Cape Town - There are a lot of socially responsible motorcycles out there - stylish, fuel-efficient machines, with understated styling and lots of storage space, that do everything well. The Yamaha MT-09 is not one of them.
It was designed from the outset to be a bad boy, to get in your face even before you turn the key, to pull big wheelies and bigger burnouts and, above all, to encourage you to explore your darker side.
And how it does that is technically very interesting.
Everybody knows that a three-cylinder engine produces a lot more power than a twin of similar capacity, as well as way more torque than a comparable four. Not long ago, however, project leader Akira Kimori realised that the current Grand Prix-derived Yamaha sports-bike architecture lends itself admirably to a three-cylinder layout.
After all, the only sensible way to build a triple is with its crankpins spaced at 120 degrees (Laverda’s infamous Jota is not a sensible motorcycle even by Italian standards) which is in effect a cross-plane crank, which the Triple Tuning Fork has been trumpeting as if it were something new, while the R-series vertically stacked gearbox is perfect for a tall, narrow motor.
Stick three 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies with individually-tuned intake trumpets on top, three tuned-length stainless headers below, and you have an 847cc engine that’s way narrower - and 10kg lighter - than the four-cylinder FZ-8 lump and churns out 85kW at 10 000 revs, backed by 88Nm at 8500.
Kimori hung it from a ‘spider’ frame that flexes a little horizontally under extreme stress but not at all in the vertical plane, just like a MotoGP bike, with top-drawer suspension and brakes, and kept the wheelbase down to a hair-trigger 1440mm with a very steep head angle.
A hump-backed 14-litre fuel tank sandwiched between V Max-style intakes and a surprisingly generous seat are all the furniture it has, finished in several different shades of matt black with deep blue accents, badging and wheels.
Then, because it wouldn’t add any weight (the MT-09 scales just only 188kg with a full tank) he allowed the electronics boffins free rein. Sadly, they went to a bar-graph rev-counter with impractically small lettering, but the rest of the instrument pod is a master class in liquid-crystal graphics that work, including a gear position indicator (rare on Yamahas) and an ECO icon that I couldn’t get to stay on, anywhere above 68km/h.
But the cherry on the top is the drive-mode toggle on the right where the start button usually lives (that’s incorporated in the kill-switch!) which switches the engine mapping - on the fly - from STD (the default setting) to A (full tilt boogie) or B (gentle, linear power delivery for wet roads or gridlock commuting).
On the default setting the mapping is a little uneven, with a couple of noticeable flat spots, and runs out of steam quite suddenly at about 10 000rpm. B mode, by contrast, is simply flat, with a soft, predictable power delivery but no grunt above 9500rpm and not much below it.
Toggle to A mode, however, and you’ll discover just where test rider Jeffrey de Vries put in most of his effort. Suddenly there’s a direct, very linear connection between right hand and rear tyre. As you move your right hand, the MT-09 picks up speed - instantly, even in top gear, anywhere from 3000 to 11 000rpm.
There’s some secondary vibration from 6000rpm on, accompanied by a lovely musical three-cylinder intake roar, all of which is sharper in A mode.
True top speed was 208km/h at 11 000rpm, one bar short of the rev-limiter at 11 250, with the digital speedometer flickering between 223 and 224, for a speedometer error of 7.5 percent, which is acceptable for a car but motorcycles, as we’ve said before, are held to a higher standard.
Average fuel consumption was a very creditable 5.68 litres per 100km, rising to 6.05 during performance testing.
As with any R-series ‘box, shifting was very notchy, with or without the clutch, but the short lever throw helped. What didn’t help, however, was a very sudden clutch take-up point; the bike stalled easily when cold, especially as the default mode was STD.
The MT-09 proved relatively stable for a short-coupled naked bike, all the way up to top speed, with just a little front-end twitchiness, while the steering was very quick in the tight stuff, as befitted its motard architecture; it’s a real point-and-squirt machine.
The KYB suspension felt firm at the factory’s median settings but was amazingly supple, soaking up our bone-shaking bumpy test section at an easy 90, with the bumps felt more through the footpegs than the high, wide ‘bars or the seat - which also feels firmer than it is, due to the wonders of modern multi-density closed-cell foam.
The sitting position is pure motard, forward and very upright with the hands far apart, but comfortable for a couple of hours at a time, after which the bike will need a pit stop as much as you do - the 14-litre tank on our test MT-09 went on to reserve after barely 160km of Sunday-morning hooning.
Hooning is definitely what this bike is all about; even in weekday commuting, it’s more fun - and more accurate - to ride in A mode than in the default STD mode, turning in like a cat after a squirrel and coming out of corners like its tail’s on fire.
Social responsibility, Cyril, is for Honda riders; we prefer something with a bit of attitude.
Price: R109 950.
Bike from: Helderberg Yamaha, Cape Town.
Engine: 847cc liquid-cooled transverse triple.
Bore x stroke: 78 x 59.1mm.
Compression ratio: 11.5:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 84.6kW at 10 000rpm.
Torque: 87.5Nm at 8500rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with three 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies.
Ignition: TCI Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 41mm KYB inverted cartridge forks with adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: Horizontal gas-charged KYB monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 298mm discs with Advics four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers.
Rear brake: 245mm petal disc with Nissin single-piston floating calliper
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 815mm.
Kerb weight: 188kg.
Fuel tank: 14 litres.
Top speed (measured): 208km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 5.68 litres per 100km.
Price: R109 950.
Bike from: Helderberg Yamaha, Cape Town.