Yamaha MT-09 SP
Is this the best version of itself? The mT-09 has matured well and is fiestier than ever
WeLL, that’s the mt-09 sorted, then.
i’ve just flicked the new mt09 sP through the first series of sun-kissed bends in the hills of Portugal’s algarve, and the realisation has suddenly dawned: its suspension felt superb. that’s the first time the cornering ability of Yamaha’s feisty naked triple has impressed remotely as much — dating back to the original model that led the firm’s comeback in 2013.
Few bikes have arrived to such devastating effect as that first mt, with its enthusiastic 847-cc three-pot engine, light weight, and abundance of madcap character. as with a lovable Labrador puppy, its failings were easily overlooked; in the Yamaha’s case not a tendency to pee indoors, but a snatchy throttle and under-damped suspension that marred the otherwise agile handling.
throttle response was quickly improved with a new map. the suspension took longer but last year’s update brought a notable improvement, along with sharper styling, LeD lights, a one-way quick-shifter for the six-speed box and a lighter, slip-assist clutch.
Now Yamaha have gone a step further with the mt-09 sP, latest in an occasional line of sport Production specials that goes back past Yamaha’s own recent mt-10 sP to the YZF-r1 sP and YZF750 sP of previous decades, all the way to the hotted-up specials that italian manufacturers built in a small number for racing homologation in the early 1990s.
those sP initials originally stood for sport Production, but have come simply to mean something a bit special, especially when attached to naked bikes that aren’t intended for racing. Over the years sP models have featured tuned engines, trick chassis, carbon-fibre bodywork and more.
when Yamaha came to create an sP version of the mt-09, they didn’t have to think twice before deciding that its key components should be uprated suspension. Last year’s revision of the standard mt included new front forks that are adjustable for both compression and rebound damping, and reduce but don’t completely cure the front-end vagueness of a model that has a generous 137 mm of front suspension travel, compared to the mt-10’s 120 mm at each end.
Öhlins was an obvious choice for the upgrade. the swedish firm used to be owned by Yamaha and has provided springs for numerous high-end models over the years, including the mt-10 sP and even more exotic YZF-r1m. those models’ semi-active system couldn’t be justified on the less expensive triple, which instead gets a conventional, multi-adjustable shock with remote preload adjuster.
Yamaha also considered Öhlins for the forks, but that would have bust the budget of a model that needed to sit below the standard mt-10 in the product range. instead they went for upmarket Kayaba units featuring dual- instead of single-rate springs, and adjustability of both high- and low-speed compression damping, as well as preload and rebound damping.
Other changes over the current standard mt are minimal. the sP gets a silver-blue colour scheme similar to those of the mt-10 sP and r1m, incorporating blue wheels and seat stitching. its handlebar and levers are black instead of natural aluminium, and its minimalist instrument panel’s figures are white on black, rather than the other way around.
with no change to the 115-Ps powerplant or the rest of the
chassis, it’s no surprise that the sP is every bit as light and lively as the standard Mt-09. the three-way adjustable drive mode gives standard, that’s just about right much of the time, plus a sharper a mode that is fun but a bit aggressive, and a softer B that’s ideal for town or wet-road use.
the sP weighs just 193 kg with its tank full and is sufficiently slim to be very manageable at low speed. and that superbly flexible motor means it pulls effortlessly from low revs, lifting its front wheel with a tweak of throttle if you’re in the mood (even with traction control enabled, on its lower setting), or simply surging forward with a smooth rush of acceleration in the higher gears.
the upright riding position means there’s plenty of wind pressure on your neck and arms as the Yam storms towards its top speed of about 225 km/h, though the angled headlamp surround gives a modicum of protection.
as with the standard model, the quick-shifter is welcome and works reliably, although the six-speed box has a slightly notchy feel. there’s no blipper, so you need the clutch for downshifts; at least the slip-assist unit introduced last year is admirably light. the only other minor irritation is that, curiously, the green quick-shift warning light stays illuminated when there’s nothing wrong.
even in a straight line the sP’s advantage over the standard Mt is clear, mostly from the rear end’s superior ride quality. With shock preload wound right down the Öhlins unit felt distinctly plush, soaking up most road imperfections completely, yet keeping sufficient control to prevent the Yamaha feeling flappy under hard acceleration, as the standard Mt and XsR900 are prone to do.
the Öhlins unit’s spring is actually slightly softer than the standard model’s shock, but considerably increased compression damping, plus more rebound, gives better performance. there’s even more difference up front, where the new Kayaba’s forks have dual- instead of single-rate springs, with the initial 75 mm of travel softer, for better absorption of small bumps; and the rest stiffer, in conjunction with a redesigned damping system.
the result is a tauter, more precisely adjustable setup that finally gives the Mt-09 the handling ability that its admirably short, light chassis has deserved all along. For the launch route, Yamaha’s engineers had softened both ends for the sometimes bumpy and occasionally damp launch roads of Portugal’s algarve, which helped made the triple admirably comfortable.
that was welcome on the early, main-road section, where the pace was gentle, partly because a bunch of Italian journalists had received expensive speeding tickets the day before. I also thought the Yamaha steered fine over the odd damp patches, turning in accurately in response to light pressure on its fairly wide one-piece bar.
the shock’s preload adjuster is so accessible that it can even be used on the move and, less usefully, might get in the way of a pillion’s leg. When we stopped for coffee, I wound on a few turns and added a few clicks of rebound damping with the similarly easily reached knob on the shock body. the higher rear end helped the bike turn and made it feel superbly flickable when we reached the smooth, twisty section in the hills north of Faro.
here the Yamaha was very much at home, especially after being given a few extra clicks of low-speed compression damping to help control fork dive under hard braking. (high-speed damping is for sudden bumps; slow-speed more for general pitching.) I could enjoy flicking an sP into a tight bend and braking towards the apex, concentrating on tyre grip and throttle rather than on the slightly vague feel typically transmitted through the standard Mt’s bars.
Perhaps, the only drawback of better suspension is that you can ride harder, so suddenly start thinking that, maybe, the front brake could use a bit more bite — although it’s respectably powerful and has always adequate with the standard Mt. Or that the sP could also benefit from stickier rubber, though the Bridgestone s20s retained from the standard model coped absolutely fine.
Yamaha’s response is the same as it is to comments that the sP could have Öhlins units at both ends: yes, that would have been nice, as would bigger front brake discs, better calipers, Pirelli supercorsas and even semi-active suspension. But this bike was created to fill the gap between the standard Mt-09 and Mt-10. so just as with the standard model, compromises had to be made.
that seems fair enough, because the good news is that the Mt-09 sP is only about 10 per cent more expensive than the standard model, and considerably cheaper than the Mt-10. Which means it’s surely excellent value for a machine that finally brings the Nine’s chassis up towards the level of that wonderful engine. If the standard Mt hadn’t been so successful for these last few years, I’d be tempted to suggest that this is the bike that Yamaha’s naked triple should have been all along.
I’d be tempted to suggest that this is the bike that Yamaha’s naked triple should have been all along
Short, stubby exhaust leaves an uninterrupted view of that swingarm Flat one-piece seat is easy to move around in 847-cc engine is an absolute hoot Offset dash adds character LED headlights bring the aggression New Kayaba fork makes a lot of difference Pair of 298-mm discs provide ample stopping power
14-litre fuel tank is quite shapely but rather slimÖhlins monoshock has greatly improved ride quality
Shock is mounted directly to the aluminium swingarm