Test rides

Ride review: 2014 Yamaha MT-09

Yamaha MT-09

The Yamaha MT-09 (aka the Yamaha FZ-09) looks almost exactly the same as the Yamaha MT-07. It has a similar name and is targeted at the same young, urban audience. Internally, of course, it is quite different — being powered by a three-cylinder engine rather than a twin — but after getting stupid giddy for the MT-07, I had figured the MT-09 would be pure joy.

After all, some people insist a triple is the best of both worlds: the fun pull of a twin with the smoothness of an inline four. I’ll admit my experience with triples is limited, having only ever ridden that engine configuration during a long day on a Triumph Tiger Explorer XC, but it had instilled in me a respect for them. Firing up the MT-09, my heart was pounding in anticipation. 
“This is going to be a blast,” I thought.
I was wrong. The MT-09 manages to capture all of the negative aspects of the MT-07 with very few of the positives.
You, too, could look like a villain in a Captain America film.

The MT-09 is part of Yamaha’s “Dark Side” line of bikes, clothing and accessories aimed at, well, probably the same sort of demographic that the Honda NM4 is targeting. Or, perhaps the more hooligan side of that demographic: youngish people who live in large urban areas and have figured out how to ride their bikes in ways not taught in an MSF course. Indeed, when I visited the Dark Side Tour in Birmingham recently, Yamaha had a bike rigged up to teach people how to do wheelies.

Additionally, the tour featured a stunt rider doing burnouts, stoppies, wheelies, and donuts around a scantily clad model. The rider was dressed in all black, with a visor so dark you could not see his face. He was a sort of ninja with a motorcycle. It was all a bit silly, and , as I say, out of my personal personal demographic. But if you look at the success of moto-vloggers like Jake the Garden Snake or RoyalJordanian, it’s clear that being a faceless, slightly hooligan rider appeals to many people.

With its 850-cc engine delivering a whopping 115 horsepower, you’d think the MT-09 would be the ideal machine for hooligans of all variations, slight or otherwise. But the way in which that power is delivered ruins the experience.

I’ve read a few other reviews of the MT-09 since my ride and it appears that the problem is down to the MT-09’s fuel mapping. However, phrases like “fuel mapping” are too technical for me. I don’t know what it means. I spent a little time on Wikipedia trying to figure it out, but I still don’t feel I can legitimately discuss it without sounding like a child who has just learned a big word. So, my apologies for putting this in Big Dumb Chris terms: the MT-09 has different riding modes and none of them are all that great.

On the right handlebar of the MT-09 there is a little button that says “Mode.” Press it, and you will see a display on your dashboard switch between “A” “STD” and “B” modes. I’m assuming STD means “standard” rather than “sexually transmitted disease.”

In salesman speak, setting the bike in A mode results in a “sharp” throttle response. However, the word I would use is “jerky.” Really jerky. Really, really jerky. I’m guessing this sort of thing could be useful for people attempting wheelies from a dead stop, but for anyone hoping to get from one place to another it is annoying as hell. Increasing or decreasing throttle even the tiniest little bit results in your almost being thrown from the bike.

Not as cool as its little brother. 

Meanwhile, also in salesman speak, setting the MT-09 in B mode results in a “smooth” ride. I found that the actual word to be used for it is “boring.” With the press of a button, the hooligan-inspired MT-09’s ride was transformed into that delivered by my Honda CBF600.

My Honda is an inline four. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that. Straight four engines are renown for their smoothness, and the one in my Honda is wonderfully forgiving of accidental throttle blips or too-quick roll-offs. But as I’ve mentioned before, it lacks any sort of real character. There’s not a lot there to make you shout “woo!”

And still there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, either. Bland and smooth can be OK if it exists in a package that is useful — for instance, a bike that can take you long distances. But that’s not the case with the MT-09. Like its little brother, the MT-09 is quite tiny, has no weather protection, offers a passenger seat so minuscule it is only suitable for pre-teens and anorexics, and looks to have been designed by Pablo Picasso during his cubism phase.

By the way, the difference between B and STD modes was indistinguishable. I tried switching between the two in several different scenarios and genuinely could not sense a difference. Both modes turned the MT-09 into a CBF600. All three modes turned the MT-09 into a disappointment.

Other negatives included a dashboard that is not within your line of sight when riding, meaning you have to look down and take your eyes off the road to know your speed or RPM, etc. And I found the MT-09’s brakes to be a little too grabby. Possibly that feature, like the obnoxious A mode, is useful for performing stunts, but it creates an awkward situation when trying to come to a gentle stop.

For me, then, the MT-07 is the better bet. It gives you the same look while costing a lot less and offering up a hell of a lot more fun.

UPDATE: According to Motorcycle.com Yamaha has registered a trademark in the European Union for a sport-touring model based on the MT-09. This makes a lot of sense and the designs show a decent-looking machine, assuming the passenger seat is big enough for adult bottoms. I’m still not totally convinced on the look (that strange shard-of-glass windscreen, for example) but perhaps with some panniers it would look OK. If the price were right that might help one overcome the looks.