A motorcycle that is designed for optimum acceleration, braking and handling is generally called a “sport” bike. If said motorcycle lacks upper fairings for aerodynamics and wind protection, it is often referred to as “naked”.
Naked sport bikes have, historically, been variously described as “standards”, “universal Japanese motorcycles” (UJMs, for bikes specifically of Japanese origin, of course), café racers, and streetfighters. Regardless of the title, the common theme for these bikes is their versatility and street-oriented performance, wrapped up in a stylish package.
For sure, some standards fall low on the “sport” scale, some café racers break the mould with full fairings, and certain streetfighters are more show than go, but we can ignore these inconsistencies for the purpose of discussion regarding the revised 2018 Yamaha MT-07. It combines many of the elements that have made naked sport bikes so popular over the decades, and is part of the latest wave of similar machines coming from Asia and Europe. (For a considerably more retro flavour, check out the MT-07’s fraternal twin, the XSR700.)
What is it?
Formerly known as the FZ-07, the MT-07 is the smallest displacement “Master of Torque” (seriously!) model available from Yamaha in North America. It is motivated by a 689cc parallel-twin engine featuring a single balance shaft and 270-degree “CrossPlane Concept” uneven cylinder firing order, emphasized by the “CP2” logo on the engine cases. The terminology is meant to piggyback on the recent racing and marketing success of Yamaha’s Crossplane inline four engines in the YZR-M1 MotoGP bike and YZF-R1 superbike, but nonetheless, Yamaha has been using 270 degree firing order cranks in its parallel twins for decades. This configuration actually gives the MT-07 a more V-twin-like power delivery and sound, and is said to provide a smoother, more linear supply of torque.
Mechanically, the 2018 model is virtually identical to the previous model, with the exception of suspension tuning, but the bodywork and headlight have been redesigned with an eye toward aesthetic refinement and familial ties to its bigger brothers. The look is a little less clunky, especially in the tank-to-seat transition and the shape of the faux side vents and cowls on the lower sides of the tank (a nod toward side vents of the beloved V-Max; equally faux on the first-gen model V-Max, slightly faux on the second gen). The new wider headlight mimics the look of the previous FZ-09, which is now called the MT-09 (which, interestingly, now features a twin headlight setup similar to the MT-10, the third and largest model in Yamaha’s MT stable).
Give the bike a once-over, and the look is modern and well put together. The de-rigueur stubby exhaust hides its catalytic converter fairly well, the petal front brake rotors look slick, and the four-piston calipers appear like they could come off an R1, were they radial mount. Look a little closer, however, and signs of cost cutting become apparent in the stamped steel foot controls, steel frame, conventional fork, and lack of any adjustability of said fork. Nonetheless, these parts are decent quality and good looking, and do not detract from either the performance or appearance in any meaningful way.
A linkage-driven rear shock is adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping, and pivots directly off the engine cases. Preload adjustability allows for stiffening up the rear end for two-up or cargo-carrying duties, and the damping adjustment allows for matching the rebound to the spring adjustments accordingly. The black painted steel swingarm does a great impression of an aluminum unit, and the cast aluminum wheels wear big-boy-sized tires: 120 section front and 180 rear.
How is it to ride?
Have a seat on that newly shaped saddle, and insert the ignition key waaaay over, down in front of the instrument cluster. It is a curious spot for your keychain to dangle while riding, just above the headlight, directly exposed to the elements. Turn the key and watch the instrument panel do a little song and dance before settling down and awaiting orders.
Thumb the integrated starter/kill switch, and the engine awakens with an easy, low mumble of an idle. Click the six-speed into first, release the firm-but-not-too-stiff clutch, and the MT-07 pulls away with confidence, if not authority. As the revs rise, the exhaust note becomes a low but rising electric-motor buzz, and coincidentally, the power delivery feels equally like an electric motor: smooth, linear power from bottom to top.
The sound is a little unrefined and subdued, somewhere between an electric lawnmower and a Subaru. The shifter requires solid inputs, the throttle response is sharp but controllable, and the first few tugs at the high bars reveal a bike eager to turn. Go for the turn signal and accidentally toot the horn, as I did numerous times.
Head for the twisties, and the revised suspension tuning and meaty shoes inspire confidence. The aforementioned eager turn-in is countered by good stability mid-corner. At sane street-riding speeds, the bike feels completely unstressed. I would love to have a go on a closed course, maybe with a lower set of bars to get more over the front end, because the MT-07 feels like it has potential track chops. The stock tubular handlebar means switching to lower or higher bars is an easy prospect, and typically far less expensive than swapping clip-ons.
The wave-style rotors are said to provide better braking feel and increased cooling due to the increased air turbulence and leading edges swiping across the pads. They certainly look the part, and the braking system provides decent stopping power and modulation. The ABS engages a bit early under very hard braking, even on dry surfaces. Dial back the pace just a smidge and it is a non-issue.
On longer rides, the redesigned, longer seat allows for two distinct butt positions for the rider to shift between, to reduce backside fatigue. Shift forward over the narrow section of saddle for aggressive maneuvers, then slide back to stretch out and receive full support from the wide expanse of foam toward the rear. As is the case with any naked bike, wind protection is non-existent, but as usual, the aftermarket is rife with bolt-on windshield options in a variety of shapes and sizes. Factory-available upgrades for touring duty include a variety of tank bags, saddle bags, case mounts, top cases, side cases, GPS and phone mounts, heated grips, and accessory wiring.
Is it worth the money?
For comparisons, ride to your nearest Suzuki dealer and take a gander at the SV650X ABS, priced identically to the $8,299 MT-07. The V-twin SV presents a more retro (dated?) style, with a lower seat height that benefits shorter riders, and larger front discs to cope with a little extra in the claimed weight department. The rear shock lacks any damping adjustments, and the 160-section rear tire means a little less rubber for your dollar.
Next door at Kawasaki, the Z650 ABS undercuts the MT by a few hundred dollars, and features similar modern styling, gull wing swingarm, stubby exhaust and wave front brake rotors. Claimed weight of the green machine is a little higher and, similar to the SV, the rear shock lacks damping adjustments and the rear tire is also a 160 section.
Honda next, and the CB650F costs almost $700 more than the MT. Big Red comes to the party with inline-four power and smoothness, but the same lack of rear damping adjustment as the Z and the SV. Honda adds an LED headlight and aluminum swingarm to the mix to help justify some of the price difference.
Back on the road with the Yamaha, and the overriding feeling is that of a capable chassis endowed with a versatile powerplant. You would have to dig pretty deep to find the limits of the handling, and you have to let the revs drop pretty low before the engine starts to chug. Like an oversized golf driver or tennis racquet, the sweet spot of this motorcycle is broad and easy to access, and it allows the less experienced rider to hit apexes and nail corner exits like a pro.
Yet naked sport bikes are still primarily street bikes, and the MT-07 ticks all the correct boxes with its fashionable aesthetics and comfortable ergonomics to go along with its sporting chops. History has once again repeated itself.
2018 Yamaha MT-07 Key Specs:
Engine: 689 cc parallel twin
Curb weight: 183 kg
Power: 75 hp @ 13,200
Torque: 50 lb-ft @ 10,800 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,400 mm
Length: 2085 mm
Seat height: 805 mm
Brakes: Dual 282mm discs, four piston calipers front, single 245mm disc and single piston caliper rear, ABS
Front suspension: Telescopic 41mm fork, 130mm wheel travel.
Rear suspension: Monocross link shock, adjustable preload and rebound damping, 130mm wheel travel.
Tires: 120/70/ZR17 front, 180/55/ZR17 rear