If there’s one bike that sums up Yamaha’s return to form in the last few years, it’s the MT-07. From the moment the 689cc parallel twin was launched in 2014, its combination of punchy engine, agile chassis and ultra-competitive price has made it hugely popular, resulting in total worldwide sales of over 120,000 units, and over 16,000 in Europe alone in each of the last four years.
Perhaps Yamaha’s only problem in trying to maintain that momentum was deciding what to change for the updated 2018 version. After all, the MT has been a success because it ticked every important box, and didn’t have any major weakness. But as I threw a leg over the updated MT to start the final leg of its launch ride in the hills near Malaga in southern Spain, I realised that I’d subconsciously confirmed that the main, invisible change that Yamaha has made has been well worthwhile.
Four years ago, on the original model’s launch in Lanzarote, the first thing I’d done on reaching the morning coffee stop was dig out a C-spanner from under the seat and give the rear shock several extra clicks of preload, which improved but didn’t completely cure its slightly soft and bouncy feel. This latest MT, by contrast, had handled so much better that here I was, setting off on the last leg without having needed to tweak the suspension.
Whether most of the other changes are effective or not you can decide for yourself, because they relate to the styling that helps give this middleweight of Yamaha’s naked family a slightly closer visual connection to its MT siblings. There are new front and rear lights; reshaped front mudguard, dummy air-scoops and radiator surrounds; and new rear “winglets” that can be unbolted to allow accessory grab-handles.
Personally I’m not convinced that the new look is better than the old, but either way the angular styling contributes to the MT models’ aggressive, “Dark Side of Japan” image. The one slightly more significant design change is the new seat, which has less of a gap between its rider’s and pillion’s sections, and gives marginally more room, in conjunction with a fuel tank that has been made 10mm shorter.
The slightly raised one-piece handlebar is now finished in black, so there’s some change to the rider’s view, although disappointingly you still have to press buttons on the instrument panel to toggle the display, rather than using a switch on the bars. The left bar’s switchgear also has a rubber bung over a redundant hole, which looks a bit cheap.
Inevitably the stubby exhaust’s note is pretty muted, too, but once under way the MT comes alive just as it always has, feeling lively and effortlessly controllable. There are no alternative fuel maps (or traction control, which would be more useful), just a generously broad spread of torque and plenty of smooth top-end shove from a motor that makes an unchanged maximum of 74bhp at 9000rpm.
That flexibility makes the Yamaha very easy to ride, as do its light weight, reasonably low seat and respectable amount of steering lock. The bike pulls crisply from low revs, then picks up the pace in the midrange, allowing overtaking with just a lazy twist of throttle in top, and no need to flick down through the sweet-shifting six-speed box.
There’s enough instant grunt for effortless wheelies on the throttle if you’re in the mood, and for a top speed of close to 120mph. It’ll cruise happily at 80mph plus, though inevitably the exposed riding position would make high speeds tiring before long. Not that this was a problem on mostly twisty roads, on a warm February day that made southern Spain seem a very long way from the frozen UK.
If the MT’s engine was originally the star attraction, the chassis is now an even better match for it. The Yam’s weight of just 182kg fully fuelled has always been a major attribute, along with the steel frame’s stiffness, and steering geometry that is sufficiently steep to give sporty yet respectably stable handling, even with suspension from the low-budget section of Kayaba’s catalogue.
This latest MT gets substantially firmer units from the same firm, starting with 41mm forks with a reduced 130mm of travel (from 137mm), springs that are 6% stiffer, and an extra 16% of rebound damping. There’s an even bigger change to the shock, whose 11% stiffer spring is matched by 40% more high-speed compression damping and 27% more rebound.
The good news is that this time Yamaha has got the rates pretty much spot-on. The MT immediately felt better controlled, whether it was accelerating without a hint of the old model’s slightly soggy rear-end feel, or braking hard with the firmed-up front end giving light, neutral steering along with distinctly more feedback and confidence. There’s now scope to adjust the shock’s rebound damping as well as preload, but for normal solo use neither was required.
Better still, despite being firmer the Yam still has very decent ride quality. The only time I’d have been glad of a softer rear end was when briefly riding over cobbles through the old town of Ronda, but most bikes would have struggled with that. Even hitting a fair-sized pothole at speed on the main road shortly afterwards didn’t jar my wrists as much as expected.
One or two riders on the international press launch weren’t convinced by the Bridgestone BT023 tyres, but I didn’t have any problems with them even on a few shaded and slightly damp sections of road. The 180-section rear, in particularly, is wide for a bike in this class and gave enough grip to get the footrest tips down in the dry, which requires a fair bit of lean given the slim Yamaha’s generous ground clearance. The front brake was adequately, if not outstandingly, powerful too.
One of the great appeals of the MT-07 is that it has always been very manageable for shorter riders. I’m not sure the new seat made much difference, but didn’t feel cramped despite me being tall. Two-up touring would be a stretch, but there’s a fair bit of legroom, while the unchanged, 805mm seat height is low enough to still make the Yamaha manoeuvrable for smaller riders.
Another thing that hasn’t changed, despite the reshaped fuel tank area, is the 14-litre capacity. Most owners average 50mpg or better, giving a realistic range of around 140 miles. As before there are heaps of accessories to add style or practicality, including screens, heated grips, luggage and a 12V socket as well as engine covers, billet aluminium parts and an Akrapovic silencer.
Inevitably extras would add to the cost, but at £6349 the basic MT-07 is still very competitively priced. It’s surely set to keep selling in large numbers, leaving Yamaha to try and figure out just how they’re going to improve it further in future, while leaving its essential blend of edgy style, lively performance, agile handling and value for money intact.
Yamaha MT-07 (2018)
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled parallel twin|
|Bore x stroke||80 x 68.6mm|
|Maximum power||74bhp @ 9000rpm|
|Maximum torque||51 lb-ft (68N.m) @ 6500rpm|
|Front suspension||41mm telescopic, 130mm travel|
|Rear suspension||Single shock, 130mm wheel travel, rebound damping adjustment|
|Kerb weight||182kg (full tank)|
|Fuel tank||14 litres|
Photos: Alessio Barbanti & Jonathan Godin
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