By Mark Hinchliffe
Strip away the fairing and some of the hi-tech electronic wizardry from a Yamaha R1 and you have the MT-10, which is more fun than most people can handle.
They say it’s ‘retuned’, which is often code for detuned, but somehow sitting up in the air in a neutral riding position with that cross-plane engine screaming underneath, it seems even more thrilling. And it’s a pretty cheap thrill. The R1 costs $23,499 (plus on-road costs), while the MT-10 comes in at just $17,999.
Despite the lower price, it still has three engine maps, Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle, three-mode traction control, electronic steering damper, convenient 12V DC outlet inside the front cowl, assist/slipper clutch and even cruise control.
The MT-10 now completes the Masters of Torque range that also includes the MT-03 ABS twin ($5699), MT-07LA LAMS ABS ($9599), MT-07HO high output ($10,299) and MT-09 triple with traction control and ABS ($12,999). It’s a formidable line-up, now with a flagship model.
While the 998cc engine looks like the R1 from the outside, it’s had multiple internal changes, added an oil cooler and lowered the compression to cope better with the heat of commuter traffic.
The R1 is tuned for the track with plenty of top-end fizz you will never need on the road. The MT-10 engine has been retuned with different camshafts for more emphasis on the low and mid-range torque, where you ride in the real world.
It doesn’t have the R1’s ram air, so the air box is bigger, and it doesn’t have the second fuel injector that comes in at high revs. Consequently, maximum power in the MT-10 is 118kW, down from the R1’s 147.1kW, but it comes in 2000 revs earlier at 11,500rpm. The torque is virtually the same at 111Nm, arriving 2500 revs sooner at 9000rpm. While it’s creamy and smooth like any inline four, the torque boost from the heavier crank gives it the feeling of a triple.
The three engine maps are called Standard, A and B. Throttle response is swift and civil without being jerky in Standard, so you can easily handle low-speed U-turns, roundabouts and commuter traffic with ease.
However, it becomes twitchy and nervous when used in A and B modes, despite the heavier crank. Some top-end differences may exist, but I couldn’t tell on public roads.
Thankfully, you can swap engine maps on the fly to suit your riding situation.
To match the power, radial-mounted four-piston callipers on massive twin 320mm discs are fitted up front and a Nissin single-piston calliper with a 220mm rear disc. One-finger braking is easy with plenty of feel and lightning-fast response and bite. ABS comes on smooth and non-invasive, giving the rider plenty of confidence. Three-level traction control adds to the rider’s confidence to control that massive torque injection.
The cruise control on the left switchblock works smoothly and instinctively in fourth to sixth gears.
Surprisingly, for a more street-focussed bike, Yamaha has shortened the R1 wheelbase by 5mm. It’s even 35mm shorter than the Triumph Street Triple. That makes it very twitchy and nimble. You only have to think about turning and the front wheel dips into the corner.
Yet it retains the same 190mm wide true from the R1, so the front end turns into corners, while the back seems a little slow to follow. Having wide MX-style bars makes the turning easier with extra leverage to hold the counter-steering angle.
Despite the short wheelbase, it is very stable on the highway where you can settle back in cruise control and enjoy that low, harmonious drone of the meaty crossplane motor and titanium muffler.
The engine sits in the stiff Deltabox frame from the R1, but with more steel rather than titanium and magnesium. The rear subframe has been upgraded with steel to carry a load and a pillion. It is suspended by fully-adjustable upside-down KYB forks and four-way adjustable rear shock with high and low compression adjustment.
My test bike was adjusted for track conditions, so when I hit some bumpy country roads, it was too stiff and easily bounced out of line. However, the multi-adjustable suspension should be able to compensate.
The settings were ideal through smooth switchbacks and the quick change of direction from the front tyre made short work of well-cambered turns. Lower gearing with two extra teeth on the rear sprocket provides great acceleration to safely dart away at the lights and to pull rapidly and surely out of corners.
Through a set of tight bends, you will probably hold it in a gear higher than normal and use that meaty torque to lift the bike out of the apex. Despite the shorter final gear, it doesn’t buzz on the highway and the mirrors are never blurry. Like all MT models, your elbows will cover about two-thirds of the mirrors and you will have to pin them in to see what’s following in your wake.
After a bout of spirited riding through the ranges, the mileage readout on the comprehensive all-digital instruments revealed an alarming 7.8 litres/100km average. Out on the highway, it still showed about 4-5 litres/100km in instant economy. That doesn’t provide a huge touring range from the 17-litre tank and to add to the concern about running out of fuel, the digital readout drops quickly to halfway.
Riding position is neutral, maybe with a slight lean to the bars for shorter riders and a decent reach to the footpegs, so you aren’t cramped. Seat comfort is moderate on the firm and flat perch, but it is plenty good enough for the duration of a tankful of juice.
The full LED lighting provides a nice white light and even spread and the digital instruments are easy to read at night or even in direct sunshine.
As expected of the Japanese manufacturer, build quality is superb. Beautiful details are everywhere and strange little plastic wings all over the fussy bodywork. To my mind, it looks like it was designed by an origami artist with multiple sharp paper folds.
It comes in black with black wheels, blue with blue wheels, or a milky grey (which I love, although I’m not so sure about the contrasting yellow wheels).
Enormous value and enormous torque will sell this bike. The extras are rider aids, creature comforts and radical styling.
Price: $17,999 (+ORC)
Engine: 998cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, in-line four-cylinder
Power: Not given
Torque: 111Nm @ 9000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
Suspension: Fully adjustable USD 43mm forks, 120mm travel; fully adjustable Monocross, 120mm travel
Brakes: Dual 320mm discs, radial 4-piston callipers; 220mm disc, single-piston calliper; ABS
Tyres: 120/70ZR17; 190/55ZR17
Fuel: 17 litres
Wet weight: 210kg