Getting Randy with Torque
In the popular mind, southern California is the home of the motorcycle industry. Sure, there’s BMW Motorrad headquartered in New Jersey, Triumph in Atlanta, and the American brands up by the lakes, but most other OEMs all called southern California home. Without a doubt, the proximity to Japan, a major port in Long Beach, some decent weather, and ample off-road riding areas all played major roles too.
Over the decades, however, corporations grew, new division offices opened across the country, and everything got a lot more expensive. The result? The motorcycle branches of Yamaha and Honda are now in the greater Atlanta area with Triumph. As a North Carolina-based journalist, it’s a welcome change. Instead of flying across the country for a one-day test ride, I got to ride to the introduction of the MT-10. Take that, West Coast journalists!
After my Schadenfreude settled down, an advantage popped up—home-field advantage, that is. I’m on a first name basis with many of the great motorcycle roads of western North Carolina. Testing a new motorcycle on pavement I’ve terrorized for 20 years helps a great deal in forming an opinion.
Master of Torque
The MT-10 has some torque, alright. It even says so in the name—MT stands for Master of Torque. The bike is Yamaha’s flagship model. There’s an MT for everyone. As Oprah would say, “you get an MT, and you, an MT for everyone!” From the smallest MT-03, to the MT-07 and MT-09, a rider can grow up and eventually arrive at the MT-10. It’s a really nice platform Yamaha has built along with the Dark Side of Japan and Master of Torque concepts. It’s well executed marketing from the message to branding and finally to the actual motorcycle. I, however, am not physically growing anymore, at least not vertically, so the MT-10 is where I’ll start my own masterful journey.
It’s like deja vu all over again. In 2016, Yamaha let me test the FZ-10 in western North Carolina as well. A global initiative to standardize model names axed the FZ moniker. The spirit of the bike was already present back then, minus the fancy marketing. I lusted for that fluorescent, yellow-wheeled devil for a long time. The faux air scoops bothered me, but I’m happy to report they’ve grown up to be fully functional on the MT-10.
This hypernaked has the latest CP4 engine, derived from the R1. In fact, the MT-10 has more in common with Yamahas über-successful sportbike. The aluminum Deltabox frame and swingarm, the KYB suspension, and the electronics all come from its sport-jacketed cousin. And the MT-10 is definitely cousin Randy in a sleeveless shirt, looking for trouble.
Upon closer inspection, you can even see the R1’s unused mounting points on the MT-10’s frame. At first it bothered me, but who am I to judge? In the end, I like the fact that Yamaha seems to have eliminated potential waste. Plus, cousin Randy is showing some stretch marks.
The 998cc engine is optimized for low to mid power. According to Yamaha, the sweet spot is between 4,000-8,000 rpm. I was naturally closer to the upper end of this recommended range when riding in second gear, attacking tight corners and even some open sweepers. It felt great. The response, the sound, and the feeling put me into a Zen-like state. Even though there was nothing Zen about the pace, the intense focus required on the mountain roads nonetheless calmed me down and let me focus on the absolute essentials. Nothing in the world mattered at the time. Sounds like a reason we ride in the first place.
Master of Features
The quickshifter is such an asset on the MT-10. Randy doesn’t have time for pulling the clutch. A flick of the ankle keeps the party going without even a second of pause. In addition, Yamaha’s well-sorted TFT display shows these little up/down arrows at the top of the screen. When they’re black, don’t use the quickshifter. But when you’re in the right gear and RPM range combo, the arrows turn green. It’s a nifty feature for the visual learner and shows the level of detail Yamaha went to. They didn’t have to do this and I’ve never heard a fellow rider ask for such a feature.
While on the topic of features nobody asked for, I found it interesting that Yamaha put the Yamaha Variable Speed Limiter (YVSL) on this bike. It enables the rider to set a maximum speed limit. In theory, that’s great. It would ensure that you don’t go crazy north of [insert your totally legal max speed here]. The only problem is that it has to be set each time the key is turned. If I am cognizant of doing this each time I ride, I’m also mentally fit enough to ride within sane speeds.
Two things past owners did ask for was better fuel economy, to which end Yamaha improved by 20% to a claimed 36mpg and incorporated a 90-degree valve stem. As you’d expect from such a hooligan, a slew of electronic aids help keep the rubber side down. But the many power delivery modes are confusing. I like settings like “sport” and “rain” but have little patience for Mode A and Mode B. I’m a simple man with lots on my mind. I’ll never remember if A or B is the fast one. There’s a whole matrix explaining the different modes, but ain’t nobody got time for that!
One of the biggest delights of the MT-10 is the front brake lever. The engineers redesigned the front master cylinder for more linear pressure actuation. Instead of the mechanical part making a 90-degree turn, the input is straight. Even the slightest touch of a finger on the lever resulted in the twin four-piston calipers grabbing the twin 320mm discs. In all my years of riding, I’ve never experienced such responsive and strong braking. Not sure about the rear brake—never used it.
Master of Sound
So apparently Yamaha makes musical instruments as well. Who knew? Surely you’ve noticed the tuning forks in Yamaha’s logo. As a music-first company, you will certainly notice the acoustic sound grilles when looking at the tank.
With the help of their music division, Yamaha has created a motorcycle where the sound takes center stage as well. The newly-tuned intake and exhaust systems certainly add to the emotional connection. I was guilty of revving up the bike just to hear it sing. The intake features three ducts of uneven length that create a specific resonance and improve the intake efficiency. To let you hear it, the acoustic sound grilles direct the bike’s song to the rider. There’s a rumor in some villages that the sound of the MT-10 can scare off otherwise fearsome predators.
Master of One
When I rode this motorcycle, I felt one with it. The neutral riding position that put me more inside the motorcycle than on top of it not only allowed me to ride aggressively, but also comfortably. The front brake is a joy, and the 42T rear sprocket (43T on the previous MT-10) improved controllability at small throttle openings. The fully adjustable KYB suspension, 467-pound curb weight, and stiff frame all add up to be greater than their sum.
Even though there’s a lot to love about the MT-10, there are things to criticize. The bike has a passenger seat, but I wouldn’t put a passenger on that tiny pad unless you’re trying to get rid of a Tinder date. The passenger footpegs are at an awkward forward position. My size 11 boots’ heel touched the passenger pegs numerous times when getting up to the balls of my feet through the tight stuff. A little bit more clearance for the rider would be great, and I’m sure the passenger would appreciate pegs that are farther back, too.
While I have every intention of taking the MT-10 on a multi-day tour, I will strap a small duffel to the passenger pad. Yamaha offers some accessories, ranging from a comfort saddle (although the stock seat is one the best I’ve sat on) to various guards and sliders, and a top case. The MT-10 is such a beautiful machine that mounting a top case to it is criminal. A fully accessorized model was at the event, and I couldn’t stop staring at the ugliness of the top case. Just don’t do it. You’ll lose major style points.
Some say that only Italian and Austrian bikes can elicit such strong emotions. I’d argue the MT-10 is allowed into that conversation. It has plenty of character, looks great, and there’s a definite emotional connection to the machine.
The bike’s up-spec counterpart, MT-10 SP, features premium components all around, although it comes with dark blue wheels instead of the striking Cyan Blue. If you cracked even the faintest of smiles reading this review then you should test one, because I had just as much fun writing as riding the MT-10.
2022 Yamaha MT-10
+ complete package, sound, front brake, punchy yet predictable power delivery
– location of passenger pegs, YVSL implementation
Distributor: Yamaha Motor Corporation USA
Engine: CP4, liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline 4-cylinder, 16-valve
Transmission: 6-speed, wet multiplate assist/slipper clutch
Weight (wet): 467lbs
Seat Height: 32.9in
Fuel Capacity: 4.5gal
Fuel Consumption: 36mpg
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Cyan Storm (tested), Matte Raven Black