The fifth round of this year’s World Superbike Championship at the Imola venue saw Alvaro Bautista and Ducati’s stranglehold on the series finally ended.
First Test of the 2018 Yamaha MT-07
We love new bikes here at Devitt towers. So we’re always gagging to see the new models at the Milan show every year – poring over the press releases, scanning the specs, fretting over the photos. The best thing is an all-new model, like Ducati’s Panigale V4 or the Kawasaki H2 SX, where there’s loads to get your teeth into. New engines, cutting-edge electronic technology, amazing new suspension setups – incredible.
We also like a big revamp too though. When a bike like the Triumph Tiger 1200 gets a proper going-over, with more power, less weight, and a re-think on several areas, yet still remains essentially the same machine.
What *can* be disappointing though, is when not much happens to a bike. Some smart new graphics, maybe a couple of bhp power boost, or a new LED headlight. I mean, we love all progress, but come on guys…
And at first glance, it looked like Yamaha had been a bit lax with the 2018 MT-07 update. The middleweight entry in the MT naked roadster range is one of the firm’s big success stories – selling around 70,000 in Europe alone over the past four years. The 689cc parallel twin was priced right, had great performance, was cheap to run, and looked pretty smart too. It ticked all the boxes for a huge range of riders – from training schools through novice riders to commuters, and even more experienced folk, looking for a no-nonsense, small-capacity tool for weekend fun and more.
But at Milan last year, the update press release was pretty scant. Revamped suspension, and a bodywork tweak, with new headlight (not LED though!) and a revised seating position. Not a massive overhaul – but the suspension mods were actually pretty relevant, since one of the few criticisms of the original bike was the soft, boingy, under-damped and softly sprung forks and shock. It was by no means a deal-breaker, but it was the one let-down on the package. And the fact that Yamaha actually offered an Öhlins shock and fork cartridge/spring upgrade kit as an official accessory seemed to show that they knew it too.
So, we’re here in Marbella, in southern Spain for a blat on the new MT-07 to see if its suspension mods have made much difference. The sun’s out, the mercury’s hitting the mid-teens, and I’m well up for a rideout into the hills. We’re heading towards Ronda, and today’s blast will take in all sorts of roads, from big fast A-road sweepers, to mega-nadgery twisties, and amazing mountain pass switchbacks.
I’m having a ball with the engine first though. The suspension’s pushed to one side, as I get stuck into the amazingly strong little twin on the way out of Marbella. It would have been easy for Yamaha to go through the motions with this engine – focus on low production costs, simple manufacture, low-revs and high mpg. That’s fine – but you only have to look at something like Honda‘s NC700 range to see the danger: an engine based on half a Honda Jazz car lump which is devoid of any real passion. No – the MT-07 has loads of character, with great lumps of low-down torque that make wheelies easy in first, second – hell, even third gear off a rise in the road. But that hefty low- and mid-range is boosted by a fab top end too, with enough pep towards the redline to tempt you into holding a gear even longer. The fuelling is creamy-smooth, and since there’s no ride-by-wire throttle, you feel like you’ve got a really direct link from your right wrist to the back wheel. It’s great stuff, and I’ve got a massive grin under my Arai lid as I thrash the life out of the MT to keep up with the Yamaha test rider ahead.
After a mid-morning coffee stop, the roads get narrower and twistier. Now, I’m focussed more on the chassis. First up is the brakes – a notch above the rest of the class it’s fair to say, with full-on four-piston calipers up front, rather than the sliding twin-pot units on lesser machines. They give loads of power and feel, letting you push hard into a bend if you fancy. There is an ABS safety net here – but it’s a pretty basic system, with none of the IMU leaning functions on more flash bikes. It’s not a problem though: I have no worries at all throughout the day.
So what about the suspension? Well, if I’m being really, really honest, it’s a while since I rode an old MT-07. So a direct, back-to-back comparison will have to wait for the moment (why do they never bring along an old bike on these launches??!!) But from the rider’s seat, the new setup is very good indeed, for a budget naked roadster. There’s none of the soggy, bouncy feel you can get on very basic entry-level forks and shocks, and the front end in particular is plush, stable, and packed with feedback. The spec sheet says the forks have 16 per cent more rebound damping and a six per cent higher spring rate, while out back, the shock has 11 per cent more spring rate, with 27 per cent more rebound and 40 per cent more compression damping on the high-speed damping circuit. Those numbers are pretty high actually – but there’s still plenty of compliance and bump absorption over the speed humps through the Spanish villages near Ronda.
In addition to the increased spring and damping rates, you also now get a rebound damping adjuster on the rear shock, as well as the preload adjuster of old. We didn’t need to fiddle about with this on the launch – but it’s good to know it’s there if you’ll be carrying pillions or lots of luggage.
We’ve stopped for lunch now, and I check out the 2018 styling mods on the MT-07. The fuel tank area has been changed – the tank itself is the same, but the plastic covers are new, and they give more space at the front of the seat. The saddle’s new too, with the aim of more comfort and space for the rider. That, plus a new headlight is the guts of the changes, and stuff like removable tail unit ‘wings’ and the like might not be instantly noticeable to you.
Back on the bike and we’re heading back to the hotel, down the twistiest roads of the day. The surface isn’t great here – polished, cool broken-up asphalt that’s designed for 50-degree temperatures, not the 20-degrees we have today. This is showing up the tyres a little bit – Yamaha’s fitted rather elderly Bridgestone BT-023 sport-touring hoops, and while they’ll no doubt be great for touring and commuting back home, they’re not having a great time today. There’s not a lot of grip at either end, and the profile feels a bit staid. Of course, you can’t really expect a high-end sporty tyre on a budget naked roadster – but I’d be looking to swap these out for something else if I bought an MT-07.
And that wouldn’t be such a mad notion! I can very easily see myself on one of these little chaps – for my normal riding round London, it would make a lot of sense. I’d like to get into the Yamaha accessories catalogue of course – a little flyscreen, the Akrapovic pipe and Öhlins suspension upgrades of course – and maybe a cheeky topbox to stick all my massive locks and chains in…
So there you have it. The 2018 MT-07 might not have rocked our world back at the 2017 Milan show. But Yamaha’s shown that it knows what time it is, and has focussed on fixing what was needed, and leaving the rest just as it was. That also means the price has hardly changed too – just a couple of hundred quid more than the 2017 model, and we hear some dealers are taking that off if you buy right now. Get down to your dealer and check it out!
Engine: 8v parallel-twin, DOHC, liquid cooled, 689cc
Bore x stroke: 80×68.6mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Max power (claimed) 74bhp@9,000rpm
Max Torque (claimed) 50ft lb@6,500rpm
Transmission: six speed, chain drive
Frame: steel tube diamond type
Front suspension: RWU 41mm KYB forks, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: KYB monoshock, preload/rebound adjustable
Brakes: Dual 282mm discs, four-piston calipers (front), 245mm disc, single-piston caliper (rear), ABS.
Wheels/tyres: Aluminium/Bridgestone BT-023, 120/70 17 front, 180/55 17 rear
Kerb weight (claimed, kerb weight, full fuel tank): 182kg
Fuel capacity: 14 litres