Comparisons

Triple treat: Brutale 800 RR vs MT-09 SP vs Street Triple RS

Some say three is a crowd, but when it comes to these three middleweight roadsters it’s the magic number (of cylinders)

Images by James Morris

Most of us would love to spend our lives doing a million miles an hour on the latest, greatest erection inducing superbikes. That goes without saying. But out on highways there is only so much lunacy permitted which has steered a growing proportion of the litre bike fraternity towards slightly more sedate steeds.  At the other end of the motorcycling spectrum, the yoof of yesterday are now a day older and a day closer to trading in their CBR125s for something with a little bit more poke and a slightly stronger fanny magnet fitted as standard.  So with this in mind, we have assembled an international threesome of beauties that would’ve made even Hugh Hefner a little bit jealous. Representing our flamboyant friends in Italy, the all-new MV Agusta Brutale 800RR brings its stunning good lucks to the table. For the hooligans among us, all the way from the dark side of Japan, the also new for 2018 Yamaha MT-09 SP was likely to be on its baddest behaviour. And last, and by absolutely no means least, the Triumph Street Triple RS would be doing its level best to have us all singing Rule Britannia before sundown.

To put this trio of triples to the test, I enlisted the help of Mr Bean for a rip around some of our favourite local roads and sent Bruce Wilson on a trackday (well, I thought he could do with the practice).

“From the get-go the engine felt light and revvy and its full throttle howl egged me on to use all of its 13,000rpm, all the time”

MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR

If you believed in love at first sight, I’m sure I would be getting down on one knee and asking the MV for its handlebar in marriage (I’m sure it’s legal to marry a bike in some states in the US). It really is a stone-cold stunner with its sharp lines, diamond-cut aluminium wheels and ‘organ-pipe’ silencers. So as soon as I saw this beauty, I was desperate to get my leg over (no change there then) to see if the riding experience could live up to the MV’s delivishly good looks and whopping Rs 18.99 lakh price tag.

Aloft the MV, I felt as though I was perched right towards the front of the bike with quite a lot of weight going through my wrists and hands. I tried to shuffle around to make myself a little more comfortable but the strangely shaped seat wasn’t very obliging. My comfort levels were very quickly forgotten about when I fired the RR’s engine up, though. I never knew that a Euro 4 compliant bike in showroom trim could sound so menacing, but it can.

And if aesthetics and audio aren’t enough to excite you then wait till you’ve taken the MV for a blast. From the get-go the engine felt light and revvy and its full throttle howl egged me on to use all of its 13,000rpm, all the time. One peculiar trait of the Brutale was its un-rev-limiter-like rev-limiter. Rather than the typical ‘ba ba ba ba ba,’ the MV’s revs just stop increasing with no real change in sound, so revving out sometimes went unnoticed.

The RR’s light feeling engine is accompanied by a chassis to match. It feels light and nimble on the road and the riding position, slightly uncomfortable though it may be, gives the bike a good dose of sportiness. On our long and varied test route nothing ever felt too sketchy through the fast or the slow stuff. The problem with the MV isn’t that it’s not agile enough, it’s that it’s almost too agile. When you’re hunched over the RR’s ’bars in what doesn’t feel miles away from a ‘racing crouch.’ The bike always seems to be looking for the next corner, and it’s ready to drop into it at a nanosecond’s notice. It’s great fun but this agility is really to the detriment of the bike’s stability. It sometimes felt a little flightier than usual.

What you also mightn’t expect from this category of motorcycle is such an impressive quickshifter and blipper system. Okay, quickshifters are ten a penny these days and it’s usually the first thing a manufacturer will throw at their ‘premium’ spec models, but a little less common is a blipper. And even less common still is a blipper that works so sweetly. There is a fair amount of slogger on the shift lever, I’ll give you that, but the electronics seem to aid the mechanics of every single gear change perfectly. As an added bonus, you’re treated to a little pop on every upshift and a uniform blip on every downshift.

“With ABS deactivated, big stoppies and long skids were more than catered for on the MV”

It’s also worth mentioning the eight level traction control, which is probably a little excessive, although on the lowest setting, you did have to give it some welly to get it to kick in. The TC system can, of course, be turned completely off, the only problem with that is you have to look at the appallingly dated dash and scroll all the way through its systems using the cheap looking (and feeling) buttons on the left hand switchgear. The warning lights and stuff appear on a black panel just below the main display; well, when I say appear, you will need your bifocals on if you want to read what they actually say. I think someone needs to remind MV Agusta’s dashboard department that it’s 2018.

If you can bear to look at it any longer it’s worth turning the ABS off too. The Brembo brakes (front and back) on the MV are fantastic but I found the ABS a little too intrusive. With ABS deactivated, big stoppies and long skids were more than catered for on the MV, but what made me really happy was the fact that when you turn the ignition off for some time, the bike would remember what you’d turned off, rather than defaulting to a ‘safe’ setting, with everything turned back on. Are you listening Triumph?

Bruce’s triples on track

It’s wrong to judge a bike by its looks but I kind of knew the MV was going to be the twitchy mess it turned out to be on track. It’s got a proper short wheelbase, which admittedly encouraged high levels of agility and great grip out of the slower bends at Cadwell, but it never seemed happier than when it was shaking like a shitting dog through pretty much all the fast sections. And it wasn’t just the bike that was physically nervous; I was too.

The unpredictably of its hard-damped, fast rebounding and non-adjustable setup had me pinging out of the seat with more frequency than a drunk returning to a bar. It made for an exciting ride, but not the quickest. I didn’t rate its motor too much, either. Sure, it sounded beautiful and appeared attractive in its trellis frame, but its rev happy disposition reminded me more of an inline-four than a triple.

It lacked in bottom end grunt, but seemed to come alive at the top; its limiter confusingly kicking in a good few thousand rpm before highlighted on its archaic clocks. The dash really is pants to look at, but it’s hard to knock the tech on the otherwise pretty Italian. It was the only bike to feature a blipper, which worked as impressively as its quickshifter. I don’t quite get why you need TC on a bike this unimpressively potent, but I guess it’ll help quash any quiet moments down the pub. The switchable ABS was a virtue, though. The MV’s Brembo brakes had loads of poke but the ABS function was all too quick to join the party at the end of Park Straight and down into Mansfield. Thankfully, albeit after some frustrating negotiating of the less than intuitive tech toggle buttons, ABS could be ousted. More bikes need that option.

Maybe I’ve been a little harsh on the MV, but I expected more. More stability. More grunt. More cornering prowess. For having a laugh on, the Brutale ticked the relevant box, but when it came to smashing lap records, it had more faults than a piss wet laptop.

Yamaha MT-09 SP

Yamaha’s MT range, since its incarnation, has exemplified value-for-money motorcycling and the MT-09 is no exception (which is probably why Yamaha have sold more than 50,000 of them). The factory-tricked-up SP version that we had on test is dearer than the base model, for obvious reasons but comes with a sexy Silver Blu Carbon colour scheme, KYB forks and an Öhlins shocker; which we think has gotta be worth the extra pennies.

Despite its SP (Sport Performance) suffix, the Yam offered the least sporty riding position of all the bikes on test. The seat felt long and spacious and the low pegs provided plenty of much-needed legroom after being scrunched up on the sportier feeling MV. Although it was the cheapest bike on test, the MT didn’t look any less premium than its rivals; aside, perhaps, from the big numb rubber mounted indicators – well you can’t have everything.

The soundtrack of the MT’s crossplane crank triple (CP3) engine is distinctive but far from raucous. It’s not until you get rolling that things start to get exciting. 113bhp might sound a little bit tame by today’s standards, but the jewel in the MT’s CP3 crown is its 87Nm of torque. And that torque figure translates into a lovely playful little engine that does all it possibly can to help you hoist the front wheel at any given time.

“Fast sweeping bends were sometimes a concern on the MT as the front end had a tendency to feel vague and unsure of itself”

After having ridden the new 2018 MT-09 SP at its launch in Spain and been mightily impressed by it, I was surprised to note that when we started really hustling the MT round our test route things didn’t always go as nicely as I would have expected. Fast sweeping bends were sometimes a concern on the MT as the front end had a tendency to feel vague and unsure of itself. It wasn’t a nice feeling and it was made worse the moment you threw some bumps into the mix. It had a really under-damped feel to the front end, which I’m sure could have been ironed out had we had more time to faf and poke about with the Kayaba front forks. In the slow stuff the MT wasn’t bad at all. On the really bumpy bends there seemed to be a bit of chatter bouncing its way through the frame, but it always seemed to start at the front, probably another product of the soft set-up.

What was a real pain in the arse on the MT was the brakes. For steady riding, the front and rear stoppers are both acceptable, but as soon as you try and up the ante you’re faced with a worrying amount of inconsistency from the front brake lever and an equally worrying amount of ABS interference with the rear. When you squeeze the front brake lever on the MT properly (as though you want to do a stoppie or stop quickly, perhaps in an emergency stop situation), one of three things can happen; sometimes the brakes work and the rear wheel lifts off the deck; other times the ABS engages to keep the rear wheel down and the bike slows down reasonably quickly (albeit jerkily); or, what happens far too often, is the ABS chucks its teddy out of the pram and tries to lock the lever all the way out so you can’t put the brakes on unless you squeeze the lever with all your might. Yamaha’s front brake issues are a trait not exclusive to the MT-09 SP though, I have noticed a similar phenomenon on R1s and other bikes in the MT range – it really is something that they need to get sorted out. Especially as they don’t seem to be fans of switchable ABS.

As far as the rest of the 09’s electronics suite goes things are all pretty sensible. Two level traction control is more than enough for a bike like this and it is dead easy to switch from one to the other (or off) with a little switch on the right hand bar (although I wouldn’t recommend bothering with setting 2, unless you like riding a bike that feels like its running out of fuel every time you open the throttle). Throttle maps, ‘A’, ‘Standard’ and ‘B’ (‘A’ being the most aggressive) are also easy to alter on the fly, this time via a button on the right bar.

The SP variant isn’t sold in India yet. But with its trick-as-you-like Öhlins shocker and ‘exclusive’ colour scheme, at Rs 8.41 lakh(in UK, excluding Indian taxes and duties) the MT-09 SP isn’t a ‘budget’ bike but if you’re looking for VFM you could do a lot worse than having one of these puppies parked up in your garage.

Bruce’s triples on track

Yamaha’s CP3 motor never gets old, and it sure as hell didn’t disappoint around Cadwell Park. It’s a brute out of bends and mullered its rivals in the nought-to-sixty stakes. Its top end performance wasn’t too shabby, packing enough ponies to keep up with 600s in their slipstream. On that note, the Yamaha was pretty much faultless. Well, if you overlook the snatchy throttle. That seems to be a common trait in the MT family, which doesn’t cataclysmically catch you out, but gives you an unwelcomed kick up the arse each time you get on the gas.

There are three throttle maps to pick from, and I found the STD (middle ground) position the most obliging on track; A was too sharp and B was too docile. I also found the traction control bloody frustrating. Like most systems, it kicked in too early, which wasn’t good news for the wallowing Yammy. The SP comes kitted with adjustable Öhlins suspension, but even this couldn’t save the bike from feeling top heavy and unstable on track. It had this weird feel to it, like the bike was bending in the middle as you cracked on the throttle out of bends. I wasn’t a fan, and the intervening TC only made things worse, so I pulled in and turned it off. One thing that couldn’t be binned off was the ABS, which had me bricking it on too many occasions. You’re cracking on by the time you reach the 200-board at the end of the back straight, where I’d typically expect my bike to start slowing as I squeezed on the front brake lever.

But the MT had different plans; the lever would go solid, start pulsing even, and scare me silly with thoughts of not stopping. But then it would. The system was never consistent, and I found the only solution was to tease the brakes into the equation, giving the bike’s weight plenty of time to transfer to the long-travel forks. Another problem with the bike was its ground clearance, as the pegs would deck out and unsettle the Yamaha further. As far as fast cornering goes, it was the worst of the three options. But it made up for it with its wheelie-ability. This thing needs no encouragement, and nor did I.

Triumph Street Triple RS

To memory, there hasn’t been one FB road test that the Street Trip’ has performed badly on. It’s a great bike and despite its lack of new-for-2018 status I knew that Mr. Bean, who hadn’t previously had the pleasure, would love his maiden sortie on the 765cc engined weapon. Although you can definitely see subtle hints of Daytona DNA in the Street Trip’, it’s not a bike that looks particularly sporty or aggressive. In fact I would almost go as far as to say that the Triumph is starting to look a little dated, these days. The Triumph just looks, well, nice. Like the girl next door; you would, but you wouldn’t write to the queen about it.

For some reason when you depress the ignition button on the Street Triple, there seems to be a slight hesitation before the starter motor spins the engine up. It’s as though the bike needs a moment to decide whether or not you’re worth it. And worth it I must have always been, as the Trumper never failed to fire gloriously up. The Street Trip’ had the distinctive Triumph sound, a smooth whirr harmonised with a subtle whistle, quite different to the other two bikes on test.

“Well that is until the TC system throws a spanner in the works when it detects a little too much exuberance. In all fairness, it’s only really a major problem when either Rain or Road mode is engaged”

Engine-wise it’s not just the sound that’s smooth; the power delivery is smoother than all of Annie’s criminal endeavours put together. Well that is until the TC system throws a spanner in the works when it detects a little too much exuberance. In all fairness, it’s only really a major problem when either Rain or Road mode is engaged. There is four pre-set modes; Rain, Road, Sport and Track but you can also set it to Custom, where everything is customisable and turn-offable. Which is nice. What is also nice is the TFT dash, that comes with three different display options and a fairly straightforward user interface (once you get used to it, anyway). The problem with mode selection isn’t the dash, it’s the joystick that’s used to select them. It’s a good idea and it’s easy to scroll through the modes with it but I found myself thumbing it left or right to try and get the indicators going, such is its position on the left hand switchgear.

Track mode is the most fun preset option, with ‘Track ABS’ allowing a reasonable amount of anchorage, but what worked best for me was to program my own Custom setup, with ABS completely disabled. I half expected custom mode to remain selected when the ignition was turned off, but like so many other bikes the Triumph defaults to its safe ‘Road’ mode when you turn it off. Annoying. Another annoying thing about the Triumph is its mirrors. Mounted to the end of its handlebars, they can be a bit of a nuisance when cornering and over about 80kmph they vibrate that much that you can’t see anything in them anyway.

“You can feel the sportsbike pedigree in the Triumph but it certainly doesn’t feel like a sportsbike. It’s comfy and smooth and easy to ride but in some ways that’s its downfall”

When you have got used to the Triumph’s few faux pas, and set it to the mode you’re happy with, it really is a stunning motorcycle. Hard cornering isn’t met with wallows or kicks that plague other naked (and faired, for that matter) bikes; it always does what it’s told. Okay, it might not be the sharpest bikes for handling but its road holding ability easily makes up for it. Nothing we threw at the three bikes on our road test phased the Trumper, from fast A-roads to bumpy back roads, it performed remarkably.

The Triumph was also the comfiest bike on test. Every part of my body seemed to be in the right place on the Street Trip’, feet, arse, hands… the lot. And while we are on the subject of arses, it has a lovely soft seat that would please even the boniest rear. Its tall stature makes you feel like the king (or queen) of the road in a way the MV and the Yam really don’t. You can feel the sportsbike pedigree in the Triumph but it certainly doesn’t feel like a sportsbike. It’s comfy and smooth and easy to ride but in some ways that’s its downfall. Yes, the engine is strong but it’s so silky smooth that it’s hard to extract any real sense of excitement out of it. Everything does what you want it to do in a calm and collected ways. We loved the Triumph Street Triple RS and always will, but it’s not a bike that is going to put hairs on your chest in a hurry.

Bruce’s triples on track

If you own a Street Triple and you’ve never taken it on track, you’re committing a sin. It took me all of a few corners to fall in love with the Trumpet that packed the perfect package of fine handling, a juicy motor and greater predictability than an MP’s excuses. The engine is the heart of the bike, which never felt laboured on track. It had the torque to punch you out of corners, and carried plenty of pace down the straighter bits; all the time emitting a throaty, seductive induction noise that complemented the stock can’s soundtrack. I liked it.

The gearbox was as slick as it gets and the stock fitment shifter never failed to perform. The throttle connection was intuitive, and the power delivery was straighter than a Roman road. In essence, it felt refined, trustworthy and stuck like the proverbial to a blanket through the corners. It wasn’t that precise in the handling stakes, but it felt glued to terra firma the whole time, even when trying one’s best to stretch the triple’s throttle cable on corner exits. Like the MT and the Brutale, the Triumph packs plenty of tech; it’s largely governed by four varying levels of techno castration, that includes a Track rider mode with limited traction and track friendly ABS. Anything other than this setup was pointless, as the bike’s tech engaged without invitation and ruined the experience at every opportunity. And while I can’t fault the Track mode’s ABS operation, the TC still made too many appearances for my liking. Thankfully, Rider mode (a fifth programmable option) meant I could switch TC off completely, as well as the ABS.

Footloose and buzzing its tits off, the Triumph was a delectable bike to ride, being super stable and offering a plush feel through its adjustable pogos. It was also comfy, with wide ‘bars and sportily placed pegs… that ground themselves to buggery at every given chance. The brakes were also next level, being the best of all the bikes, in my opinion. The purchase was strong and long lived, with plenty of feel on tap through the standard fitment Brembo MCS master-cylinder (that could be adjusted for span and piston size 19,20,21mm). The only thing that could make this make this bike better would be a fairing and some clip-ons. Come on, Triumph. Give us a 765 Daytona.

Conclusion

These days, you really do have to ask yourself what it is you’re after when you’re choosing your next bike; realistically, there aren’t many crap ones. What we have got though are loads of options which, although on paper appear fairly similar, in the cold light day aren’t actually anything like one another. Okay, so these three are all similar capacity, three cylinder naked bikes. They have all got good level of tech. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The Brutale felt the sportiest on the road by far, and one would naturally assume that this would translate well on the track, but in actual fact it’s flightiness and overall nervousness made it far too much of a handful for Bruce around Cadwell Park. It’s just as well it has looks on its side.

Less sporty than the MV is the Yamaha. It also isn’t anywhere near as much of a head turner as the Brutale. What it is though, is hell lotta moolah cheaper than the MV. Looks aside, its vague feeling front end could, I’m sure, be cured with a bit of jiggery pokery on the suspenders. You get as much tech on the MT-09 SP as you need on a bike like that, and it’s all dead simple to use, but what really lets the package down is the non-switchable ABS. But it is still a hell of a lot of bike for the money.

Even more different still is the Triumph. And it’s difficult to fault it. With the Street Triple, you get a bike that goes fairly fast, handles fantastically, is comfortable, sounds good, looks okay and it packed with smart tech… yeah, there are a few tiny annoying bits but it ticks nearly all the boxes. For me though, the most important box is excitement. Perhaps I’m being hypercritical of what is genuinely, and definitely, a fantastic motorcycle, but I felt like everything was so polished and easy to use that it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.

“If you want to save a few pennies, though, the Yamaha MT-09 SP would be a fantastic addition to your garage”

If you’re after a new naked middleweight and you want perfection in your life then the Triumph Street Triple RS has got to be the bike for you. It will do everything you want it to. If you want to save a few pennies, though, the Yamaha MT-09 SP would be a fantastic addition to your garage. It will do everything you need it to. But if you have got loads of money, and you care more about form than function, well the MV Agusta Brutale 800RR would definitely be the tool for you. Okay so it might not always do what you want it to or need it to but it sure as hell would keep you entertained.

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