The MT Series today is a brand and lineup loved by riders around the world and runs the gamut for choice and variety, from the MT-10 flagship, MT-09, and MT-07 to the smaller MT-03, MT-25, MT-15, and MT-125.
The series is now undoubtedly a signature part of Yamaha's motorcycle offerings, and has been developed over the years with the goal of dismissing conventional notions of what a naked sportbike should be in order to bring an entirely new kind of value to riders. This page summarizes the journey the MT Series has taken, from its MT-01 progenitor to the present day, based on the voices of the planners, engineers, and designers that created it.
As its history spans over 15 years from the birth of the MT-01 in 2005 to the present day, and because not every new addition to the lineup was made according to clearly defined rules, the MT Series' story is not particularly simple or straightforward. However, behind the series' seemingly erratic and open-ended development lies the Monozukuri that sets Yamaha apart from its competitors.
1st Generation MT-09 Project Leader
1st Generation CP3 Engine Project Chief
GK Dynamics Product Designer
GK Dynamics Product Designer
Beginnings: The MT-01
Everything started when the MT-01 was first unveiled as a concept model at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1999. It was a time when the performance of supersport bikes like the YZF-R1 had captivated riders, but Yamaha had envisioned a naked bike that would offer a different kind of value.
It painted a picture of what a naked motorcycle could be when unencumbered by the ever-tempting focus on speed and specs, and instead emphasizing the Kodo (“Soul Beat”) of the engine, a torquey ride, and great handling, all packaged in a meticulously sculpted design. The concept for this new machine was “MT = Mega Torque,” with this hypernaked powered by a big air-cooled twin. Along with this, another communicative element built into the MT-01 was highlighting its conceptual origins in Japan. Each of the Japanese “Big Four” have their own distinctive qualities as motorcycle manufacturers, but when products from each marque are lined up side by side in showrooms overseas, they inevitably start to seem similar. To counteract this, Yamaha sought to create a more individualistic “Iwata, Japan” identity.
When the MT-01 concept model was revealed to the world at the Tokyo Motor Show, flush with Japanese flair throughout, it made headlines in the motorcycling press, but Yamaha was in fact already running development tests with it in its mission to create a new kind of riding experience. To begin with, a naked fitted with an air-cooled 1,700cc cruiser engine was simply unheard of and some at Yamaha wondered if such a motorcycle was even feasible. However, the development team put together a prototype using the Warrior 1700's engine mounted in an XJR1300 frame and began running it on the test track.
Initial in-house evaluations were that the combo had definite potential. From that point, it was a matter of bringing Yamaha's latest technologies to bear—like a CF aluminum die-cast frame—and thereby step into uncharted territory in a bid to create a next-generation naked sportbike. This machine would allow the rider to enjoy the thunderous Kodo beat of the exhaust note while slicing through twisty roads, with the machine's mega-torquey ride drawing them in completely. Yamaha's target and work thereafter was to produce this completely unprecedented hypernaked.
At the root of the MT-01 was Yamaha's unique Jin-Ki Kanno development philosophy of producing performance in tune with rider perceptions. Is the bike fun for the rider or not? Is the nature of that fun something no one has ever experienced before? Every functioning mechanical part of the bike as well as its form and design revolved around such questions.
One area of focus was the exhaust note. Except when at a stop and idling, the sound produced by the exhaust is destined to drift away behind the bike. In Yamaha's view, the exhaust note and Kodo stand separately from conventional metrics of performance; they are part of what defines a motorcycle and are a measure of performance in their own right. This is why the MT-01 featured underseat mufflers with the exits located as close to the rider as possible, but the work did not begin and end with only the exhaust pipes. Research into the frame's rigidity characteristics and the swingarm design was done to build in a tangible feeling of being propelled ever farther forward by the torque produced by the two pistons displacing over 800cc each.
The bike's design was also a culmination of sketch after sketch and a decided refusal to refer to other models for inspiration, but for one exception: the 1,200cc Vmax. Yamaha's iconic V4 power cruiser was more akin to riding on top of an engine with wheels, and that produced a unique sense of unity between the rider and machine. The Vmax was designed around its powerplant, and accordingly, it was left exposed to the eye. The intent was to visually express the flow in which the engine works to produce power, going from the intake to combustion and exhaust. The MT-01 adopted a similar approach. To create the feeling of riding directly atop a mega-twin engine, the team elected to eliminate all decorative elements from the exterior design—just like the Vmax did. If the Vmax is a symbol of Yamaha's originality, then the MT-01, which was crafted under the same concept, also speaks to Yamaha's originality but on the canvas of a naked sportbike.
Progression: The MT Returns
The MT-01 debuted in Europe in 2005 as the result of Yamaha's new challenge. Though it was a popular topic among the press and widely praised by enthusiasts, its idiosyncrasies as a motorcycle were the very reason it was not embraced by riders everywhere. However, Yamaha saw further potential in the MT-01's concept and sought to bring the fun of a torque-filled ride to a wider audience, so Yamaha Motor Italia took the lead in developing the first MT-03. This machine followed the MT-01's footsteps by bucking the mainstream trend of inline-four powerplants and heading down a more unorthodox path. The MT-03's engine was developed based on the torquey big single from the XT660, resulting in a bike that was fun for sporty outings, but also nimble and agile for the urban jungle. The exterior design retained the marks of the bigger MT-01, but had a more stylish orientation with city use in mind.
The MT-03 proved to be on target and was well received by many European riders, selling from 2006 to 2013. Following its success, some at Yamaha had formed a vision of developing an entire “MT Series” of machines to get ahead of the curve in offering new value to riders. However, this vision would not come to fruition for some time.
Still, a development team at Yamaha Motor headquarters in Iwata were working just around then to develop machines that would offer new value truly ahead of the times. These would be new kinds of naked bikes; lightweight, slim, and compact, with performance that would act in concert with human sensitivities. The team repeatedly debated and discussed what kind of motorcycle would best embody Yamaha's Jin-Ki Kanno philosophy and what kind of machine would be the ultimate expression of the unique style of Yamaha. And at that point in time, the “MT” name had, in fact, not come to anyone's mind.
The concept the team arrived at for these new models was “Torquey & Agile” and the candidate engines were a crossplane four, a parallel twin with a 270° crank, and a triple. From among those, the twin and triple were chosen.
For the external design, the idea was to visually express the new riding experience these machines would offer. A new riding style will inevitably birth new shapes and forms, and this led to an upright riding position with the distance between the handlebars and seat made short, and a design approach that exposed mechanical elements as much as possible while eliminating purely decorative elements. And of course, the design team was also not working with the “MT” name in mind, instead calling on a long-held tenet of Yamaha Motor Design: the aesthetic visualization of functions and performance. Thus, the designs they created for the machines subsequently became the baseline for the soon-to-be reborn MT Series.
In designing the engines, torque took center stage. In stark contrast to supersport machines that are all about enjoying power that resides high up in the rev range, the engineers aimed at enhancing the low to midrange performance of these new engines—where riders on the street spend most of their time—and delivering powerful torque to propel the machine forward with authority without needing to rev the bike to redline. On top of that, the pulse and direct feel with ample torque on tap at any point would make these machines easy to handle across a variety of riding scenarios. This was the kind of ridability Yamaha was aiming for.
As development neared its final stages, the machines mounting the all-new 700cc twin and the 900cc triple were both given names. These new naked bikes created in pursuit of Jin-Ki Kanno and to offer new motorcycling value happened to be the perfect final pieces Yamaha Motor Europe was looking for to complete their vision of a new MT line: motorcycles with a torquey and agile ride and expressing a uniqueness birthed in Japan. Thus, the decision was made to revive the same MT marque from the MT-01 and MT-03 for these two new additions to Yamaha's lineup. For the MT-09 triple's launch, a striking communication campaign was devised under the slogan: The Dark Side of Japan. This spoke to precision and quality being synonymous with Japanese products, but as a consequence, they are often too by the book and stuck with a rather stale image. The heart of the campaign's message is that if that is considered “The Light Side of Japan,” then it is not fully representative of the country, because the Japan that the MT World represents embraces and symbolizes the other, darker sides of the island nation.
Today: The Diversity of the MT Line
Yamaha's new challenge bore fruit and the original vision of an MT model family has become a reality, with the MT-10 as the flagship and the MT-09, MT-07, MT-03, MT-25, MT-15, and MT-125 comprising the series. The smaller MT-03, MT-25, MT-15, and MT-125 utilize engine and chassis platforms from R-Series models, but were developed to adhere to the Torquey & Agile series concept, drawing a clear line between the R-Series by keeping to the MT ethos of powerful torque in the low- to mid-rpm range. For example, the 155cc engine on the MT-15 uses Variable Valve Actuation (VVA) to provide the torquey riding experience an MT should emphasize.
In 2021, an all-new MT-09 was released. In order to deliver a torquey ride while clearing stricter emission standards, the engine's displacement was raised, resulting in a boost to both torque and horsepower. Additionally, the sound of the new triple was treated as another element of the machine's overall performance, with development of the bike's acoustics conducted to actively direct the induction roar to the rider's ears. This happened through a process of researching, tuning, and trialing different diameters and lengths for the intake ducts as well as the shape of the air cleaner box to find the ideal resonance, one that puts a smile on the rider's face with every twist of the throttle.
The MT Series' flagship, the MT-10, made its much-anticipated debut in 2015. As the CP4 was originally an engine candidate for the MT family, the MT-10 was naturally based on the frame and four-cylinder crossplane unit from the YZF-R1. However, the engine itself was almost completely redesigned to fit the series' Torquey & Agile concept. With the pronounced feeling of traction unique to the CP4 engine—as if the throttle and rear tire are directly connected—and powerful buildup of torque at low- and mid-rpm, the MT-10 became a hypernaked that could be enjoyed on twisty roads, highways, and urban streets.
The MT-10's design used similar methods as the MT-09 and MT-07 that preceded it, such as the upright riding position common to all MT Series bikes. But with a distinct-looking front end offering good wind protection, exterior bodywork fully exposing the YZF-R1-derived engine and frame, among other features, the flagship MT-10's design is more of a departure from its smaller MT-09 and MT-07 siblings and meant to stand out more on its own unique merits and individuality.
The MT-10 then received its own full redesign under a model concept of “MT King's Dignity” and was released in 2022. This reimagining of the bike radiated a tremendous presence worthy of the pinnacle MT model. To further improve the motorcycle's potential for delivering high rider-centric performance, the latest MT-10 newly features an IMU developed in-house and rider aids on par with the R1's. At the same time, diligent efforts were made to hone the fuel injection system to match the new features, especially with ridability, where a motorcycle's response to slight throttle inputs can make the difference between a fun ride and a nerve-racking one. Also, smoothing out the torque curve throughout the entire rev range brought forth a more refined and sense-tingling ride while preserving the massive surge of torque the MT-10 produces.
One manifestation of Yamaha's constant pursuit of Jin-Ki Kanno with its engineering is with the engine's sound. How can we provide riders with a pleasing aural experience while reducing the degree of noise sent to the surroundings? This approach can be seen in the original MT-01 as well. For the new MT-10, the team focused not only on the exhaust note but also on the induction sound, and called on the same sound design technologies employed for the new MT-09 before it. Three air intake ducts run into the air cleaner box and each one is designed with different cross sections and lengths so that the induction noises they produce individually resonate harmoniously together at the varying wavelength ranges. The sound pressure from each has also been tuned for balance and this produces a sensual sound between 4,000 and 8,000 rpm, giving the rider a sizable helping of torque when accelerating or powering out of corners as well as a corresponding treat for the ears. Acoustic Amplifier Grilles are placed on both sides of the tank cover to augment the sound generated for the rider, and these grilles direct to the rider not only the sound coming from the discharge ports of the intake ducts but also the hum produced by the vibration of the ducts themselves. This accentuates the CP4 engine's inherent sound quality and sends the rider a sound that builds up in excitement as engine rpm rises toward its peak torque point.
Turning to the design, the new MT-10 was revamped with “The Darkest Diamond” as its design concept in an endeavor to highlight its dignity and individuality as the flagship of the MT Series. To that end, the design approach was to trim away anything deemed unnecessary and to polish the best qualities of the platform to make the machine's individuality stand out. Since the first MT-10, the model's design has stood apart from that of other nakeds that often simply strip away the fairings of the supersport machines they are based on. It is completely different from designs that weave flowing surfaces and lines together. Instead, the goal has always been to embody the Torquey & Agile concept. The latest MT-10 has the ultimate mass-centralized form, displaying the appeal and presence of the components themselves by paring down the unnecessary, and combining this with the somewhat unreadable expression produced by the headlight assembly lends a mysterious air to the machine.
With MT Series designs, there are no clearly recognizable character lines or specific rules to adhere to so that each model is clearly a part of the series. Instead, the designs aim to visualize the performance housed within each motorcycle. While each model's form does incorporate elements reflecting how users in each region typically ride, the common theme binding them together is the Torquey & Agile concept. With this singular theme as a constant, there are similarities to be found among the differences and this is the cohesive bond of the MT family.
Commitment: Toward the Future
Where will the MT Series go in the years to come? Even for Yamaha, which is charged with creating the series' future, does not have an answer to that question. The series ranges from 125cc to 1,000cc models and all of them were created based on the Torquey & Agile concept, but with each specialized to exude its own individuality. As long as Yamaha continues to pursue Jin-Ki Kanno in its Monozukuri and question what constitutes the unique style of Yamaha, the hallmarks of the MT brand will naturally manifest in each model's performance and design. The MT Series is a line of motorcycles that successfully unifies diversity.
If speaking of what it takes to develop an entirely new and different motorcycle that challenges norms, Yamaha's developers and designers refuse to be trapped inside the box of established thinking, something followed since the days of the MT-01. Now that the original's “Mega Torque” concept has evolved into “Torquey & Agile,” the MT Series will continue to evolve as long as there is the will to create hypernakeds that offer a ride nobody has experienced before. Even as environmental issues like carbon neutrality rise to the fore, Yamaha believes that there is still more to come and more we can do.
The project leaders of the MT-09 and MT-07 say that there is no end to the development of the MT line, claiming that if the engineers and designers are left to their own devices, they will simply keep working on the series in perpetuity. Even if the lineup is “complete” to some extent today, it does not signal the end—the next challenge is already within sight.
Different teams of planners, engineers, and designers take over model projects all the time; it is part and parcel of the industry. However, these new minds always strive to gain an innate understanding of the intentions and ideals their predecessors had. With this dynamic equilibrium a fixture at Yamaha, there is little doubt that new MTs will be born in the near future.