Test Ride: Yamaha MT-01

Words: Larry Tate Photos: Richard Seck
Yes Larry, WTF is that?

WTF is that thing?

That’s about the standard reaction I’d get whenever I’d pull up and park the Yamaha MT-01. Without question, it’s the most attention grabbing bike that I’ve ever ridden in all my years as a motorcycle journalist!

The shock of seeing the MT-01 doesn’t lessen when you examine it more closely. What’s with the huge air-cooled pushrod engine mated to a modern aluminum beam frame? The high-spec fully adjustable forks and shock unit? Then there’s the two huge bazooka-like mufflers exit way high – above the turn signals high – and the snaking contortion of the exhausts is a pipe-builder’s nightmare.

And yet in spite of all these components, which in some way look like someone ran a giant magnet through a random collection of bits, somehow it’s got serious presence, in a don’t-f*ck-with-me-bubba kind of way.

You’ve got to give Yamaha credit for actually building the thing so closely to the prototype show bike that had jaws dropping back in 1999, at the Tokyo auto show.

The original idea, apparently, started with R&D somehow squeezing a Warrior cruiser engine into an R1 frame (perhaps after a late-night saki session), and things proceeded from there.

The MT-01 engine no longer shares much with the Warrior – Yamaha says more than 90% of the parts have been changed, including a big weight-loss program on the crank and flywheel to let the MT engine spin up faster, plus a much bigger air box and the first EXUP exhaust valve Yamaha’s used on a twin.

SOUNDS AS MEAN AS IT LOOKS AND AS HARD AS IT PULLS

While the redline is ridiculously low for anyone used to four-cylinder sport bikes (5,500 rpm, and it’s best to shift about 5,000 to avoid hitting The Mother of All Rev Limiters) the power delivery of the 48-degree V-twin is awesome. There’s a claimed maximum 110 ft-lb of torque available at 3,750 rpm, and the torque “curve” is about the flattest line you’ll ever see on a motorcycle dyno chart. That translates into instant pull at any rpm in any gear.

Horsepower? Who cares -torque rules, baby!

The bike is visceral in every sense, with big throttle openings at low revs creating big, low amplitude vibrations that roll your gut. Add to this a ferocious intake roar, an exhaust note you can’t believe made it into production (and supposedly meets upcoming Euro and California standards), and the occasional wicked barking spit or crackling burble on the over-run, and the MT-01 sounds as mean as it looks and as hard as it pulls.

Motor is based on the Warrior but with a faster spin cycle.

Despite the intimidating grumbles, clanks, and grinds from the engine bay, the fuel injection “carburates” beautifully and cleanly, so it’s easy to ride without the snatchy feeling you often get from EFI. This particular one uses the twin-butterfly system that’s getting more common, and works a treat. Of course, this is particularly nice around town, where you’re off and on the throttle regularly.

The hydraulic clutch is perhaps a bit heavy in action, but it’s not bad and our female tester didn’t mention it at all. Take-up is nice, and even with the huge pistons crashing about at lower rpm there’s no judder or shake when starting off.

The five-speed gearbox is typically Japanese – pretty slick, easy to use, no false neutrals – but it’s a bit heavier and notchier than you’d expect if you’re used to inline fours, and a more deliberate action is needed. Again, no big deal, and something you’ll be used to before your first ride is finished (also, the bike was brand-new when we got it, so some of that might just go away as things wear in).

Ride like a jerk …

It is really, seriously hard to ride this thing in any way other than like a complete jerk, with a manic grin pasted under your helmet the entire time. It’s a highly involving and entertaining experience in a way that few other bikes, Japanese or other, can come close to matching.

A lot of that is thanks to the big-twin engine, of course. But a Honda VTR1000 or Suzuki SV1000S, or even the SV’s evil and wicked ancestor the TL1000S, simply don’t grab you by the throat the same way the MT-01 does.

Of course, power is nothing without control, and there’s no question that exerting at least some control over an engine as raucous as the MT-01’s is likely to extend your life expectancy. With a top speed in the 200 km/h range some control will also reduce your road-side chat time with folks in blue serge suits.

HANDLING

The motor is solidly mounted to a stiff alloy frame that is in turn mated to beefy USD 43 mm forks up front, and a big braced swingarm with a shock laid flat under back of the gearbox – Buell style – at the rear.

USD forks and R1 style brakes keep the beast under control. Note the external oil tank (the motor’s a dry sump) at the bottom right of the pic.

Both front and rear units are adjustable for preload plus compression and rebound damping. The rear adjusters are a bit of a pain, but better than some we’ve seen in similar situations – be nice if everyone who buries the rear shock just decided to use remote adjusters and be done with it, though.

Keeping things under control is helped by an excellent set of brakes. Big four-piston Sumitomo calipers use the current trendy radial mounts to fiercely grab big 320 mm front discs – the feel and feedback are very good indeed, and there’s lots of power as well.

Ride quality is quite acceptable, especially up front. The rear occasionally proved a bit choppy over sharp pavement irregularities, but then dialing the rear shock more than we did might cure some of that. The result is about perfect for the road, delivering a massively stable platform that, when in motion, feels much lighter than its claimed 240 kg. Although you’d never call it nimble, it takes a set neatly and rails through corners with absolute aplomb.

Eventually you’ll run into ground clearance issues – the pegs will touch down first, but you can just stand on the offending one to drive it more firmly into the ground and keep the power on and you’ll just … go around the corner, leaving a shower of sparks and the sound of your mad cackle interspersed with the grinding of aluminum. No fuss.

Pegs will touch down but only under conditions shown.

Of course, push that much farther on the right side and you’ll be into the huge pipes (they have to be big, moving as they do something like 23 litres of exhaust every second – at idle …), while the front-mounted oil tank (for the dry sumped motor) and little skid plate/bottom fairing are close on the left. So taking the footpeg grinding as a serious warning is a very good idea.

By the way, we discovered all this at a track day on Shannonville’s Fabi Circuit – none of us touched anything down on the road, hooligan impulses or not. This kind of exercise, by the way, tends to overwhelm the rear shock before too long; it didn’t take a lot of laps to induce a weave and a wallow from the back as the shock heated up. Again, we doubt you’d ever run into this problem in normal (or abnormal) road use – multiple laps of a short, tight track on a 30-degree day don’t really approximate any road riding you’re likely to find in Canada.

ERGOS

BTW that’s an FZ6 trailing (which we’ll be writing about shortly).

Riding the thing around at a more normal level of speed is enough to impress you with the level of civility Yamaha has built in, especially considering the caged beast sensations the engine delivers so easily.

The riding position – gently sloped forward a bit with mildly rear-set pegs and fairly narrow bars – was perfect for those of us on the shorter side of average, say 5-8 to 5-10 or so. Despite the massive, bulky appearance of the bike it’s actually pretty narrow through the seat and cases, so getting your legs comfortable whether riding, or down at a stop, is easy.

All in all, it’s quite a civil place to sit even though the bucket shape locks the rider into one spot. A long day would likely prove trying, but for our time on the bike, up to two-three hours at a time, all was well.

Wide and high pipes could make it tricky for passengers.

For the rider, anyway. A passenger would have to be a brave soul; the exhausts look even bigger than they are due to huge amounts of pretty effective insulation (albeit the final plastic shield looks and feels pretty flimsy), and a tiny seat, high pegs, and the need to splay the legs to clear the pipes makes it a very short-term situation at best.

It’s a pleasant enough bike to ride in the city. As noted, it feels much smaller than it looks, and the massive instant power no matter what gear you’re in makes it easy to jam your way into openings. It’s also narrow enough to filter up through traffic easily enough, too (that is, if you happen to live somewhere like California or Italy where it’s legal. Ahem).

BITS & BODS

The instruments are clean and tidy, with a big clear tachometer and digital speedo, plus clock and the usual trip/odometer. At night, an unusual soft white light backlights it all nicely. Speaking of night, the headlight may look like something out of a Wookie’s nightmare, but it works a treat, throwing a bright, clear beam well down the road. Well done, chaps.

Clocks are simple and neat.

And the mirrors are surprisingly useful, as well, considering the massive engine vibration (which doesn’t intrude at cruising speed, really).

Our riders found the sidestand rather sticky, which might just have been an issue with newness, but it never changed in the several hundred kilometers we put on the bike. We all found it necessary to be careful to get it fully deployed, and pretty much always took a close look at it before walking away from the parked machine.

There’s no centrestand – hard to see how one could be fitted, really – and that of course means that adjusting and lubing the chain is going to be a serious PITA for an owner. Then again, the lack of luggage provision (just look at those mufflers), wind protection, and the locked-in riding position means it probably won’t ever be the world’s most popular tourer.

THE POINT OF THE MATTER

So wot’s it all abaht, Alfie? Not completely at home on the track (although with a better shock it would be a giggle on a 7/10s track day), probably not a super long-distance ride, not ultimately as crazy-fast as a litre sport bike (or 600, for that matter) – but as a day-to-day ride, the thing is an absolute gas.

For your daily commute, for a day or weekend ride up to your favourite roads, or for that matter any trip where you could live out a tank bag and backpack – excellent. A sport bike for the real world? Maybe so, and you don’t have any problem standing out from the cookie-cutter sport bike crowd, if that matters to you.

It’s definitely a two-thumbs up from the CMG crowd who rode it. Which we hope isn’t the kiss of death, because it’s an excellent way to have a giggle on two wheels – which is the whole point of it all, isn’t it?


SPECIFICATIONS

Notes – For 2007 there is now an SP version that is distinguished by some fancy colour options. However, the MT-01 does see some mechanical updates as well, including 6 piston front calipers on 310 mm rotors, new mirrors, new fork leg sliders and integrated front brake and clutch master cylinders.
The specifications shown below represent the 2007 models.

Bike

MT-01

MSL

$16,099.00 (add $200 for the SP version)

Displacement

1670 cc

Engine type

48 degree V-twin, air-cooled

Carburetion

Fuel Injection (40 Mikuni)

Final drive

Five speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

190/50 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 310 mm discs with six-piston calipers
(Dual 320 mm discs with four-piston calipers on our ’06 tester)

Brakes, rear

Single 267 mm disc with twin-piston caliper

Seat height

825 mm (32.5″)

Wheelbase

1525 mm (60.0″)

Dry weight

241 Kg (530.2 lbs) (claimed)

Colours

Metallic Black, Bluish White, Deep Metallic Red (only option for the SP)

Warranty

12 months (unlimited mileage)

One thought on “Test Ride: Yamaha MT-01”

  1. I did get the pegs to grind on a twisty road in BC which ended in me going wide in the corner, hitting gravel & going down…poor MT-01. But I git it fixed and still love riding the BEAST!! Very accurate write up.

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