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2023 Yamaha MT-09 SP | First Ride Review

The Yamaha MT-09 SP is the perfect bike for track days and canyon rides, but it’ll turn heads in town too.(Photos by Aaron Crane)

In January of this year, EIC Greg Drevenstedt asked me what was on my list of “riding resolutions” for 2023. I had heard about the Yamaha Champions Riding School from content we had published, and even though I have no false pretenses about my future as a professional racer, I told him I would love to attend one of the YCRS classes – even better on a bike like the Yamaha MT-09 SP.

The reason for the latter is that I knew my normal cruiser was clearly not going to be the optimal bike for the two-day ChampSchool class I would attend at the end of January at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Since the program has “Yamaha” in the name, we opted for one of their bikes.

Related: A Cruiser Guy Goes to Yamaha ChampSchool 

Yamaha MT-09 SP: Take a Ride on the Dark Side

The Yamaha MT-09 naked bike was introduced in 2014 and was a crowd pleaser from the jump. In 2021, the bike received a major overhaul, and the up-spec MT-09 SP was introduced. Displacement on the MT-09’s CP3 inline-Triple was bumped from 847cc to 890cc, and claimed output increased to 117 hp and 69 lb-ft of torque. Yamaha also updated the throttle-by-wire and slip/assist clutch and added a quickshifter.

Related: 2021 Yamaha MT-09 | First Ride Review

A 6-axis IMU derived from the YZF-R1 manages the bike’s traction control, slide control, and front-wheel lift control systems. The IMU was designed to be smaller and lighter, and along with other weight-shaving measures, including spin-forged aluminum wheels and an aluminum swingarm, the MT-09 comes in at a trim 417 lb, with the up-spec SP at 419 lb. Both bikes also have two levels of ABS intervention and four D-Mode engine maps that regulate engine response and output.

Weighing in at just 419 lb, it’s easy to get the MT-09 SP from Point A around the corners to Point B.


Helmet: HJC RPHA 91

Jacket: Joe Rocket Sinister

Gloves: Joe Rocket Super Moto

Pants: Joe Rocket Anthem Jeans

Boots: Joe Rocket Sonic X

To create the MT-09 SP, which retails for $11,499 (a $1,700 premium over the standard MT-09), Yamaha added high- and low-speed compression adjustability and sportier damping to the KYB 41mm inverted fork and swapped the KYB rear shock for a premium Öhlins unit that is fully adjustable and includes a remote preload adjuster. The SP also has standard cruise control and styling inspired by the YZF-R1M.

Southern California to Southern Utah

I picked up the MT-09 SP from Cypress, California, the weekend before ChampSchool. The first thing I noticed when I fired up the bike was the sound. It’s not the low rumble I’m used to from my V-Twin, but it emits a nice throaty bellow from the symmetrical muffler with dual outlets mounted under the bike. The pleasing tones continue into the mid- and upper-range thanks to the three variable-length intake ducts that also came along with the 2021 upgrade.

The MT-09 SP has the same engine as the MT-09 but boasts an Öhlins rear shock with a remote preload adjuster.

With the suspension and other settings dialed in, I set off for the 450-mile ride back to my home in southern Utah. On the unfamiliar California highway system, I was glad to be on the MT-09 SP. Its throttle-by-wire provides smooth, crisp response. Even in D-Mode 2 (moderate engine response), overtaking was a breeze when I needed to, and when a quick stop was required, the radial-mounted Nissin master cylinder, 4-piston calipers, and dual 298mm floating discs up front worked in concert nicely.

My mid-January ride started in beautiful weather, but right around San Bernadino, I hit a 20-mph headwind that stuck around for almost the entire 200 miles to Las Vegas. Enter cruise control.

I’ve never ridden a bike with cruise control – and I was okay with that fact. It seemed like there was something inherently unnatural about cruise control on a motorcycle, and on a bike like the MT-09 SP, it felt akin to taking your hands off the steering wheel of a rocket (and yes, I’m aware it’s actually called a “reaction wheel,” but you get the idea). However, with those kinds of winds on the naked bike, I felt more like I was just fighting to hold on as opposed to controlling the motorcycle, and cruise control became my new best friend.

An upright seating position makes long miles easier.

However, I think the cruise control could use some improvement. Once it’s turned on and engaged, cruise control can be disengaged by applying the brakes, throttle, or clutch, but the on/off, set, and resume buttons are a stretch from the left grip, and they’re small. With my winter gloves on, when I had disengaged the cruise control and then attempted to reach my thumb across to hit resume, several times I inadvertently ended up hitting the on/off button by mistake, which resulted in deceleration when I didn’t want to slow down. Then I had to start the process over, turning it back on and re-setting my speed. The placement and size (or style) of the cruise control buttons could be made more user-friendly.

Related: 2023 Yamaha MT-10 | Tour Test Review

To the Track…and Beyond!

One place I certainly wasn’t using the cruise control was at the Las Vegas Speedway, and this is where the MT-09 SP really shined.

Taking a breather between track sessions at ChampSchool with the Yamaha MT-09 SP. Is it obvious that I’m not used to track leathers?

The quickshifter was a thing of beauty for getting up to speed (at the behest of my instructor to practice blipping the engine on downshifts, I didn’t use the quickshifter there, but it was smooth when I tried it elsewhere). The quickshifter has up/down arrows that light up on the 3.5-inch color TFT display when it’s possible to use the feature in each gear, which is handy. However, despite the manual’s recommended speeds for shifting, I found the transition from 1st to 2nd kind of clunky at the recommended 12 mph. It was definitely smoother if I accelerated a little more before using the quickshifter.

The 3.5-inch color TFT display shows everything you’d expect, as well as quickshifter up/down indicators.

The MT-09 SP combines traction control, slide control, and wheelie control into four TCS settings: 1 (minimal intervention), 2 (moderate intervention), Manual (settings can be customized), and Off. At the track, at my instructor’s recommendation, I had TCS mode set at level 2, which is moderate intervention across the board. There was one particular turn where I felt the rear end slip out a little on multiple passes, but the traction control did its job with subtle intervention.

For someone who had never been on a track, I felt surprisingly comfortable on the MT-09 SP – several instructors said, “Oh yeah, that’s a good one.” I was able to trust in its abilities while practicing the finer details of track riding. And when it came to riding the MT-09 SP in a favorite canyon closer to my home, all the thought-out details that went into the 2021 upgrade – from the lighter curb weight, stiffer chassis, and throttle-by-wire to the up-spec suspension of the SP – worked together for some nice carving, as well as quick evasive maneuvering around a couple corners where heavy precipitation had loosened some rocks from the roadside cliffs and dropped them in my unsuspecting path.

The 2021 upgrades to the MT-09, combined with the up-spec features of the MT-09 SP, add up to a tidy package full of good times.

As I mentioned in my report on the YCRS ChampSchool, I’ve always been more of a cruiser guy than a sportbike guy, but after more than 1,300 miles on the 2023 Yamaha MT-09 SP, including track, interstate, around town, and canyon riding, I’d gladly take more rides on the dark side.

Read all of Rider‘s Yamaha coverage here.

2023 Yamaha MT-09 SP Specs

Base Price: $11,499

Website: YamahaMotorSports.com

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Engine Type: Liquid-cooled transverse inline-Triple, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl. 

Displacement: 890cc

Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 62.1mm

Horsepower: 117 hp @ 10,000 rpm (factory claim)

Torque: 69 lb-ft @ 7,000 rpm (factory claim)

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch 

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Wheelbase: 56.3 in.

Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.

Seat Height: 32.5 in.

Wet Weight: 419 lb

Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal.

Fuel Consumption: 48.3 mpg
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