They say that at the heart of every good motorcycle is a great engine, and Yamaha thoroughly nailed that theory with the very first Yamaha MT-09 back a few years. Its inline 847cc triple-cylinder, or CP3 as Yamaha call it, is a pure gem.
Since then the Yamaha MT-09 has sold as fast as dealers could get them and Yamaha have gone on to produce the MT-09 Tracer and retro looking XSR900, both of which share that same wonderful engine. The Yamaha Tracer was awarded a prestigious ‘Best All-Rounder’ award in 2015 and the Yamaha XSR900 has won numerous road tests. And their success has largely been down to that brilliant Yamaha CP3 engine.
However, the original Yamaha MT-09’s performance was undermined by poor fueling and under-damped suspension. It has three engine modes to choose from and in the sportiest A-mode the throttle response was lively to the point of being abrupt. In a 2016 model update Yamaha smoothed out the fueling and added traction control for the first time, both of which were taken from the Yamaha XSR900 retro version. And now for 2017 they have gone one step further, changing the suspension both front and rear and adding more adjustment to the forks while a shorter sub-frame and facelift completes the visual upgrade.
There’s also a new quickshifter, just for a welcome bit of extra bling, and a subtle alteration to the riding position.
Despite the dreary end-of-raining-season weather that hung over our test the new 2017 Yamaha MT-09 still looked eye-catching and made the previous MT-09 appear slightly dull by comparison. The most obvious visual difference between the motorcycles is the new Yamaha MT-10 – aping twin headlight, but the sub-frame is now shorter and disposes of a conventional number-plate hanger; the plate is now mounted to a plastic arm that reaches around from the swingarm, Ducati style. There are also small changes to the radiator side cowling, where the indicators now sit, while the clocks remain the same but have been moved slightly forward.
The more time I spent with the new 2017 Yamaha MT-09 the more I liked its look, though those fluro wheels will be a pain to keep clean, and as an owner I’d probably ditch the wrap-around number-plate hanger in favor of a traditionally positioned plate – though it seems current Yamaha MT-09 owners aren’t exactly falling in love with the new model’s looks. Then again, the initial reaction to the 2017 Yamaha MT-10 was similarly love-it or hate-it.
Once on board the new Yamaha MT-09 feels like the old version motorcycle except the seat is 5mm higher – at 820mm still have no problems getting my feet securely to the ground – and, of course, those forks now have compression damping adjustment added. Even though the front suspension is all new, the rear remains the same but leaves the factory on different damping settings.
In sketchy weather and low grip conditions it’s hard to detect any differences in the suspension. The old motorcycle feels okay as I’m not making full use of the travel or the brakes and ensuring my every input is as smooth as possible. In fact, after a cold, 100 kilometer blast chasing my friend on the 2017 Yamaha MT-09 I was struggling to fault the 2016 MT-09 at all. After all, both MT-09s share the same engine and brakes, and even the traction control is the same.
The aggression and response of the triple-cylinder takes you by surprise at first as you simply don’t expect it to be as quick as it is – and it’s all supported by a lovely rasping sound track from the side-exiting exhaust system. The 2017 Yamaha MT-09 is not different in this respect, and quickshifter aside the changes aren’t immediately obvious until you get a few more kilometers with the new Yamaha MT-09.
The forks have more feel and the ride is plusher than before, while there’s a reduced tendency to skip or bounce between high frequency bumps. The rear, criticized in the past for its softness, has a tad more support and although it is just a little increase, I would anticipate amplified benefits in more summery conditions.
The lighter clutch with slipper action is also more noticeable with every minute spent on the motorcycle, especially when we got stuck in city traffic and the usual Bangkok roadworks. But we spent the whole test switching from one MT-09 to the other, at times re-riding the same stretch of road, in a bid to feel quantifiable improvements in the new motorcycle’s performance. Quickshifter apart, though, it’s subtle stuff.
I’ve ridden a 2016 Yamaha MT-09 at decent speed before and have experienced the under-damped suspension struggling to maintain control, and the front under-steering in confusion, but it’s still hard to know if Yamaha have fully rectified this problem. Certainly, the new front end and tweaked rear didn’t make as much difference as I’d anticipated.
The problem is that Yamaha already have, in the 2016 Yamaha MT-09, an excellent motorcycle, with one of the best engines on the market.