Words by Varad More
Photography by Gaurav S Thombre and Rohit G Mane
Before we get into the nitty gritties of the subject of today’s discussion – the Yamaha MT-09 – let’s get one thing sorted between us. This is not a motorcycle for the faint of heart. Here there can be none of the usual ‘the most advanced electronics suite’ sales pitch by a suave dealer armed with a bouquet of flowers and a disarming smile to a buyer who’s all too happy to put his signature on a cheque. This motorcycle is for the man who knows his bikes, knows what this bike can do and how far he can push it. And that is precisely where my love story with the Yamaha MT-09 begins. See, going fast on a superbike armed to the teeth with computer algorithms that monitor your every input is one thing but to go fast on something where such kindergarten-ish restriction is ditched in favour of a more “you’re a responsible adult so you know what to do” attitude is quite another. Don’t get me wrong, both define The Thrill of Riding for me. It’s just that the latter is more thrilling than the former. Simply because it’s purer.
Call me old school or even a suicidal masochist if you like but I feel that amidst all the electronic mumbo-jumbo, somewhere the poor motorcycle loses out on that vital thing that we bikers love in our machines – character. And I’m not referring to ‘character’ the way top bosses in marketing departments of many a bike making company use it, as a euphemism for unreliability. When I say character, I mean a certain volatility of behaviour, a feistiness that defines the riding experience with a ring of elemental excitement. When I say character, I refer to the machine’s ability to make me feel something visceral so that there is a real bond between me, my machine and the terrain we’re on. And this Yamaha understands that, like few others do in today’s scenario.
Right from its deceiving motard-like stance with rather sober design lines more suited to European tastes to the minimalist panel work, the MT-09 is all about the experience. It doesn’t want to lure you with good looks only to deliver a bland experience. This baby is full of substance. The tank is finished in a shade of silver with the matte-black floating panels jutting out on the sides flanked with large ‘09’ tag on them, in a gorgeous shade of blue. A matching shade of blue covers the chunky upside down forks and the 17-inch wheels on both ends. Not a head turner as I said before, but in the middleweight streetfighter class the MT-09 can hold its own, provided Yamaha brings the ‘Night Fluo’ fluorescent paint option on the MT-09 here in India.
The MT-09’s ‘give-it-all-or-nothing’ character makes its presence felt strongly across the rev-range despite the three riding modes it gets. Slotted into the ‘A’ mode, which delivers full 113bhp of power at 10,000rpm and 87.5Nm of torque at 8,500rpm, and the three-way traction control system locked into the most intrusive stage two setting, the MT’s front-end kept bouncing off in the first three gears, with the traction control system working overtime to keep the front wheel from pointing skywards. That is how the MT09 and I shook hands.
Even as the 3-into-1 stubby end can unit gave out a mighty roar inching closer to the 11,300rpm redline, I could hear myself laughing hysterically inside the helmet. I mean, a couple of weeks back I rode a few motorcycles that made almost double the horsepower of the MT-09, but they all had two things in common, over-done electronics and focus on useable power delivery. No visceral experience there.
The MT-09 on the other hand is a loose cannon. It is unabashed and unpretentious about its character and power and shows it off like an MMA winner in the ring. One of the notable updates to come on the 2016 MT-09 was the three-stage traction control – but that too isn’t half as intrusive as seen on some motorcycles in this segment. In fact, slotted into the stage one setting, which is the least intrusive one, the bike merrily stood up on one wheel stubbing its nose at the clouds above. Right from the first gear, all the way up to the third cog, the front wheel enthusiastically left the ground when fed with a fistful of gas. That whole raw and aggressive feel of the 847cc inline-3 motor is what really had me riding the wheels off this Yamaha.
In spite of my impish desire to paint Pune red with this bike, while dealing with the cluttered city roads, I figured opting for the ‘STD’ (for Standard) power mode and stage 2 traction control settings were best suited to trudging along and going around cabs and buses. In Standard mode the power output remains same, but the throttle response is lazier and relaxed as compared to the all-out Sport-configured ‘A’ mode.
However in the most subdued ‘B’ mode, the power is cut down by 4bhp and while on dry the difference isn’t as obvious, in wet conditions it was evident that the combination of less power coupled with lazy throttle response worked well on low traction surfaces as I found out while riding through Pune’s receding monsoons. But over the span of the test, riding the mountain roads and the highways, the riding mode set in ‘A’ and traction control locked in at ‘1’, was the best setting that worked in our real world conditions. To turn the traction control completely off, it is mandatory to be at standstill while the rider can go through the traction control levels and different riding modes on the fly but with the throttle shut off completely. It’s a pretty simple operation that doesn’t take too long to get used to and one that I don’t recommend at all. Unless you’re an adrenaline junkie like me.
If there’s anything you really need to get used to on the MT-09, it would be the stiff suspension setup, which we believe is tuned for European roads and needs to be tuned softer for our bumpy stretches. Both suspension units, the telescopic USDs upfront and the monoshock suspension on rear get adjustable preload and rebound damping and tinkering around them will get better ride quality on the MT-09 for our streets. But the upside is lip-smacking handling. On a smooth stretch of tarmac that goes snaking through the mountains, the MT-09 comes into its own. The lightweight diamond-type aluminium frame takes on swift directional changes without a whimper and the suspension works in tandem and shows no signs of bucking around the fast bends. Although, around low speed corners the front-heavy weight distribution of the MT-09 did demand some effort, overall stability around corners is spot on for a middleweight naked.
The fact that Yamaha has kept the bulk limited to just 191kg (wet) makes throwing this middleweight around tight corners immensely fun as well. Point to the exit, get on the gas and get the front wheel to salute. Of course, a lot of those one wheel shenanigans are also courtesy of the extreme grippy Bridgestone Battlax S20 tyres on both ends. No matter how hard I pushed them around corners, the tyres simply refused to give up. Even when the 298mm dual discs with four pot calipers mustered all the might they could under hard braking, the MT-09 stayed stable with superb grip from the 120/70 ZR17 front and 180/55 ZR17 rear tyres.
Honestly, as a street fighter naked hooligan machine, there isn’t anything in this segment that is as wild and brash in its appeal as the MT-09, except for maybe the MV Agusta Brutale 800. But if you want to seek purchase this manic machine you have missed your deadline of April 1, 2017, as this motorcycle was not BS IV compliant. There is a new one launched recently and that should hopefully keep alive the craziness of the MT motorcycle. The new MT-09 goes on sale for Rs. 10.88 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi. That puts it scarily close to the new Triumph Street Triple RS while the Kawasaki Z900 is still a far cheaper option.