The 2016 Yamaha MT-09 takes very little time to confirm that its raw character hasn’t changed a bit. When you press the starter the 847cc three-cylinder engine comes to life with an eager, quick-revving feel and a raspy sound from the stubby silencer.
Moments later you’re tearing up the road and the naked 2016 Yamaha MT-09 blend of lively performance, effortless agility and sweet-revving character is reminding you why it has been so popular since its launch in late 2013. But equally, if you’re familiar with the original MT-09 you don’t need long to realise that there is something distinctly different about this updated model. Its manners are subtly but distinctly improved; its throttle response notably smoother.
It’s no surprise that the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 feels good, because few bikes of recent times have made such a positive impression as the triple whose launch began Yamaha’s recent revival. That original naked MT has sold over 20,000 units and spawned Street Rally and Sport Tracker variants as well as the successful sports-touring Tracer.
But the original MT-09’s throttle response was distinctly sharp; sufficiently so to make all but the softest of the three engine modes too abrupt. And its suspension didn’t match the quality of the rest of its chassis, especially up front where the fairly long-travel forks sometimes gave a slightly vague feel. Since then Yamaha has made modifications in both areas with the Tracer, which also introduced a traction control system on its arrival last year. And the firm gave the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 a new fuelling map for 2015 which it offered to existing owners for free.
Now this latest version comes with what is essentially the Mk3 map, plus a two-way adjustable traction control system for the first time. The changes work: as before there are three riding modes; the Standard that is set when the bike is turned on, plus a sharper A and softer B modes.
In Standard, throttle response is instant without feeling snatchy. The other riding modes were worth having, too, though A is still aggressive enough that I’d probably only ever bother with it if I was on a dull road and needed an occasional jolt of more extreme acceleration. The softer B is potentially more useful in bad weather or even just in town.
The 2016 Yamaha MT-09 new traction control system also works well. The more intrusive Level 2 cuts power smoothly but noticeably on hard acceleration out of corners, and could be valuable in slippery conditions. But most of the time I left the system on Level 1, which added some cornering security without marring the performance.
Some more powerful super-naked bikes can beat the 2016 Yamaha MT-09’s top speed of about 140mph, and plenty are better suited to covering distance even at half that speed, but the triple’s ever-eager performance is addictive.
The same goes for its handling, which was better than I recall the old model’s being, although Yamaha insists there’s been no change to the suspension. Maybe not, and it’s certainly true that the launch bikes had been fine-tuned from standard settings, with most of the fork preload wound off, and rebound damping increased almost as far as possible. Doing the same thing had improved the original model on its launch, but not as much as this.
Whatever the reason, the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 handled very well, matching its still-impressive lightness and agility with a respectable amount of front-end feedback and control. Weighing just 191kg with fuel was as advantageous as it always has been. The bike could be flicked into the hairpins with a light nudge of the fairly broad one-piece handlebar, and carved through with the forks feeling reassuringly taut, given that they still have a generous 137mm of travel.
The rear shock gives an unchanged 130mm and coped with bumpy roads, yet retained a well-damped feel when the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 was cornering hard enough to give its Bridgestone S20 tyres some work. Braking was satisfactory, the four-piston calipers giving heaps of power, and the ABS occasionally cutting in during hard braking. It can be very useful but isn’t quite up with the best systems.
There’s no change to the rest of the bike, unless you include the new Night Fluo colour scheme that emphasises Yamaha’s Dark Side of Japan marketing image by combining black paintwork with luminous yellow wheels. You still get the small but informative instrument panel; the near-50mpg economy and 120-plus mile range; the slim dual-seat that can be combined with accessories – including a fly-screen, comfort seat, hard luggage and an electrical socket – to make the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 an all-rounder.
The £7349 price still hasn’t changed, which means that the 2016 Yamaha MT-09 is not just more refined and controllable but also even better value. The naked triple has matured, without losing the raw character and sense of fun that made it a hit in the first place.
2016 Yamaha MT-09 Specs & Price
Engine : 847cc, Liquid-cooled, Inline-triple
Power : 113bhp (85kW) @ 10.000 rpm
Torque : 65lb-ft (87.5Nm) @ 8.500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, chain final drive
Frame : Aluminium twin spar
Front Brakes : 2 x 4-piston radial calipers, 298mm disc
Rear Brakes : Single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front Tyres : 120/70 ZR17
Reat Tyres : 180/55 ZR 17
Seat height : 815mm
Fuel capacity : 14 litres
Kerb weight : 191 kg
Price : £7349