MT-07 It’s our No1 mid­dleweight

Yamaha’s bud­get twin is Europe’s favourite mid­dleweight. Here’s why

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Contents - By Ru­pert Paul MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR @MCNNEWS mo­tor­cy­cle­news

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’

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