2021 Yamaha MT-09 - Long-term review

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review long term details price_30

BikeSocial’s MT-09 long termer, still waiting for it’s suspension to be adjusted

 

The first thought is ‘Wow, was that the mid-life crisis?’ Closely followed by ‘I really must get around to adjusting this suspension.’ Again.

I’ve never liked the term mid-life-crisis. Getting old is about being wiser, more experienced and resisting juvenile peer pressure. It’s not a crisis, it’s just a moment of reflection and maybe one last chance to get giddy before the grandkids arrive.

Except I just found myself definitely-not racing on a public road with another (probably) similarly aged male rider on some kind of bright orange KTM who was also definitely-not racing. For what was only about four miles on a particularly challenging Sussex B-road we were close-on wheel-to-wheel, flicking left and right, overtaking and then re-overtaking, not making any kind of acknowledgement that the other was there, until I got lucky with some traffic and put a half-decent gap between us that he, intelligently, was not prepared to risk. Because we weren’t racing…obviously.

Weirdly, the same thing happened a few months ago on an MT-07. What is it with these ‘dark-side’ Yamahas?

Long term testing of motorcycles is one of my favourite things. On a press launch there are a dozen of you all riding the same machine, so it’s entertaining, but there’s no reference point to properly judge the performance. Once we are back in the UK you can judge a bike against the same things you always judge it against, trucks, hot hatches, many other types of bikes and sometimes, just your favourite road.

The long-term bit is important because some bikes need a while to get under your skin. Or for the novelty of their shoutiest bits to wear off and the hidden gems appear. This encounter, as childish as it may have been became part of the test. As close to full throttle as I’ve been on the MT-09. Starting to use (and trust) the many forms of electronic assistance too. Having the bike flicking sideways, moving around, bars wagging, front lifting, back-end bouncing, increasingly out of control (I really must adjust that suspension) while air intake and exhaust are making the kind of rasping noises that remind any rider why we do it. I’m not proud, but right now I don’t half feel alive.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review long term details price_13

Lots of business miles this month. They weren’t all to pubs

 

That’s not me, by the way. I don’t do this sort of thing – usually. I am the stereotypical stealthy, calm, controlled, unflustered rider. Boring, you might say. Seriously, I don’t know what came over me, except last week the same thing happened coming home from the office on the motorway.

That journey was a solo effort at being a moron. Later setting-off than I expected, aiming for a time when I’d promised to be home, using the Yamaha’s agility to split dawdling traffic in all kinds of ‘the wrong lane’. To an observer it looks reckless, but to the rider it’s a series of well-timed, calculated flicks and snicks with minimal risk and always room to spare.

Calling bikes like the MT-09 a hooligan machine is lazy journalism that should be punishable by something I haven’t thought of yet. I’m sorry. And it is perfectly possible to ride the 2021 MT-09 sensibly and still enjoy it. The 160-mile trip on the way up to the office last week was gentle, calm, very grown-up and returned 67mpg while taking no longer than most other bikes. Apart from the thinly padded seat making its presence felt after two hours, I was happy, comfy and reasonably refreshed.

The day before my ‘definitely-not-a-race’ mentioned above, I met up with Jeff from Yamaha UK to talk me through the MT’s electronics. The 2021 MT-09 received a serious kick-up the rider-aids package. Based on the 6-axis IMU from Yamaha’s YZF-R1 superbike. IMU stands for Inertial Measurement Unit – a device like a clever electronic gyroscope that understands how fast and how far leant over your bike is and what’s happening with wheel speeds and position in space.

This funky gadget allows the 2021 MT-09 to control traction control, slide control (side-to-side movement), lift control (not the same as anti-wheelie, more about ‘how high would you like to go before I intervene?’) and two levels of ABS – basic and full-on cornering ABS too. No one in Woking knows more about these things than Jeff. It was a fascinating conversation, watch the video below to learn everything you need to know.

 

2021 Yamaha MT-09 Electronics setup explained by an expert
Badge

If you want to know how all the electronics work (and how to work the electronics) on Yamaha’s 2021 MT-09, the best person to ask is a man from Yamaha. So that’s what we did. He explained to us how to access the menus, and set up the ABS, traction control, wheel-lift control (not the same as anti-wheelie), slide control riding modes.

 

It was that demonstration that gave me huge confidence in the MT’s abilities to be definitely-not-raced like a mid-life fool, which is where we came in 562 words ago.

What I really like about the Yamaha though is how it swaps Mr-Responsible easy-riding for something much more anti-social in a split-second. In riding-mode ‘1’ the throttle response is so direct, so sharp and so utterly-flipping brilliant that all it takes is a tap down on the quickshifter, the slightest flick of a wrist and suddenly you’re very glad indeed that the earth is round, because the horizon is a lot closer than it used to be and even your peripheral vision is focused on the ‘flippin’-fast-approaching’ point, which is the rarely discussed evil twin of the better-known vanishing point. Knowing what I now know about the electronics brings a lot of extra confidence to keep the throttle open when things start looking wonky. Should I be admitting this?

But that same direct engine-mode is also capable of subtle, gentle motorway cruising or urban commuting with a dollop of usable overtaking power available with an instinctive twist of the wrist.

Even in the wet I still find mode 1 the easiest to control, helped no doubt by the safety net of those clever electronics.

And there’s been a lot of wet-weather riding recently, which brutally reminds us why we all bought bikes with fairings when when most of us rode motorcycles every day. Funky, naked roadsters might be cool with their minimalist and challenging styling (I love how the MT’s air intakes remind me of a VMax), back-to-basics nature and ‘let’s all focus on the engine’ attitude. But when you leave a meeting in Hertford, with 80 miles to ride home and it’s chucking it down, it’s only a matter of miles before you remember how good a full fairing is at keeping the rider comfortable and their motorcycle clean.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review long term details price_22

Is it just me or do those air intakes remind anyone else of a Vmax?

 

For all that soggy misery, the MT’s wet-weather performance is superb. It finds grip where it needs to, has enough subtlety in the controls to still give the rider the impression that he’s dancing nimbly, not ploughing with some kind of clumsy tractor. The brakes are progressive, throttle response (still in Mode-1) is, er, responsive, allowing the most gentle tweaks with absolute precision and the water running down my neck does a good job of distracting from the hard seat, playing havoc with an ageing, boney backside being pummelled by suspension that I really must get around to adjusting. 

That’s a job for next week. In the meantime, I’ll be in the shed cleaning the MT (again).

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review long term details price_05

Teeny new headlight splits opinion but lights up the road impressively.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_31

 

Yamaha’s MT-09 has grown-up. Launched as a low-priced, high-value, reasonably spec’d 110bhp naked/ supermoto hybrid-type thing, the original MT had plenty of power, basic electronic controls, suspension that struggled to cope with the power delivery and a lot of potential for upgrades.

2017’s update improved the much-grumbled-about suspension, making it easier for the bike and rider to agree on what line they were taking through a corner, while adding some control over bumps too.

The 2021 bike has significant changes. An all-new frame, new front forks and further refinement to its setting. That new frame is every bit as influential in the MT’s handling as the new suspension, controlling stiffness and flex on bumpy back roads as the bike turns and straightens. The new forks are shorter in length (because the all-new frame has a headstock design that required it) but with the same amount of travel. And you might also argue that having a full set of electronic rider aids also impacts the handling and rider’s priorities when tweaking the settings because you can use the electronics to control the bike in corners as well as the suspension.

At least I think you can. My brain isn’t as big as I’d like it to be and I worry that it might already be full. But, having had an explanation last month from the man at Yamaha of what the MT’s electronics can do, when I finally got round to setting up the suspension for my riding style, I couldn’t help but wonder how the digital bits interact with the bouncy bits.

Before we get into the settings, allow me to explain my thinking.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_32

Motorcycles do many more things in more different directions than cars. Understanding how suspension fits in with that is complex. Pay attention at the back

 

Motorcycle suspension made simple

Motorcycle suspension has two functions. The first is comfort; soaking up the bumps and keeping the rider happy and the bike on two wheels at all times. Roadholding is an older term for this and one that describes it well.

The other job suspension does is make the bike easier to control during cornering. Specifically, it works hard on the way into a corner as you apply the brakes, release them and steer. In the middle of a corner when the bike is leant over, suspension doesn’t do much because, as a very clever suspension engineer once reminded me, when the bike is at an angle, any bump that you hit will have more of a deflection your forks and swing arm than compression of suspension. In the middle of a corner then, it’s the ratios of stiffness of your forks, frame and swing-arm that determine how your bike feels and their relative amounts of twisting and deflection under load determine your pupil:spincter width-ratio.

Pulling the bike upright and getting on the gas as you exit the corner is where the suspension comes into play again, keeping both wheels on the ground and in line. As a road rider my view has always been that if you set the bike up to be right in the corners it will probably feel balanced and comfortable on the straights. Racers will argue, but comfort isn’t a priority.

What’s really important though is that a setting that works for me, based on my riding style will very likely be different to what works for you or your mum because, as road riders we all brake at slightly different times, with slightly different force and turn in to a corner more or less aggressively than each other.

That’s why you should always adjust your suspension to get the best from your bike…for you and remember that the standard settings from the factory are a compromise designed to be sort-of OK for the majority of riders. There’s nothing to be frightened of. You can always put it back to standard and start again if you don’t like it.

And the electronics? My hunch is that, where in the past I’d be looking to set a bike up to be strong at the front into corners and predictable at the back coming out of them, now, with rider aids such as slide and lift control, I have other ways of moderating the bike when it counts. A suspension setting that works better for comfort and roadholding than keeping the back end in line on corner exits might be fine because that’s what the slide control does.

I have no idea if any of that makes sense. Only one way to find out.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_14

The original MT-09 had some urban-supermoto pretensions. This one is much more of a sharp-steering, sophisticated naked sports bike

 

How does the 2021 Yamaha MT-09 suspension behave?

On standard setting with this 13 stone rider onboard the MT mostly feels ok. It’s reasonably comfy over bumps, the front-end dives predictably and consistently when you brake and feels predictable as you come off the brakes into a corner.

The steering can feel a bit ponderous in slow corners or urban roundabouts. Occasionally it feels like you’re pedalling the front wheel of a child’s tricycle with your hands rather than steering it side to side. The bike runs wide in tighter corners and the back end kicks me out of the seat on bumpy roads more often than I’d like.

My hunch is that there’s not enough rebound damping on the front making the forks spring back a little too quickly when I release the brakes. Doing this briefly turns the MT-09 from a roadster into a chopper which is why it feels reluctant to turn.

I should add here that I’m one of those riders who prefers to approach the corner carefully and doesn’t brake much. But when I do use the brakes I tend to hold them on further into a turn than I should. It used to be dismissively called ‘comfort braking’ by the sporty types until Rossi and Marquez started calling it ‘trail braking’ which made it much cooler. Holding the brakes on, even gently, into a turn keeps the forks compressed for that little bit longer, meaning the point I release the brakes is pretty much right when I start turning.

When I ride softly-sprung cruisers I’ve learned to brake early, release early and give the bike time to settle on its springs before turning. But the MT-09 doesn’t get ridden like that.

Adding more rebound damping will reduce that chopper-transition. In the same way, adding more compression damping will reduce the forks’ dive on the brakes, giving them less distance to rebound in the first place.

All of which makes perfect sense to me.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_11

The perfect suspension testing corner. Downhill, changing camber, bumps, tightens on the apex and gravel that plays havoc with your lines.

 

2021 Yamaha MT-09 suspension adjustment

MT-09 suspension adjustment in practice

Setting up suspension needs the right stretch of road. I prefer a short-ish stretch of twisty, bumpy B-road, with many levels of broken and repaired surface. Some bumps, jumps and camber changes and, if possible the nightmare corner scenario – a tight, slow downhill hairpin approached at speed, that has ripples, bumps, potholes, a camber change and maybe occasional gravel too (so you can’t always take the perfect line).

I’m not telling you where my current one is because the locals of Plumpton, Ditchling and Lewes won’t thank me for it, but it has everything I need to set up a bike for the road.

The practicalities of setting up suspension are discussed in this article. Once you’re read it, you’ll understand how to do the adjustments mentioned below.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_45

Setting the front and rear springs to operate in the right zone for your build is possibly the most important part of suspension adjustment for road riders

 

Measuring sag and setting the preload

Step one; Measure the sag and preload the springs

Every suspension expert will tell you this is the most important adjustment. Almost every bike allows you to adjust rear preload and many allow the front too. How much the suspension moves when you sit on the bike really matters because it allows your springs to operate in the best range for your weight. What you are effectively doing is taking up the slack in the suspension that would have compressed when someone of your weight sits on the bike.

To set sag you’ll need a tape measure and an assistant. The idea is to measure a point between two parts of your front forks with and without you sat on the bike. And also, another point between the seat unit and rear wheel spindle. The difference in length (at both ends) when a rider is sat on the bike should typically be about 30-35mm on a road bike.

If the difference when sat on the bike is more than 35mm you need to add some preload to your forks and/or rear shock absorber. If the difference is less than 30mm you need to remove some preload. Most bikes have an adjustable collar at the base of the shock absorber that you turn with a C-spanner to add or remove preload from the spring. Some bikes have a remote preload adjuster where you simply turn a knob, others have electronically adjustable control from the menus.

Preload adjustment on the front forks will be via adjusters on the top of the fork legs that need a spanner (as opposed to the screwdriver adjustments – which control the damping).

Now you have the spring operating in its optimal range, it is time to fine tune the damping.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_28

The MT-09’s rear rebound damping adjuster is accessed through this port in the frame.

 

2021 Yamaha MT-09 damping adjustment

Try the extremes

It seems obvious, but I like to get an idea of the range of suspension feel available. So, I usually do a run or two at my testing road with everything on minimum, then everything on maximum and then with everything on halfway.    

All dampers on minimum

It feels like an MT-09 with ten years wear in the springs.

Unsurprisingly, with everything on minimum, the bike feels soft, but not out of control. In corners it feels imprecise, like it needs an extra six inches of road to make every turn. The front end is ok under most braking, but you can feel the dive and in the really tight turns it compresses so far as to steer like a racer on the brakes and then rebounds so quickly when you let off that it turns into a chopper. In the nightmare corner on my test route I’m having to work really hard to keep the bike on line as it comes off the brakes, while trying to avoid the gravel and get ready for the second part of the corner which tightens up. I can survive the corner, but it feels measurably slower than I know the bike is capable of.

All dampers on full

Not as bad as I imagined. It does feel taut and very sharp. You feel every bump and ripple. Combined with engine mapping Mode-1, the MT-09 feels very nervous and slightly twitchy, but still controllable, even without a steering damper. Yamaha appear to have given us a range of settings that make some noticeable difference, but without being so wide that you mess things up completely or make the bike unstable.

Braking into the nightmare corner on my test road is fine with everything on full, but the bike picks up the bumps and worn-out tarmac and feels like it is pumping down on the suspension (which happens when you have too much rebound damping and the suspension doesn’t recover fully from the last bump before hitting the next one).

Everything on half settings

Not surprisingly this is a compromise between the two settings above. It doesn’t quite feel linear though – not exactly halfway between (because my riding style is probably biased towards certain characteristics of the suspension). The front feels noticeably softer than the hardest settings, with more dive and faster rebound, but the back-end doesn’t feel that much different

Being able to adjust compression damping is probably more important at the front than the back because braking adds to the front end’s challenges. And we shouldn’t forget that when the front compresses, the rear needs to extend (rebound) at a similar rate or the back wheel will start to lift or skip.

Right now, on this road the front feels pretty good, with maybe just a bit too much movement on compression and rebound. The back end needs a little more rebound to tame the very slightest weave in a fast, long corner.

 

Yamaha MT-09 2021 - Review Price Spec Details_04

And this is what you are hoping for. At the end of a frantic afternoon, the rider is frazzled but the tyre’s worn evenly, close to the edge and looking like it’s having a particularly easy life

 

2021 Yamaha MT-09 suspension adjustment

Final settings

Front compression is on 10 out of 14 clicks, rebound is on 8 out of 14. Rear rebound is two clicks off maximum, which seems like a lot, but it works riding this road aggressively on a warm, summer day. The MT feels stiff and racey set-up like this – a long way from the loopy Supermoto-inspired handful on standard settings that may or may not be your cup of tea.

Of course, the real test of suspension set-up is the following day when you’re no longer riding the same road again and again, you’re still a bit sleepy and have 156 miles to ride.

Should I be surprised that the MT now feels too sharp, too harsh and is a little too sensitive to motorway ripples and overbanding? Of course, not because the reality of suspension – especially when you start fine-tuning it – is that any set-up which works on one particular road will be much less suited to a different one. That’s why some bikes have electronically adjusted suspension and other have semi-active units that respond to the road surface below.

For me, the MT-09 on these settings is worth a little discomfort on the motorway for the sharper response on back roads. Let’s see if I still feel the same in a month or two.

 

 

2021 Yamaha MT-09 spec

New price

£8999 otr

Capacity

889cc

Bore x Stroke

78x62.1mm

Engine layout

Inline three-cylinder

Engine details

DOHC, liquid cooled, 4v per cylinder

Power

117bhp (87.5kW) @ 10,000rpm

Torque

68.6 lb-ft (93Nm) @ 7000rpm

Top speed

140mph (est)

Transmission

6 speed, chain drive

Average fuel consumption

58mpg tested

Tank size

14 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

178 miles

Reserve capacity

no switchable reserve

Rider aids

Cornering ABS, Traction Control, Slide Control, Lift Control, up and down quick shifter, switchable riding modes.

Frame

Pressure die cast aluminium

Front suspension

41mm inverted fork

Front suspension adjustment

Preload, rebound and compression damping

Rear suspension

Rising rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload and rebound damping

Front brake

298mm discs, four-piston radial calipers

Rear brake

245mm disc, single piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 Bridgestone S22

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 Bridgestone S22

Rake/Trail

25°/108mm

Dimensions

2090mm x 790mm 1190mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1430mm

Ground clearance

140mm

Seat height

825mm

Kerb weight

189kg

Warranty

2 yrs unlimited mileage parts and labour

MCIA Secured rating

2/5 stars

Website

www.yamaha-motor.eu/gb