Yamaha MT-07 first ride.
Yamaha was keen to point out the fun element to its new 689cc machine. The development of the latest triple-engined MT-09 and the crossplane crank that adorns the MT-07 are signs that Yamaha is also taking innovation seriously in a market where change is harder to come by than ever. Wet weight is an impressive 179kg thanks to the use of fewer components, which, in turn, keeps costs down. Simplicity was also mentioned more than a few times in the marketing spiel. Yamaha has continued to use its latest slogan ‘Rise Up Your Darkness’ which apparently means this new wave of bikes ‘captures the dark side of Japan’.
What this really means is that the MT-07 is brilliant at wheelies.
I could quite happily write the entire review about the way this bike will get onto the back wheel and sit there until the next corner arrives and I’m convinced that a few cunning engineers within Yamaha have designed wheelies into the very fabric of this bike. The way the gearing and torque are perfectly suited so that a swift flick of the clutch in third gear will get the front wheel pointing at the sky is surely no coincidence, it seems to do it that well. It would seem ‘fun’ actually translates to ‘wheelies’ in Japanese then.
I’ll stop banging on about the ‘w’ word for a minute though to explain that the MT-07 is no one-trick pony, even if the engine is the standout feature on this bike. As I was walking up and down the row of MTs being warmed and prepared for the day’s riding a few things caught my attention. The blue/silver scheme that has been applied to what seems like every model in the Yamaha range really suits the MT-07’s styling. I was also surprised to see Michelin Pilot Road 3s on all of the bikes. Considering the new MT is supposedly a budget machine, those Michelins are firmly at the premium end of the rubber spectrum. The off-centre clocks that grace its bigger brother are gone and the 07 has the dash in the proper place in the middle, with the welcome addition of a gear indicator. For what is supposed to be a cheap bike the instrument panel is actually pretty swanky with a fuel gauge and an ‘ECO’ indicator to let you know when you’re riding too slowly.
Our route for the day was 120 miles around the island of Lanzarote and I’ll go out on a limb and say the roads here are some of the best I’ve ever ridden. Snooker-table smooth with a mixture of steep mountain switchbacks and fast open sweepers that would be pure heaven on a sportsbike. The MT-07 suspension isn’t up to sportsbike levels of finesse with non-adjustable forks and equally basic rear shock. But it’s important to point out that, although soft, it was perfectly up to the job – even when the riding reached Wacky Races pace, as we followed a mad Dutch lad from Yamaha who’d spent the last couple of weeks learning the island inside-out.
There’s been some criticism of the larger MT-09 for its perceived fuelling glitches as a result of the ride-by-wire throttle and adjustable riding modes which are less than perfect as standard. Thankfully the new MT-07 doesn’t suffer the same fate, thanks to a no-frills cable-controlled throttle without any gimmicky riding modes to dick around with. It all adds up to a smooth, refined package whether you’re using small throttle inputs around town or big ones. To pull wheelies. But I promised to stop talking about those so we’ll move on.
The kind folk at the Lanzarote Police Department closed some roads for us for photo opportunities near the coast. With the Michelins always up to temperature it was a (relatively) safe environment to see how the MT-07 coped with hard cornering using big lean angles and both sides of the road without any oncoming tour buses to contend with. The budget suspension held its own once again, proving to be worth more than the sum of its parts and happily getting far enough over to scrape pegs onto pristine black Tarmac. With a crowd watching I let enthusiasm get the better of me and momentarily caught my knee on the ground too, scuffing up my nice new Draggin jeans in the process. Oops.
It’s a testament to just how much confidence and feedback the MT-07 gives and is proof that you don’t always need Öhlins gas forks and a TTX shock to make progress. On a trackday then yes the MT would quickly reach the limits of ground clearance and tie itself in knots but as a road tool to make swift progress then it’s a worthy contender. It’s a weapon, albeit a small one like a Pepperbox Derringer. In the right hands though, it’ll still get the job done.
On more than a few occasions the quick pace, unfamiliar roads and distractingly beautiful scenery caught me out and I found myself approaching steep hairpins at an unsuitably quick pace. The brakes on the MT are on the user-friendly side of things, perfectly up to the job of stopping in a hurry but lacking that initial bite that you’d get from a more focussed setup. They are proper four-piston monobloc calipers but don’t expect eye-popping levels of performance from them. Seeing as the MT is aimed at newbies, and this was the non-ABS model then I think the lack of aggression on the brakes is a positive thing. If stoppies are your bag just tug on the lever a little harder than usual and the MT-07 will happily comply. The rear brakes were, er, thoroughly tested too, with lots of heavy downhill sections and there was no fade whatsoever. There were so many skids pulled I’m sure the outlines will appear on Google Earth in the coming months. For those who have grown out of pulling big skids then the ABS version will be available soon.
With the initial excitement out of the way I put my sensible head on and did my best to find any issues with the MT like a proper grown-up tester. Within a minute I was back pulling wheelies again. Sorry. It’s the engine that’s to blame. The torque and power figures just can’t translate the way this motor converts petrol into pure fun. You’ll never hit the redline on an MT-07 unless you’re trying to do it on purpose, it’s not about chasing revs. 77bhp isn’t the figure you need to be looking at either, it’ll get you to a totally irrelevant 120mph or so, the number you should be paying attention to is the 68Nm of torque. Whether you want to press on or just be a bit lazier on the gearbox the magic Nm figure will make everything easier. 40mph in top requires little effort if you’re in no particular hurry and Yamaha says this sort of gentle riding will be rewarded with MPG figures up in the high 60s.
It makes a refreshing change to be able to just get on a bike, thumb the starter and ride without setting up riding modes, adjusting ABS settings or traction control. It’s back-to-basics fun that has more than a little RD350LC about it.
We stop for a break and I take some time for an up-close look at my MT from ground level, sat on the floor beside it listening to the engine ticking. My notepad is looking pretty empty in the ‘cons’ panel with just a small scribble with the words ‘noise’ next to it. I’ve been warned about launch fever, how a sunny climate on a first foreign test and a brand new bike can have an impact on the decision-making process. With that in mind I almost wish the MT-07 had some sort of chink in its armour, some small flaw. The truth is ‘noise’ is all I can muster up, which isn’t even a credible complaint as Yamaha will happily sell you a shiny Akrapovic system with removable baffle if you’re feeling flash with your cash. You may have noticed a lack of detail about the crossplane 270 degree crank in this review so far. The truth is there were some very complicated -looking diagrams about single axis balancers, inertial torque and various gear-driven spring absorbers that had me pulling faces and tilting my head like a confused dog. In practice I can say that the 270 degree firing order certainly translates into a peach of a motor, with a wide spread of linear shove.
More friendly police with road- closing powers saw us lined up along a half-finished row of holiday villas with a virgin, unused roundabout at the end that lead to nowhere, a sign of the economic troubles perhaps. Whatever the case, it made for a cracking little playground. A dodgy shoulder means my left-handers are a little ropier than my rights so I was relieved to hear we could do a few laps in both directions. Pegs were scraped and it was only when pushing around hard during the biggest lean angle that the MT would give a bit of a protest in the form of the odd wobble. Nothing serious but enough to let me know that it was time to back off a little.
We arrived back at the hotel after a detour through the harbour to beep at pretty ladies outside coffee shops and by now the panic had set in a little. How could a budget naked with a relatively small engine, a complete lack of toys and bargain-basement suspension be this bloody good? I wasn’t aching, I could still feel my fingers and to be honest I’d have happily carried on riding until the Federales eventually caught up with me. Just as well the Yamaha grown ups took the keys back when they did.
As far as competition goes, the MT-07 blows the current class-leader, Kawasaki’s ER-6, out of the water completely in terms of fun, character and performance. Indeed, I honestly can’t think of a bike I’ve ridden recently that has encouraged such irresponsible levels of pissing about regardless of price.
Yamaha has announced a restricted version available in the near future that’ll be A2 category compliant, aimed firmly at taking a slice of the learner legal cake currently enjoyed by the KTM390 Duke, Ninja 300 and co. With the MT-07 priced at £5,199 and a Yamaha PCP deal available at £100 a month, it’s easy to see it becoming another Yamaha sales success.
Words: Shaun Pope