Yamaha MT-01: Torque of the town

The MT-01 is set to be a future design classic and has an engine that pulls like a carthorse. Tim Luckhurst tests it out
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Engine: 4-stroke air-cooled 1,670cc V-twin
Max power: 90 bhp (66.3Kw) at 4,750rpm
Max Torque: 110 lb ft at 3,750 rpm
Brakes: Dual floating 320 mm front discs, single floating 267 mm rear disc
Fuel Capacity: 15 litres
Price: Around £9,400

MT stands for mega torque. This needs little explanation, but Yamaha does not leave it at that. It describes this 1,670cc V-twin brontosaurus according to a Japanese concept called "kodo". This translates as "pulse," "sound that resonates within the mind and body" or "marketing drivel", depending on who you ask.

The motorcycle that became the MT-01 started life six years ago as a styling concept. Normally aesthetic daring is ruthlessly eliminated during development, but not here.

Citroën does this with cars. Triumph did it last year with the mighty Rocket III. It takes courage, but the risk/reward equation applies. When radical design works it produces classics. So is theMT-O1 destined to be regarded as one?

It does not look quite as radical on the road as it did at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1999. The twin exhausts snake intriguingly below the engine before emerging under the seat the size of organ pipes. The fuel tank is covered with aluminium. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the headlight unit that consists of two lights of different diameters, one above the other. Head on, there is nothing that compares with this.

But theMT-O1 is distinctive rather than unique. It does not have the ground-breaking characteristics of a Harley-Davidson V-Rod or Rocket III. This is a bold and imaginative development of the naked roadster concept rather than a wholly new shape of motorcycle.

Judged on acoustics alone this motorcycle is special. It sounds like two pneumatic drills operating in tandem. At very low speed, vibration through the seat conveys the same impression. But that is not to say it is uncomfortable. The rider's seat is one of the best I have encountered. The machine performs, too. In fact that is parsimonious. It is huge fun to ride.

Ninety horsepower is a modest output for such a large engine, but the oceanic reserves of torque compensate. Its acceleration between road-legal speeds is phenomenal. This roadster can take advantage of the tightest overtaking opportunity. Between 40 and 60mph in third the pick-up feels more like warp drive than internal combustion.

Its handling is impressive, too. On both tight bends and fast, sweeping curves the MT-01 reveals the virtues of Yamaha's racing pedigree. The massive, inverted front forks hold the front wheel as if on rails. You have to be travelling really fast before the weight begins to make physical demands on the rider.

Though large, the MT-01 is not broad. It filters easily through traffic and feels light during low-speed manoeuvres. The engine note does not suggest contentment at low revolutions, but again the reality surprises. It is also so potent that even pensioners in Nissan Micras notice you are there. It is a peculiar safety feature but useful all the same.

The MT-01's instrumentation is basic but clear. A large analogue tachometer is partnered by a digital speedo, a clock and a trip-meter. This is all most readers will need because the MT-01 is not a motorway cruiser. Its naked design makes it exhausting at sustained high speed and, even with ear plugs in, the engine soon becomes intrusive.

On A-roads, country lanes and in town the MT-01 is an absolute hoot. The torque is such that a lazy rider could stay in third gear for hours on end. If motorcycles were allowed to pull caravans this one would do so without breaking sweat.

Classic status can only be conferred by public approbation, and the MT-01 has not been available long enough for that. It is bold and imposing rather than beautiful, but the sensations conveyed by riding it are special. From just 1,500rpm it pulls like a carthorse. With the MT-01, Yamaha has combined muscle, handling and style to pleasing effect.

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