That extends from the feedback, feel and level of input required, through to the road holding, although Bridgestone S22s in the wet are impressive.
Where the MT-09 was fairly forward biased in the past, the handling characteristic is now more neutral, which I felt really magnified the light feel of the MT-09, although that may have been a point I amplified by coming straight off an MT-10.
That means rolling into the corners at speed on the road is less aof mental and physical effort and more of becoming one with the bike, as it tracks where you look. A bit concerned I’m already waxing lyrical about the bike? It really deserves it.
Talking about the suspension, the forks in particular have been overhauled to suit the new steering stem height and are 39 mm shorter, but retain the existing travel. Yamaha also claim the settings reduce fore-aft pitch, which is definitely true and reflected in the improved balance of the bike.
Suspension is by no means basic, preload is adjustable, compression adjustment in the left and rebound in the right. The shock offers preload and rebound adjustment, and also benefits from a new linkage design.
Sure the suspension hasn’t been revolutionised, but I’d say the frame and geometry have come a way in allowing them to shine more than we’ve seen previously. My one criticism was that the rear was a little harsh at times over the poorer road surfaces, but in saying that, with the bikes being swapped around amongst the group on the launch there wasn’t time to try and fine tune within the available settings.
Combined with the updated engine which produces smooth, fast revving triple torque and you’re onto a ridiculous levels of fun, with a great level of refinement from the CP3, without losing any of the thrill. Part of that is due to an aggressive intake growl, but I’d also say there’s been a decent step forward in throttle response and the ‘flow’ of the engine.
The engine itself gains 42 cc care of a 3 mm longer strong and is now Euro5, and while there hasn’t been an enormous increase in power – just three per cent at peak – the mid-range torque is impressive and bolstered by six percent its 7000 rpm peak. Yamaha have notably also added 15 per cent inertial mass to the crank and claim nine per cent better efficiency.
All this results in a MT-09 that is smoother, especially on a gentle throttle opening from down low, but revs hard and fast in anger, with no hesitation, resistance or reluctance. The throttle is full RbW too, but still offers a traditional and tangible feel at the throttle regardless, making the machine a little more tractable. At times the outgoing version’s throttle could be a little jerky, especially in the more aggressive riding modes.
Some bikes like to be kept in the mid-range, but with the MT-09 the full rev range offers impressive performance on tap, with the most likely limiting factor being speed limits or your willingness to break them. The slip and assist clutch also helps on closed throttle to smoothen deceleration.
The standard quick-shifter is also a welcome piece of kit, with easy upshifts and a nice little bark in all conditions. The downshift capability really came to life on the private road where being a little harder on the gas rewarded well rev-matched downshifts.
An addition for 2021 is the radial master-cylinder and I’ve got to say I really liked the overall front brake set-up, especially in the pouring rain, where a fairly gentle bite made transitioning onto and off the Yamaha stoppers very smooth.
Getting more braking power out of that front end set-up did require a little more effort at the lever – with a couple of fingers – but modulation was good. Those who love extreme levels of bite and instantaneous power might want to change pads. There was plenty of stopping power there for me, personally, but obviously it’s no Brembo M4 or Stylema setup.
Peeling into sodden corners was a simple and enjoyable affair as a result, with great front end feel and huge levels of confidence, partially thanks to those S22 tyres, but also in large part due to the chassis updates, which make the latest MT-09 feel sportier and easier to ride thanks to that neutrality.
A highlight on the road was also easily being able to lock into the bike between the pegs and tank, although obviously that’s a personal note, that relies on rider proportions. Interestingly, this also coincides with the feel of sitting in the bike, rather than just on it, with a marginally taller seat height at 825 mm, not to mention wider aluminium ‘bars.
It may sound ridiculous to say about an upright nakedbike, but the MT-09 just feels like it carries more sportsbike DNA now, where previously it was a mix of the older style more staid nakedbikes with a handful of motard style handling, in the chassis at least. You could never accuse the CP3 triple-cylinder of lacking sporting prowess…
The electronics package is also more advanced than ever. Power Mode 4 in the wet did soften the throttle response, while cornering ABS and traction control never really came into play at my level of agression.
The possible settings themselves are fairly extensive, you’ve got four power modes controlling throttle response, traction control, the Slide Control System (SCS) and Lift Control (LIF). That can be accessed via three preset modes, one of which you can manually set to your needs, while for those who want it to be all the riders hands, the TC, SCS and LIF can be disabled.
You do need to manually disable the traction control, as you can’t preset that into even the manual mode, I think European legislation mandates this.
The TFT display is on the small side however, and I think if you’re used to a big colourful five-inch TFT, the MT-09 may disappoint a little on this score, partly because the surround is quite large. It does however do the job, with an exceptionally clear and vibrant look, glancing down to check speed was never an issue.
Likewise the switchblock are a little busy, although once you understand how they work it is fairly easy to toggle through the various settings, even on the run. I think the set-up could have been implemented a bit more simply, but there’s also a lot of options, so it’s always going to be a juggling act between access to everything and making small changes.
I’d be interested to see how my thoughts might change around this, spending more time with the bike, and making more use of the various settings available. Plus you can access the settings through the dash interface which offers a much more insightful look at what’s available, but isn’t really suitable for when you’re running through the twisties at speed.
For the road, in those wet conditions, the take-away was that the 2021 MT-09 is a massively overhauled machine that handles in a much sharper, more effortless and nimble fashion, carrying its weight extremely well and maximising controllability without trading off the character or aggressiveness of that barking mad triple.
It has however traded off that motard-like feel… so if you were really enamoured by that, you might not love the changes. As far as I’m concerned though the MT-09 is significantly better in every way from my initial impression.
On the private road, where other vehicles and speed limits weren’t a concern the suspension was perfect on the grippy and smooth surface, and it was very evident that if you were to take this machine to a track day, it’ll be far more rewarding than the outgoing model.
Hard acceleration still has that front end getting a little light – both in Mode 1 with TC set to 1 and Off – while pulling a wheelie will remain easy should you so desire. It’s not my forte but plenty of others made that clear. Plus as mentioned the quick-shifter was really in its element here, making it easy to wash off speed onto the slipper clutch, or with those front brakes.
I’d definitely note the MT-09 is a much easier machine to get flowing through the turns, with a quick transition through the esses and smoother overall ride as the speeds rose, where in the past more planning and effort was required, especially in the tighter stuff.
That suits me perfectly too as I tend to prefer a fairly flowing riding approach, which probably reflects me not being the fastest rider out there. That may also explain why I appreciate the gentler initial braking response too.
One point I did note on the MT-09, having ridden the MT-07 and MT-10 at the same location was I still found it required more effort to move around on than both these bikes, which was probably a personal proportions issue. Keeping in mind the MT-07 is far more limited when it comes to speed, while the MT-10 has incredible mechanical grip and a much more ‘on rails’ feel. However, the general riding ergonomics were spot on for me.
In comparison to the MT-10, the MT-09 feels significantly lighter, however it shares that feeling of mechanical grip now – to an extent – and where I’d have said the MT-09 was the odd one out of the range, it’s far closer to the MT-07 and MT-10 in 2021, even exceeding the MT-10 in some ways.
One thing I did notice was that I preferred the standard MT-09, over the SP, it felt a little more taut, which may have just been due to having fresher tyres at the end of the day, as an unlucky flat tyre took the standard out of action for a number hours, while the SP ran throughout. There’s a lot of little details that really stand out on the SP however, and I didn’t get the same impression on the road.
Now keeping in mind this is a first impression, with time shared between the MT-09, MT-07 and MT-10 over the two days, I’ll happily declare the new MT-09 is a massive improvement and incredible value.
The standard MT-09 is $15,249 ride-away, marking a fairly reasonable increase over the 2020 version, considering the enormous updates. I would certainly say it’s now competing against machines like the Street Triple R, or Duke 890, punching well above its price tag.
The 2021 MT-09 SP adds an Ohlins rear shock, high and low speed compression damping adjustment in the KYB fork, cruise control, SP livery including blacked out components, polished swingarm and special seat at $17,300 ride-away, but if you’re on a budget I don’t think you can go past the standard.
The chassis updates really have revolutionised the 2021 MT-09 and while I think there’s areas where people may wish for a higher spec loadout as part of the package – namely the brakes or TFT – it is really a fair request considering the price? Value is a subjective area, so you’ll have to decide on that one.
I’m definitely keen to spend some more time on the new 2021 MT-09 and MT-09 SP, hopefully in some better conditions.
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