This year marked the most significant update yet to Yamaha’s favorite hooligan bike, otherwise known as the MT-09. Flexing an all-new chassis, less weight, revised suspension, a heavily revamped 890cc CP3 engine, IMU-supported electronics and more, has made it not just one of the best values in class, but one of the best in class, overall. The American market has missed out on the SP variants, and we’re glad to say that the drought is over. We lived with the versatile 2021 Yamaha MT-09 SP to see if its $10,999 MSRP is justified, tackling urban jaunts, highway commutes, and canyon carving in equal measure along the way. The Answer: An emphatic, yes. Now, let’s get on with the Fast Facts to find out why.
Here’s what you get for the $1600 premium over the base MT-09. When it comes to functional upgrades, a higher-spec fully adjustable KYB fork and Öhlins remote-reservoir shock bolster an impressive chassis. Of course, we can’t forget the cruise control. Yamaha jazzed things up in the aesthetics department with a tasty YZF-R1M-inspired livery, clear-smoked brake reservoirs, a black handlebar, and a black rear sprocket. The bow on the proverbial box is the double-stitched seat, which adds a touch of class.
The new three-cylinder 890cc CP3 is the best Yamaha triple yet. Yamaha engineers lengthened the stroke by 3mm to increase its displacement, while seizing the opportunity to update its air-intake system, pistons, camshafts, cylinder head, and exhaust to extract an additional six percent of torque throughout the rev-range. The original 847cc CP3 earned its accolades fair and square, but the new mill takes refinement to another level. It smoothly spools up, delivering a wallop of torquey goodness on demand. Take it slow or crack the whip—this powerplant enjoys a little of it all.
With the new exhaust, you’ll always be asked for an encore. I’d wager that any gearheads will perk up when hearing the new CP3 coming their way. The MT-09s belt out an exhilarating tune at full-chat. Variable-length intake funnels kick the auditor experience up a notch. The under-slung exhaust is also said to be 3.7-pounds lighter, which is quite impressive considering we’re getting more performance and a lovely exhaust note.
A slick six-speed gearbox is paired with a well-sorted up/down quickshifter. The theme of refinement from the engine’s top-end continues at the bottom. The assist-and-slipper clutch features new friction plates, and a new shift fork has made shifting much smoother. In addition, gear ratios in 1st and 2nd gears are longer, making the MT-09 SP easier going at lower speeds or during launches. The standout feature, of course, is the tidy up/down quickshifter that makes clicking through the gearbox an absolute hoot when on the pipe.
A new 3.5-inch TFT dash is a cut above prior generations. Yamaha hasn’t gone for a flashy UI or massive dash like some of its direct competitors. Instead, Yamaha is letting a straightforward interface keep you informed at a glance. Exploring the menus from the hand controls is intuitive.
Four power modes let you tailor the engine’s aggression. Yamaha has wisely ditched its anachronistic modes of A, Standard, and B and their sometimes snatchy fueling, opting for the commonsense levels 1-4 that offer superior throttle response. Level 1 is the most aggressive mode—one that I might use on the occasional track day, as it’s a tad sharp for my tastes on the street. Level 2 is my go-to canyon mode–crisp, responsive, and tight. Level 3 calms things down a bit for urban use and still offers full power. Finally, Level 4 is the softest and curbs peak engine output—excellent when the roads are wet.
The MT-09s now feature six-axis IMU-supported electronics borrowed from the venerable Yamaha YZF-R1 superbikes. New to the fold is an excellent safety package that includes cornering ABS, traction control, slide control, and wheelie control (three-level adjustable and can be disabled). The lower levels let the leash out plenty for spirited riding and kept things in check over sand or debris. In higher modes, you can feel it reeling it in, as expected. Yamaha does know their audience and provides a Manual mode to turn everything off for maximum hooliganism.
Improved ergonomics are a welcome addition to the MT-09 range. With a saddle height of 32.5 inches, the MT-09’s trimmed down 3.7-gallon fuel tank allowed me to reach the deck with ease. Once up and moving, the handlebar and rearsets are placed just so that all-day comfort or canyon-ripping is achieved in equal measure.
A stiffer frame and swingarm, along with new geometry, are game-changers for the MT-09 and MT-09 SP. The latest MT-09s feature an all-new chassis across the board, beginning with a frame that’s 50 percent more rigid and 3.3 pounds lighter. The swingarm follows suit by shedding around a half-pound and increasing rigidity. Those changes have all made the MT-09 platform far more planted while on the edge of the tire. However, the vital detail is that the frame’s headstock is 1.2-inches lower, pitching more weight over the front end and encouraging greater agility. It feels like a pointed and serious machine when it needs to be, without taking things too far.
A fully adjustable KYB fork and Öhlins shock is the SP difference. The up-spec KYB fork boasts Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) coated fork legs that reduce stiction. In the rear, the high-quality Öhlins offers a broader range of adjustment. The remote spring-preload adjuster makes it possible to change the setting on the fly, if you’re dexterous enough. Taken together, the suspension units feel downright swanky. What counts are the slightly stiffer damping rates at both ends, which creates a sharper and more focused MT-09. It is still just as playful as before, but with that extra edge when attacking the canyons.
New spin-forged wheels are lighter and feature 11 percent less inertia. Lowering unsprung weight almost universally improves a motorcycle’s handling, as it reduces the negative gyroscopic forces brought on by a spinning wheel. Additionally, reducing inertia also counters those same forces. Paired with the chassis improvements and the SP’s shiny new suspension, and you’ll start to see why flip-flopping through canyon curves is a treat. Laced up to the aluminum wheels are sporty Bridgestone Battlax S22 tires, which are more than capable of a spirited canyon or track day rip.
An updated Nissin radial master cylinder is coupled with the trusty ol’ Advics 4-piston calipers once again. Feel at the adjustable lever is good, but there is room for improvement yet, and I’d aim blame at sensitivity-sapping rubber brake lines. What isn’t lacking in the least bit is stopping power—drop the anchor as desired. In the rear, a single-piston caliper and 245mm disc also returns, working nicely for low-speed maneuvers.
Icing meet cake: The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 SP is the sweetest of them all. There’s no doubt that the 3rd generation of MT-09 is the best yet. Gone are the days of a fantastic engine paired to an adequate chassis. Now, this sporty naked is the complete package, thanks to a host of refinements from the ground up. All those observations hold true on the SP, while adding that extra sharpness in handling and ride quality. Yet, it still maintains its position as a good value, coming in at a lower MSRP than many of its direct competitors.
Aprilia Tuono 660 Factory + Steve ’Stavros’ Parrish
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly podcast—Motos and Friends. My name is Arthur Coldwells.
Our first segment features the new Aprilia Tuono 660 Factory. Senior Editor Nic de Sena brings us his report on the flagship version of Aprilia’s upright middleweight machine. He gives us insight into whether it’s worth spending the extra money on the Factory version, and also of course, whether this sporting Aprilia is really the motorcycle for you.
The next guest segment of Motos and Friends is brought to you by the faster and most technologically advanced, 2023 Suzuki Hayabusa—one of the most iconic sportbikes ever. Check it out in person at your local Suzuki dealer now, or visit suzukicycles.com to learn more.
In this segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with (arguably) one of the most interesting Suzuki race riders of all time. the iconic RG500 alongside teammate double World Champion Barry Sheene. The two were almost as famous for their exploits off-track, as for their success on it. Those were the days! Steve also raced the Isle of Man TT for about ten years where he won 13 Silver Replicas, and got a podium finish. His insight into that particular brand of mayhem are fascinating.
But there’s waaay more to Steve Parrish than his motorcycle racing. He is also the most successful Semi-Truck racer ever, and, little known piece of useless trivia—he’s my birthday twin: 24th February. He is a natural entertainer and you can’t miss his recounting of the world’s most entertaining—and arguably terrifying—double-decker bus ride ever. If any of you were actually on that hell-ride then we’d love to hear from you!