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

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