Test rides

Ride review: 2014 Yamaha MT-07

Yamaha MT-07

One of the clichés of motorcycling is that it attracts a fair few older guys and gals. I suppose, since I am well past the target demographic for the WWE, you can loop me in with that crowd. Though, I don’t like to admit it. None of us do. One of the appeals of motorcycling for the old and busted set is that it is, in part, a means of ignoring the truths of our chronologies.

Until I test rode the Yamaha MT-07, however, the feeling had always been one of general youthfulness. No bike had taken me back to a specific time in my life, made me pine to be that particular age again. This did. Chris Cope, aged 18-25: I have found the perfect motorcycle for you.
For those of you playing along in the United States, the MT-07 is known there as the Yamaha FZ-07. I don’t know why Yamaha insists on using different names. Istanbul is Constantinople. Whatever you call it, the bike is a twin-cylinder joyride producing roughly 74 horsepower, about 50 lb. ft. of torque, and who knows how many devious little smiles beneath the helmet.
The MT-07 is part of Yamaha’s “Dark Side” line of bikes, clothing and accessories, and is unashamedly targeted at the sort of person too young to ever once have thought to him- or herself: “You know, actually, the Honda GoldWing really has a lot of good qualities…” 

All the promotional photos show faceless individuals, their features hidden by SWAT-looking Shark Raw helmets, performing stoppies and wheelies and burnouts and aggressive leans in urban settings. The bike’s official promo video never actually displays the motorcycle, but instead offers a Japanese anime interpretation set amid a dystopian-industrial megalopolis. It’s all very silly stuff and clearly not anywhere on my personal Venn diagram of youthfulness. To that end, it’s the sort of bike that might have escaped my notice when I was young enough to be in the MT-07’s target demographic. Which is a shame, because I would have loved it.

You make me feel so young
Firstly, I would have loved it because it is so incredibly easy to ride. Quite small as far as bikes go, but with ergonomics that still manage to be acceptable for a 6-foot-1 rider, the MT-07 is light and manageable. And it performs as well at 1 mph as it does at 70 mph. I can’t speak for speeds above that because I was in a group of demo riders with strict instructions not to act like… well, like the bike made you want to act. But there was nothing to make me think it incapable of hitting the 130-mph top speed suggested by MCN
Though, I’m not sure how long you’d want to stay at such illegal space on a bike weighing only 180 kg (396 lbs.). Especially in the posture-posse-approved upright riding position the MT-07 places you in. Additionally, there is no wind protection to speak of. My bike had a tiny, almost unnoticeable windscreen (so unnoticeable I didn’t realise it was there until I saw pictures of the MT-07 without one) that forced some air upward in a magical way I couldn’t quite figure out: I definitely felt wind swirling around me but didn’t experience the chest lift and head bobbing at 70 mph one normally gets on a naked bike.
And for the younger version of me who was living in the Twin Cities, and later San Diego, that wouldn’t have really mattered. The bike has all the speed and power needed for aggressive freeway riding, just not the ergonomics or weather protection preferred for long-treks across the Great American Expanse.
It is at slower speeds that the MT-07 really amazes, however. Thanks to its wide handlebars, you can put the damned thing anywhere, making you feel like Lord of the Dance within traffic. Or, actually, a lot cooler than Lord of the Dance. My point is simply that you can hit any gap. It is almost as easy to move about as a bicycle, possessing a low centre of gravity, torquey acceleration and brakes that allow you to stop on a dime. Or a 10 pence piece if you live in the UK.

Additionally, the MT-07 is very well balanced. Which means slow-speed maneuvers were so simple I felt like some sort of IAM riding pro.

Another reason my younger self would have loved the bike is its sound. The stock exhaust offers a nice flex-your-muscles growl that is still gentle enough not to annoy the neighbours. But, then, when I was that age I actually enjoyed annoying people. Yamaha accommodates for this by offering a number of exhaust upgrades to suit whatever douchery level you may desire.

Lastly, my younger self would have loved the price of the MT-07. At £5,349 (or £5,448 if you fork out for that bafflingly magic windscreen) it is an absolute bargain. For that money, you get a legitimate “big”-engined bike (689 cc) producing all the power you’ll ever really need, along with anti-lock brakes and an all-digital dashboard that offers a speedometer, tachometer, gear position indicator, clock and trip calculator.

Good even if you’re old and busted

Not only “the kids” can enjoy the MT-07. If I lived in a larger urban area, such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, or any number of sprawling American metro areas (a), this would be at the top of my list. Fun and agile, it is also particularly fuel-efficient. Some owners have reported getting well above 70 miles to the gallon. That makes it great for commuting.

And though it lacks weather protection, the bike does come with a nice, wide seat to keep you comfy through long spells of traffic. The pillion seat is laughable for use with humans but it serves as a great place to strap a Kriega bag, which I think would fit the bike’s aesthetic and feel perfectly.

As part of the demo ride, I got a chance to enter to win an MT-07 –– something I had originally told myself I would sell off and use as a deposit on, oh, say, an Indian Scout. But after having ridden and enjoyed the bike, I can’t help thinking that I’d be seriously tempted to keep it. It’s that much fun.

I will admit, though, I’m unlikely to spend my own money on one. As I say, I’m not the target audience. The bike feels very tiny to me, to the extent I imagined myself sitting on a unicycle. That’s fine when trying to weave through traffic but not a feeling you want when traversing windswept swathes of open country. Especially without weather protection.

And as I mentioned above, the bike’s overall teenyness extends to its passenger accommodation. I am not exaggerating when I say the pillion seat is the size of a DVD case. Even in my 20s I didn’t know too many people with butts small enough to be comfortable on that.

Additionally, I’m not too hot on the bike’s look. My wife referred to the MT-07’s styling as “Soviet,” which I can sort of see. To me, it looks bug-like and squished, as if the bike had been forced into a too-small box. I talk a lot about the importance of aesthetic and other unquantifiable aspects on this blog, so, as the old saying goes, your mileage may vary. I’m sure there must be out there a sizeable contingent of individuals who think the MT-07 looks cool.

But…

Ignoring the criticisms that stem from my age/personal preferences, I did walk away from my MT-07 experience with a few criticisms. Firstly, the bike seems to love false neutral. I experienced this mostly between third and fourth, but occasionally between fourth and fifth.

It’s entirely possible, though, that this issue was specific to the demo bike I was riding. The Yamaha Dark Side Tour has been popping up all over Britain this summer and dozens of people had likely used and abused the bike before me. If I were considering buying an MT-07, I would want to test ride another one to be sure.

My other problem is with the placement of the dashboard: you have to tilt your head down to look at it, taking your eyes off the road. The dashboard has lots of useful information, including a tachometer, but a tach isn’t particularly helpful when it’s not within your line of sight.

Beyond that, it is a solid machine. If you are young and/or urban, and eager to experience the essence of motorcycling — the thing that keeps all the old guys and gals lying about their age — you’d be hard-pressed to find a better machine at a better price. And if some sort of tear in the space-time continuum results in my 20-year-old self suddenly showing up in the present day, I’ll know exactly the motorcycle to get him.

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(a) Basically, if you live in a metro area where it takes more than 20 minutes to get from one end to the other, you should consider this bike.