Falling between the excellent entry-level MT-07 twin and the spectacular near superbike MT-10 inline-4, the three-cylinder Yamaha MT-09 has arguably always suffered from middle child syndrome. The all-new 3rd generation of the MT-09, with its complete makeover, emerges from the dark side and comes of age. No longer the poor relation, the new 2021 Yamaha MT-09 delivers more torque, more agility, and more value than ever before—and that’s saying something.
The three-cylinder motor gets a five percent displacement bump from 847cc to 890cc thanks to a 3mm longer stroke. Coupled with a new intake system, camshafts, cylinder head, and exhaust, the smoother powerplant produces a claimed six percent more torque. The new motor is smooth, reactive, and highly encouraging of Hooligan Mode.
Four modes select the desired engine power delivery. The first three modes give maximum engine power with a progressively milder throttle response. Mode 4 mitigates maximum power and delivers a softer response for slippery conditions. All modes are smooth and have an excellent throttle connection, even at slow speed in the lower gears.
Somehow the MT-09’s motor also gives 11 percent better fuel economy while remaining Euro-5 compliant. The claim is 49 mpg. I didn’t check it because everyone rides differently and in varying circumstances. Truly, your mileage may vary.
The six-speed quickshift-equipped transmission combines with the assist-and-slipper clutch. The combination is among the smoothest and lightest-touch transmission ensemble I’ve ever used. The MT-09 slides through gearchanges close to seamlessly, especially in the taller gears. The complete lack of effort allows more brainpower to focus on road conditions and riding. I absolutely love the quickshifter—this should be standard on all motorcycles.
The riding position is super-comfortable with a tapered handlebar that is perfectly shoulder-width that allows a nice, upright yet mildly aggressive stance. However, if it doesn’t quite work for you, both the handlebars and footpegs are adjustable into multiple positions. The seat does not slope too far forward, and I found it very comfortable.
The new chassis is approximately 50 percent more rigid, according to Yamaha, and the new swingarm is also more rigid than before. Additionally, the new subframe is 3.3 pounds lighter than last year. All told, the weight savings for the frame, subframe, and swingarm combined is just over five pounds. Another three pounds are saved by new wheels that use Yamaha’s proprietary SpinForged technology.
Dropping eight pounds down to a featherweight 417 pounds at the curb makes the MT-09 even more nimble than before. I absolutely love the handling of this machine. It turns in fast and precisely, and the light weight gives incredible confidence in mid-corner and on hard-throttle exits.
The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 gets updated KYB suspension with fantastic stock settings. I felt no need to touch any of the clickers—the suspension is that good. For those whose style doesn’t match the standard settings, the fork is fully adjustable, and the shock can be tuned for ride height (spring preload) and rebound damping. Again, I like the stock setup, as it is firm and sporting enough for hard and fast canyon riding. Yet, it is also plush enough to drone along bumpy concrete freeways in relative comfort.
The new lighter wheels have 11 percent less inertia, which significantly helps the MT-09’s quick-turning agility. Aided by grippy Bridgestone Battlax S22 tires, the MT-09 gives a lot of feedback to the rider, especially at the front. I had a ton of confidence when turning in and when hard on the brakes.
The ABS-enhanced brakes are exemplary. Using the Nissin radial master cylinder and ABS technology from last year’s YZF-R1 superbike, the brakes have excellent feel and all the power needed. The ABS’s hydraulic unit is 1.4 ounces lighter than last year—every little bit helps.
R1-derived electronics are more sophisticated than you’d expect on a bike in this class. With a six-axis IMU, the MT-09 includes three levels of intervention for traction control, slide control, and wheelie control. The three levels of each are incorporated into three modes, plus off. There is also a manual mode—the individual parameters of each electronic feature can be set to rider preference.
There are two levels of bake control—fixed and corner-award. Using technology from the R1 flagship superbike again, data from the IMU dictates the ABS intervention as lean angle and tire slippage increases. During a chilly, continuously stop/start photoshoot with tires that never had a chance to warm up, the ABS helped me out a few times. Although I felt it working—one time even with some lean-angle added—the MT-09 stayed planted and never alarmed me at all.
The instrument meter is now a full-color TFT display. You can switch between displays and select what information is displayed using the intuitive handlebar switches. Most attention-grabbing is a bar-type tachometer that changes colors as rev count rises or falls.
There is also an uprated 2021 Yamaha MT-09 SP. All the information on the SP is in our MT-09 SP First Look story from November. Teaser: The SP gets an Öhlins shock and a higher-spec KYB fork. We expect to be testing that bike soon.
Behind the traditional Japanese society is a so-called Dark Side subculture that helped to inspire and shape the all-new MT-09. The new minimalist styling is dramatic and purposeful. A single powerful headlight and full LED light package add to the MT-09’s considerable and dramatic road presence.
It’s safe to say that Yamaha achieved its goals with the new MT-09. The previous generation MT-09 was a great motorcycle, but this new one takes things to a whole new level. The torquier three-cylinder motor in the 2021 Yamaha MT-09 deserved a chassis capable of truly exploiting it. Yamaha has delivered that, and the result is an easy-to-ride, forgiving machine that will happily handle your inner hooligan should you choose to unleash it.
This week Teejay chats to Tyler Poppe. Tyler works on the TV show Mayans MC–and yet he doesn’t ride an American V-Twin. Wassup with that?? Also, Arthur finds out from friend Mike Cardillo about his thoughts on the full-size version of the Kawasaki KLX 140R F trail bike.