The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 Is a Triple (Cylinder) Threat

The naked bike segment has become a hotly-contested one amongst motorcycle companies. But while brands like KTM and Husqvarna offer solid entry-level models, there’s even more competition in the ‘middleweight’ portion. And while Yamaha only introduced its small-capacity naked bike, the MT-03, to the US in 2020, the larger MT-09 has been here for some time. For 2021, though, the Yamaha MT-09 is getting a significant update—one that should make its rivals worry.

For 2021, the Yamaha MT-09 gets a new look, a bigger engine, and some extra features

A gray-and-black-with-orange-wheels 2021 Yamaha MT-09 in front of a building at night
2021 Yamaha MT-09 | Yamaha

Originally called the FZ-09, Yamaha last overhauled the MT-09 back in 2017, Cycle World reports. That update improved the bike’s suspension and throttle, two areas where the original 2014 model faced repeated criticism. But while the 2021 bike sticks to the same general formula, the MT-09 now has a new chassis, some new tech, and a new engine.

The updated Yamaha MT-09 still has a liquid-cooled inline-three engine. However, the 2021 model’s engine is larger, going from 847cc to 890cc, Cycle World reports. It’s still linked to a six-speed transmission with an assist-slipper clutch, but Yamaha gave it new gear ratios.

A low-angle rear 3/4 view of a gray-and-black-with-orange-wheels 2021 Yamaha MT-09 in a dark room
2021 Yamaha MT-09 rear 3/4 | Yamaha

Naturally, the larger engine comes with a horsepower and torque increase, Bennetts reports. While it previously made 115 hp and 65 lb-ft, the 2021 MT-09 has 119 hp and 69 lb-ft, Bennetts reports. However, despite the displacement increase, the 417-lb 2021 Yamaha MT-09 is eight pounds lighter than the outgoing model, Roadshow reports. It also has slightly more ground clearance and a slightly shorter wheelbase, RideApart reports. And the chassis itself is stiffer, and the wheels are lighter, RevZilla reports.

The standard 2021 Yamaha MT-09 has a fully-adjustable KYB fork and mono-shock. But if you step up to the MT-09 SP, the rear shock is replaced with an Ohlins unit. And the front fork, although still from KYB, gets additional adjustability and a diamond-like coating.

The 2021 Yamaha MT-09's TFT display
2021 Yamaha MT-09 display | Yamaha

Both MT-09 models benefit from a visual and tech update for 2021. In addition to standard lean-sensitive ABS, the 2021 MT-09 has standard adjustable traction and power-slide control, plus multiple riding modes, Motorcyclist reports. Wheelie control is also standard, as is an electronic quickshifter. So is LED lighting, a 3.5” TFT display, and adjustable footpegs, brake lever, and brake pedal. Cruise control, though, is limited to the SP.

The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 is “a better Triumph,” Motorcyclist says

Previous versions of the Yamaha MT-09, although fun, had their “squawks,” Motorcyclist reports. Namely, the handling was a bit “mushy,” and the throttle response wasn’t quite dialed in. But the 2021 MT-09 is better all around, RevZilla reports.

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The Yamaha MT-09’s biggest draw point has always been its inline-three engine, something it shares with one of its biggest rivals, the Triumph Street Triple. And this 890cc one might be even better than Triumph’s triple, Motorcyclist reports. It has plenty of low-end torque, lots of power, and responds extremely well to throttle inputs, Roadshow reports. Plus, it sounds great; Roadshow likens it to a Porsche 911 GT3.

With a $9399 starting price, there are a few parts of the 2021 Yamaha MT-09 that betray some cost-cutting. The standard seat, for example, is a bit uncomfortable, and some of the controls and display feel a bit plasticky and cheap, MCN reports. There is a more comfortable accessory seat available, though, and it’s standard on the $10,999 SP. Plus, the MT-09’s quickshifter, though “welcome at its price point,” could be more responsive during downshifts, Motorcyclist reports.

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But are these deal-breakers? In short, no. The 2021 Yamaha MT-09 is a nimble, easy-to-ride naked bike, with more grip and stability than previous models had, Motorcyclist reports. It has a good riding position, excellent brakes, and even without the Ohlins shock, a well-damped ride, Motorcyclist reports. And at its price, “there’s little to find fault with,” VisorDown reports.

Is it worth buying over some of its naked bike rivals?

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We previously mentioned that the Triumph Street Triple is one of the Yamaha MT-09’s main rivals. And for 2020, Triumph overhauled the lineup, with the $10,800 R becoming the new base model.

For that price you get a 765cc inline-three engine with 116 hp and 57 lb-ft in a bike that’s slightly lighter than the 2021 MT-09, Ultimate Motorcycling reports. And it comes with fully-adjustable Showa suspension, a standard quickshifter, Brembo brakes, ABS, traction control, and multiple riding modes, RevZilla reports. All in a bike that won multiple Cycle World 10Best awards in a row. But, if you want Ohlins suspension like in the MT-09 SP, you’ll have to get the $12,850 Street Triple RS.

The side view of a red-and-silver 2021 BMW F 900 R in a warehouse
2021 BMW F 900 R side | BMW

Another Yamaha MT-09 naked bike rival is the $8995 2021 BMW F 900 R. It has a 99-hp 895cc parallel-twin engine, along with a 6.5” TFT display, ABS, and traction control. However, in standard form the forks are non-adjustable, Cycle World reports, and it has fewer riding modes than the 2021 MT-09. And if you want a quickshifter, extra riding modes, or more-adjustable suspension, they all cost extra.

Finally, there’s the $10,999 2021 KTM 890 Duke. It packs an 889cc parallel-twin with 115 hp and 68 lb-ft, RideApart reports, adjustable traction control, cornering ABS, as well as wheelie control and adjustable throttle response. Compared to the $11,999 890 R, it is a bit de-contented, losing its adjustable front forks, Brembo brakes, and standard quickshifter.

An orange-and-black 2021 KTM 890 Duke with an optional exhaust on an airport bridge
2021 KTM 890 Duke with optional exhaust | KTM

However, it does have a standard steering damper and easy handlebar adjustment, as well as optional adjustable footpegs. And riding-wise, the standard 890 Duke “isn’t much of a downgrade from the R model,” Motorcycle.com reports.

Ultimately, the best way to decide between these bikes is to try before you buy. But as competitive as this field is, the 2021 MT-09 is one heck of a contender.

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