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Yamaha's believe it or not!

MT-01 First road test. Words & pics by Simon Bradley

With apologies to Ripley, that's probably the most appropriate title I could come up with. Because Yamaha in particular but Japanese bike companies in general have been known to to produce fantastic looking, ludicrously specced concept bikes which have then been somewhat underwhelming when and if they've appeared in production. Like the Yamaha Bulldog, for example - a fine bike but hardly the fire breathing animal we expected from the concept bike.

So the MT-01 was awaited with both bated breath and healthy scepticism by journalists and riders alike. The paper spec was amazing, and Yamaha had promised that the concept would be diluted as little as possible when it hit the streets. We, of course, took that with a hearty pinch of salt.

When I got into the office after picking the MT-01 up from Yamaha I made a couple of notes and e-mailed them to some colleagues. Here they are, unabridged and unedited:

  • The bike has a slightly disturbing tendency to make the rider produce bizarre whooping noises while going for the most dubious overtaking opportunities available in the certain knowledge that, regardless of the gear the machine is in, it will make the gap with time to spare.
  • It sounds disturbingly like a large, powerful outboard motor, spitting farting and burbling on the over-run. At low speed the sound pressure, even with earplugs in, is slightly uncomfortable as you crack the throttle open and your ears pop from the sudden vacuum.
  • It’s huge. Until you get on it, when it shrinks. Ooh err.
  • It has the comfiest seat ever made. And that’s official.
  • It has fantastic brakes.
  • It handles like a sportsbike and doesn’t weave around high speed sweepers even with the throttle pinned to the stop. Though the back does start to slide.
  • Small children point and stare when you coast by, and start crying if you accelerate. If you roll off the throttle they get blown over by the back-blast.
  • Cats and other small mammals explode if they enter the exclusion zone around the exhaust area.
  • I think I rather like it…

Yes, believe it or not, Yamaha did exactly what they promised (or threatened, depending on your viewpoint) to do. They unleashed 1700cc of grunt - a more powerful Warrior engine of all things - on the world in a fairly small, aggressively set up outrageously styled rocket. They gave it radial brakes, exhausts that look like rocket launchers and a riding position that means your bum will last far longer than your shoulders, neck or driving licence. They gave it a headlight that could be considered to be aesthetically challenged but which works magnificently. They gave it big clear mirrors, a horn that's as loud as the engine but looks like something off a moped and attitude that gets you pulled everywhere. I got stopped twice in a 200 mile ride, and on neither occasion was I speeding, monowheeling or riding like a loon. But the MT-01 makes you look as though you're going to be the type of person who will do all of those things, and more, at every opportunity.

But on to the bike itself. The MT-01 is completely dominated by the engine. Both visually and structurally. And the riding experience is the same. The 1670cc vee twin is simply astonishing to look at and to use. It's enormous, of course, but manages to keep most of the necessary external stuff as small and compact as possible. So the air filter doesn't get in the way, the injection is tucked up inside the vee and things like the alternator and starter are all out of the way. Unlike the exhaust. Which, as befits something needing to get rid of something over 5 gallons (that's Imperial gallons, mind) of hot gas every second at tickover is absolutely immense.

Visually, the bike is something of a cross between a Fazer and something by H.R.Geiger, the serpentine writhings of the exhaust emerging in a faintly sinister way before disappearing again to exit in the two massive silencers either side of the seat. The tank is conventional enough, though, and keeps a distinct family resemblance. Instrumentation is unlikely to tax even the most dedicated technophobe, consisting as it does of a large and clear analogue tacho sweeping around a circular dial with a digital speedo in the bottom quarter. The digital section also houses a clock and trip meters. The whole thing is very pleasingly backlit with an unusual soft white light.

The rolling chassis is surprisingly conventional. Predictably massive fully adjustable upside down forks at the front are mated to an enormous extruded alloy frame with one of the biggest braced swingarms I've ever seen. A slight departure from convention sees the rear shock laid flat under the back of the gearbox instead of above the rear cylinder but the logic of heat dispersal and sheer height makes this positioning sensible. Adjusters are easy to reach too, though I would imagine they would soon get covered in road filth. One unusual thing about the frame is the colour. Black frames are de rigueur this year, of course, but the MT-01 has a particularly attractive metallic blue frame that goes very nicely with the silver bodywork. The wheels are the same moonstone-like blue, and look great for it.

Enough on the static things. Talk is cheap - shut up and ride. It'll be no surprise to know that the engine makes its presence felt very clearly, even at tickover, massive pulses of raw power juddering the frame and rider. The effect isn't unpleasant or even disturbing, but it's very much there and you're very aware of it. The clutch is light and sensitive and the gearbox, though expectedly clunky, is slick enough. Pulling away is fuss free, as you'd expect with a grillion pounds of torque, and the weight of the bike vanishes instantly, leaving something with very neutral geometry and nice wide bars giving stacks of leverage. Once moving properly the bike, though heavy, changes direction easily and responds happily to pressure through the pegs. It's rock stable though you can feel the rear tyre squirming and protesting under the monstrous torque. As the pace ups a number of things become obvious. The MT-01 is extremely well sorted generally, the brakes are brilliant and five gears are about three more than it actually needs. Indeed, pulling away quickly is a little frustrating as by the time the clutch is fully home it's time to change up again, certainly in first and second, so longer gearing may well be a Good Thing. Open roads are a breeze, with the bike capable of cruising effortlessly at whatever speed your neck muscles are comfortable with. Overtakes, when they arise, are dispatched with no more effort than brushing a fly from your cheek. Whatever the gear, a brief handful will see your target demolished and spat out behind you in no time at all. Motorways and the like, though mechanically easy, are no place for a bike styled and designed like this. Aside from the fact that not enough people will see you - that's important - the total lack of protection means that the experience will be rather less enjoyable than it should be. So stay on the A roads instead.

In town the MT-01 acquits itself well. It's narrow enough to filter through traffic without too much trouble, quick enough to demolish anything else off the lights should that be an issue and big/brash enough to get noticed. Indeed, getting noticed was something that happened a lot. In 200 miles I had the opportunity to speak with Kent's finest not once but twice. The first, driving a traffic car, felt that my clothing and the attitude of the machine suggested I may be the type who would use the performance available to me and so warranted a safety talk. Yes, I am quoting him verbatim. The second, on a bike, simply wanted to know what the Hell it was and what it was like. Which is cool. You'll need to get used to being the centre of attention anyway, as the massive air pulses coming out (and getting sucked in) mean that inevitably people will look over and chat at the lights as well...

Given more time and some suspension tweaking, the only real fly in the ointment may well have been eradicated as well, but as it is I found the MT-01 to have a particularly nasty habit of tucking under at the front. This manifested itself on two roundabouts, both quite tight and both entered rather more aggressively than might have been prudent. On both occasions the bike was turning well and holding a tight line but starting to drift. Given a bit more steering input the front folded without warning and it was a combination of dumb luck and plenty of space that allowed me to pick the MT-01 up and avoid a nasty mess. As I said, I'm pretty sure that the tendency to tuck could be tuned out and, in fairness, I was pushing harder than is really appropriate on the road.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the MT-01. Even after a couple of little moments I remained confident in the handling and brakes. Performance is as astonishing as you'd expect from an engine like that and there's loads more available with kits ranging from the mild (slightly freer exhaust and ECU) to the wild (cams, exhaust, clutch, ECU etc) offering power hikes of over 30% and enough torque to bumpstart an aircraft carrier. The bike is exceptionally comfortable, looks a million dollars and sounds, even with the standard pipes, like nothing on this earth.

Apparently there's going to be a one model race series devoted to the MT-01. I'd really like to see that but would recommend you take earplugs with you.

In short, Yamaha's MT-01 is everything I hoped it would be. It is brash, stupidly over engined, fast and has ferocious acceleration. It generally handles well, it's comfortable and looks great. It's also one of the most expensive bikes Yamaha make at nearly £10,000.

It's almost certainly worth every penny.

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