MT-07 It’s our No1 middleweight
Yamaha’s budget twin is Europe’s favourite middleweight. Here’s why
Ah, the sound of a 690cc crossplane twin being whipped to the redline. It’s hard to tell if it’s begging for mercy or yelping with joy, but it sounds bloody wonderful – a frenzied, scream-growl. Spring is here at last. And with it, four years of the MT- 07 – the machine that re-invented biking for the postfinancial-crash world.
I’m on the 2018 version, the one with firmed-up suspension, brawny tank and comfy seat. The changes are subtle, but they’re the ones most owners wanted. On the launch in Spain, where the roads are like glass, the new, stiffer springs were a no-brainer. Here in the UK, I’m not so sure. High speed cornering and braking are definitely better but on gnarly back roads it can skitter and scrabble over bumps where the old one just floated. Depends where you do most of your riding, I guess. What’s certain is they’re both brilliant motorcycles.
You could say the MT was the bike that brought Yamaha back from the brink. By the end of 2017 they had built 120,444 of the things. In Europe, riders have been snapping them up at the rate of 17,000 a year, or 45 bikes per day. If you clump all three models together (07, 07A and Moto Cage) it’s Europe’s second best seller behind BMW’S R1200GS. In the UK the MT-09 sells more, but the 07 has still averaged 1100 pa since 2014. People really, really like them.
One of those people is me. With my wife Fiona, I bought a new ABS model in 2014 and we love it. She’s used it to commute and tour. I’ve ragged it round local lanes, droned the M6 and done a Rockingham trackday. According to Yamaha, that’s all fairly normal, but there are other customer types as well. Young riders appreciate the price and attitude. Ladies go for the low seat and weight. Experienced people just want to rediscover something simple. For us, it’s a unique combination of agile handling, low cost and ridiculous fun. It makes less power than my other bike, a tricked-up 1998 Ducati 900, but even bog standard the little Yamaha is vastly superior. That’s what happens when the manufacturer puts the weight in the right place and focuses on ease of use.
Ten years ago, no one had even imagined an MT-07. Middleweight nakeds were, mostly, sportsbikes without fairings. Yamaha’s four-cylinder FZ6, for example, had a high seat, 204kg kerb weight and 90 horsepower. All its performance was crammed into the top right corner of the dyno chart. It did OK – then the global crunch came and bike sales fell off a cliff.
‘Experienced people want to rediscover something simple’
Yamaha spent three years figuring what to do. Research showed people still liked bikes; they just had less time and money to enjoy them. The man who pointed the factory down the MT route was Shun Miyazawa, Yamaha Europe’s product manager. Miyazawa was about as far from a company robot as you could get. He’d been a chopper builder in the US before joining Yamaha Japan in 2006, then Yamaha Europe in 2010.
“After the financial crisis, not only Yamaha but all the Japanese companies lost who they are and started listening too much to what customers said,” he told MCN. “So, in 2011 I said, ‘Guys,
let’s make something we like.’ That led to the 700 twin and 900 triple. Of course we did some research, but it was our passion that created something fun to ride.”
Work began in 2011. “That year was a milestone. After the economic crisis we’d basically stopped every project and begun to think we should spend our money, resources and engineering for Asian countries. But in 2011 we started saying ‘No’, because Europe has a real passion for motorcycles. Maybe the economy was difficult, but we expected the market would recover in three or four years – and at that moment
we needed a new kind of motorcycle.”
Miyazawa knew all about the old kind of motorcycle. “I used to own a 2008 R1. Me and my friends loved to go 270km/h on the highway, wide open, blaarrrrrr, pissing off car drivers. But you’re risking your life, and anyway you can’t even do it; you get points on your licence. So we felt it was time for a change, to shift to an everyday kind of fun.”
Yamaha’s new formula started with the engine’s lopsided beat and balance of low-down grunt and top-end power. “Also, weight was very important.
People want to feel, ‘I’m controlling my bike every single moment’. This weight argument, plus the torque feeling and agility were the key emotional factors we defined. The higher bars too – the sense of synchronisation between bike and rider.”
It worked. Spectacularly. By the time Fiona and I had the money together in 2014 the UK had sold out of MT-07S. We waited four months for the next batch. It was just as popular with firsttimers: according to Yamaha, 35% of MT-07 customers are new bikers. And 17% are female. Basically, it appeals to everyone.
Of course, for the 2014 price of £5600 there had to be a catch – and there was. The forks were basic and the shock was equally low budget. Both had the softest spring setup on any comparable bike. Gareth Evans at Reactive Suspension was horrified when he pushed down on the seat of a customer’s MT-07: “It rebounded so fast the wheel came off the floor!” But I didn’t mind. The soft setup was comfortable on rough roads and at Rockingham I discovered I could drag the back brake into turns to damp down the ‘boing!’ as I tipped in. Mid-corner speed was limited by the footrests and it bounded out of turns like a cocker spaniel. I’ve ridden on tracks for decades but never laughed as much on a motorcycle as that day.
I was more bothered by the low seat, which cramped my knees on long journeys. And the BT023 tyres, which last 6000 miles but lack grip. The new bike has an optional 28mm higher seat, which unless you’re a complete novice is a good idea, but still comes on BT023S. When I switched to Metzeler Roadtec 01s I couldn’t believe the transformation. OK, the rear was half worn after 1500 miles, but I wouldn’t go back. Having serious wet and dry grip doubles the fun.
I’ve just spent a week with the new bike and it’s thrown up the little differences only an owner would notice: the 2018 front brake lever doesn’t come back far enough, even on minimum span adjustment. On mine it’s fine. Maybe it’s just a natural variation in parts. I also noticed the 2018 bike’s tank trim digging into my thighs over bumps. The old one is better in this respect. But I wish I had the new bike’s engine. Yamaha say there’s no change, but the 2018 bike certainly feels stronger. Again, it’s probably just tolerances.
Would I swap for the new one? That’s like asking if a 350LC is better than a YPVS. Whichever one you bond with first is brilliant. But would I swap with the old, more powerful FZ6? No chance. The MT has taught us that practical performance and superb balance is the only way to build a motorcycle.
‘I’ve never laughed as much on a motorcycle as that day’
Sprightly handling is only let down by budget suspension Torquey, twin cylinder motor is the star of the Yamaha’s show and is grunty and easy
MT creator Miyazawa: ‘We felt it was time for a change’