Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Yamaha had to reconcile divergent demands to create this latest and most glamorous of its family of 847cc naked triples. Ever since the original MT-09 was launched in 2013 it has been all about raw acceleration, lightness and equally importantly a very competitive price. A couple of updates since then have tweaked throttle response, suspension and styling without altering the delicate balance between performance and value for money.
By contrast the initials SP, standing for Sport Production, were first given to exotic machines created for racing homologation in the early '90s, before being more widely used to signify something Special – a production model featuring tuned engine or lightweight chassis components. Yamaha’s own SP models have included super-sports YZF750 SP and YZF-R1 SP flagships as well as the current hyper-naked MT-10 SP.
The need to create an SP model within that MT-09 ethos dictates that the standard triple’s 115bhp, dohc 12-valve engine and aluminium frame are retained, along with the sharp styling that was introduced last year. Silver-blue paint plus matching blue wheels and seat stitching gives a family resemblance to the MT-10 SP and super-sports YZF-R1M (an SP in all but name).
This new triple’s SP status is all about suspension, though unlike those more expensive four-cylinder models it doesn’t get a fancy Öhlins semi-active system. Instead the Swedish specialist supplies a conventional rear shock with a useful remote preload adjuster. The standard Kayaba forks are replaced by higher quality units from the same Japanese firm, featuring dual-rate springs and more sophisticated damping.
In a straight line the SP is just like the standard MT-09 – a riot of punchy midrange acceleration and sweet-revving top-end power, its speed and entertainment factor emphasised by the upright, wind-blown riding position that makes occasional wheelies almost obligatory. Three riding modes give the option of throttle response ranging from razor-sharp to merely lively; a one-way quick-shifter enables clutchless up-changes through the six-speed box.
The SP’s edge comes from its chassis performance, especially from an Öhlins shock that combines ride quality with impeccable damping control and easy adjustability. The front end has a notably tauter feel, allowing the Yamaha to deliver the agile handling that the admirably lightweight MT-09 format always promised. If the unchanged tyres and radial four-piston front brake don’t reach quite the same standards, that’s only because they’re so high.
This is the best MT-09 model yet – a sharper, sweeter-steering version of the standard triple. Its suspension might not match the sophistication of a semi-active system but it helps provide the handling sharpness that the MT’s outstanding powerplant has long deserved.
Equally importantly, Yamaha has managed to produce this SP while maintaining its naked triple tradition of keen pricing. At £8,999, the MT-09 SP is only £800 more expensive than the standard model, five grand cheaper than the MT-10 SP, and competitive with the likes of Triumph’s Street Triple R. It’s an SP and it’s a bit special, but it’s still very much an MT-09.
Price tag of our bike: £8,999.
Photography by Alessio Barbanti and Jonathan Godin.