The Lanzarote cop was livid. As I sat on the new Yamaha, having just stopped at a lay-by, he jumped out of his car and came striding up… and thankfully continued straight past me to berate a Dutch rider who he'd apparently seen pulling a wheelie. Such behavior is not tolerated on this spectacular but strictly policed lump of volcanic rock in the Atlantic.
Perhaps the cop had a point. Wheelies are neither clever nor sensible. They're hardly the sort of thing a mature motorcyclist should be doing at any time, and especially not on a budget-priced four-stroke twin designed to appeal to relatively inexperienced riders.
But what the Dutch guy knew and the cop clearly didn't was that the MT-07 is not just some dull twin for novices and commuters. Far from it. This light, lively 74-hp twin follows the recently released MT-09 (FZ-09 in the US) triple to confirm Yamaha's return as a motorcycling force.
More than that, with its blend of punchy parallel-twin motor and low price, the MT-07 follows in the tire tracks of the great twins—two-strokes such as the RD350, RD400 and RD350LC—that forged Yamaha's reputation in the 1970s and 1980s. On such a bike, occasional wheelies are surely not just understandable but almost irresistible.
The MT-07 is a very different machine than those small-capacity strokers, of course. It's powered by a liquid-cooled, DOHC eight-valve engine with a unique displacement of 689cc from dimensions of 80 x 68.6mm; this configuration was chosen by Yamaha not to fit into an existing market division but because it was deemed to give an optimum balance between power, torque and economy.
If anything, the emphasis is on flexibility and midrange torque. That peak of 74 hp at 9,000 rpm is slightly down on the output of Yamaha's own four-cylinder XJ6, for example; but the twin's maximum torque figure of 50.2 pound-feet is 13 percent higher, and arrives 1,500 rpm earlier at 6,500 rpm. The twin's 270-degree crankshaft gives less inertial torque than a 180-degree layout, says Yamaha, and is smoothed by a single balancer shaft.
Yamaha's "light and simple" approach to the new twin is highlighted by the way its frame differs from that of the XJ6. The backbone design employs a variety of steel tube widths and thicknesses, and uses the engine as a stressed member to end up 13 pounds lighter than the XJ frame. At 394 pounds with fuel, the MT-07 is light which ever way you look at it.
The MT-07 is produced in Japan, as Yamaha chose not to follow the route of Honda, KTM, and others by using a factory in low-wage countries to reduce costs. It's a sharply styled and aggressive looking machine, short of neat details but looking respectably well put together as you throw a leg over the seat (reasonably low at 31.7 inches), grip the narrow one-piece bar and look out over the compact instrument panel, which hides the low-slung headlight and forward-set ignition.
First impressions were disappointing, as the motor fired up with a muted chuntering from the stubby silencer by my right boot, sounding more like a generator than a sporty motorbike. But once I'd released the clutch it came alive, feeling so light, lively, and effortlessly controllable that I was instantly won over. That engine can't offer the six-grand surge and shrieking exhaust note of an RD350LC, but in its own way it's a lot of fun, blending sweet throttle response (none of the MT-09's abrupt ride-by-wire delivery here), broad torque spread, and smooth top-end delivery.
That engine flexibility made the Yamaha easy to ride in the town of Arrecife, where the bike's light weight, reasonably low seat and respectable amount of steering lock were also a help. Out on the main road heading toward Lanzarote's west coast, the 07 was quick enough to be great fun. It pulled crisply from low revs, then picked up the pace in the midrange, allowing me to overtake the occasional dawdling car with just a lazy twist of throttle in top, rather than flick down through the sweet-shifting six-speed box. (There's also enough torque to lift the front wheel equally effortlessly in first gear, law-abiding readers should be warned.)
And the Yamaha was happy to be ridden harder, having a pleasantly rev-happy feel and staying smooth up at the 9,000-rpm mark where those 74 horses are produced. On one fairly short downhill stretch it rumbled up to an indicated 123 mph, suggesting a true top speed of about 115 mph. More usefully, it was easily capable of cruising at an indicated 80-plus mph, though its upright riding position and lack of wind protection would make high speeds tiring before long, despite the relatively narrow handlebar. At least there was plenty of legroom; I didn't feel cramped despite being tall.
If the engine was the star of the show, the chassis did a fine job of backing it up. Lightness is always an advantage with a sporty bike, and the MT's slimness and lack of weight contributed to the entertainment when we headed inland from the black-lava scenery near the coast in search of twisty roads in the hills. Steering was precise and neutral, if not quite as quick as I was expecting from the weight, short wheelbase, and sporty steering geometry figures.
Perhaps that was partly due to Yamaha's decision to use a relatively wide, 180-section rear tire, which on balance seems fair enough. The 17-inch Michelin Pilot Road radials worked well on generally grippy but occasionally slippery looking roads, and should have an edge over the narrower rubber of many rivals. The MT is so light and torquey that its bars occasionally went slightly light on accelerating hard out of hilly hairpins. But like an enthusiastic puppy, it never threatened to do anything nasty.
Suspension was good, considering the simplicity of the 41mm fork and rising-rate rear monoshock. Hard cornering had the shock moving around slightly, but damping control was fine for a bike at this level. The only adjustment at either end is shock preload. Adding a few extra clicks, from the standard third of nine positions, gave a usefully firmer feel and added to the generous ground clearance.
The only chassis feature that didn't quite match expectations was the front brake, which was okay but had a slightly soft lever feel, and lacked the bite I'd expected given its specification of twin 282mm discs and four-pot calipers. The Yamaha stops sharply if you squeeze hard enough, though. In most markets there's also an optional ABS system that we didn't get to try.
Equipment levels are understandably basic but most details seem well thought out. The seat is thinly padded but was wide enough to be comfortable, though a pillion doesn't get much to hold. Mirrors are wide and clear. The compact digital display gives details of fuel consumption, range to empty, and gear position, as well as revs on a small bar along the bottom. Shame the info can't be toggled from the rather cheap looking switchgear.
It also seems a shame the bike wasn't given a slightly bigger fuel tank. The 3.7-gallon capacity would be fine at Yamaha's claimed average of 57 mpg. But with enthusiastic use of the throttle (which is what bikes like this are for, right?) I averaged less than 42 mpg. That's respectable but triggered the low fuel warning before 120 miles.
Still, if fuel range and front brake power are two of the MT's less impressive aspects, Yamaha might point out that most bikes of comparable performance are less economical, and that many at this price point have just one front brake disc.
And what price point is that? Well, Yamaha has not said for sure that the MT-07 will be coming to the states as the FZ-07, though I hear there's an office pool running at the Motorcyclist headquarters on the subject. In the UK, the MT-07 sells for £5199 (£5599 with ABS), undercutting the Kawasaki ER-6n by £100 and ringing in just £200 more than Honda's CB500F. [We're going to bet that Yamaha will get the FZ-07 in for around $6,500. —Ed.]
So there's plenty of scope for upgrades, but in many ways the beauty of the MT-07 is its simplicity, in both concept and execution. Like those RD two-stroke twins that gave power to the people decades ago, it's quick, light, handles well, and is superb value for money.
||l-c parallel twin
|Bore x stroke
||80.0 x 68.6mm
||74.0 bhp @ 9,000 rpm
||50.2 lb.-ft. @ 6,500 rpm
||KYB 41mm fork
||Single KYB shock adjustable for spring preload
||Dual four-piston Advics calipers, 298mm discs
||Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
||120/70ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Road
||180/55ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Road
|Curb weight (claimed)
PHOTOS: Matteo Cavadini, Jonathan Godin & Henny Stern