With major engine, chassis and styling changes for 2021, the mighty Yamaha MT-09 and MT-09SP beasts have truly come alive. Here's our track test... Review: Jeff Ware Photography: iKapture
Yamaha hit the jackpot with the MT-09 in 2014, the bike pulling the Tuning Forks out of a global sales slump at the time. The MT was an instant hit, but the handling? Improvements came in 2017 but now the MT-09 is sorted and the ride is as good as the power hit.
Yamaha started to feed us info about the new MT-09 back in October last year and by December we knew everything about the all-new standard and SP versions.
You can read all about the Yamaha MT-09 changes in the tech breakout below. As you will read, there is almost nothing on the bike that hasn’t been improved or tweaked in some way, the major changes being a capacity hike and major frame and balance differences to the previous generation.
We were fortunate enough to spend a day at 70North testing the 2021 Yamaha MT range. The MT-03 had a cosmetic upgrade last year (check out Nick Ware’s MT-03 review here), while the MT-07 HO and LA have had some styling, engine, tyres, ergonomics and brake changes. The big boss MT-10 and MT-10SP models remain the same great bikes, so it was the MT-09 that I was keen to ride the most.
I managed to fit in three solid sessions on the near 6km proving ground, even getting some wet laps in to test the electronics at the end of the day. So how is the new 09? Within five corners I knew the new model was sorted and the steering issues of old were gone… Yamaha have fixed the MT-09.
Walking around a bike and checking out the external updates, whether major or subtle, is always a good way to start a test. I like to get familiar with the new design points and try and work out where the designers are coming from. Reporting on looks isn’t something I can do, only offer my opinion, and more than once in my 20-years on the job I’ve been fooled by a bike that handles far better than it looks, or looks far better than it handles, the latter much more common.
Things didn’t go that exact way with my first 2021 MT-09SP experience. It was a rush to get out before the weather changed. I’d just gone out in the very first session and I took the big banger MT-10, hoping the inline four would help make a dry line for the next session. With only one SP and a dozen riders, there was no bike to do a walk around on anyway, so I really didn’t look at the bike much before throwing a leg over it. This test was blind!
I hopped on the MT-09SP straight after the MT-10. As soon as I jumped on, I felt like I was on a completely new model. It feels that different to the outgoing one. The tank is still wide, but overall the MT-09SP feels taller and narrower and the ‘bars are sitting high on bar riders. So, although the steering head has been dropped 30mm, the tall ‘bars mean you can’t tell and the position is still upright.
Firing the SP up, that familiar MT-09 triple growl is even better now from the bigger capacity CP3. Rolling off up the front straight and short-shifting via the quickshifter, I was quickly able to settle and get comfortable on the bike. Everything fits and I was ready to push by the third corner, a tight left-hander. Firing out in second gear at full throttle and accelerating hard towards the next very fast left, the extra mid-range was impressive but more so the way the bike turned while still on the throttle.
It was a tricky corner to get the outgoing SP into, you had to brake into the turn, messing up the exit. This bike fell straight on its side and held a line all the way through, then was easy to flick right then left for the ultra quick fourth gear esses. By the time I was braking for the tighter second gear esses I knew the bike was sorted. It’s a big step forward for the MT-09SP…
The next test at 70North is the long, downhill off camber fast left that is often damp. This corner needs to be tackled with a smooth throttle and high level feel from the front-end and edge grip of both tyres. Without those assets, it is hard to do anything but roll off and cruise through there. On the MT-09SP, I attacked the corner at full tilt, straight through the wet patches, and had it on the traction control on the exit onto the back chute. Another tick. I could not have been more impressed by the new set-up.
So, the chassis is certainly better. The first model was a blast around 70North but had to be wrestled and thrown around. It was fun, though, and I remember having an awesome time racing around with Cam Donald at the 2014 model launch. We were having a good laugh afterwards.
The next model update included the SP version and was more refined and settled on track, thanks to suspension changes, but that same high front and low back feel was still there. The new model now is much more sportsbike-like in its handling.
The brakes are a big improvement as well, whether it is a pad material thing or that Brembo master-cylinder, I’m not sure but there is plenty of power and feel on offer. This was highlighted while braking from 205km/h into a wet uphill left at the end of the back straight. This area can get a bit slick and having the feel from that high-end pump really made the braking process good.
The support from the forks also stood out here, with good support and no collapsing under the pressure, while maintaining composure when the brakes are let off for a right/left blind crest into a very fast double left. This area is another good test of a chassis and suspension set-up. The old models wobbled, bucked and weaved here. The new SP is completely on rails in the exact same section.
I can confidently say that on track, the new SP is a ripper in the chassis department. In all of the same sections, the standard version MT-09 was almost as fast and capable, it is just that I had it on its limit in places where the higher specification suspension on the SP was not close to calling it enough already.
So, the good geometry and the new balance and ergonomic benefit are all there, in exactly the same way. It’s just the suspension that gives the SP the edge and for track work, it is quite a large step up. On the road? We will find out when we re-test the bikes together.
The cracking CP3 is now even more engaging and exciting. It really is a powerhouse and with the electronics off, makes the MT-09 a mega wheelie machine. We can’t wait to spend some more time using the new engine when we get the bikes back for full road testing and exploring the vast electronics suit that will require a lot of testing to truly get the overall picture. Going off our time spent on the MT-09 and MT-09SP at 70North, the bikes are going to be fantastic on the road.
2021 YAMAHA MT-09 TECH TALK
The Crossplane three engine retains the concept of the old model: In line triple with forged pistons, offset cylinders and fracture split rods. All designed to handle high stress running. But the Yamaha engineers have changed virtually every component within it to enhance performance, efficiency and character. The crankshaft was redesigned to increase the inertial mass by 15%.
By redesigning and repositioning the fuel injectors, Yamaha reduced the camshaft overlap and working angle. This lets them produce a cleaner burn in the cylinder that allows removal of the secondary air injection system, for less complexity and weight. Almost every component had been touched and despite the bigger cc, total weight of the engine has been reduced by 1.7kg
Featuring 41mm tubes with a tough DLC (Diamond Like Carbon Coating) that Yamaha say ensures ultra-smooth and responsive suspension action, the premium specification KYB front forks feature adjustability for preload, rebound, and compression damping enabling the rider to set-up to suit different riding situations.
Yamaha say they lowered the front KYB shocks by a massive 39mm to completely change the way the bike feels and handles. With the lowered front, they have still retained the 130mm of travel but have created a whole new riding position for the MT-09.
On the SP, the new front forks are equipped with low and high-speed compression damping adjusters for accurate tuning of the suspension. To match the new front suspension, the rear suspension system features a premium specification Öhlins rear shock absorber, offering the rider adjustability for compression and rebound damping. Equipped with a remote preload adjuster that enables quick and easy setting.
The 2021 features a new 6-axis IMU for lean sensitive rider aids which is lighter and more compact than the R1 system. In this system, riders get Cornering Traction Control System [TCS], Slide Control System [SCS], Lift Control System [LIF] and Cornering ABS (BC). All of this is controlled through Bosch’s 9.1MP based system which allows the ride to set their profile to suit their style.
In addition to the electronic rider aids featured on the standard 2021 MT-09, the premium MT-09SP is also equipped with a cruise control system that enhances the overall riding experience. Riders can choose to activate cruise control at speeds of 50km/h or above, and in fourth gear or higher. Once the speed has been set, it can be increased in 2km/h increments by single pushes of the switch, or steadily increased by holding down the same switch. The system is cancelled whenever the brakes, clutch, or throttle are used.
Yamaha say the dash is Intentionally compact and minimalist, they wanted to focus on the riding ability of the bike, and not distract by applying excessive colour or design. An intuitive interface allows quick changes to the rider aids and throttle modes with the switches on the left had switch cluster while riding, while the key system information can be programmed through the scroll wheel on the right hand switch cluster when stopped, separately the active and passive functionality.
A feature that is exclusive to the MT-09SP is the metal finished swingarm that features a special buffed with clear coat surface that complements the new Crystal Graphite frame. The other SP-specific features include anodised black handlebars and levers, as well as clear-smoked front and rear brake fluid reservoirs.
2021 Yamaha MT-09 & MT-09SP Specifications
Price: MT-09 – $15,249.00, MT-09SP $17,299.00 (rideaway)
Warranty: Two-years unlimited km
Colours: Icon Blue, Storm Fluo, Tech Black. (Only Icon Performance for SP)
Claimed Power: 87.5kW@10,000rpm
Claimed Torque: 93Nm@7000rpm
Kerb Weight: 189kg
Fuel capacity: 14L
Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, Cross plane triple, 78.0mm x 62.1mm bore x stroke, 889cc, 11.5:1 compression, three-into-one exhaust Gearbox: Six speed Clutch: Wet, multiple disc
Chassis: Aluminium Deltabox frame
Rake: 25° Trail: 108mm
Front Suspension: USD 41mm telescopic KYB fork, fully adjustable (SP features USD 41mm KYB fork, fully adjustable with high/low-speed compression damping)
Rear Suspension: KYB monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound (SP features an Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable)
Brakes: Twin 289mm discs with four-piston radial-mount calipers, Brembo master-cylinder, cornering ABS(f), Single 245mm disc with single-piston caliper, cornering ABS (r)
Wheels & Tyres: 10-spoke cast alloy wheels, 120/70 – 17 and 180/55 – 17 Bridgestone S22 tyres.
Wheelbase: 1430 mm
Seat height: 825mm
Ground clearance: 140mm
Overall width: 795mm
Overall Length: 2090mm
Overall height: 1191mm
Instruments: Full-colour TFT dash
The Verdict | Track Test: 2021 Yamaha MT-09 & Yamaha MT-09SP