Europeans enjoy several perks that we lack here in the States. No, we’re not talking about extensive vacation time, low-cost education, or universal healthcare. We’re interested in more important matters: motorcycles. Manufacturers tend to bless the Continent with exclusive models that "may" not resonate with U.S. consumers.

For years, Yamaha favored this tack with the MT-09 SP. As the premium variant of Iwata’s heavy middleweight naked bike, the SP polishes the MT-09's impish image. Precisely-tuned, fully-adjustable suspension crowns the up-spec model with true function and fashion, but the brushed aluminum swingarm and Liquid Metal/Raven livery add an extra touch of class.

Yamaha finally addressed our Euro envy when it sent the MT-09 SP Stateside in 2021. Other than a minor paint update, the 2022 model retains the same elevated yet engaging personality as its predecessor. After longing for the MT-09 SP since its 2018 debut, let’s see what we’ve been missing all these years.

Good Bones

2022 MT-09 SP - Headlight

Team Blue’s latest CP3 engine touts an 890cc displacement, but Euro 5 regulations forced the Japanese marque to take full-bore measures. We’re talking a new intake system, updated camshafts, a redesigned cylinder head, and yes, a robust exhaust system. Even the transmission earns a workover to seamlessly transfer that poke to the rear wheel. The result is 117 ponies (at 10,000 rpm) and 68.6 lb-ft of torque (at 7,000 rpm).

Those numbers are apparent at the twist grip, where cresting 7,000 rpm comes with a side helping of teeth-clenching grunt. Below that threshold, the MT-09 dispenses a responsive yet linear power delivery. That characteristic pays dividends at highway speeds (70 mph), where the hypernaked barely tickles the 5,000-rpm mark while buzzing along in top gear. Horsepower favors the bold, though, as the inline-triple reserves its rewards for those willing to climb the revs.

When it’s time to kick it up a notch, the bi-directional quickshifter both hastens and eases gearbox ascents. The unit also streamlines braking-zone deceleration with smooth and stable downshifts. For the most part, engagement is slick and notchless, but Yamaha still recommends remaining above 2,000 rpm for upshifts and below 9,450 rpm when dropping a gear.

2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Engine

All that inline-triple goodness finds shelter in the MT-09's new die-cast aluminum frame. Its simplified form not only relocates the engine mounting points but also yields 50 percent more lateral rigidity. Yamaha’s new lightweight swingarm escalates that stiffness by mounting between the frame spars. Combined with the reshaped frame and aluminum subframe, the swingarm helps shave 5.1 pounds off the chassis (compared to the 2020 model).

Keeping with that theme, the new spin-forged wheels lop off an additional 3.1 pounds of unsprung weight, accentuating the naked’s lithe leanings. Okay, you get it. The revised roadster is a marked improvement over the previous generation. So, what’s the kicker, you ask? The MT-09 SP only takes that winning formula to the Nth degree.

Just Gotta Send it

When it comes to the SP’s suspension, it’s out with the old and in with the gold. A fully-adjustable Öhlins shock steadies the rear with a remote preload adjuster and an oil reservoir. The 41mm KYB front end’s diamond-like carbon (DLC) coated inner tubes communicate every bump in the road. The fork also offers rebound, compression, and preload clickers but Yamaha strengthens the damping forces at both ends. The result is a supportive yet supple ride— upright or at lean.

2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Turn, Left

The base model MT-09 has never been a turtle in the twisties. Still, the SP’s pinpoint precision realizes the platform’s cornering potential. So much so that riders may require time to acclimate to the nimble naked’s rapid turn-in rate. Until I meshed with the machine, I frequently hit my marks prematurely, with the 09 making a b-line for the inside line. If you’re looking up the road, the SP wants to get there before you do. Breaking news: it typically does.

Once the user adapts to the swift steering, the MT-09 awards that sweat equity with track-shortening agility. It doesn’t just hold a line, it hugs it, with handling that blurs the line between fluidity and rigidity. You can’t have it all, though, and that fleet-footed nature is the hypernaked’s greatest strength and weakness. At times, those twitchy tendencies rear their head at the most inopportune instances: at corner exit.

Gallery: 2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP

Anyone vaguely familiar with today’s naked bike cadre will know that the MT-09 wheelies more than a 12-year-old on a BMX. That’s all well and good when hucking dank nooners with your hoodrat friends, but under heavy acceleration, the front end lofts regardless of the user’s intentions. Many will find that playful demeanor entertaining. For others, it’s almost fun to a fault.

We should keep things in perspective, though. Ninety percent of the time, the SP maintains a healthy contact patch. The MT only reverts back to its one-wheeled comfort zone when the pilot pushes its limits. On several occasions, lighting up the wick onto the straight resulted in a power wheelie or throttle-chopping head shake. For that reason, those that prize speed over stunting may prefer the 2022 XSR900’s longer wheelbase and resulting stability. If you just gotta send it, however, the MT-09 is your model.

A Technical Knockout

2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Dash

The MT-09 shares little with Yamaha’s YZF-R1 superbike, yet that distant relative bestows today’s latest IMU-based electronic aids on the mid-range roadster. That unit drives everything from traction control to slide control to brake control. Even lift (wheelie) control benefits from the IMU’s oversight. Mode 3 cranks up the system’s intervention in the name of safety, while level 1 minimizes the IMU’s buzz-killing input. The second setting falls between both poles with moderate interference, but users can also turn off the rider aid altogether.

For those aiming to maximize drive out of the corner, mode 3 is your best bet. Hooligans will default to the first setting or switch off lift control for some good old-fashioned fun. The MT-09 may rear up more than a defiant horse, but with today’s latest tech gizmos, the user can train this steed to obey. Of course, acceleration also impacts the front wheel’s lightness, and new drive modes offer additional control.

2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Left Switchgear
2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Right Grip

Yamaha’s D-Mode system now includes four settings. Mode 1 unlocks the sharpest throttle response, while Mode 4 holds its horses in the name of traction. Meeting in the middle, Mode 2 and 3 maintain the same engine output but smooth the power delivery for a more nuanced experienced. Long haulers looking to rest their throttle hand completely will rejoice over the SP’s exclusive cruise control function.

The MT-09's upright ergonomics don’t exactly suit long-distance travel, but the feature helps eke out some extra highway mileage. Now, we’ve already expounded on Yamaha's interface navigational woes in our 2022 MT-10 review so we won’t belabor the point. However, I will concede that living with the bike for six weeks helped clear those hurdles, with navigation becoming second nature with time.


2022 Yamaha MT-09 SP - Conclusion

At $11,499, Yamaha takes a no-holds-barred approach to the MT-09 SP’s pricing. Considering the MT-09 standard equipment, the SP’s up-spec componentry, and the platform’s overall fun factor, it’s hard to beat that value proposition. The latest-generation model’s advanced rider aid suite only sends the package over the top.

Sure, the MT has an antsy attitude, but the SP brings a level-headed maturity to the lineup. Thanks to the premium suspension, it never zigs when it should’ve zagged. Cruise control expands the model’s horizon-chasing capabilities, while the Liquid Metal/Raven color scheme distinguishes the SP from its raucous stablemates. After all those years, it seems like the MT-09 SP was worth the wait.

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