REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

With the Yamaha YZF-R25 proving to be popular with the younger riders in Malaysia, Hong Leong Yamaha Motors upped the ante by releasing the 2020 Yamaha MT-25 naked sports last year, with a RM21,500 recommended retail price tag. This particular segment of the domestic motorcycle market is very competitive in the price and performance area but we were sure, when handed the keys for the review unit, the MT-25 would acquit itself well.

Here’s the thing, the author has always, always, liked small Yamaha engines, in the quarter-litre class and below. As we have mentioned in other reviews of Yamaha motorcycles and scooters, if there is one thing Yamaha does well, it is making small displacement engines that produce a lot of power, relatively speaking, and never fail to leave a grin on the rider’s face.

In this, the MT-25, as well as its full-fairing sports bike sibling, the YZF-R25, have set something of a benchmark for the Malaysian quarter-litre market. Immensely popular amongst young riders across all races, the R25 is much favoured for its turn of power and acceptable handling for its class.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

For the MT-25, Yamaha Malaysia is perhaps hoping to repeat the success it had with the R25. That the local market was dominated across the first half last decade by the Kawasaki Z250 in both twin and single-cylinder forms, is neither here nor there.

That was then, this is now, and the MT-25 is with us, adding another option for the Malaysian naked sports market. But, can it follow in the footsteps of its sportier sibling, and is it, dare we say, more fun than the R25?

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

Naked sports bikes, as is their nature, hide nothing from the rider. No engine hidden under a fairing, no plastic bubble to duck under when speeds reach anti-social levels.

The essence of motorcycling, as it were, from 40 years ago when the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) ruled Malaysian streets. At the time, the weapon of choice was the two-stroke Yamaha RD250, in air-cooled and a little later, liquid-cooled forms, along with the infamous street races on Tuanku Abdul Rahman and the Kowloon corner, followed by supper at Benteng.

Fast forward 40 years and standing before us is the MT-25, perhaps the spiritual successor to Yamaha’s sporty UJM quarter-litre road bike. Styling wise, the MT-25 takes directly from the Yamaha “Darkness” design book, and a strong family resemblance can be seen all the way from the Yamaha MT-10, right down to the entry-level market MT-15.

The Japanese manga-like design might not be to everyone’s taste, but consultation with the young shaver in the house showed that the lads tearing city streets like it. There is a certain visual bulk to the MT-25, with the functional air scoops on either side of the tank delivering air to the airbag located within.

Our review model came in a nice matte grey shade Yamaha calls Ice Fluo – the other option is Yamaha Racing Blu – matched to scarlet wheels. Overall, a very pleasing effect and does give the MT-25 a minimalist, purposeful look which we quite liked.

Mechanically the MT-25 takes the parallel-twin mill from the R25, so no surprises there. With 35.5 hp at 12,000 rpm and 23.6 Nm of torque at 10,000 rpm, the MT-25 is a peaky engine that likes revving, so please pay attention to regular oil changes for increased power plant longevity.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

Getting into the saddle, the 780 mm seat height will be easy to manage for shorter riders, while taller riders will find their legs splayed a little due to the width of the fuel tank. The rider seat is cut narrow in front so planting a foot flat on the ground will not be an issue for most with the pillion seat, a pad on the tailpiece, having a pronounced hump to mimic a race cowl.

Since everyone we offered a seat to for a pillion ride declined, we will assume comfort is not high on the MT-25’s priority list when it comes to passengers. The split seat design places the rider in a deep pocket between the tank and the tail piece, which some riders may find limiting.

We found the seat rather cramped for the author’s ample behind but the junior rider in the house who is built like Bruce Lee had precisely zero issues. With the reach to the handlebars being of moderate length, tucking in on the tank will be something of an exercise in origami if you’re much above 182 cm in height so check for fit before you buy.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

While the physical size of the MT-25 is not small, it isn’t a “big” bike either, though it does have a visual presence. We have to say Yamaha got the proportions right with this one, definitely catering to the younger rider and in particular the Asian market where quarter-litre motorcycles are many riders’ first “real” bike.

Much like the RD250 (and the RD350) of decades ago, the MT-25 is an aspirational machine, something for the freshly licensed rider to aim for as their entry into the world of two-wheeled fun. So, ticking all the boxes for being a motorcycle that will hopefully draw a new crop of riders to the sport, what’s the MT-25 like to ride?

Moving the MT-25 around, you will find it light, something you wouldn’t expect from the size of the tank. At 169 kg wet the MT-25 is no class light weight, especially when compared to the claimed kerb weights of its rivals in the class, the KTM 250 Duke at 151 kg and the Husqvarna Svartpilen at 154 kg, with the 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 250SL tipping the scales at 151 kg.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

No matter, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and we found the MT-25 to be tasty indeed. Much like its two-stroke ancestor, the MT-25’s engine room doesn’t wake up till about 8,000 rpm but it is missing that peaky two-stroker power band.

What you do get is this fair to middling amount of power, enough to get you around on city streets and various urban highways provided you’re in the right gear. Then you whack the throttle open and do that left foot tap dance to keep up with the acceleration.

No, not quite eyeballs smashed into the back of your head stuff, only two-cylinders and 249 cc, after all. But the MT-25 is quick, and quick with it, the engine response being a touch better than the R25 undoubtedly helped by the lack of fairing with places the rider square in the middle of the wind blast.

Nowhere to hide, you have to ride it and ride it out till the MT-25 reaches its top speed of… about enough. On the highway, you will have no issues keeping to the usual highway pace and there is enough left in the engine to perform overtakes, provided you drop down a gear or two.

If anything, the MT-25, like riding a peaky two-stroke, will teach you the importance of keeping the kettle on the boil at all times, matching gear to engine speed being paramount. No lugging the engine in a tall gear and letting the torque do the talking, because there is none.

In terms of moving the rider’s soul, the MT-25 ticks all the right boxes, with upside-down suspension, non-adjustable, and a preload-adjustable monoshock at the back. Which is where we ran into the first of the MT-25’s shortcomings.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

Making motorcycles at this price point, in a very competitive market where margins are razor thin, means some corners have to be cut. Much like the previous generation MT-09, the MT-25 lags a bit in the suspension arena.

Keep things under the highway speed limit and all is fine, the MT-25 corners reasonably well and tips in nicely when taking sharp corners. Let road speed move up though and the MT-25 makes its discomfort felt, with the back end wallowing slightly and the front feeling like there is way too much rebound happening.

The MT-25’s weight does help in this regard, somewhat, giving a planted feel when riding at high speed, near the top of the rev range. Changing direction quickly with the throttle pinned open needs to be given a little forethought as the MT-25 will slice and dice through the lanes, and quicker than you think it will.

Another thing lacking in the MT-25’s arsenal is the brakes. Despite having two-channel ABS (which worked just fine, meaning invisibly that you didn’t notice it), the MT-25 needs a bit more stopping power, especially in front.

Carving the canyons (pre-MCO 3.0 days) and grabbing a fistful of brake for corners repeatedly had the author wishing for… you know the brand name. Considering the MT-25 is designed for whippet weight jockeys weighing 50 kg or less, we decided our weight was giving the front brake too much of a workout.

Adding the rear brake into the mix improved things, somewhat, but we can tell you the MT-25 doesn’t like trail braking while heeled hard over. Get your braking over and done with while upright in a straight line, then tip it in and carry the corner speed.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

Which is what quarter-litre bikes are all about, after all. Pin the throttle, brake like mad, drop two gears and corner like your life depended on it. Which it does, because there is more fun riding a small bike fast, than a big bike slow.

Engine vibration was another issue, something we didn’t really notice on the R25 but made its presence known here. Enough vibration was felt through the handlebars and foot pegs to make us think of what might likely happen over really long distance journeys but this will have to be a story for another time, when cross border travel is allowed.

Speaking of travel, the 14-litre fuel tank allowed for us to go about 300-ish kilometres between fill ups, although we neglected to record detailed full consumption numbers. Let’s put it this way, you can ride for two hours before needing to stop for a break and fill the tank, which gets you to Ipoh in time for breakfast before continuing your journey.

REVIEW: 2021 Yamaha MT-25 – all the naked you need

So, who needs a Yamaha MT-25, which we dare say is a lot of fun, much like almost every other naked sports bike we ridden over the past five years? For the young rider, the MT-25 is an obvious choice and will teach the uninitiated things about corner speed and late braking.

More experienced young riders will appreciate the MT-25 for what it is, a well sorted small displacement bike suitable for multiple duties and around town use. For the author, who cut his teeth racing RD250s when most of you were not yet born, the MT-25 is indeed a worthy successor to the much vaunted RD250, and handles better to boot.

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