Big Touring Motorcycle’s 2021 Six-Way, 900(ish)cc Naked Bike Shootout!

Don’t look now, but the field of naked bikes slotting in just below the 1000cc mark is starting to rise – and we’re all the better for it. Maybe the OEMs have figured out that those big beasts in the upper echelons of naked bike performance are just too much for the more sensible among us. They’re too big, too fast, too powerful, with too much electronics, and too much of a price tag. For those of us still with a desire for naked bike fun, but at a slightly more moderate pace, we bring you the assembly of motorcycling you see before you.

Two months ago we brought together six middleweight naked bikes – the Aprilia Tuono 660, Honda CB650R, Kawasaki Z650, Suzuki SV650, Triumph Trident 660, and Yamaha MT-07 – for a good old fashioned shootout – with the Triumph coming out on top. Normally your humble MO staff phones it in after a test of this magnitude. I mean, c’mon. Big tests like these take a lot out of us. This time, however, you, the readers, wanted more. And so did boss-man Brasfield. Next in the crosshairs was a test you and us alike have wanted to put together for a long time. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after our last one. 

Nonetheless, what we have here is another sextet. What you get from the BMW F900R, Ducati Monster, Kawasaki Z900, KTM 890 Duke, Triumph Street Triple R, and Yamaha MT-09 are six of the hottest bikes in the sub-1000cc category today, and a nice step up from the middleweights we recently tested. And before any Suzuki fanboys (or girls) grill us, yes, we extended an invitation for the GSX-S750. Unfortunately, one couldn’t be provided for us in time. In all honesty, its inclusion wouldn’t have made an impact on the overall winner, but we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

How It’s Going Down

Like we did with the middleweight twins, your esteemed trio of John Burns, Ryan Adams, and I spent a few days riding all six bikes through one of our favorite testing loops through a series of SoCal’s famous back roads. The asphalt was often twisty, but also characteristically bumpy in spots, giving the suspension and chassis components a nice workout. Freeway droning and normal riding is par for the course, too, so we got a good idea of how the engines fare during the everyday humdrum. Speaking of engines, each of these bikes spun the dyno drum at Mickey Cohen Motorsports to get rear-wheel power and torque numbers, and Mr. Adams put each bike on MO’s digital scales – tanks fully fueled – to get curb weights prior to our testing. 

horsepower dyno

The Kawasaki, Ducati, KTM, and Yamaha are closely matched in the horsepower war, though the Monster tails off once the revs pick up. Surprisingly, the Triumph, with its near-flawless power curve, makes the most horsepower in this test, despite having the smallest engine. The catch, of course, is it comes at nearly 12,000 rpm – long after the other bikes have signed off. The BMW lags behind very early on and never recovers.

From a torque perspective, the bikes with the biggest and smallest engines (Kawasaki and Triumph, respectively) both show nearly flawless torque curves while the others experience dips along the way.

If you’re not familiar with our testing routine, MO testers use a weighted scorecard placing scores for both objective (price, power, weight, etc.) and subjective (engine feel, suspension performance, overall character, etc.) categories. Once both points totals are calculated, we then have our winner. So, it’s entirely possible for an individual tester to have a different ranking than another (and this happens here), but collectively, this is how the cookie crumbles. 

6. BMW F900R

Ryan Adams: 5th place, 80%
John Burns: 6th place, 82.3%
Troy Siahaan: 6th place, 77.9%

Normally we feel bad at this point in a shootout because, even though we know one bike has to be the loser, a lot of the time the last-place bike doesn’t deserve the shame. With the BMW, however, we still feel bad. Just not as bad. When you look at the scorecard, it does win on price and for its instruments – being the least expensive and having an awesome TFT display does count for something – but it’s not nearly enough to pull it out of the bottom of the standings. Its Brembo brakes are among of the best in this lot, too, but it’s a razor-thin margin between them all.

The 895cc parallel-Twin is underpowered compared to all except the smaller-engined Triumph, but maybe worse than that, none of the sounds coming from the engine bay or exhaust pipe inspire anything close to exhilaration. “Agricultural” was the word continually popping up in my mind while riding, as it sounds like an angry tractor. Which is cool – if this were a tractor comparison. The lack of any sort of quickshifter is a shame, though rowing through the gears the old-fashioned way isn’t too bad on the F900.

BMW F900R right profile close

The brilliant blue paint really needs to be seen in direct sunlight to truly appreciate.

Johnny Burns highlights another quirk we found with the BMW: [it’s got] Weird squatty potty ergos with high, forward footpegs and a stretch to the low-mounted handlebar, giving it a lifted Harleyesque clamshell feel. Maybe they corner faster in the Alps and need more clearance? Here in the US, the riding position seems unnecessarily sporty for all the times you’re not riding sportily.

When you are riding sportily, the BMW ergos do work, and the bike somehow keeps up with the herd better than the dyno says it should; up to 6000 rpm or so, it does put out a healthy racket and plenty of thrust, and its suspension works well through the bumps. But for real cut-and-thrust riding, there’s no getting past it being the heaviest, longest motorcycle here with the least power. Could be good for a sport-touring-minded person with really long arms and short legs I suppose?

BMW F900R action

Someday, we’ll figure out how to reset the tripmeter. There’s a lot going on in that onboard Playstation. It is pretty futuristic and easy to read once you figure it all out. Keyword you.

Ryan wasn’t much enamored with the BMW either, though riding it alone and without all the other bikes around did make him feel a little guilty with joining in the group bashing John and I were giving it. Enough so that he cut it a little bit of slack, placing it second from last on his personal scorecard.

BMW F900R TFT Display

For all the bashing we gave the BMW, it has the best dash in this test, by far.

Here’s what Ryan had to say about the BMW:

The F900R’s peculiarly high and forward footpegs leave a bad taste in your mouth from square one, which is unfortunate because the BMW isn’t a bad bike otherwise. The fit, finish, and feel of the machine is that of high quality and tight German engineering. The motor has nice torque just off idle and delivers it progressively while out on canyon roads. Like the Kawi, the F900R’s allure is tainted when compared to this stacked class of 900-ish cc nakeds. 

The BMW is down on horsepower from the others by a fair margin but still manages to keep up with them when the curves are compressed. On tight roads, the punchy parallel Twin has the torque to make it a fun machine to ride. It’s then that the footpegs don’t matter, but around town, they seem a bit ridiculous. The BMW’s TFT display is so nice that I don’t even mind resetting the trip meter for John every time we gas up.

5. Kawasaki Z900

Kawasaki z900 action

Ryan Adams: 6th place, 79.2% 
John Burns: 3rd place, 88.3%
Troy Siahaan: 5th place, 78.8%

This one was far from a unanimous decision, as you can see from our individual scores above. Ryan and I were pretty comfortable slotting the Z900 towards the bottom of our rankings, but the Z really endeared itself to JB. Despite having the biggest engine in this group, the Kawasaki came in second in terms of horsepower (to the Triumph, surprisingly, by 0.4 hp, and its smallest engine in this test) and tied for the most torque. It delivers both its power and torque in a very linear and smooth fashion. And being only four measly dollars more than the BMW, the Kawi is a great bike when you consider bang for your buck.

That’s all well and good except, from where I was sitting, the Z900 failed to leave a mark. In fact, perhaps the best – and worst – thing I can say about the Kawasaki is that I have nothing to say about it. For me, the Z900 does everything perfectly fine. And that’s the problem. Yes, the engine has grunt, it’s suspended nicely, and everything works, but it lacks something every good motorcycle needs: character. Or as Ryan put it, “the Z900 just feels bland.” There are some objective niggles Ryan and I have about the bike, too. I’ll let him explain. 

Kawasaki Z900 right profile

The Z900 is a good example of how a perfectly fine motorcycle can be interpreted in different ways by different people.

Says Ryan: I’m a pretty average 5’8” with a 30-inch inseam and the Kawasaki’s cockpit manages to feel the most cramped of all six of these machines. The convenient low seat height betrays the normal footpeg placement and puts the rider’s knees near their elbows. The handlebar also feels narrow which adds up to a tight rider triangle that I just can’t dig. Maybe a taller seat would make things better, but in stock trim, the Z900 would be a great bike for those of smaller stature. 

Meanwhile, Burnsie loved the Kawi. And while none of us are fooling ourselves into thinking any of these machines are sportbikes, John really looks to this category of motorcycling as being do-it-all machines. By definition, a jack of all trades is a master of none. Maybe all the reasons I’m not enamored with it are exactly the reasons why John is. Here he is telling his side of the story.

Kawasaki Z900 engine

Four cylinders, 948cc, and smooth as butter (well, until you’re going faster than you should admit to on a public forum). The Z900’s engine is great, and not very exciting, all at the same time.

I loved this motorcycle from the start, and it’s only grown on me over the years. What’s that? Four-cylinders are peaky? Not this one. It’s making more torque than anything else here at 2500 rpm according to Mickey’s dyno, ties the Yamaha for peak torque (62.8 lb-ft), then polishes things off by virtually tying for most horsepower with the Triumph (108.8 Kawi vs 109.2 hp Triumph) – but the Kawi makes its peak at only 9600 rpm, same as the Monster’s V-twin. The Monster never makes more torque than the Kawasaki.

The payoff is a broad, smooth wave of power. It reminds you why Jesus gave us the Japanese four-cylinder, and kudos to Kawi for sticking with it. 

The spec chart can’t explain how the second-heaviest bike here turns and burns so swiftly through Sand Canyon, but I almost turned off the inside of a couple of corners after getting onto it after the BMW. So quick and light on its feet, so small and compact feeling – it must be down to excellent mass centralization, with the cylinder bank up front and the horizontal whatchamacallit rear shock lying horizontally just abaft. I am Johnny Rea, bitches.

Kawasaki Z900 action

For touring, the seat’s a bit thinner than some and the ride not exactly plush, but that’s easy to change, and the other outstanding feature of this particular four-banger is its smoothness; there’s almost no grip tingle at cruising speed.

Is it a bit crude? Maybe just barely so, if you’re a Eurobike snob. But those are endearing qualities. I’m tempted to rank it higher than third. Alas… what really needs to happen is Kawasaki needs to build a Z900 SE, with cruise control and even better suspension than the already good boingers the Z’s got now.

Yep. John loves it for the same reasons Ryan and I don’t.

4. Triumph Street Triple R

Triumph Street Triple R action

Ryan Adams: 4th place, 85.2% 
John Burns: 5th place, 84.8%
Troy Siahaan: 4th place, 82.5%

Oh my, how the mighty have fallen. It seems like only yesterday we were singing the Street Triple’s praises, and now, we’re here talking about its fourth place finish. To be fair, the Street Triple we have here is the R model (not the up-spec RS), though the changes aren’t huge. It’s still the fun and exciting motorcycle we’ve always admired. Compared to the three bikes ahead of it, however, the STR might be showing its age a little.

It’s hard not to love the Triumph’s three-cylinder wail, and the little Streety delivers once again. We all loved making the Triumph sing its song – sometimes because we wanted to, but also because we had to. Yes, the 765cc Triple makes the most power in this test at 109.2 horses, but it’s also the smallest engine here and makes its peak power right before its 12,000 redline. I don’t know about you, but revving the snot out of a bike (on the street anyway) is no fun. No surprise, then, that its 52.5 lb-ft of torque is at the bottom of this group, too. To Triumph’s credit, the Street Triple’s torque curve is about as perfect as you can ask for. It’s just less than the others. 

Triumph Street Triple R right side profile

The beloved Street Triple R is still a sweetheart in its own right, but others have stolen our hearts.

Ryan and I both rank the Triumph fourth in our standings, so here he is giving his reasons (which I mostly agree with):

It’s not so much of an issue of what Triumph has done with the Street Triple, but what the competition has come up with in the past few years. That said, the Street Triple R has the most stable chassis of the group, whether leaned on its side or under hard braking – which it also handles with aplomb. Listening to the Triple’s crescendo build on its way to redline is a sound you’ll never tire of, and the ergos are great for attacking bends. 

Unfortunately, the stable, yet less flickable (again, by comparison) chassis, is matched to a motor that needs to rev much higher to get into the meat of its power, and the sporty rider triangle are all reasons the Triumph finds itself in fourth place in this test. After winning so many accolades in the past, one could accuse Triumph of resting on its laurels a bit with the Street Triple R. Who knows, maybe Triumph has something waiting in the wings.

Triumph Street Triple R engine and exhaust

Nevermind the fact that it has to rev to nearly 12,000rpm to get there, the fact the smallest engine in this test makes the most power is still impressive. And the sound coming out of the exhaust is as sweet as ever.

John’s take isn’t too dissimilar from the rest of us, actually…

Maybe because it’s 125 cc smaller than the next smallest bike here, but the Triumph, which usually feels pretty exciting ridden by itself, feels a little bit uninspiring in this crowd. All the rest of these are torquey little beasts that get right with the program instantly, and the fact that the Triumph needs to be revved up a little makes it seem slightly less enthusiastic. In fact, it needs to be revved up a lot, and I don’t remember other STs being as buzzy as this one at high rpm.

My favorites here also have nearly upright ergonomics which are great for warm-weather touring and attacking backroads, while the Triumph’s layout is more old-fashioned naked bike, where they ditched the fairing but left the footpegs slightly rear-set and the grips slightly forward – and with a handlebar that doesn’t quite match my physiognomy. Slogging along the freeway on it is thus less relaxing than my favorites, with a bit more weight on the grips, which vibrate a bit at 80-ish. If you live in Germany, you’ll probably prefer the Triumph’s ergos on the autobahn. 

Triumph Street Triple R action

With its Daytona-derived frame, it’s no wonder the Streety handles nicely. Unfortunately, it also adopts the Daytona’s high pegs.

Those ergos work great on our torn-up high-speed backroad section for slicing through the curves, thanks to Triumph’s usual dialed suspension settings. There’s nothing to criticize about its middle-pack steering or brakes, and its quickshifter is a big advantage over the Z900 and BMW when the going gets tight… but for now, there are younger, more stylish bikes in the mix, and the ST thrill is kind of gone. Sorry.

Harsh words, but ones we mostly agree with. Time waits for no one, Triumph.

3. Ducati Monster

Ducati Monster action

Ryan Adams: TIE 2nd place, 87.9% 
John Burns: 4th place, 88.1%
Troy Siahaan: 3rd place, 86.3%

Fresh from its all-new and controversial redesign, the Ducati Monster joins this test with a fair bit of anticipation from our group of testers. Johnny seemed to like the bike during his First Ride, but the rest of us wanted to judge for ourselves if Ducati really had hit the mark or not. 

Looks are subjective of course, but the Monster did manage to win the “Cool Factor” portion of our scorecard, where we judge the completely superficial and vain aspect of looks, appearance, and the all-to-important poseur value. We actually don’t mind the absence of the trellis frame on this newest Monster, and though the radiator for the liquid-cooled 937cc V-Twin is obviously necessary, its absence would elevate the clean looks of the bike even more. 

Ducati Monster right side profile

New look, who dis? The Ducati Monster no longer has a trellis frame. Is it even still a Monster? Discuss.

Personally, my first ride aboard the Monster returned a sensation not too dissimilar to the feeling I had on the Kawasaki – indifference. Unlike the Kawasaki, though, the more I rode the Monster, and the more I pushed it, the more exciting it became. The Ducati’s power and torque curves are roughly in line with the other bikes’ midrange in this test in the midrange, but its svelte 414 pounds (with a full tank of gas, the second lightest in this test) was extremely easy to toss around when the roads turned twisty.

A narrow cockpit also makes the bike feel small underneath you, lending to its sporty nature. In typical Ducati style, the Monster is packed with electronic goodies, refined in a way no other bike in this test can match (as evidenced in its shared top spot honors in our Technology category). Its auto up/down quickshifter is excellent, the TFT display is second only to the BMW’s, navigating through it is easy, and though we didn’t have to use it on our beautifully sunny ride days, Ducati’s traction control system has been among the best in the business.

Ducati Monster engine close-up

The 937cc V-Twin is fun and spirited, but the amount of heat between and below your thighs is really off-putting.

With such glowing praise, where does it lose out? For starters, the now infamous Ducati exhaust heat rears its ugly head again on the Monster. It’s not nearly as bad as the scalding hot V-Twin Panigale range, but it’s still immensely annoying and uncomfortable at times.

Also, for as much fun as the Monster is to toss around, the two bikes placed above it simply do it better. But that’s not the bike’s biggest downfall; it loses out the most in our collective scorecard by virtue of its $11,895 price tag – the highest in this group. If money is no object, however, there are certainly worse decisions you can make than the Ducati. It was even strong enough for Ryan to place it a joint second in his personal rankings. Here’s why:

Ducati Monster action

For a brand new motorcycle, the dulling plastic headlight trim already looks like it’s been sitting in the sun for 20 years.

The new Ducati Monster is a looker. Yes, gone is the trellis frame but with it went a lot of avoirdupois. Not only does the Monster look more svelte in 2021, it is in fact so, weighing in second lightest of this crew at 414 pounds. The upright riding position and cush seat make the Monster a pretty pleasant place to perch, and the willing chassis handles business when the going gets twisty. Both brakes have a bit more travel than I prefer before getting into the real stopping power, but they do get the job done. In the meat of the power, the Ducati thrusts forwards with the best of ‘em, but it isn’t as couth at low speeds. 

The Monster’s electronics package is fairly sophisticated with useful things like IMU-based TC and ABS. Even wheelie control can be dialed back for those working on their horn monos. It does take it a bit far though with launch control. Cool to have? I guess, but does it contribute in a useful way? I’ll let y’all be the judge. 

Ducati Monster TFT display

An easily-readable TFT display is also fairly intuitive to navigate through, once you get the hang of it. Ducati electronics are some of the best in the biz.

The Monster is a relatively low-priced gateway drug into the Ducatisti cult, but it’s not an inexpensive motorcycle. At $11,895, it’s nearly three grand more than the lowest-priced competitor here. That’s all fine and dandy, but when the black plastic framing the headlight is yellowed to the point that it looks like it came off of a machine that’s spent the last 20 years sitting in the SoCal sun, it makes one question the premium price. 

As for John? The Ducati placed fourth in his rankings, mainly because he loves the Kawasaki so. Here he is explaining himself:

[The Ducati] sort of feels like the Gentleman’s express of the group, a bit softer suspended than the others and thick of seat, which makes it a nice choice for day-long rides. The ergonomics of the thing have taken a big step forward with the new design; you’re now more upright and the bike’s skinnier between your thighs and fits well everywhere – if you’re the right size anyway.

Ducati Monster Seat

A seat comfortable enough to burn through an entire tank of gas and not feel beat up by the end.

Brakes are in character with the rest of the bike, a bit soft initially but with plenty of power as you squeeze a bit harder. The 937cc L-twin is as lovable as ever, but now that the competition have parallel twins with 270-degree crankshafts, the Duc motor feels a bit old-fashioned (just like the SV650 motor did in the cheapskate naked shootout from last month).

It’s not as happy at low revs, and doesn’t respond to the throttle as instantaneously as the KTM’s engine or even the BMW’s, for that matter. Once spooling up with the gas on, it’s as nice as ever and buries the BMW, but it lacks the instant snap response of the KTM.

Ducati Monster Action

I may like the looks of the Ducati best, and it’s one of the most comfortable for everyday riding. If you’re less interested in all-out performance and in more a sport-touring mood, it’s a great choice and a big step up from the previous Monster. I could definitely live with it.

2. KTM 890 Duke

KTM 890 Duke action

Ryan Adams: 1st place, 90.6% 
John Burns: 2nd place, 91.0%
Troy Siahaan: 2nd place, 87.5%

The KTM 890 Duke is good. Really good. From the moment you thumb the starter and hear the 890cc parallel-Twin roar to life, you know you’re in for a good time. That engine is mean and responsive without being too aggressive, the chassis dares you to push it even harder, and everything about it screams KTM’s mantra: Ready To Race.

If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice this is the non-R version of the Duke, just like the Street Triple is the R model and not the RS. The reasoning goes like this: we’ve already tested both of those bikes before (you can read about it here, in fact), but we haven’t put the lower-spec versions in a test. Actually, we hadn’t ridden the non-R Duke at all. This was the perfect opportunity. 

KTM 890 Duke right side profile

The standard 890 Duke may not have the upgraded components of the R model, but it’s still damn good.

Sure, this meant our test bike does without the up-rated WP suspension and Brembo brakes, but in all honesty, none of that really mattered. The non-adjustable fork was damped well enough for our bumpy SoCal roads, and the J.Juan calipers clamped down on the 300mm discs about as hard as any of us could have asked for. This was a long-winded way of saying it really didn’t matter since we were having a blast bombing around our test loop – not at warp speed like the 1290 Super Duke might beg for, but at a quick pace nonetheless.

When push comes to shove, the chassis doesn’t feel as planted as, say, the Triumph or Ducati when you’re really going for superpole, but it’s not far off. And the liveliness of the engine more than makes up for the chassis’ apparent shortfalls. If you remember our test of the 890 Duke R, you may remember comments about the transmission being about the worst we’ve sampled in a very long time. Word must have gotten back to KTM because our non-R Duke’s quickshifter rowed through the gears in both directions just fine. It wasn’t as crisp or clean as the systems we’ve seen on Aprilias or Ducatis, or even our Yamaha, but it’s as clean as we’ve experienced on any KTM. 

KTM 890 Duke engine close up

The “Scalpel’s” 890cc Parallel-Twin is lively and punchy without being overwhelming like its 1290cc Super Duke cousin.

Slow the pace down around town and the stiff seat won’t endear itself to anyone, but the ergos are surprisingly comfortable for a bike that begs to be ridden hard. Shuffling through the menus on the TFT screen is easy enough, but we did find ourselves fumbling around a bit more than we would have liked when it came time to actually make changes to any settings, or even reset the tripmeter.

Still, as far as thrill rides go, I wish I could have given the KTM joint first-place honors. That’s how fun it is. So fun, in fact, that Ryan indeed placed it atop his overall standings. Here’s his take:

We’ve lauded lots of praise on the 890 Duke. Specifically, the R, as this was our first run around with the standard version. It’s still that good. The top-shelf components missing on the standard model aren’t missed much in the street environment. The chassis is still ready to race and attack a set of corners just as soon as you look at ‘em, and the punchy parallel-Twin is eager to do just that. Upright ergonomics help the machine work well in a myriad of settings, even if the bike’s saddle borders on torturous. 

KTM 890 Duke action

The 890 Duke is hungry for the next set of curves.

Again, styling is subjective, but I’ve been drinking the orange kool-aid for a while and dig the sharp aggressive styling the most out of this crew. The KTM 890 Duke lives up to its mantra and is certainly at the pointed end of the sporting spectrum which might not be where every motorcyclist wants to live. I think KTM is okay with that though. The top four machines in this test are incredibly fun motorcycles to ride, the last two aren’t bad either. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships, and this class of motorcycles is an excellent example of just that. 

Even for all of John’s talk about preferring this class of bike to be more utilitarian, he also couldn’t help but put the KTM in second spot:

If it’s all-out performance you want and a naked bike for track days, the KTM wins. It feels lightest, quickest, and best-handling because it is. It’s got the best ergos for me, nearly upright with a short reach to grips, an excellent seat shape for broad support and a narrow midsection that tucks your thighs neatly under the gas tank’s wings.

KTM 890 Duke seat

Thin and stiff. Apt descriptions for the KTM’s hard seat.

Everything is direct and right now including brakes that rescue you when you feel too hot in tight corners and pull you back easily, thanks to the best suspension front and rear that’s firm without being harsh – except that the rear is a bit harsh over big bumps: KTM has no control over California’s infrastructure.

The engine’s right there with the best of them, always ready with instant snap that feeds in smoothly, builds instantly and makes the Ducati’s L-twin feel old and feeble. The parallel-Twin layout of the thing means there’s room for a long swingarm, which no doubt contributes to the KTM being marketed as “the Scalpel.” That’s pretty much how it feels, a feeling abetted by the lightest weight here. There is simply no slack anywhere in any of the 890’s systems.

For being the sportiest bike here, it’s also close to being the nicest freeway cruiser: The counterbalanced Twin is one of the smoothest-running at 85-ish, with the faintest hint of big-twin rumble, and it’s happy to doddle through traffic in sixth gear all the way down to 2500 rpm or so.

KTM 890 Duke action

Coming to you from the tool aisle at Home Depot…

For all its performance though, I couldn’t buy the KTM because it looks too much like a Black & Decker gardening tool – all that angular plastic is impossible for me to love, and my other gardening implements are Ryobi. Maybe they could make a blue one with orange accents like they used to?

Fair enough, JB. For as much praise as we heaped on the Duke, we also fell in love with the Yamaha. As you’ll see in a moment, the two scores were neck and neck throughout this test. Ultimately, the deciding factor when it came to the scorecard was price. At $10,999, the KTM’s $1600 price gap to the Yamaha dinged it just enough to seat it second overall. Which brings us to…

1. Yamaha MT-09

Yamaha MT-09 action

Ryan Adams: TIE 2nd place, 87.9% 
John Burns: 1st place, 92.3%
Troy Siahaan: 1st place, 87.9%

Well, this was unexpected. Before the test began I think we all assumed the KTM would run away with it. It almost did, too. But the Yamaha MT-09 had other ideas. I’ll be honest, when I first rode it during our testing rotations, I forgot it had the bigger 890cc Triple.

“Wow, I don’t remember the 847cc engine being so punchy!” I scribbled in my notes. As it turns out, it still isn’t – but the 890 certainly is! Similar to the KTM, Yamaha’s updated engine is ready and eager to jump at any input you make on the throttle. Unlike MT-09s of old, however, throttle response isn’t snatchy and unruly. Yamaha has finally fixed the jerky fuel mapping of previous 09’s, and the result is a smooth triple that makes all the right sounds and moves with gusto to match. It’s downright intoxicating. So much so it took top honors in the engine category of our scorecard, but only just.

Yamaha MT-09 right side profile

The Yamaha MT-09 as our winner? What a pleasant, and unexpected, surprise.

The dyno chart has the MT-09 making the third-most power here, 105.8 hp, while it ties the Kawasaki for most torque at 62.8 lb-ft. A closer look at the chart shows fairly significant dips in the power early in the rev range, but in the real world, those dips are hardly noticeable. All of us were truly surprised at how well the Yamaha handled both normal and spirited riding.

Speaking of spirited riding, we collectively rated its handling and suspension second best in this group. Thankfully, the 9’s chassis isn’t a wet noodle like its MT-07 cousin, though it’s not quite as razor-sharp as some of the others here (granted, we’re splitting hairs). A little surprising is a fully adjustable fork – a feature we didn’t expect – though only having a shock with preload and rebound damping adjustability does let it down somewhat. Still, assuming you’re an average size rider, you’d have to be pushing pretty hard on the streets to butt up against its limits.

Yamaha MT-09 engine

If I had forgotten about the Yamaha’s bigger three-cylinder engine, the swift kick in the pants when I opened the throttle was a quick reminder.

Slow the pace down for normal riding, and once again, the Yamaha proves a nice place to be. A broad, nicely padded seat gives you plenty of space to move around, while the upright bars give you a comfortable and commanding view of what’s ahead. You’re also greeted to a TFT screen which is nice to look at, but doesn’t quite hold a candle to the likes of the Ducati or BMW. Since we’re on the topic of electronics, we’re really impressed to find an IMU at the heart of the MT-09’s electronics suite which includes lean-sensitive traction control, slide control, ABS, and wheelie control. Honestly, all of that stuff simply faded into the background as we found the bike more and more enjoyable to ride the more miles we put on it. Maybe most surprising of all was how well the up/down quickshifter works. It truly is impressive. All for just $9,400 with a dollar left over? Here, Yamaha, take my money. No, wait. Make an R9 and then take my money. It’s just too good.

I realize I’m gushing here, so let’s hear from Ryan, who placed the Yamaha second on his scores:

The Yamaha landed second on my personal scorecard, but I wasn’t surprised to see it take top honors overall – pricing, power, and weight set it pretty far ahead in our objective scoring. The MT-09’s well-rounded character kept it near the top (or at the top for Troy and JB) for me objectively as well. Does the MT-09 have the best chassis here? Not in my opinion, but it’s pretty dang good. If you’re a sporting lad or lass with the money saved on the Yammer you could get some suspension work done or maybe just pop for the SP model which will get you some gold suspenders and cruise control. 

Yamaha MT-09 action

The engine is great. Another Triple that sounds so good it kept me doing full tilt passes through the tunnels during our shoot long after the cameras were put away. Blipping through the gears with the best quickshifter of this sextet is also an exhilarating experience. The little bit of lull in the torque curve up to 5,000 rpm makes the MT-09’s mid-range rush all the more exciting as it rockets up to its peak torque at 7,000 rpm. 

The riding position is perfectly neutral which makes it just as fun and usable around town as it is in the canyons. The seat is tied for the tallest of the group at 32.5 inches, but it doesn’t ever feel all that bad thanks to the narrowness when you choke up on it. Looks are subjective, but I dig the color scheme. A great all-rounder at a great price. I’m not surprised to see the Yamaha take the cake.

Yamaha MT-09 display

Another easy-to-read display, but this one isn’t quite as nice as some of the European offerings or even the Kawasaki.

And since John and I share the same good taste in a favorite motorcycle in this bunch, I’ll let him have the last word:

A great naked isn’t all about performance; it’s also about everyday rideability and having a motorcycle you like to look at. With its new aluminum frame and redesign, you’re free to hate on the new Master of Torque, but its overall fit, finish, and design takes a back seat to no bike here. 

Ridden maniacally on fast, bumpy backroads, it doesn’t have quite the chassis snub-down of the KTM, but it’s very close (and we could’ve firmed up its adjustable suspenders if we’d taken the time). Ridden around town and on the freeway, the Yamaha’s slightly softer suspension gives it a more comfortable everyday real-world ride. Ergonomically, it’s right there with the KTM but with a slightly more expansive cockpit – and another seat that puts you in full control for aggressive maneuvers, but also broadens out for you to slide back upon comfily for freeway slogs.

Yamaha MT-09 action

Its new 890cc Triple also takes a backseat to no engine in this comparison, coming within 3 or 4 hp of the Z900’s four-cylinder for top dyno chart numbers. It delivers all that power with excellent response, zero glitches, and my favorite revvy, rumbly, shrieky exhaust note of the bunch – if not quite the Z’s smoothness. Also, it comes with a quickshifter, which is a huge advantage in those parts of Sand Canyon where you want first gear.

How could it get better you ask? You could get the SP, which comes with Ohlins suspension and cruise control – but then it would be as expensive as the KTM. GO YAMAHA!!!

That’s A Wrap

BMW, Kawasaki, Triumph group shot

Six bikes entered, but only one came out on top. Kudos to Yamaha for making a sleeper in the MT-09. While the KTM can certainly give it a run for its money, the MT-09 delivers thrills for a price we still have a hard time believing. Some better suspension and cruise control and Yamaha would really have a winner on its hands – oh wait, that’s the SP version.

Still, we understand not everyone shares the same taste in motorcycles as we do, and the more we rode each bike, the more two out of the three of us found endearing qualities in all of them (I’m still not fond of the BMW’s awkward peg placement). This is just another reminder to pick whichever bike appeals to your senses the most because odds are you probably won’t go wrong.

KTM, Ducati, Yamaha group shot

As for us, were it our money, we’re plopping for the KTM or Yamaha.


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