The course was set – as in the course that the Australians are trying to get approved for a fully-fledged TT – for us to head out on Yamaha’s R1-inspired MT-10 to cut a lap or two of this 47.2km circuit.
It’s a real balancing act when you base a big naked on a new superbike, but Yamaha really have out-done themselves with the MT-10. The power is reduced and the spread is wider and lower; but, on the road, that blend is superb. Backing up the sound and feel of that engine is the shortest wheelbase in the class, assisted by an electronic steering damper and the R1 chassis, resulting in a motorcycle that is stable, sure-footed and, most importantly, massively entertaining when you want to play. That is, after all, the name of the game. The MT-10 turned out to be better than I thought – and I had high expectations.
Topping-off the MT family, it has been a while coming and looking at the fine-tuning put in by the design team, the number of changes from the undeniably track-focussed R1 really start adding up. With around 40 per cent of the components unique to the ‘Ten’, including the combustion chambers, crankshaft, cams, throttle bodies, pistons, swingarm, tripleclamps, wheels, less exotic brakes and even the steep steering angle and the distinctive style, there were no shortcuts taken. Adding to my initial impression, as I swung a leg over for another stint, was the newfound knowledge that it could be mine for a dollar under twenty grand.
Whatever the “Dark Side” team are popping in the Yamaha bean-counters’ energy drinks has induced a new era for potential buyers and doesn’t appear to have any serious side-affects for the brand either. That price makes the MT-10 cheaper here in NZ – with current exchange rates, anyway – than any other market, too, but don’t even ask why… seriously, don’t!
Well, you don’t get the full IMU-based electronics that R1 pilots enjoy but the MT-10 still has traction control, easily switched to ‘off’ should you choose, ABS (you’ll need to remove a fuse to eliminate that feature, should you feel the urge) and three quite distinct mapping modes. The fly-by-wire Y-CCT (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) has a ‘normal’ mode plus A and B. Parting with tradition, B is the more aggressive mode, particularly noticeable in low to mid revs, but all three deliver the same maximum output of 160 throaty sounding horses at the lower peak of 11,500rpm (two grand lower than the R1) and maximum torque of 111Nm at 9000rpm, again, a couple of thou’ lower, so it’s all about throttle response algorithms rather than restricting power, assisted by the MT-10’s weightier crankshaft. That clever throttle also has cruise control as standard, for those with a lack of self-control, and it works in gears from fourth up and speeds from 60 to 180km/h. For around $250, you can also get the Yamaha quick-shift, which is a must in this day and age really and the ECU is ready and waiting.
About here, it needs to be said that that cross-plane power delivery is even more at home in this guise than the track-happy R1, living up to claims that it has the ability to satisfy fans of twins, triples and fours. That deep growl lets you grumble through posh suburbs with barely an eyebrow lifted until you hit the open speed sign, where the real persona rips the still country air as you feel the ‘bars relax in your hands with the front wheel your choice of inches or feet in the air. No clutch is needed to hoist the front in the first three gears and even in fourth, all it needs is a wee tease and if there is a crest or you give it a flick while leaning back, pick your cog, you’re good to go and it feels so stable that you will try all the options. If that’s not really you, leave the traction control on and it’ll step in and keep you on the level. That clutch is a slipper and assist type, so clever ramps allow the use of lighter springs, making clutch-pull light and with great feel and the slipper steps in to stop the rear stepping out, should you get all enthusiastic before engaging the backing-in like Rossi talent.
With our journey pausing for a ‘playtime’ break on a closed road, the distinctive sound of MT-10s at full-noise reverberating off the trees let it really show its playful side. There were plenty of opportunities to let it off the leash but I’d still like to ride past a track and pop in for a few laps as it runs the same suspension as the R1 (not the R1M) but with revised settings. Being three-way adjustable, front and rear, the KYB components really do hit the mark and put the Yamaha on good footing, even against pricier alternatives. Set relatively firmly for the proposed ride, it still had the ability to be pliant and sporty. But a set of semi-rigid panniers would make the Ten into a great sports-tourer at the drop of a hat, so versatility is another ace for Yamaha’s new kid.
So, you’re not sure about the aggressive new visage?
Not everyone loves it, true enough, but it does stand out from the crowd – and adding a screen changes it dramatically. It also adds to the touring angle. But, even as naked as it arrives into the world, the wind deflection is pretty decent, letting you head well into the 260km/h-plus-a-chunk region without being ripped from the ‘bars – that closed road bit, of course…
Yamaha have waved their magic wand over the 1400mm wheelbase and sit you there with a 51 per cent bias toward the front wheel and those tapered ‘bars are flatter than the likes of the front-light MT-09. So, at similar pace, it feels much more planted than the MT-09, even with much better suspenders than the ‘Nine’ was cursed with in the past. To get that playful feeling on the MT-10, all you need to do is apply more throttle and as the MT-09 fades in your mirrors, the smile contorts your cheeks and the latest member of the successful Yamaha MT family gives a value-for-money ride that will see it viewed as a serious threat to the established players. It really is game-on in what is fast becoming the ‘standard’ bike class of the modern era. Fast, flexible and semi-naked is a hard-fought, furiously-protected category that every manufacturer wants to own – apart from Honda, oddly enough. Anyway, it’s a great class and you are spoiled for choice but Yamaha now have one choice that cannot be ignored.
Sadly, while still begging for more, it was time to depart the launch venue and thrash the living daylights out of a bunch of MT-03s back to base, leaving the local guys to have one more spin. Did they catch the Kiwis by using the backroads that we had already planned? With the throttles held tight and the laughter audible in some sections, no, which wiped the expectant grins from out trans-Tasman colleagues. What a fun little bike that is when there are five of them on a mission.
Comfort-wise, the big-dog is king of the pack. The MT-10 has decent seating for the rider and not too shabby for a pillion, within reason. The ergonomics are spot-on for me, at 1.79m – that’s 5’ 11” in old coin – and I could ride one all day.
Oh, I did, so there you go.
Take a bow, Yamaha.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled transverse four-cylinder four-stroke
Valve arrangement: DOHC 16 valves
Bore x stroke: 79 x 50.9mm
Compression ratio: 12:1
Carburation: Digital fuel-injection with YCC-T
Maximum power: 158bhp (160PS) @ 11,500rpm
Maximum torque: 111Nm @ 9000rpm
Clutch: Wet multiplate slipper clutch
Front suspension: 43mm KYB USB telescopic, 120mm travel, adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: One KYB damper, 120mm travel, adjustment for preload, high- and low-speed compression plus rebound damping
Front brake: Twin 320mm discs, four-piston radial calipers with ABS
Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17-in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17-in; cast aluminium
Front tyre: 120/70 x 17in Bridgestone S20
Rear tyre: 190/50 x 17in Bridgestone S20
Rake/trail: 24 degrees/102mm
Seat height: 825mm
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Weight: 210kg with full tank (Doesn’t feel close to it…)