Triples occupy that delicate balance between power, weight and handling. Combining the torque of a twin, with the power of a four-cylinder, three-cylinder motorcycles are unique in the biking world.
There is a lot to be said for using a triple in a motorcycle, especially a universal machine that is meant to be a general purpose machine. Seeing this is pretty much a niche design, with many riders accustomed to twos or fours, Yamaha took the plunge with the MT-09 and its three-cylinder engine.
The first MT-09s were well received by the market, catering to the need for public road hooliganism and spending more time on the rear wheel than the front. But somewhere under that hard-edged exterior, lay a somewhat capable universal Japanese machine, or UJM.
Now, UJMs were something riders from the 70s and 80s are familiar with, and they seem to be making something of a comeback, albeit with rather more specialised styling, as opposed to the days when one design was made to do everything.
So, Yamaha, with its MT-series bikes, now have the MT-09 triple to complement the two-cylinder MT-07 – which we recently reviewed here – and the four-cylinder MT-10, which Malaysians don’t get. But why does Yamaha need a 847 cc machine to slot into a sandwich between the 689 cc MT-07 and the 998 cc MT-10?
Some riders are in the enviable position of having a specialised motorcycle for whatever type of riding they need to do. The author happens to fall into this category, but with a variety of machines available, he noticed that apart from when needs dictated, the machine that got the most mileage was a basic, naked street bike.
In the case of the Yamaha MT-09, it somewhat defies definition. As an 847 cc, three-cylinder machine, the MT-09 isn’t as light as the MT-07, not does it have the pure power of the YZF-R1-derived Crossplane four-cylinder from the MT-10.
But 115 hp at 10,000 rpm and 87.5 Nm torque at 8,500 rpm is not to be scoffed at. Two decades ago, 115 hp was the provenance of pure superbikes. Today, it is deemed normal for an everyday do-anything bike.
After reviewing the Yamaha MT-07, we did like the middleweight MT, but felt it was let down by its basic suspension. No doubt, the bike was built to a very specific price point by Yamaha, to ensure good market take-up.
So, would the MT-09 be more of the same, in an up-sized package? Certainly, at its price point, it comes in a lot below comparable three-cylinder naked sports bikes like the Triumph Street Triple R and MV Agusta Brutale.
Approaching the MT-09, it’s physically small, much like its sibling in the Yamaha range, the MT-07. The MT-09 carries 191 kg in weight as opposed to the MT-07’s 179 kg, which didn’t really show during our riding test.
The MT-09 is also slightly taller in seat height, 815 mm compared to the 805 seat on the MT-07. But, aside from the physical differences, we were more interested in how Yamaha’s three-cylinder engine behaved.
Thumbing the integrated starter button/kill switch brought the engine to life with a slightly muted growl. Listening to the exhaust tone was slightly underwhelming, and we expected more audio entertainment from the engine.
Not to fret, that is what the aftermarket is for, and as per the MT-07, the MT-09 owner has a plethora of exhaust options to choose from, ranging from full systems to slip-on end cans.
Getting into the cockpit of the MT-09, and grabbing the wide, flat handlebars, placed the rider in a commanding position, and there certainly was a feeling of being “in control” while riding this bike.
Starting off on the MT-07 immediately belied the nature of this machine. Unlike its somewhat more versatile sibling, the MT-09 is a wheelie monster.
While the MT-07 would wheelie, the MT-09 does things with, shall we say, a little more immediacy. A twist of the wrist on the throttle would, for the unwary rider, send the front wheel rocketing skywards.
Highly entertaining, to say the least, but Yamaha has repeatedly warned us, across the many motorcycles, scooter and kapchais we’ve taken from them on test, that stunts and wheelies would not be tolerated.
So, just take our word for it, if you want to be a wheelie merchant, the only thing better than this would be a Ducati Monster. Moving on, the engine of the MT-09 had a lot to give, in terms of power.
The high-revving engine made heaps of torque throughout the rev range, and would gleefully rocket itself, and the rider, out of the turns and corners of Ulu Yam. It soon became apparent it was a game of keeping it in the optimum rev range, and twisting the throttle open as fast as you dared.
Taking the MT-09 through the rev-range revealed a buzz in the bars and foot-pegs, at differing points. Not as bad as some motorcycles we’ve tested, but enough to remind that you are, after all, riding a triple, with its inherent imbalance in the engine.
With power and torque to spare, riding the MT-09 was a breeze on the straights, with over-taking manoeuvres done with a quick flick of the wrist. Coming into the corners, the brakes, grabbing 298 mm discs in front, did a capable job of slowing the bike down.
We did wish for a little more bite from the brake pads though, but considering our test bike showed signs of having previously been tracked with the chicken strips gone, we assume that somewhere along the way the brakes were used, and used hard.
Which brings us to the biggest bugbear we found while test riding the Yamaha MT-09. On paper, the front upside-down telescopic forks, along with the 130 mm travel rear shock, looked to be up to job, but we found otherwise.
On what is an otherwise very capable naked sportsbike, the lack of front-end suspension adjustment and a rear shock only adjustable for pre-load, let the side down, somewhat. Again, like its lower-range sibling, the MT-09 would do a capable job, suspension wise.
Cruising the highway at slightly above legal speeds, the MT-09 was reasonably comfortable, only transmitting sharp-edged jolts and bumps to the rider. Around town, the handling was plush, and at lower speeds, quite happy to be chucked into corners if lean angles didn’t get too mad.
The high speed stuff though, and when zipping through the really tight stuff while heeled over, it was a little hard to tell what the front end was doing. The back-end, while compliant, betrayed a hint of wallow when pushed hard.
This might have had something to do with the tyres as fitted to our review bike, so if you’re a hard-charging rider, think a lot about your tyre choice and investing something in suspension mods. If you’re going to use the MT-09 as a daily commuter and weekend jaunt kind of bike, though, then in standard form, you’ll be fairly well set.
Frame stiffness from the Yamaha MT-09 was excellent, the cast beam frame not betraying any signs of flex during our hard cornering up the canyon. We did wish for the foot-pegs to be a little higher though, but an aftermarket set of rear-sets would take care of that.
One thing the MT-09 was crying out for is a quickshifter. We have one installed on our long-term test bike, a properly adjusted OEM unit, and the MT-09 really needs one of these.
Again, a trip to the aftermarket would be in order, and with setup done properly to sync the gear shifting with the engine. The quickness of the MT-09 engine needs to be coupled with a quickshifter to get the best out of the engine’s performance.
In the cockpit, the large monochrome LCD instrument panel displays all the required information, along with three ride, or power deliver, modes. In ‘STD’, or standard, mode, the MT-09’s engine is sharply responsive, albeit it stumbles a little in slow traffic.
Switched to ‘A’ mode, the engine responds even more quickly, and provides for very entertaining riding at high speed. ‘B’ mode calms things down a little, useful for riding in the wet, cutting out a bit of the mid-range, but leaving enough for overtaking and point-and-shoot riding.
We left the MT-09 mostly in STD mode though, because cycling through the mode options was not very easily done. In addition to this, just having the alternate modes marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ didn’t really let the rider know which mode was which.
Riding the MT-09 for a longer period would, of course, let the rider mark the modes in memory, but for a week-long review ride, it was one too many things to remember. The difference between modes wasn’t that marked as well, with only the ‘B’ mode letting the rider feel the biggest change.
Range on the MT-09 with its 14-litre fuel tank was adequate, and we managed to get about 207 hard – very hard – kilometres of riding out it before the little amber warning light came on. Your mileage will vary, naturally, but having more fuel capacity would help the MT-09 out when pressed into highway cruising duties.
There is a reason for this is because the MT-09’s tank is cut narrow at the back. This does help the shorter rider get both feet down though, and certainly helps with the high-speed hooliganism.
One thing we didn’t like about the Yamaha MT-09 was the location of the seat lock under the rear mudguard. It’s the perfect location to pick up all the gunk from the road, and not a nice thing if you need to lift the seat for whatever reason, especially after a wet ride.
The 2017 Yamaha MT-09 is priced at RM44,563 – unchanged from 2015 – which includes GST, but excludes insurance, registration, road tax and number plates. There are two colour options available for 2016/2017 in Malaysia – Grey Night Fluo and Race Blu. The orange scheme on the review bike is a 2015 colour.
So, who needs a Yamaha MT-09? At its RM44k price point, for a three-cylinder three-quarter litre class motorcycle, it doesn’t have a lot of competition. The only notable challengers are the Triumph Street Triple 675R at RM53,900, and the MV Agusta Brutale at RM65,344.
Living with the MT-09 was easy, the upright seating position, wide handlebars and adequately padded seat, along with the engine’s performance, giving a very capable ride for daily use. The medium seat height lets a lot of riders get both feet down confidently.
For anyone looking for a do-anything bike, and is on a budget, it is hard to argue with the MT-09’s price, and that very good engine. If you’re willing to either put up with the suspension shortcomings of the MT-09, or can invest in some carefully selected suspension mods, then the MT-09 could the choice for the rider who can only have one bike, but needs it to be multi-faceted.