Words: Zane Dobie
Photos: iKapture, Colin Chan and Yamaha Motor Australia
Yamaha’s long-awaited, all-new MT-09 and MT-09 SP landed in Australia in May. Almost every part on the motorcycle has been given a refresh for 2021, turning the MT-09 into an absolute monster.
For the Aussie launch, the local motorcycling media took the base MT-09 and its MT-09 SP sibling on a gruelling road ride through heavy rain, then unleashed the pair and other MT family models at 40 North. With the private track to ourselves, we pushed the new MT to the limit!
Heading out from Yamaha HQ in Western Sydney, we were treated to some of the worst wet weather in months. This didn’t stop the extensive ride Yamaha had planned for us, though.
We had a range of 2021 MT models to play with, but all eyes were on the new MT-09, considering this model’s adoption of Yamaha’s latest road bike technology, including new suspension, a revamped powerplant, new styling, rider assistance and some dazzling electronics.
At First Glance
Jumping on the new MT-09 for the first time, I instantly noticed the difference from the previous model.
A downside of the early MT-09 was its riding position: the headstock sat too high to give it the sort of sporty appeal that the rest of the range possessed. To counteract this, Yamaha lowered the headstock a massive 30mm for the MY21 version, making it feel like an entirely different bike, even at a standstill.
On the road, I was surprised at just how easily the new MT-09 handled Sydney traffic. Less than five minutes into the ride, I was greeted by a large courier truck pulling out from a roundabout without looking. Despite the fact that I was travelling at 60km/h in the wet, the MT-09 stood up quickly and applied the ABS in a smooth fashion, saving me from an early meeting with the grim reaper. The all-new Bosch 9.1MP ABS applied to the MT-09 now applies cornering ABS, allowing riders to have complete control of their braking system without the fear that it’ll wash out through the corners.
Revamped Engine & Fuel Maps
The revamped CP3 three-cylinder motor in the new 2021 MT-09 is simply out of this world - there’s no other way to put it. Capacity has been increased from 847cc to 889cc, achieved through a 3mm longer stroke. An extra 42cc is huge and has increased maximum power to 87.5kW at 10,000rpm (previously 84.6kW) and torque to 93Nm at 7000rpm (previously 87.5Nm).
The additional power and torque were instantly noticeable when riding the new model for the first time; the peak power of the engine commands the rider to push to the next level but also makes the MT-09 easy to ride on the road.
Also new for the 2021 model is Yamaha’s ride-by-wire system that delivers smooth throttle response. There’s also a complex traction control system that cements the bike to the road, while the SP model adds a smooth and accurate cruise control.
Due to increasingly strict Euro emission tests, Yamaha claim to have made the MT-09 more efficient by 9 per cent. This is great news for daily commuters, as you'll average around 5-6lt/100km on the new engine.
The previous MT-09 had critics gibbering about how snappy the torque application was, in turn making the bike difficult to ride. Yamaha has amended this with variable engine maps on the 2021 model.
In order to keep my licence and stay under Australia’s low speed limits, for most of the road ride I had the MT-09 set to its minimal power output. This still offered neck breaking torque, but also allowed the bike to cruise down low in the rev range without feeling like it was going to take off from underneath me. Over rotation is also managed by the ‘LIF’ system. The seamless assist allowed for some front wheel lift but not a noticeable amount of power was cut when the wheel left the ground.
The balance between power and gearing ratios has been adjusted to suit almost every style of rider.
Machine Gun Quickshifter
The new MT-09 includes an up-and-down quickshifter - the system is top notch and almost frightening.
The day before riding the MT-09, I was out on one of my own classic bikes. After a while of riding it, the slow shifts and clutch seem like normal behavior. Jump on to the MT-09 and the gears rattle off like a machine gun. The hair trigger control shoots up through the gears in a matter of seconds as the speedometer goes wild. It’s an interesting sensation, considering the MT range are made to be street machines, but the quickshifter made me feel like Rossi on a MotoGP bike (or maybe that should be Quartararo now. Sorry, Valentino!).
On the downshift, the stability is second to none. Thanks to the standard slipper clutch, riders don’t have to fear a rear wheel lock-up when smashing down through the gears.
While I used minimal power mode for the wet ride to 40 North, the track component of the launch test allowed me to set the MT-09 to max power mode, making it a completely different animal.
When coming onto the short straights at the private test facility, grabbing a handful of throttle would lift the front wheel off the ground with ease, all the way until shifting into fourth. If you’re game enough to stay on the throttle, then you’ll be rewarded with some insane speeds, as the wheel will eventually come down and not just over rotate the rider off the back.
All new Electronic System
The track gave us all a good chance to check out how the MT-09’s in-built assist technology handles the sort of aggressive riding you’re unlikely to do on the road.
The new MT-09 is the first in the MT family to be equipped with a high-tech 6-axis IMU. Constantly measuring acceleration, pitch, roll and yaw, the IMU sends information from all parts of the bike straight to the ECU.
The lean-sensitive traction control system allowed enough leeway to have an enjoyable time out on track, but still assisted the rear end from slipping out. Since the press fleet of MT-09s were on road tyres, grip on the edge is lower than what you would get from a decent track tyre.
When leaving a corner on the MT-10 in the rain, the rear end world squirm before the traction control kicked in. Where the MT-10 failed, the MT-09 excelled, able to stabilise and cut the throttle when leading out of a wet corner. This was thanks to the slide control system combined with the traction control, offering plenty of confidence in the wet to get the knee down.
As the new MT-09 presents riders with the opportunity to switch levels of traction control, it means you can set it up to best suit your riding style. And when you’re feeling comfortable enough, you can switch it off.
Adding to the electronic upgrades is a new, full-colour 3.5 inch LCD screen. It is good to see Yamaha finally joining this club. It looks great on the bike but does take some learning to set-up the riding modes and various assist levels.
Unfortunately, the screen is relatively basic. Despite other manufacturers like CFMOTO and Kawasaki opting to add extras such as Bluetooth connectivity and navigation to their screens, Yamaha have kept it purely instrumental.
In defining the MT-09 against the MT-09 SP, the suspension is the main point of difference between the two. The extra $2,050 that the MT-09 SP commands over the base model has mostly gone into an upgraded suspension package.
The standard model receives a fully adjustable 41mm KYB front fork and an updated, adjustable KYB rear shock with reduced unsprung weight. The SP model features a similar front end set-up, but with low and high-speed compression damping adjusters and a tough DLC (Diamond Like Carbon Coating) finish, allowing for smoother and more responsive travel, and thus a smoother ride.
Instead of a KYB rear shock, the SP uses an Öhlins shock that offers more adjustability and a remote preload adjuster for quick and easy setting changes.
On the launch, I found the standard MT-09 to be set up perfectly for all types of conditions. The KYB front and rear set-up soaked up bumps in the road like a premium bike should and the rear shock performed particularly well on the pot-hole infested roads of NSW.
Previously, the MT range suffered from a lack of rebound, but that sweet spot between performance and everyday comfort has now been filled.
Given the suspension now performs so well on the standard MT-09, it makes the extra cost for the SP a little baffling. Whilst I’m no Quartararo, I have spent five years on the road, as well as the racetrack, and I can say the difference between the 09 variants is minuscule. Flicking the bike in between the turns feels similar and the only difference is the SP feels that touch more stable when leaning over. It’s one of those things you have to ask yourself – is the extra $2,050 for the SP really worth it? Maybe, if it was a full fairing bike that you’ll be doing track days on every other weekend, but not on a naked bike.
Rail Like Handling, Sharp Brakes
Both of the new MT-09 variants loved leaning over. On the launch, we found them to be able to sit comfortably at such extreme angles thanks to the standard Bridgestone Hypersport S22 tyres.
A higher profile rear tyre has been introduced for the 2021 model, jumping from a 180/55-17 to a 180/70-17, allowing for more flex and comfort.
After an entire day of journalists giving these bikes the flogging of their life without a rest, the Hypersports didn’t let up. In the rain, they performed exceptionally well. In the dry, they didn’t overheat and begin to lose grip like many others would, making them a perfect choice for this style of bike.
Front brakes have been upgraded on the 2021 model and while I would’ve loved the opportunity to see how the brakes handled on a truly dry track, there were only two MT-09s available to us, so most of the day was spent early braking to ensure that I didn’t wheel one of them in to the pits with a frown and excuses.
That being said, hitting 200+km/h down the straight at 40 North and grabbing a handful of brakes showed off how perfectly fitting they are to the MT-09 chassis and engine.
At the front, there are two 289mm discs with four piston calipers and the rear has a single 245mm disc with a single piston. While the single piston rear might not sound fantastic on paper, it proved to be more than enough for a motorcycle weighing 189kg.
As 40 North has so many corners to master, I got nowhere near learning the track in the limited time we had there, but when I did come into a corner too hot, the Bosch 9.1 MS ABS system stood the bike up well.
The MT-09 chassis is all new for 2021 and the redesign has shaved a good 4kg (including the swingarm) off the bike’s weight in the process.
Using the chassis to improve handling is often overlooked, as many manufacturers will just bolt on new suspension and hope for the best, so credit must go to Yamaha for taking the MT-09 back to the drawing board.
The new aluminum deltabox design fits perfectly with the new and improved engine and suspension setup, making the MT-09 now feel incredibly well planted - on the road and the track.
A high-rigidity swingarm adds to the handling improvements, with the pivot being mounted between the frame structure instead of outside of the frame. This means the whole section acts like one piece instead of a separate part of the bike, allowing for a stiffer set-up all round.
In my opinion, the style of the new MT-09 is honestly striking. I know the design, and particularly the headlight makeover, isn’t for everyone but it’s one of those bikes you have to see in person to really appreciate.
The compact front-end design is starting to become a common theme amongst the naked bike range, as Suzuki has fitted a similar-style headlight with their 2022 GSX-S 1000.
LED lights are used all around to ensure you’re seen on the road and it adds to the futuristic appeal to the bike.
The seat tucks in nicely with the tank, making the saddle feel secure but not too wide, allowing riders to really hang off the bike in the corners.
Setting the SP variant apart from the base MT-09 are subtle touches, such as the anodized fork legs, bare metal swingarm, smoked brake fluid reservoir and an exclusive paint scheme.
At the conclusion of the launch, I struggled to find anything negative about the 2021 MT-09. It’s hard to find a better naked bike on the market - even the current generation of Yamaha’s own MT-10 seems to fall behind in terms of performance and the enjoyment factor.
Unless you’re really keen on the cruise control and Öhlins rear end, I recommend you stick to the standard version and put the $2,050 into a nice exhaust system and a tail tidy.
The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 and MT-09 SP are on sale now for a pretty competitive price of $15,249 (standard) and $17,299 (SP) - both prices being rideaway.
There isn’t much else on the market - with this much performance - that can beat that price tag.
SPECIFICATIONS - 2021 Yamaha MT-09 (MT-09 SP in brackets)
TYPE: DOHC 12-valve 4-stroke triple
BORE x STROKE: 78.0 x 62.1mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.5:1
ENGINE START: Electric
INDUCTION: EFi w/YCC-T
MAX POWER: 87.5kW at 10,000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 93.0Nm at 7,000rpm
CLUTCH: Wet, multi-plate, w/slipper
GEARBOX: 6-speed up-and-down quickshifter
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
FRAME: Die-cast aluminium Deltabox
FRONT SUSPENSION: 41mm USD telescopic KYB fork, fully adjustable (higher spec 41mm USD KYB fork, fully adjustable w/high- and low-speed damping)
REAR SUSPENSION: KYB monoshock, preload and rebound adjustable (Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable)
FRONT WHEEL: 17-inch forged alloy
REAR WHEEL: 17-inch forged alloy
FRONT TYRE: Bridgestone Hypersport S22 120/70 ZR17
REAR TYRE: Bridgestone Hypersport S22 180/70 ZR17 M/C 69W
FRONT BRAKE: Dual 289mm discs w/four-piston calipers and ABS
REAR BRAKE: 245mm disc w/single-piston caliper and ABS
LxWxH: 2090mm x 795mm x 1190mm
RAKE: 25 degrees
GROUND CLEARANCE: 140mm
SEAT HEIGHT: 825mm
WET WEIGHT: 189kg (190kg)
FUEL CAPACITY: 14.0lt
Storm Fluo, Icon Blue, Tech Black (Icon Performance)
LAMS APPROVED: No
PRICE: $15,249 ride away ($17,299 ride away)
WARRANTY: 24 months, Unlimited Km