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MCN Fleet: 5000 miles with the Yamaha MT-09 SP

Published: 28 August 2018

Update 2: 5000 miles has proven that the MT-09 SP is far more than just a middleweight naked

100 miles

The SP looks stunning for a £9k bike. This is the performance version of the MT-09 with a fully-adjustable KYB fork and Öhlins shock. I’ve always been impressed with the MT-09’s power delivery so it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like with proper suspenders.

125 miles

That set-up needs some work. There’s nothing wrong with the suspension’s quality; it’s just that the standard settings are too stiff. This affects stability and doesn’t allow enough weight transfer for good feel. The recommended soft settings are dialled-in and work well on the road. The rear shock’s preload, rebound and compression can be adjusted by hand, but you need a 4mm allen key, two spanners and a screwdriver for the front.

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626 miles

Time for the first service. Running- in hasn’t been a hardship. Even limited to 6000rpm there’s enough grunt to blast past traffic. However,  the chain needs adjusting, slipping 10mm over the maximum free play.

971 miles

I lend it to a photographer on an MCN sister title who promptly knocks it off its sidestand. The damage is: £163 crankcase cover, £80 oil tank cover, £24 indicator, £57 front brake lever and £49 r/h mirror. That’s £373 and, if you go to a dealer, at least two hours to fit.

1476 miles

Its first trackday at Cadwell is glorious thanks to its light steering, and the eminently-usable 847cc triple. I’ve just fitted new Michelin Power RS tyres which work well, giving loads of grip and resulting in duffed pegs everywhere. Trackday riders should opt for Yamaha’s £335 rearsets. I also try a KTM 790 Duke, but the Yamaha has better fuelling and a stronger engine.

3012 miles

I’ve ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats in a day for charity. That’s 909 miles, no motorways and 19 hours of riding. The SP was surprisingly comfortable for a naked bike: wind protection is good at 70mph and the tank good enough for 140 miles between fill-ups. Average mpg is 52.3.

The Yamaha MT-09SP arrives in Scotland

3602 miles

I arrive home having covered 2000 miles in three days. Eight hours of it is night riding and the MT-09’s LED headlights are among the best I’ve used. My neck’s sore from the windblast but the SP has delivered impressive comfort. I’m back on the bike the next day.

34329 miles

I try Yamaha’s comfort seat, a £251 option. It’s wider by about 30mm, and taller by about 10mm, but doesn’t actually give extra comfort and it chafes your inner thighs.

4973 miles

A week off has given me more time with the SP. We spend it charging along B-roads, revelling in the power delivery and it culminates in a track day. It’s impressed: the control and feel from the new suspension has broadened the MT’s appeal from post-test chariot to a bike that can satisfy any rider.


Update 1: The first 4000 miles with the MT-09 SP

Light, nimble and economical, Yamaha’s MT-09 has proven to be a great long-term companion, so far.

The last 4000 miles have proved Yamaha’s premium middleweight to be fast, frugal and most importantly, fun. Introduced this year as a halo version of Yamaha’s three-cylinder naked range, it offers great value for the more discerning naked addict.

At £9199, the SP is just £800 more expensive than the Yamaha MT-09, but for that you get smart blue and silver paint (not all grown-ups like fluro), fully-adjustable decent-spec KYB fork and an Öhlins rear shock.  

It’s a compelling package, and time in the saddle have proven its equal worth as a commuter, B-road tool and track bike.

The MT-09 SP offers the best recipe for fun

Minimal mass, a torquey, responsive motor and quality suspension are always the best recipe for fun. At a measured 196kg fully-fuelled, it’s only half-a-tank of gas heavier than a Triumph Street Triple 765 RS, but its slight capacity advantage more than makes up for it. It’s only above 9000rpm that it loses anything to the more highly-tuned Triumph.

Once I’d softened up the suspension (the stock settings are abysmal), on congested B-roads where I seem to spend most of my time the bike delivers sublime ride quality and the most neutral, confident steering. It’s confidence-inspiring skills brings out the best and worst in your riding.

As a sportsbike refugee with more than 100,000 miles on Yamaha R1s, BMW S1000RRs, Ducati Panigales and Kawasaki ZX-10Rs, it’s surprising that the SP has made me rethink my love of ludicrously-powerful sportsbikes. That 847cc triple is an off-beat pleasure and the hardening of its engine note as it drives though the midrange into a wailing top-end is addictive. And you can get much closer to using its potential than any sports 1000.

The MT-09 SP's daily performance

Bikes like the Yamaha MT-09 are used as commuters and in this role, it excels as it is light, nimble and very economical. The riding position is perfect for weaving in and out of traffic and that warbling, aggressive power delivery allows you to nip though gaps and despatch lines of traffic with arrogance and ease.

An average fuel consumption of 48.7mpg means a range of 130 miles. Predictably, wind protection is pretty poor, but if that bothers you, buy an aftermarket screen, or a Yamaha Tracer 900.

How the MT-09 SP offers total enjoyment...

The SP combines a devil-may-care attitude with a brilliant engine and a level of finish that’s very impressive for the price-point. If you’re an experienced rider, some middleweight bikes can feel like they’re talking down to you, but not this one.

But it’s not perfect out of the box. To realise its potential, you need to bin those stock tyres and back off the suspension to soften up its action. Neither thing is a big hardship, although Triumph’s Street Triple is fine straight from the showroom.

Just a few little tweaks are enough to make it a proper, do-it-all bike – for wherever your riding takes you.

Three things I've learned about the Yamaha MT-09 SP

1. The tiny, off-centre digital dash provides all the information you could need, from mpg (it’s accurate to within 1.5 mpg) to ambient air temperature. And it feels classy without the expense of a TFT dash pushing up the price. However, it could do with a shift light and the constantly-illuminated quickshifter light is unnecessary.

2. The tyres aren’t great in the damp and cold, but on summer roads they’re not that bad. However, they shouldered at just 1500 miles and the loss of profile ruined the handling. The new Michelin Power RS tyres are a huge improvement.

3. The excellent KYB fork is adjustable for high and low-speed comp as well as rebound, while the Öhlins STX46 even has a remote preload adjuster. The ride-quality and feel at both ends is impressive and Yamaha’s ‘soft’ settings (in the manual) are ideal for B-road Britain.

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