Yamaha MT-10: A tale of Kawasaki Z1s and the Starship Enterprise. How much fun can money buy?

CAPTION: We found a nice clearing out the back of Mundaring Weir for this pic, and gave a fleeting thought to heading up a fire trail. We decided against it. The MT-10 is not quite a superbike but it is a super bike -- a coming together of multiple flavours to form a gourmet delight. And it goes like stink.

TEST RIDE

The Bike Shed Times Editor PETER TERLICK climbs aboard Yamaha’s latest warp-speed naked MT-10 and declares it a thoroughly modern mille. Yee-hah!

IT FEELS like a big dirt bike. It goes like a big sports bike. And it reignites that old ‘God-I-love-motorbikes’ flame like no bike I’ve ridden in a very long time.

It’s the Yamaha MT-10, a naked big-bore that blurs a whole bunch of market segments and then lands in a spot that feels perfectly logical and just right, Goldilocks-style.  It’s not too big. Not too small. Not too hard on the wrists. Not too upright. Not too heavy. Not too flighty.

And it goes like stink.

It’s also a celebration of technology, using a grab-bag of up-to-the-minute whizz-bang-gadgetry to deliver a huge dose of very old-fashioned high-performance hot-rod entertainment in a way that leaves you stunned, but not frightened.

The tuned-for-the-road R1 engine is just superb. Blip the throttle in neutral and it sounds like a little jet engine. It’s more ‘voom’ than ‘vrooom’, with a zero-flywheel, zero-overrun aural habit that falls as fast as it rises. If someone told you it was an electric engine, not an internal combustion, you would probably believe them.

The seating position is much more upright than on a sports bike. The clutch is feather-light. The seat is quite tall. The clutch is late in its take-up.

A decade or so ago I raced motocross at Noble Falls on a KTM525. It was a high-tech four-stroke that had more power than anyone would ever need for motocross, but it sure was fun and it sure could pull wheelies. The big Katoom came to mind as I pulled the MT-10 away from standstill out from Midvale Yamaha, keeping the revs up, fanning the clutch to get up to let’s-go speed. It really does feel like a very big motocross bike.

CAPTION: Look into my eyes. The styling is anything but bland.

 

The ergonomics are aggressive, but not road-racer. The tank demands to be gripped by your thighs, the peg-to-bars arrangement feels logical, and the steering feels direct and connected. Your weight is forward enough that you are in control of what’s going on, but it’s not wrist-hurting or back-straining.

 The motor’s not comfortable until 2500rpm or so, then finds happiness which builds to ecstasy. It likes to rev and, when it does, it gives you little “Oh my …” warp-speed moments — even in second gear as you negotiate traffic.

Commuting from Midland to Kalamunda has never been such fun. You don’t cruise on this bike. You just blatt from one point to the next, overtaking just for fun but keeping an eye on the speedo readout between blatts. Well, occasionally.

Lawnbrook Road, Aldersyde Road and Mundaring Weir Road beckon, as they always do when you find yourself in the far east. The bike corners like a sports bike. The lean angles exceed my skill level by a long shot. And yours, I’ll wager.

And there’s no wheelie control. Praise the lord. Crank the throttle hard in second gear and the front wheel divorces itself from planet earth, reconciles and carries on. Oh my …

A couple of bikes appear up ahead. Cruisers.

I follow them until the camel farm then drop a gear and overtake, holding gear long enough to find that warp speed moment again. Oh my …

For me, the MT-10 is a time machine. It takes me back in time, reminding me why I fell in love with bikes in the first place. The thrill, the implicit danger of speed, the control of something more than a bit animal. Then it takes me forward in time, with that Star Wars warp speed element, reminding me how far technology has come in recent decades.

And it accelerates like the Starship Enterprise.

Any complaints? Er, no.

CAPTION: Digital dash showers you with bulk info, even if it does look a bit daggy.

Well, I don’t like the current generation of digital dashboards, but only because they look a bit cheap and nasty compared with the slick colour-coded needle-and-dial speedos of a generation ago. In their favour, we now get genuinely useful readouts telling us what gear we’re in, what’s the time, what’s the temperature, what traction control setting has been selected, and what next week’s Lotto numbers are going to be. (I made that last bit up.)

Pillion accommodation is appalling. But hey, who wants a pillion on a bike like this anyway? Tell her to buy her own.

CAPTION: Pillion seat and footpegs. We hope your girlfriend is very small. And very brave.

The stylists have, not unreasonably, gone for a very 21st Century face. Twin headlights, heavy shouldered, hard angles — it looks like a cross between a North American bison and a Transformer-comic character. Not my style, but stylish nonetheless and perfectly suited to a thoroughly modern Japanese mille.

And such things are trivial anyway, of course.

(Do you ever wonder why bike testers complain about the most trivial nonsense in their articles? It’s because most of the bikes coming out of Japan and Germany and Italy and America and England these days are so bloody good that it’s only the trivia  — and raw performance data — that differentiate one from another.)

CAPTION: Suspension is tweak-able, front and back. It felt good to us straight out of the box.

All of which brings me to the 21st century technology which knits the MT-10’s component parts into a single machine.

I have been a sceptic of modern-day engine-control electronics. You know the mantra: “Traction control? Wheelie-control? ABS brakes?  What’s wrong with you bloody Nancy-boy riders these days? Why don’t you just learn to ride properly? Now, when I was a lad …”

But after a day out on the MT-10, I think I get it.

When I was a lad, the fastest bike in the world was a Kawasaki Z1 900. And make no mistake, it was fast. Real fast. Still is. Point one at the horizon, nail that throttle and hang on. But riding fast on a Z1 (and many bikes since, of course) was an experts-only experience. Most of us didn’t have the skills or the courage to really enjoy the thrill of those early superbikes. And if you were unfortunate or stupid enough to have the courage but not the skills, there was a fair chance you’d end up either in the ditch or the morgue. Especially if there was a corner between you and that horizon. 

Fast-forward from 1972 to 2017. I haven’t seen any hard-data performance figures for the MT-10, but I can tell you that it accelerates at a breath-taking pace. And I don’t mean Mad Max fast, I mean Star Wars fast. Well, ok, maybe not Star Wars. But unless you’ve already tamed a Hayabusa or an R1 or an H2 or a Panigale or such, you will giggle to yourself like a lunatic when you taste the MT-10.

What all this technology does, is enable mere mortals like me to taste the fruits of mega-performance without spearing myself into a tree. When I was a lad, they didn’t make bikes with this much power. Cripes, they barely made bikes with half this much power.

Remember that Z1 I was just talking about? It was propelled to its crazy speeds by 81 horsepower. Eighty one. The MT-10’s four-cylinder 998cc cross-plane engine generates 160 horsepower. Yep, it near-as-damn doubles the power output of the early Japanese superbikes — and weighs 36kg less. But, thanks mainly to all that electronic gizmonentry (but with a nod to 21st century brakes, frame design and ergonomics), it does so in a package that enables mere mortals to get amongst the fun.

ADVERTISEMENT: Click on the advert for more specials from Midvale Yamaha.

I’m tempted to say the technology lets us go fast “safely” but that’s not the right word. There’s still an element of danger — the single biggest prerequisite to the thrill of going fast, surely — but that danger has been corralled to eliminate the main source of danger most likely to catch out an amateur and put his wife on a widow’s pension; a traction-related loss of control, be it in acceleration or deceleration.

Which leaves us free to concentrate on pointing the bike in the right direction, leaning just so, dropping back a gear, and winding that throttle.

Oh my …

YAMAHA MT-10

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 4-valve
Displacement 998 cc
Bore x Stroke 79.0 × 50.9 mm
Compression Ratio 12.0 : 1
Lubrication System Wet sump
Fuel Management Fuel Injection
Ignition TCI
Starter System Electric
Fuel Tank Capacity 17 L
Final Transmission Chain
Transmission 6-speed
Dimensions
Length 2095 mm
Width 800 mm
Height 1110 mm
Seat Height 825 mm
Wheelbase 1400 mm
Ground Clearance 130 mm
Wet Weight 210 kg with 17 litres of fuel
Chassis
Frame Type Aluminium Deltabox
Suspension Front Telescopic fork, 120mm travel
Suspension Rear Swingarm, 120mm travel
Brakes Front Hydraulic dual disc, 320 mm – ABS
Brakes Rear Hydraulic single disc, 220mm – ABS
Tyres Front 120/70 ZR17 M/C (58W)
Tyres Rear 190/55 ZR17 M/C (75W)

 

Also see:

Kawasaki’s maniacal 400kmh H2R

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CAPTION: Test bike supplied by Midvale Yamaha. The demonstrator is on sale, saving you a couple of grand off the list price. Tell ’em we sent you.

2 Comments on "Yamaha MT-10: A tale of Kawasaki Z1s and the Starship Enterprise. How much fun can money buy?"

  1. Jonathan Beal | May 17, 2017 at 9:40 am |

    You’re a brave man for taking this one on, Terls!

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