In the world of motorcycling, three-cylinder engines are a magical thing. They offer the torque and personality of a V-twin but have the sky-high redline and power of an inline-four. A triple is compact and powerful and doesn't sound like anything else. That's why I'm stoked about Yamaha's new MT-09 bike and its crossplane triple engine.
For the 2021 MT-90, the CP3 engine gets a bump in displacement from 847cc to 890cc, and that pays dividends in the form of a 6% increase in torque and an exceptionally smooth powerband. Other engine changes include a new downdraft-style intake system, camshafts, cylinder head and exhaust. Yamaha's work pays off in the form of better fuel economy while also meeting strict Euro 5 emissions targets.
From a practical standpoint, the CP3 engine is an absolute peach. It offers excellent low-end torque that makes riding around at slow speeds a total snap. The engine is always willing to go at the flick of a wrist, with excellent throttle response and tons of power.
One of the best parts of the engine is its sound. The exhaust note is pleasant, but it's the wild intake howl -- reminiscent of a flat-six Porsche 911 GT3 at high rpm -- that really sells the experience. It's addictive.
In addition to the new engine, Yamaha also spent a lot of time on the transmission. The old MT-09's gearbox was criticized for being a little sloppy and not as nice to shift as other bikes in the class. For 2021, Yamaha changed the shift fork design and increased the ratio of first and second gears, and the result is a transmission that's much nicer to use. Moving between gears is precise and requires only a light flick of the foot. The standard quickshifter works with both upshifts and downshifts and is an attractive feature in a bike at this price. Still, the quickshifter isn't as sophisticated as the ones I've used on more expensive bikes from Ducati or Aprilia.
The MT-09's chassis was also tweaked and adjusted for increased performance. The frame is a cast-aluminum twin-spar setup with a 50% increase in lateral rigidity over the outgoing model. The rear subframe is die-cast rather than tubular, which Yamaha claims saves around 3 pounds. Overall, the bike is 8 pounds lighter than its predecessor, with a wet weight of just 417 pounds.
The bike features a fully adjustable suspension from KYB that, while not the most sophisticated setup on two wheels, is totally adequate for canyon carving and around-town riding. Yamaha will also offer a higher-spec MT-09SP model with an Ohlins shock in the back and a slightly more sophisticated KYB fork with a diamond-like coating on the tubes.
The MT-09's brakes may lack some visual appeal, but they're more than adequate when it comes to hauling this relatively lightweight bike down from speed. The front brake setup features dual 298-millimeter rotors, while the back is a single 245-millimeter unit. The big news in the braking department is an upgraded Nissin radial-mount front master cylinder borrowed from the 2020 Yamaha R1 sportbike, which improves the feel at the brake lever and the inclusion of lean-sensitive anti-lock brakes.
That ABS system is part of a comprehensive electronics suite that I'm incredibly excited to find on a bike costing less than $10,000. The system uses a six-axis inertial measurement unit which also includes traction control, slide control, wheelie control and more. The whole system is extremely effective, even if it lacks some of the granularity in the configurability of similar setups on higher-end models.
With all these changes and that sweetheart of a drivetrain, the MT-09 is excellent to ride. It's a bike that wears its compromises well and offers a thrilling ride, even at legal speeds. The bike is light and flickable. It feels nimble but also stable at speed. It's sporty but relatively comfortable, and even though it's not really meant for long tours, you won't have a bad time doing so.
There is sufficient adjustability in the chassis as well as in the location of foot controls and handlebars to make the bike fit most people. The almost wasp-waisted shape of the tank and seat means it's extremely easy to get two feet on the ground at stops. It's a raw enough bike to give you thrills when you want them but well-tuned enough to keep those thrills at bay when you just want to get around town.
The MT-09 is a genuinely stellar motorcycle, and Yamaha's pièce de résistance has to be the bike's price tag. The 2021 MT-09 will retail for just $9,399. That's an increase of $400 over the 2020 model, but that price bump is minuscule when you consider the smoother, more powerful, more efficient powertrain, as well as the added cost and complexity that rider-assistance systems bring.