Rides: Yamaha MT-09

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This is proof that you don't need to pay a hefty price to get a good ride.

We first saw the Yamaha MT-09 at the Tokyo Motor Show last year. There it was, sitting high on a pedestal looking naked and sexy, and apparently out of reach, until Hong Leong Yamaha Motor GM Voon Yin Kong came over and got us all excited when he said the MT-09 would be heading to Malaysia soon.

Despite that, some eager Malaysians went ahead and bought the bike from grey importers at RM70,000, paying RM16,000 more than what was to be the official local price. One can't blame them because almost all the foreign reviews rated the MT-09 as the best bike to have come out of Japan in years.

So, quite naturally, when Hong Leong Yamaha called to say our test bike was ready, we dropped everything to head to its factory and headquarters in Sungai Buloh. Five minutes after leaving the factory, we had to agree with those reviews: the MT-09 is the best we have seen from Japan in a long while.

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The liquid cooled, three-cylinder, inline 847cc engine has no crossplane technology even though Yamaha labels it a CP3. It does have a 120-degree crank angle and its uneven firing order is similar to Triumph's Street Triple engine, another triple naked bike in the market.

Now what the English triple is missing is the Yamaha's bigger fun factor. The MT-09 is one of those modern machines with ride-by-wire technology and three riding modes under Yamaha's D-Mode throttle mapping system. The frame is a new die-cast chassis while the tyres are sporty by nature, 120/70 and 180/55. The suspension has preload and rebound adjustment while dry weight is 171kg.

When Yamaha also pointed out the MT-09 has a 51-degree lean angle, we knew the MT-09 was never meant for newbies. It's for riders experienced enough to get this tallish bike down that low.

The riding position is more supermotard than naked UJM. The handlebar is straight and offers easy leverage, the front looks bare because the instrument cluster is a small rectangular LCD screen, and there is no front cowling to make the bike feel bigger. In short, a typical supermotard setup.

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Overall, the equipment shows that the MT-09 is a budget bike, as intended by Yamaha globally. The suspension is not fully adjustable, the brake discs are smaller than the ones in R6 or R1 sportsbikes, there is no traction control, and even the ABS has gone AWOL. The instrument cluster is basic, although it does look high tech.

Still, for a budget bike, Yamaha has been generous enough to give the MT-09 an aluminium chassis, forged aluminium pistons and aluminium wheels, all in the name of shedding weight.

The first thing you notice when you swing onto the bike is just how skinny this 850cc machine is. The seat actually narrows to the front and widens towards the back, which means your girlfriend will love you more. The bars are wide and, with no front screen, you have a clear view of what is in front. The keyhole sits on the left of the instrument panel and is designed to discourage the use of big keychains.

The starter button is a slider. Slide it downwards and you will hear a rather weak engine note. It has a higher shriek than a twin and it's definitely not as solid as a four-inline engine. We have no doubt that 99 percent of the owners will quickly search for a noisier exhaust system.

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The Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) features the D-Mode throttle mapping system with three modes, A, STD and B. We quickly learned that A is the most sensitive setup, where throttle response feels really sharp, while B is the least sensitive. STD or Standard sits somewhere in the middle.

We think A is too ridiculously sensitive for road riding, making the overshooting of a turn a very real possibility due to too much throttle input. During our four-day test ride, we stuck it in STD mode because we could control the bike better. B is the best, although at times it felt a bit too slow. So new owners be wary. Start off with B to get used to the bike because even in B, throttle response is sharper than most bikes.

In a straight line, where we wanted quicker response, we went A mode. You can only select that when the throttle is closed, and that requires some getting used to.

Anyway, in any mode, you will feel just how powerful this engine is. Always, extra power is on tap. On a private road, we tried 200kph and the throttle could still give more. It was, well, quite unbelievable for such a meek sounding engine.

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With the wide handlebar, it was easy to use our weight to lever the bike into a turn. Flicking it left to right and vice-versa was done in a split second, making it a terrific zig-zag racer up that hilly route. If you like to go down low into a turn, this is one bike you need to try out.

Reviews by other local media had pointed to a soft rear suspension. Hong Leong Yamaha retuned it. In fact, its mechanics set ours at the stiffest level and we didn't experience any drama with the tail. The front did feel a bit light but we tapped the front brake more and tried to shift more weight to the front to get that positive feeling. The rear sometimes did wiggle a bit when we gave it full throttle after exiting a turn but it was nothing that any rider could not handle.

The 14-litre tank is rather smallish and if you plan to do a long distance ride, check where the petrol stations are along the route. Still, it is a frugal engine. We got nearly 250km to a tank.

Overall, the MT-09 stands a big chance of being a hit here simply because the price is right and Yamaha fans desperately need a bike they can be proud of. It is already doing very well in other markets and it won't be surprising to see MT-09 owners groups blossoming in Malaysia soon. Japan's best has landed.

Engine: 3-cylinder, liquid cooled 4-stroke DOHC, 113bhp, 87.5Nm
Fuel consumption: N/A
Performance: N/A
Weight (wet): 188kg
Price: RM54,000

Author: TopGear
TopGear is the world’s best-selling motoring magazine. The Malaysian edition holds similar status, as acknowledged by the industry.