Eight years into its production run, Yamaha improves its popular mid-size sportbike—the MT-07—bringing both functional and styling updates for 2021. We’ve always enjoyed this middleweight canyon carver that also stumps as a commuting companion during the week. Let’s go riding and find out how well the updates on the 2021 Yamaha MT-07 work.
The new styling grabs my attention before I’ve even thrown a leg over the saddle. The tank and plastic get a more angular look for 2021, and it comes with large knee grip panels that give my leather pants good traction, allowing me to tuck my knees in for a tight and secure feel for canyon runs. New LED lighting provides the MT-07 with a sleek Euro look, with slender turn signals front and rear, and a piercing countenance.
Ergonomics are tweaked, changing the rider triangle to a slightly more upright position closer to the MT-09. The handlebars are over an inch wider and sit about a half-inch higher, with the grips closer to the rider. These seemingly subtle changes add up and give me a more assertive feel, especially when riding aggressively. The leverage at the bars encourages a bit more lean into turns with full confidence.
The compact MT-07 is a blast in the canyons and delivers strong performance with its low- and mid-range Master of Torque focus. The 689cc parallel twin’s crossplane-crankshaft powerband has a strong, linear pull from the bottom that allows you to power out of tight turns as you chase your riding buddy. It’s a responsive motor without being jumpy or hard to manage at the throttle when riding assertively.
Transmission updates are claimed to smooth out transitions between the lower gears. Without riding the 2021 back-to-back with the 2020 edition, it’s hard to judge this. It certainly wasn’t a problem for me in the past. We would like to see a slipper clutch to help maintain traction when downshifting aggressively, as the rear tire will skip a bit. Also, an assist function would result in less fatiguing urban rides, though the clutch pull isn’t unusually hard.
Canyon riding couldn’t be more natural than on the 2021 Yamaha MT-07. With a short 55-inch wheelbase and less than 25 degrees of rake, the compact chassis is both agile and secure as I flick it through the canyon corners. On smooth tarmac, my right hand allows the MT-07 to accelerate aggressively, and I enjoy the visceral rush of the naked bike.
Michelin Road 5 tires outfit the MT-07 for 2021, booting out last year’s Michelin Road 4 rubber. Can we tell the difference? Let’s just say my confidence level was high enough that I can drag the peg feelers in some favored turns. Turn-in is intuitive and assertive, and the tires do everything they’re asked on the 07.
Although there is still no adjusting the KYB fork, the MT-07 works well as delivered. The suspension is firm enough for aggressive riding, but can get overmatched on faster, rougher rural twisties. If the road is reasonably smooth or not especially high speed, you’ll love the MT-07 suspension. Spring preload and rebound damping adjustments can be made to the KYB shock, should you add a passenger.
The 2021 MT-07 has new 298mm front discs, 16mm larger in diameter than last year. The MT-07 has always had strong brakes, but we’ll never turn down additional stopping power on a sportbike. A softer initial engagement would be welcome, though, for a motorcycle that is also enjoyable as a commuting companion. Ditching the petal design that the MT’s rotors have sported since 2015, the MT adopts the smooth look of its older sibling’s discs. ABS at both ends is stock and is not intrusive.
The MT-07 remains an excellent commuter. The even-tempered middleweight is easy to handle in busy conditions as the torquey crossplane crankshaft power delivery doesn’t require ‘managing.’
With a light curb weight—just over 400 pounds—and a narrow frame, the MT-07 is not physically overwhelming. If you can manage the 31.7-inch seat height (my barefoot 30.5-inch inseam allows me to flat-foot it at stops in boots), the upright stance is a great vantage point for keeping an eye on surrounding traffic.
Yamaha upgraded the MT-07 mirrors to MT-09 spec. Along with the wider handlebar, the mirror stalks are also longer. The new mirrors deliver an unobstructed rearview—a great safety feature for commuting and urban rides. You can still split lanes like a champ—one of the upsides to riding in California.
Yamaha dubs the MT line ‘Hyper Naked’, and that label comes to mind when you find yourself accelerating past the hostile flow of traffic on the freeway. There is no wind protection, and with the wider bars and more upright stance for 2021, you feel the windblast. As comfortable as that nicely padded wide seat is, I’m not going to be putting a lot of high-speed miles on the MT-07 without the Sport Screen ($125 MSRP) offered by Yamaha Genuine Parts & Accessories. For anyone wanting to make weekend getaways on the MT-07, Yamaha offers soft saddlebags and a top case.
Not just for hooligan riding, the MT-07 is also a fun around-town sidekick. Often there is nothing more you want to do than tool across the Valley to a favorite hamburger stand at a casual pace. The MT-07’s fueling has been slightly notchy in the past, so Yamaha updated the EFI settings this year. Regardless, the motor still requires finesse at low rpm for perfect smoothness. Once you adjust your throttle hand to the fueling sensitives, the MT-07 is happy to accommodate a cruising speed.
Updates to the exhaust system keep the MT-07 compliant with emissions and give a 2021 MT-07 a distinctive look. Relocating the catalytic converter from under the frame to ahead of the motor required a near-vertical heat shield. Instead of camouflaging it with a matte black paint to blend in with the engine, Yamaha left the aluminum bare, giving the 07 a distinctive look. According to Yamaha, tweaks to the airbox intake duct and length, along with updates to the exhaust valve seats, are primarily about emissions and deliver some performance and longevity benefits. Again, without having a ’20 for direct comparison, this is something I can’t quantify.
The dash is crisp, bright, and large, even if it’s still an LCD. The 2021 Yamaha MT-07’s hexagonal dash is easy on the eyes with its sharp readout against a black background. The critical information is in big fonts—digital mph, gear indicator, fuel gauge, and clock—set under the digital tachometer’s analog sweep. Everything is easy to find at a glance, and switching through the extra bits—tripmeters, current and average mpg, ambient and coolant temps, and more—is easy to do using an up/down sliding switch on the left handlebar.
Yamaha understands a winning recipe, and the new MT-07 continues to be a satisfying mid-size sportbike that confidently matches up head-to-head with its competitors. Perfect for riders moving up from small-displacement sportbikes, the 2021 Yamaha’s MT-07’s low-end torque and predictable chassis provide a great platform from which to stretch one’s riding skills.
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