Yamaha’s tuning fork was nearly pitch-perfect when it released the MT-09 in 2014. With its brilliant CP3 in-line triple leading the chorus of torque, agility and value, Yamaha’s upright sportbike has resonated with the market to the tune of 25,000 units sold. Now in its third generation, the 2021 Yamaha MT-09 is virtually brand new, and the third time really is the charm.
Last updated in 2017 with a sprinkling of tech and suspension tweaks, Yamaha’s engineers went through the MT-09 with a more discriminating comb for the latest refresh, overhauling over 90% of the naked machine. It has an entirely new 890cc CP3 (Cross Plane 3-cylinder) engine, a thoroughly updated and significantly stiffer chassis, state-of-the-art electronics and a fresh look that results in the most refined MT-09 yet. Trust me, the $400 price increase is money well spent.
Faithful Master of Torque devotees might see any engine finagling as blasphemous, and had the new lump not been an out-of-the-park home run, I’d have taken up the pitchforks with them. Displacement increased from 847cc to 890cc thanks to a revised crankshaft with a 3mm longer stroke (now 62.1mm; bore is still 78mm) and 15% more inertia. That heavier crank helps the MT-09 produce 6% more torque — ever-present and supremely tractable, by the way. The new engine is bigger and punchier, yet claimed fuel economy is up by 11%.
The tale of the tape continues with camshafts sporting more aggressive profiles, redesigned forged pistons, a new intake system featuring three tuned intake duct lengths and throttle bodies with integrated fuel injectors aimed directly at the intake valve heads. A new cylinder head has a narrower combustion chamber and a 12% reduction in water jacket volume for faster warm-up times.
Hit the starter, and a familiar yet throatier growl is heard from the updated under-slung exhaust. No visible mufflers here, just a box under the bike with two exhaust holes in the bottom. Release the revised assist-and-slip clutch and you’re met with a silky-smooth powerplant that pulls hard from the depths of the rev range and continues all the way to redline, with a rush of power that comes alive above 7,000 rpm.
There is a duality to this new engine, allowing it to go from a dignified traffic-trotter or raging canyon assault vehicle, with a mere throttle whack. It accelerates like the dickens but with more maturity in how it spools up, adding some manners to the raw and rowdy personality that its predecessor displayed. The refinement continues downward through the gearbox, thanks to a new shift fork and an updated clutch that deliver more precise gear changes, as well as longer 1st and 2nd gears to further smooth things out. With age comes experience, and the new MT-09 delivers with a finely calibrated up/down quickshifter that makes the clutch lever all but optional.
In a significant technological leap, the MT-09 now uses a 6-axis IMU-supported electronics package derived from the YZF-R1 superbike, including four selectable ride modes, adjustable cornering ABS and multi-level traction control, slide control and wheelie control. Cruise control is a curious omission, though it is available on the new-to-the-U.S.-market, up-spec MT-09 SP, which also features upgraded suspension and other goodies for an extra $1,700.
In practice, the electronics and new throttle-by-wire system pilfered from the R1 are a notable improvement over the previous-gen MT’s systems. Throttle response is clean and precise in every mode, without any of the unpleasant throttle snatch present on prior generations, even in the most aggressive setting. While not the biggest and flashiest around, the easy-to-read 3.5-inch full-color TFT display is a welcome upgrade.
All of the rider aids can be disabled, save for ABS, and I’d argue that doing so isn’t necessary on the street unless you are a true wheelie wizard. They work their magic in the background, and the lower settings allow for a civilized amount of disobedience. Hold the throttle open and click through the gears while the wheelie control hovers the front at a sensible level.
Then there is the all-new aluminum twin-spar frame that has 50% more lateral rigidity, a stiffer swingarm and updated KYB suspension that has transformed the riding experience. In its younger, rowdier days, the MT’s chassis wasn’t up to snuff with its stellar engine, and I’m glad to report that those days are behind us. From the engine to the frame, swingarm and wheels, precious ounces were shaved off, further contributing to the MT’s newfound handling abilities. Yamaha managed to save eight pounds collectively, resulting in a 417-pound claimed wet weight.
Engineers reworked the MT’s geometry by dropping the head tube 1.2 inches, leading to more confidence in the front end, encouraging quicker steering with improved feedback to boot. The wheelbase is also tightened up a tad while trail grew a hair, thanks to new triple clamps. Coupled with stiffer bits all around, the refreshed Yamaha is stable and confident in every situation.
The fully adjustable KYB fork has new innards and slightly shortened travel, and in the rear, a new shock also has a smidge less travel and offers preload and rebound adjustability. The sporty-yet-plush suspension provides more support under braking and greater stability when flip-flopping through the twisties. Better yet, comfort hasn’t decreased and was thoroughly tested on the pothole-infested streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Perhaps some of that increased comfort can be attributed to the more conventional riding position. The two-position adjustable upright handlebar and adjustable footpegs keep the rider propped up for all-day riding. At the same time, the marginally taller 32.5-inch saddle has a flatter profile, ridding the MT of the feeling that you were always sliding into the fuel tank. You wouldn’t guess that the seat is taller, as the chassis is extremely narrow at the tank seam, allowing my 32-inch-inseam legs to reach the deck with room to spare.
Bestowed with a new Nissin radial master-cylinder borrowed from the R1, the 4-piston Advics calipers and 320mm rotors are some of the few carry-over components on the MT. Stopping power has never been an issue and still isn’t, though I’d prefer more feedback at the adjustable lever. And it’d be nice if the clutch lever were adjustable, too. Maybe next year. The returning rear stoppers work keenly for line correction and low-speed riding.
Everyone plays their part in an orchestra, and the MT-09 has always managed to impress the crowd with its CP3 engine planted in the lead chair. It was enough to convince me to wave off its predecessor’s shortcomings as things that the aftermarket can solve; beef up the suspension, reflash the map and tada! But practice, practice, practice made a really good bike become a great one. Because that’s what it takes to get to Carnegie Hall, and the 2021 Yamaha MT-09’s new engine, chassis and electronics all work in harmony now, representing an even better value in the class.
Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
Gloves: Alpinestars SPX Air Carbon V2
Jacket: Alpinestars Hyper Drystar
Pants: Alpinestars Cooper
Boots: Alpinestars Faster-3
2021 Yamaha MT-09 Specs:
Base Price: $9,399
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled transverse in-line triple, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 62.1mm
Transmission: 6-speed, wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 32.5 in.
Wet Weight: 417 lbs. (claimed)
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals.