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Yamaha MT-01; Yamaha Takes Power Cruiser Segment to New Level

Yamaha MT-01
Yamaha MT-01 Power Cruiser

If you think Yamaha got lucky when it took sportbikes and four-stroke motocrossers to a new level with the stunning R1 and YZ400 in 1998, leaving everyone behind and scrambling to catch up (yes, this includes Honda), you better think again. Yamaha is about to do the same thing with the power cruiser segment.

The Tokyo Motorcycle Show saw Yamaha’s introduction of the equally stunning MT-01 concept power cruiser. Don’t think this is purely a concept that is not destined for production. This was the centerpiece of the show for Yamaha, and Yamaha spent tremendous time, energy and money developing this bike and the concept underlying it. This may be the successor to the V-Max, or an entirely new class of motorcycle — we’re not sure, but you can expect Yamaha to produce this bike and sell it to the public very soon (although in slightly different clothing – the current exhaust pipe arrangement would burn a passenger’s legs).

Elements of the MT-01′s styling are reminiscent of the V-Max — particularly the shape of the tank side panels. The MT-01 is extremely austere, reminding us of a Buell in some ways by combining a cruiser-style motor in a lightweight, minimalist frame.

This bike promises to go well beyond anything Buell has ever done, however. The motor appears somewhat related to Yamaha’s pushrod, V-twin cruiser Road Star (a 1600cc V-twin), but the cases are different and you can expect that the motor will be tuned for significantly more horsepower and torque. Combining this with the obviously lightweight chassis will result in a new level of performance in a pushrod V-twin motorcycle.

As the pictures make obvious, the mechanical elements of the MT-01 dominate the design of the bike. Rather than package the engine and mechanicals within a design, the engine and mechanicals are the design.

Frankly, we think this bike is a dramatic step forward in many ways. Initially, you are almost shocked by the design, but it grows on you in the way that the essence of a motorcycle appeals to you. The essence is the motor and the functional parts of the chassis, of course, and those elements smack you in the face when you look at the MT-01. Unlike a fat and heavy cruiser, however, here those elements are stripped to the bone where only there functionality stands out. Beautiful!

Take, for example, Yamaha’s treatment of the rear suspension, which resides on the left side of the cylinders in all its naked glory. This location has the functional benefit of centralizing the mass of the motorcycle and making the rear suspension easily serviceable. Yet, it is a design element itself — a design element which is appealing more for this functionality than its physical presentation.

The dual front disc brakes and Yamaha R1-style multi-piston calipers, combined with the light weight of the machine, would introduce a new level of braking performance to the cruiser segment, and there is no reason to doubt that Yamaha has not designed in equally high levels of handling and acceleration.

We had to look at the MT-01 for quite a while and think about it deeply, but the concept and the execution really excite us. Yamaha is reaching for that same level of soulful motorcycling experience that Moto Guzzi enthusiasts have known and deeply appreciated for a long time (see MD’s article on August 12). Combining performance and the heartbeat of a big V-twin.

All in all, we think the MT-01 represents an R1 type of leap forward in motorcycling, albeit in a different class or segment. Only Moto Guzzi competes in this same arena, but Moto Guzzi has been like a fine, but largely undiscovered wine — appreciated by the few connoisseurs. Yamaha is about to take this mainstream.

There are human beings inside Yamaha with deep feelings and a clear vision of the future of motorcycling. You can spend millions on research and development, but you can’t buy this vision. Only an individual human being can have this — committees and corporate bureaucracy normally destroy it. Yamaha has found a way to express this vision in their products. Bravo!

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