The middleweight sportbike class of motorcycles is one of the most hotly contested segments in the industry, and one with the most variety. Chock-full of machines that need to be everything to everybody, these motorcycles often runs the gamut of activities, from commuting, canyon riding, touring, and even the occasional track day.
Beyond being multifaceted machines that bring joy to our lives, the middleweight sportbike genre has several options that appeal to our wallets, such as the 2020 Yamaha MT-09—a class favorite that offers a whole lot of performance for $8999. Yamaha’s brilliant roadster has kept riders grinning ear to ear since it was introduced in 2014. Over its six-year tour of duty, the MT-09 received a few updates, in the form of upgraded suspension, ECU mapping, electronics, and appearance. However, it is mostly the same motorcycle that shook the class up a few years ago.
This year, BMW launched the F 900 R, a naked sport machine explicitly built to offer the kind of value that the Japanese manufacturers deliver. It’s no secret that BMW makes some of the most sophisticated motorcycles on the market, but that sophistication comes at a price that excludes many buyers. Outsourcing production of the 895cc parallel-twin engine to Loncin, China, is just one of the several ways that BMW has managed to keep the base price at a competitive $8995.
BMW wants to take on the Japanese in terms of price, but I was curious how it would compare on the road. So, I pitted the 2020 BMW F 900 R newcomer against the stalwart 2020 Yamaha MT-09. These two motorcycles are both in the middleweight naked sport class, but that’s about where the list of comparable traits ends, with some surprising results.
The moment you throw a leg over either of these machines, it becomes abundantly clear that BMW and Yamaha have radically different ideas of what a roadster should be.
Hopping aboard the F 900 R, and you’re met with a tight, compact cockpit with a sporty riding position. The R’s narrow chassis makes the 32.1-inch seat height of the BMW accessible to riders of a variety of sizes, and my 32-inch inseam was able to reach terra firma with ease. However, the seat to peg ratio is reminiscent of a superbike-based streetfighter, as the footpegs are positioned relatively high, causing noticeable knee-bend. Combined with a close reach to the handlebars, the F 900 R makes you feel as if you’re always ready to pounce at the next set of curves.
That aggressive rider triangle translates to a motorcycle that is particularly adept in the canyons. When riding with a furrowed eyebrow, it pays off in spades, as it allows you to wrestle the BMW into submission. Those same traits do make it taxing at lower speeds and in the city. You’ll never have to worry about dragging footpegs, though the rubber grip pads need to be done away with because they deform under the rider’s weight.
The Yamaha MT-09 takes an every-rider approach to ergonomics. While it has compromised a bit of sportiness in its riding position, it has happily made up for in the form of outright comfort. We’ll call it ‘sport casual’—a rider triangle that is a half-step forward of neutral, with plenty of legroom and a relaxed reach of the bars.
Though the MT-09 features a marginally higher 32.3-inch seat height, the rider is nestled in the chassis of the Yamaha, as opposed to atop it like the BMW, making it feel lower. The seat to peg ratio is much more expansive, increasing comfort in all environments. It won’t shy away from a good rip in the canyons, but you’ll need to be a little more conscious of your lean angle as you’re more likely to begin dragging footpegs due to their lower placement.
The saddles are noticeably different as well, with thin, firm foam being used on the BMW and relatively comfortable accommodations found on the Yamaha. The BMW does offer high and low seat option 30.3 to 34.1 inches, while the Yamaha does have a plushier Comfort Saddle available as a factory accessory.
New to the party is BMW 895cc parallel-twin, producing a claimed 99 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 67 ft-lbs at 6500 rpm. If you need a single-word description of the revamped p-twin, it is ‘tractable.’
The F 900 R features a 270/450-degree firing interval and 90-degree offset that offers far more charm than its F 800 R predecessor, while giving it some extra pep in its step. The revised firing order has become something of a popular trend in motorcycling, and I’m not complaining, as it makes the 900’s exhaust intriguing. Thanks to new dual counterbalancers, it doesn’t rattle your fillings out, either, unless you’re at the bitter of the rev-range and bouncing it off the limiter.
It revs up quickly and delivers a nice hit of torque right off the line that will help propel you off any apex. It’s a fun, easy-to-use engine with enough performance on tap to satiate most riders, and lets experienced riders exploit it completely. At the same time, it won’t overwhelm newer riders or the stout chassis. Great low-end, better-mids, and commendable top-end power, make the BMW’s powerplant an excellent piece of kit. Still, part of me wishes it was a tad more potent, creating more synergy between its stellar chassis and aggressive riding position.
The MT-09’s 847cc crossplane concept crankshaft CP3 triple-cylinder engine is one of the best in the business, and it’s part of why the MT-09 is so popular. While the BMW took a sensible approach to their powerplant, the MT-09 has made its bones by being a wickedly fun, ferocious, fast-revving triple that has one of the most exciting personalities on the market.
At the first crack of the throttle, the MT-09 springs to life, but the corks truly start flying around 5k rpm, where the MT’s claimed 113 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 65 ft-lbs of torque at 8500 rpm begin to bare its teeth. Yamaha Motor USA doesn’t cite specific performance numbers; however, with the power of the internet, we know that its UK counterparts do, and that’s where we grabbed those numbers.
Whack the throttle open, and you’ll hear a wonderful triple-cylinder howl, while the front end begins gently lofting. The BMW may have it beat on bottom-end, but when it comes to the mid and top-end power, it won’t be able to keep up, as it has significantly higher rev-ceiling. Take to the saddle of an MT-09, and you’d be hard-pressed not to be lured into discovering it for yourself.
Of course, don’t let that description fool you, the MT-09’s engine is great in the urban sprawl too, and will happily plod along if need be.
Both machines feature light clutch pulls, while the MT-09 has a friction zone that is much narrower and a bit more finicky. Also, the MT’s transmission isn’t as precise, while the BMW has tight, positive shifts at every flick of the shifter.
Technology, Rider Aids, and Dash
If shiny new gadgets are your thing, the BMW F 900 R is going to offer everything you’ve wanted and more. This is the one category where the Yamaha’s age is most apparent, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The MT-09 was developed long before the new F 900 R, and long before things like IMUs started becoming commonplace on motorcycles. What immediately jumps out is the F 900 R’s stunning, full-color TFT display in comparison to the MT-09’s minimalist LCD screen.
In either case, these machines offer ABS, traction control, and adjustable riding modes that rely on wheel-speed sensors and preset settings to determine intervention.
The MT-09 features three riding modes that only impact the throttle map; A, Standard, and B. The A mode is the most aggressive and quite snatchy, while Standard tame things a bit, though it still requires finesse. Mode B reduces power slightly and offers the smoothest throttle map, while not sacrificing enough punch to make me miss it. However, with Euro 5 emissions standards looming, we have to assume that this is a problem that may be remedied in a 2021 update.
The Yamaha’s two-level TC settings are more than enough for the street, with level 1 being the least restrictive and enough to lift the front end, while level 2 tamps things down. It’s not a ‘rain’ setting, but you could treat it as such. Although ABS is non-adjustable, it failed to give me any issues.
Meanwhile, the BMW’s standard riding modes of Rain and Road alter ABS, TC, and throttle maps in one fell swoop. Our test unit has the optional Ride Modes Pro feature, which offers a Dynamic throttle map that is decently sporty.
An added benefit of the optional Ride Modes Pro is the inclusion of an IMU, which imbues your F 900 R with lean-angle detecting ABS and TC for $350. This option unlocks Dynamic and Dynamic Pro. Dynamic Pro allows you to tailor ABS, TC, and wheelie control settings.
In practice, BMW’s electronics are aggressive when in Road or Dynamic. ABS and TC tended to intervene at less than impressive lean angles, and I settled on reducing things to their minimum in the Dynamic Pro menu. With that done, you’re left with an extremely competent package. Of course, IMU support falls under ‘better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it’ in my book.
Two paths truly diverge when we factor in the myriad of packages available on the F 900 R that we covered in our initial review. With every option installed, you’ll increase the price to $11,945.
Handling and Suspension
Perhaps the biggest strength of the BMW F 900 R is its unflappable chassis. The F 900 R is stout and balanced, and requires more effort to get onto the edge of the tire than the MT. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the geometry is wildly different from the Japanese contender, with an uncharacteristically long 59.8-inch wheelbase of and an extraordinarily relaxed 29.5 degrees of rake. Meanwhile, the MT boasts a fairly average 56.7-inch wheelbase and 25 degrees rake, making it much lighter on its feet and far easier to tip in.
The BMW’s 43mm non-adjustable fork features fairly heavy spring and damping rates that keep the front end planted to the tarmac, while the linkage-free, featuring spring-preload and rebound-damping only keeps it all in line. Overall, the damping settings are edging closer to what I’d be running at the track, not on the street.
What you’re left with on the F 900 R is a motorcycle that has an impressive amount of mechanical grip. It’s one you can trust hurling into corners and hurl, you will, with the 465-pound curb weight making you work for it, especially in the slow corners. The positive side effect of its weight, and resulting mechanical grip, is a planted feeling on entry, mid, and exit. However, the BMW can be upset by choppy asphalt. Not only will the chassis be upset, but you’ll feel every bump and bruise along the way.
The MT-09, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is light and willfully tips into corners at any suggestions. This is in part due to its compliant suspension and svelte 425-pound curb weight. The 41mm fully adjustable KYB fork gobbles up every impurity in the urban world with ease, while the semi-adjustable horizontally mounted KYB shock does more of the same.
Once the pace picks up, it isn’t hard to start finding the limits of the MT-09’s suspension. Compression bumps can unsettle the chassis and become bouncy, but it’s a reminder that you always need to load the chassis correctly, either by braking or accelerating consistently.
Although the 09’s softer spring and damping rates trade-off some sporting prowess in the name of comfort, it is far more enjoyable when you’re not attempting to beat your personal best times in the canyons. Casual road riding is more than pleasant, whereas the BMW encourages you to push. Also, the aftermarket has tons of options to make it a thoroughbred, inexpensively.
If you’d like to add more adjustment to your BMW, you’ll have to spend $2850 for the Select and Premium packages, which includes a semi-active rear shock. Neither the aftermarket nor BMW offer any means of upgrading for the fork, currently.
Interestingly, both bikes prefer smoother roads, although for entirely different reasons.
Shod on the BMW are Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 tires, which are an excellent pairing for those who spend the majority of their time doing sport riding on the road. They’re even suitable for a rip at the track, as they offer plenty of feel in both situations. Designed as a compromise between performance and wear, the MT-09’s Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires provide a fair amount of grip, and the robust carcass behaves well under pressure—hard riders will want to upgrade.
Bolted on the Yamaha MT-09 are dual radially-mounted 4-piston calipers with 298mm rotors. Feel at the axial master-cylinder is quite good, with plenty of power on tap for sporty riding. Yamaha did save a few pennies by using rubber brake lines instead of steel-braided brake lines, which are far superior, but overall braking performance is commendable. In the rear, a 245mm disc is clamped onto by a single-piston caliper that offers decent feel, making low-speed maneuvers or adjusting your line a breeze.
On the other side of the fence, BMW ran with radially mounted Brembo 4-piston calipers and considerably larger 320mm floating rotors. That’s some decent braking equipment, but saved some coin by using an axial master cylinder. The result is braking feel that is a noticeable improvement over the Yamaha, but doesn’t blow it out of the water, as you might assume by only looking at the specs. A 264mm disc with a single-piston floating caliper takes care of duties out back, more than adequately.
Both machines feature adjustable-reach brake levers, while the BMW also has an adjustable clutch lever.
I’d assumed that the BMW would have walked away with a clear victory, but this just goes to show how much impact the master cylinder has on braking, and we shouldn’t always get caught up in premium brand names.
Bringing It Home
The 2020 BMW F 900 R is far sportier than what meets the eye. The aggressive ergonomics, paired with such a rock-solid chassis and punchy motor, make it a package that can soak up any Sunday’s worth of riding in the canyons with ease. It does make that compromise in the face of street-friendly mannerisms, but on a smooth set of twisties, the BMW proposes an argument that can’t be dismissed. It offers the type of engine performance that less experienced riders can gel with, while veterans of the saddle will crack the whip gleefully. While the F 900 R proved to be a much more focused machine, it still isn’t untenable in the urban sprawl.
The 2020 Yamaha MT-09 remains a well-rounded machine. From canyons to commuting, and beyond, the MT-09 is a versatile bike, punctuated by a thrilling motor that simply doesn’t quit. There are aspects of the motorcycle where its age is showing. However, with Euro 5 looming, we hope that rough edges like the lack of an eye catching display or choppy fueling to be remedied on the next major update. In the face of that, the MT-09 remains a motorcycle that can do a bit of it all, without giving up too much in any category.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen
- Jacket: Alpinestars Missile
- Gloves: Alpinestars Pro R3
- Pants: Alpinestars Crank Jeans
- Shoes: Alpinestars Faster 2
BMW vs. Yamaha Comparison Specs
|SPECIFICATIONS||2020 BMW F 900 R||2020 Yamaha MT-09|
|Bore x stroke||86 x 77mm||78.0 x 59.1mm|
|Maximum power||99 horsepower @ 8500 rpm||113 horsepower @ 10,000 rpm|
|Maximum torque||67 ft-lbs @ 6500 rpm||65 ft-lbs @ 8500 rpm|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4vpc||DOHC, 4vpc|
|Clutch||Wet multiplate w/ slipper function||Wet multiplate w/ assist-and-slipper function|
|Final drive||O-ring chain||Chain|
|Frame||Steel bridge monocoque||Controlled-fill die-cast aluminum w/ subframe|
|Front suspension; travel||Non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork; 5.3 inches||Fully adjustable inverted KYB fork; 5.4 inches|
|Rear suspension; travel||Linkage-free, spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable shock; 5.6 inches||Linkage-free, spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable KYB shock; 5.1 inches|
|Tires||Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21||Dunlop Sportmax D214|
|Front tire||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17|
|Rear tire||180/55 x 17||180/55 x 17|
|Front brakes||320mm floating discs w/ 4-piston radially mounted calipers||298mm discs w/ 4-piston radially mounted calipers|
|Rear brake||264mm disc w/ single-piston floating calipers||245mm disc w/ single-piston Nissin caliper|
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES|
|Wheelbase||59.8 inches||56.7 inches|
|Rake||29.5 degrees||25 degrees|
|Trail||4.5 inches||4.1 inches|
|Seat height||32.1 inches||32.3 inches|
|Fuel tank capacity||4.1 gallons||3.7 gallons|
|Curb weight||465 pounds||425 pounds|
|Hockenheim Silver Metallic/Racing Red||Ice Fluo|
|San Marino Blue Metallic||Team Yamaha Blue|
|Blackstorm Metallic||Matte Raven Black|
|PRICE||$8995 MSRP||$8999 MSRP|