First ride video: MT-09 gets suspension it deserves, but is it the full SP?

Published: 16 February 2018

With its funky new Öhlins rear shock and reworked KYB forks, the MT-09 now has the poise to match its epic three-cylinder engine.

Here at its world launch in southern Portugal, this SP version of Yamaha’s uber-successful roadster doesn’t just handle better than the standard model, costing £8999 it’s only 800 quid more, making it the only MT-09 you really want, but it’s still not perfect…

More about that later, because right now let’s talk suspension, which on any motorcycle is everything. Cut corners with a shock, or a pair of forks and you’ll struggle to get around corners, ride quality goes out of the window and tyre grip goes down the pan.

MORE FIRST RIDES

That’s exactly what happened when Yamaha launched the original MT-09 at the back end of 2013. They got the rasping, grunt-packed 847cc inline triple spot-on, along with its lightweight cast aluminium chassis and the price, but the built-down-to-a-price KYB forks were harsh, over-damped and the rear shock bounced like a Carillion cheque when you pushed on.

Its poor suspension spoiled what should have been a great bike and a potential Triumph Street Triple-eater. An overly snatchy new ride-by-wire throttle system on that early bike didn’t help matters, either. 

None of that stopped that new MT-09 becoming an overnight success. Owners saw past its quirks and fell in love with its evocative exhaust note, thick spread of power, it’s supermoto-like agility, solid build quality and above all, value for money. The MT-09, along with the following year’s brilliant MT-07 was responsible for reversing Yamaha’s fortunes after years in the doldrums.

It got better because in 2014 Yamaha improved the throttle with a new map and for 2016 the MT-09 sprouted a three-stage traction control system, but its first major update came last year. As well as its new MT-10-aping insect face and LED headlights, the rasping roadster got a new quickshifter, an ‘Assist and Slip’ clutch, a redesigned tail unit with LED rear lights, a swingarm-mounted number plate hanger and a 5mm taller seat. 

Where the original MT-09 had its damping (rebound only) squished and constricted in its left fork leg and just a spring in the right, the 2017 MT-07 had compression and rebound damping spread between its pair of forks, smoothing-out their action. 

The new MT-09 SP takes those suspension mods up a notch, starting at the rear with a fully adjustable 46mm monotube Öhlins unit (which is also available as a £1092 accessory for the standard MT-09), featuring a handy remote preload adjuster. You can easily reach it on the move, if you fancy a twiddle when you’re riding along.

Its classy yellow spring is actually softer than the standard MT-09’s (95N/mm versus 99.96N/mm). It gives the SP a plusher overall ride and a big improvement in stability and damping control. No longer does the Yamaha do its best impression of an 80s FZR600 with a knackered shock, when you’re hard on the throttle.  

Up front 41mm KYB forks are now fully adjustable (including high and low speed damping) and have progressive springs: 6.86N/mm for the first 75mm of travel and 9.32N/mm for the rest of the stroke. The soft bit is for comfort and helping the tyre find grip and the hard bit for support under heavy braking.

Why no Öhlins up front? Well, it would push the price into MT-10 territory…

The new front end is an improvement over the standard MT-09 set-up and works best when you can load the forks up hard on dry, grippy roads, but they don’t match the plush feel of the Ohlins rear. The MT-09 SP lacks the velvety ride of even the standard MT-10 and doesn’t have the balance of the (admittedly bouncy) MT-07.

Sitting low at the back and high at the front, the SP’s bars kick in your hands over bumps under hard acceleration. Some of that’s down to the soft shock set up (Yamaha have deliberately done this, with zero preload, to maximise rear grip, at the expense of steering response), but MT-09s and Tracer 900s have always been on the nervous side at speed.

The front end lacks still feel in less than perfect conditions. Through slippery corners the MT is reluctant to turn and you feel you’re a breath away from losing the front. 

There’s no question the SP is crying out for the latest generation sports rubber (its standard Bridgestone S20s came out in 2012 – tyres have moved on hugely since then) and with the extra grip, stability and rider confidence they would give, the Yamaha would really shine.

But when conditions are right, an MT-09 has never been able to cover ground faster, or been more fun. Like its MT brothers and sisters the SP has a pathological appetite for name-your-distance wheelies, while singing its (slightly muted) gravelly three-cylinder tune from its underslung pipe.

Wide bars and a commanding riding position will help you make mincemeat of sportsbikes through spiralling switchbacks and while the throttle still has a kick to it when you first crack it open, the quickshift-assisted gearbox is notchy and the brakes a little wooden (but effective), it doesn’t spoil your fun.

Add in the flawlessly finished new paintjob, blue wheels and classy details like the Nanofilm-coated down pipes to stop discolouration and of course, that sexy Öhlins shock and the MT-09 SP becomes a lot of smiles for your money.

For just £800 more than the standard machine and cracking PCP deals available, the SP should always be the MT-09 to go for. Its new suspension lets you unlock even more potential from the Yamaha’s superb engine and chassis. But with its still-vague front end we reckon they should’ve gone for Öhlins at the front to match the rear and fitted stickier tyres. Then it would be the full SP.

Four stars from MCN

With the MT-09 finally receiving the suspension it deserves, we gave the Yamaha an overall four out of five stars in our review.

What we like

  • Much-improved rear shock control
  • Quality paintjob and attention to detail
  • Maniacal three-cylinder power
  • Huge fun in perfect conditions
  • Price 

What we don't like

  • Front end still harsh and lacks refinement
  • Lack of front grip and confidence in tricky conditions.
  • Needs stickier tyres to be a real SP

Yamaha’s big sports naked rival:

Triumph Street Triple – £9,100, 116bhp, 166kg (dry)

Triumph’s Street Triple R is the closest to the Yamaha for price and power. You get a full colour dash, Brembo calipers, traction control, rider modes, ABS and fully adjustable Showa boingy bits, but if you want the highest spec suspension on your Trumpet you’ll need to spend £10,100 on the RS version with its Öhlins rear shock and Showa Big Piston forks.

The new MT-09 SP has more of raw, aggressive upright supermoto feel than the slightly calmer Triumph. The Street Triple R has a better-balanced chassis, more front-end feel, higher spec rubber, dash and brakes.

We’ll be testing them head to head in the coming weeks…watch this space.

MT-09 SP facts

Price: £8,999

Engine: 847cc 12v inline triple

Frame: Cast aluminium diamond

Seat height: 820mm

Suspension: Fully adjustable 41mm KYB forks and Öhlins rear shock.

Front brake: 2 x 298mm front discs with four-piston radial calipers. 265mm rear disc with single-piston caliper. ABS

Colours: Silver/blue

Available: February 2018

Power: 113bhp@10,000rpm

Torque: 65ftlb @ 8500rpm

Kerb weight: 193kg

Tank capacity: 14-litres

PCP deal: £119/month

Cash price: £9139

Deposit: £1992.64

Annual mileage: 5000

APR: 8.9%

Optional final payment: £4396

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