Ever since the first man twisted the first throttle on the first motorbike nearly 150 years ago, the hunt for more and more power has been on. Each time a manufacturer grabs a headline with a crazy power claim, a journalist somewhere writes that things have surely reached an unsurpassable level. In 1991 it was the Kawasaki ZZR1100, I can remember reading with my very own eleven year old eyes astounded tales from bike journos, stating that 139 rear wheel horsepower was witchcraft and that things couldn’t ever get any better. One hundred and thirty nine horsepower, it was a figure that I used to lay in bed dreaming about. By the time I was nineteen, the Suzuki Hayabusa had raised the bar to a (then) stratospheric 173bhp. Again there was talk of this being the absolute limit for road legal motorcycles to be able to cope with.
We’re a long way down the road from 173bhp now. Tyre development and traction control means 200bhp road bikes are relatively common. I’ve ridden them all and yes, they are indeed amazing. But there is a gulf of difference between wanting 200bhp and needing 200bhp. It might be hard to admit it, but we do not need 200bhp on the road. That raises the question of what do you need on the road? You can probably see where I’m going with this but if you can’t, I’ll tell you. You need 158.2bhp. Funnily enough, that’s exactly what this new Yamaha MT-10 makes. Leave your ego at the door and step this way to find out why.
From the moment the covers were pulled off this bike at EICMA in 2015 I was on the hook. The promise of stripped back R1 performance in a funky looking package with wide bars and an all day every day riding position really got me going.
The MT-10 proudly sits at the head of the bustling MT table. With an engine size to suit every licence and riding flavour Yamaha has achieved strong MT range sales, over 65,000 units in Europe in the last two years. Yamaha wanted a figurehead, a bike that smaller MT owners can look up to, aspire to owning and pin on the wall. The MT-10 is that bike.
Within five minutes of the press conference starting (in a Yamaha graffiti clad abandoned warehouse up a mountain in Spain), we were told that this bike was not a naked R1, more a street bike developed with the race inspired technology that the R1 benefits from. There are obvious and not so obvious clues that this bike isn’t simply an R1 sans fairing panels and we’ll cover them in detail, but I struggled not to think of it as anything other than a naked R1, especially after riding it.
MT-10 is powered by the CP4 inline four that you’ll find in an R1, though around 40% of the parts used are different. Smash the motor open and you’ll find a new cylinder head design, new combustion chambers, pistons and rods. Different cams, cam timing and a larger air box all play a part of this remastered tune. The bottom end and the exhaust have also been extensively reworked. Crank inertia has been increased by 40% increasing low and mid range drive. The exhaust has a similar profile to the R1, but the there’s more stainless steel, plus the EXUP valve opens at just 5000rpm. The net result for all this work is 158.2bhp at 11,500rpm and 83lb-ft of torque at 9000rpm. A quick comparison with R1 power and torque numbers shows that the MT-10 is hitting peak numbers two thousand revs lower than its faired brother.
Chassis wise the MT-10 is around 60% different to the R1. A gravity cast Deltabox aluminium frame is mated to a steel rear sub frame rather than the magnesium swank fest that the R1 has. MT-10 is ready for you to strap proper luggage and a pillion to the rear of, hence the heavyweight sub frame. The swing arm and suspension have also been lifted from the R1. Like Yamaha said, this isn’t an R1, it’s a street bike with race bike derived components, but I’m sticking to my guns on it being as near as dammit a naked R1.
Tank size is also the same at 17 litres, although the profiles are different. The shorter shape means more rider weight towards the front of the bike, which when coupled with the extra mass in the motor, lowers the centre of gravity and shifts it further towards the front of the bike. All this in an effort to help keep the front wheel on the ground. We’ll get to how good it is at not keeping the front wheel on the ground in a minute, but first, some software.
MT-10 has three level traction control and three rider modes. There are some tweaks to the systems compared to other Yamahas that make complete sense to me. The first is the memory function. Whatever your preference of setting, when you turn the bike off it’ll still be in the mode you left it in when you come back (apart from if you turn the traction completely off, it’ll turn that back on). There are no power cuts or rain modes, just three different ways of experiencing the motor. Standard, A and B, in that order. Standard is the softest, A is the one I liked the most and B is angry. After some fiddling, I left the bike in A mode with the traction control set on level one. It’ll wheelie in all but level three, where the traction control prevents wheel lift. The slipper clutch helps out the back and the standard fit ABS helps at both ends. Also, when you’re feeling lazy you can engage the very easy to use cruise control. The range of standard features is impressive, not as impressive as it is to ride, but impressive nonetheless. All of your setting choices and other useful data are displayed on a very easy to read LCD screen borrowed from a 1984 RD125. I’m obviously telling a hilarious lie, the screen is also very much like the one you’ll find on the R1 but rather than displaying an array of go faster info, it shows useful real world data.
Before I talk about the ride, lets talk about that face. The angular and exposed mug that surrounds the LED headlights has divided public opinion, including mine. One minute I like it, the next I’m thinking about BMW Rocksters and that bit in Predator where the baddy takes his mask off and looks like an inside out Octopus. The simple fact with the styling is that Yamaha didn’t want to sit on the fence with a bland looker that slips between the car park cracks. When I pushed for an answer as to why it looks this way the reply was simple. “When we build a bike that stands out from the crowd, everyone that is looking for a bike that stands out from the crowd knows where to find one”. I can appreciate that and, thankfully, the riding experience is so good that you could staple roadkill to the to the screen and I’d still happily swing a leg.
The leg you swing only has to reach 825mm to clear the seat, three cms lower than it’s superbike brother. If you’re six foot dead and 14.5 stone like I am, you’ll find plenty of room on the seat, easy to reach pegs and bars and a generally comfortable place from which you can reel in the horizon. The thing sounds like a NASCAR on tickover and only gets better the louder things get. In my (massive) ears, it sounds nicer than all of its competitors on a stock pipe, including the R1.
Round town manners are good. Despite the extra two teeth on the rear sprocket, first gear is versatile enough to manage all of my requirements at 40 mph and below. The mirrors work well and the bars have plenty of lock making easy work of stationary traffic and slow speed maneuvering. The MT-10 feels playful though, tiny twists of the throttle instantly propel you wherever you’re pointing. The comfortable seat and plush suspension giving no real indication of the performance available.
The first real indication of what’s available I got was as we joined a Spanish motorway. By the way, Yamaha had every road in the whole of Spain closed for the weekend so we could ride like complete goons without fear of recrimination…
Traveling up the slip road in second gear at about six thousand revs, I went to full gas and immediately found ‘infinite front tyre life mode’. Second gear eventually became forth gear and the smile on my face eventually became howling laughter. Ten identical MT-10s, all in ‘infinite front tyre life mode’ at the same time isn’t a memory I’ll forget in a long time. My talent ran out long before the bikes’ and it settled in to motorway cruising speed back on two wheels. That little screen does an outstanding job at 75/80mph, buffeting is light and my neck muscles didn’t even know we’re on a bike. The taller guys in the group obviously copped a bit of windblast, but Yamaha already has an optional screen in the brochure to remedy that. Those four bolts you can see above the headlights are all you’ll need to undo to fit it as well.
Off the motorway and into some really tasty twisties, I felt happiest in second gear. It took me a while to nail gear selection for cornering. Initially it felt like it was harder to get the gear right for corner entry than it did corner exit. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough engine braking in third on the way in and felt like I was coasting on a closed throttle for too long. Once I wanted drive though, third gear had all the torque I was looking for and was more than happy to burp me out of the corner. Second gear gave me more engine control on the way in and playfully mental acceleration on the way out. I enjoyed riding the bike this way more and stuck with it, though it did mean I’d used more fuel than most by the time we stopped for a coffee. I reckon conservative throttle use would reward me with at least 120 miles to a tank, maybe more. I can’t say for sure as I didn’t opt for conservative throttle use. It was sunny and there were twisty Spanish roads, don’t judge me.
Getting the MT-10 onto a line that I wanted it on was easy. The front end feel was spot on, great suspension set up well with slightly soft feeling brakes and a Bridgestone tyre that I had more than enough trust in. By the time we hit the first photo location, I was happy to kiss the peg on the floor and scuff my weird looking strap on kneesliders. Instant confidence is what I’m getting at, every rider in the group had it, as was clear by the amount of us that kept engaging ‘infinite front tyre life mode’, sometimes immediately after a knee down corner and sometimes just immediately all the time.
In the middle of the day we encountered wet roads and the odd spit of rain. The temperature gauge read as low as 8 degrees at one point. Remember there is no rain mode to settle into, but changing modes is possible on the fly so you can turn up the traction and soften off the power delivery if you want to. I opted to leave everything as it was and didn’t once feel uncomfortable with what the bike was doing. Ten miles up the road we were back in the sunshine and back on the gas, pipes bubbling on the overrun and barking on the throttle stop, I was having a boatload of fun on the MT-10. Not a single issue to report with the fueling (anyone that owned an FZ1 will remember how easy it is for Yamaha to get that wrong), not a sniff of hesitation from the gearbox either. Yamaha really has done a fantastic job with this bike.
Trading tales with the others at lunch (turns out Cabra means Goat in Spanish), I heard a few people saying that they could feel the seat stop poking them in the back if they slid back in the saddle, I didn’t have that problem. Some of the lads in race boots also said they were clipping their heals on the pillion pegs when they rode on the balls of their feet. Again, I didn’t suffer with this one either. Maybe due to my average size eight feet or maybe due to my choice of dainty footwear. I could also tell that I wasn’t alone in thinking that the MT-10 was a massively capable bike. Even the one with the tall screen, comfy seat and panniers was flying along. If you buy one of these you’ll have the option of going down the quick shifter and noisy pipe option route, or the comfy touring one. I’d be more than happy on either, as the nature of the bike would suit whichever path you choose to take.
More fuel, more twisting roads and more giggling in my helmet followed in the afternoon. Even after 350 fairly physical kms of riding I still felt fresh and would have happily carried on. I spent some time playing with the cruise control, it was simple to use and the controls easy to find. I generally pushed and pulled my way all over the bike, struggling to find anything to fault I just got stuck into enjoying the ride. I wanted more initial bite on the brakes, but the stopping performance didn’t let me down. Our day finished with a trip to a private airstrip for some wheelie pictures. Once in the relative safety of our own runway, Yamaha let us go at it. We did and I genuinely pulled wheelies until I ran out of fuel. Coasting into a nearby petrol station, grinning like a loony I felt like I’d spent my time on the MT-10 doing exactly what it was good at, a little bit of everything.
The MT-10 isn’t about maximum performance, it’s about perfectly optimised performance. Why have 200 bhp, when 160 purpose crafted and road ready bhp will do every bit as good a job of painting a smile of your face and slinging you down the road in complete safety. This bike has all of the theatre and riding enjoyment that I’ve experienced on the ready to race R1, but I didn’t need to ride it flat out to access what it’s good at. If your ego can stomach you not having the most power on your Facebook page, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most capable and enjoyable road bikes money can buy. Speaking of money, the MT-10 costs just £9999. Turns out Yamaha has optimised the price tag too.
Words: Johnatsuperbike Images: Yamaha