It’s easy to understand why Yamaha has created this upmarket, SP-badged version of the MT-09.
There has always been the natural desire by Yamaha to expand the family of 847cc, three-cylinder models. The standard MT triple has been a big success since its launch four-and-a-half years ago and, along with the two-cylinder MT-07, it has led the rebuilding of Yamaha’s reputation as a dynamic manufacturer, selling roughly 40,000 units in Europe alone, and spawning follow-up models including the retro XSR900 and sports-touring Tracer 900 along the way. The powerplant is even shared with the innovative Niken three wheeler, which will be with us later this year.
An SP model was the obvious choice for the next step, not least because last year’s MT-10 SP has also been a hit. The hotted-up four-cylinder streetfighter sold over half as many units as the basic model, despite costing considerably more. Similarly, in the super-sports sector the R1M has generated both sales and prestige as a more exotic variant of the YZF-R1.
And although Yamaha would prefer not to shout about it, an MT-09 SP makes particular sense because in the triple’s case there’s an obvious area to address. The standard MT-09 has always been built to be competitively priced in the showroom and, back in 2013, the original MT-09’s stunning blend of performance and price meant that its sharp throttle response and basic, under-damped suspension were mostly overlooked.
The throttle issue was quickly addressed with a remap, and last year’s more comprehensive redesign included fresh suspension as well as fresh styling, LED lights, a quick-shifter and lighter-action clutch. But while handling was undoubtedly improved, the feeling lingered that the MT’s suspension still didn’t quite match the quality of the rest of the bike.
So when Yamaha announced this upmarket, SP version of the triple, few were surprised that its key components were uprated suspension. Up front, the 41mm Kayaba forks are replaced by more sophisticated units from the same Japanese firm, now containing dual-rate springs, and fully adjustable for both high- and low-speed compression damping as well as preload and rebound damping.
In the tradition of Yamaha’s SP models the rear shock comes from Öhlins, being an adapted version of the Swedish specialist’s fully adjustable aftermarket unit, complete with a remote preload knob below the seat. Yamaha considered fitting Öhlins at both ends, but didn’t because that would have meant adding another grand to the cost of the bike. A semi-active set-up like the MT-10 SP’s was swiftly discounted for the same reason.
In fact the desire to maintain a keen price even with this up-spec’d SP model ensured that other mods are basically cosmetic. The Yam gets “Silver Blu” paintwork, similar to that of the MT-10 SP and R1M, plus blue wheels and blue seat stitching. It also has black handlebar and levers; and its LCD instrument panel’s colours are inverted to white on black.
The rest of the bike is just like the standard model. There’s no change to that ultra-torquey 12-valve triple engine, super-light aluminium frame (fully-fuelled weight is just 215kg), or the upright, roomy riding position dictated by the wide, slightly raised one-piece bar, broad seat and reasonably low-set footrests. The radial, four-pot front brake calipers and Bridgestone S20 tyres that the MT has worn all along are also retained.
And if that doesn’t sound like a huge shopping list of upgrades, payback comes when we get to the till. At £8999 the MT-09 SP costs only £800 more than the stock triple, and is far less expensive than even the standard MT-10, which is £11,299. (The MT-10 SP is in a completely different league at £13,999.). It’s also over a grand less than Triumph’s stunning Street Triple RS, one of its key competitors.
Despite that, the SP’s advantage is easy to appreciate. Straight-line performance is unchanged, as you’d expect – and just as addictively entertaining as the standard model’s. The Yamaha revs rapidly through the box towards its limit of about 11,000rpm, aided by the reliable quick-shifter which, like the standard model’s (and even the MT-10’s) works on up-changes only.
Such is the low-rev punch that you’re rarely tempted to cane it that hard, because the Yam pulls from 4000rpm with effortless enthusiasm, hoiking its front wheel up when requested in the lower gears, even when the two-way adjustable traction control is on. The Standard ride mode gives good throttle control, with the sharper, slightly abrupt A for straight-line laughs and the softer B a useful option for slippery conditions.
Which ever the mode or rider’s mood, you get the benefit of the Öhlins shock’s superior quality and damping control over the rear wheel’s 142mm of travel. When accelerating hard out of a turn, the SP was distinctly more stable, without the tendency to squat and flap its bars like the standard MT and XSR900 tend to do.
It even felt better at a steady pace when, with preload backed off using the easily accessible remote knob below the seat, the shock delivered a plush ride that made the broad, flat seat seem improbably comfortable. The spring is slightly softer than the standard MT’s but stiffer, better regulated compression damping improves ride quality as well as control.
The front end also worked well and is a notable step up on the standard MT’s. With an unchanged 137mm of travel, the forks are generously sprung by naked bike standards. One or two riders felt that still resulted in some vagueness, especially after the launch bikes’ reduced shock preload (set that way due to the bumpy roads, Yamaha said) had taken weight off the front end.
With a bit more shock preload quickly dialled-in to raise the rear end, I thought the SP’s front-end feel was excellent, especially with some added low-speed compression damping to firm-up the front under braking. On twisty Portuguese roads, where we attended Yamaha’s world press launch,
the bike could be cranked through smooth turns at a very decent rate, making use of its generous ground clearance and capable, if unexceptional, Bridgestones.
Plenty of owners are likely to fit stickier rubber and take to the track, and why not? The SP has the legs and adjustability to be well up to the job. It finally brings the chassis up to the level of that awesome powerplant, and does so without departing from the value-for-money ethos that helped make the triple popular in the first place. In best MT-09 tradition, that extra £800 for the SP version looks like money well spent.
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled transverse triple|
|Bore x stroke||78 x 59.1mm|
|Maximum power||113bhp @ 10,000rpm|
|Maximum torque||87.5N.m @ 8500rpm|
|Front suspension||41mm telescopic, 137mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||Single shock, 142mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Fuel tank||14 litres|
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