… and the Tracer9.
What gives with the names and numbers?
You can be forgiven for being confused about Yamaha’s middle-weight naked bikes. The names have changed in recent years and some of those changes didn’t make sense. For example – the FZs and the MTs. Are they the same or different? And why? It is going to get confusing but we promise it will mostly come together are the end.
Let’s go back in time. The Yamaha FZ1 of 2001, if not a ground-breaker, raised the ante among motorcycles that wanted to be sporty but were, in some way, a sluggish breed. The bikes in the category didn’t want to hearken back to the UJMs (but only if you considered those competent bikes boring). This new category wanted to be sporty but realistic for real world riding. Up till now, high performance and comfort were not found in the same package. Supersport bikes had an expiry date that matched the demographics their riders.
Those that embraced the Ninjas et al of the late nineties were getting older by the turn of the century. They loved the power and handling but something a little more comfortable wouldn’t be amiss for that bad knee or tweaked back. Yamaha’s tour de force of an idea was to take a superbike engine and plug it into a machine that for all intents and purposes was far more useful to the majority of people who craved the performance but not the torturous riding position. They found that in the FZ1’s upright ergonomics, wide tubular handlebars, comfortable seat and protection from the small front fairing – not quite a naked bike but as close as you were likely to get. The bike proved to be a successful formula and gathered many accolades over its long shelf life. It was a winner and a winner tend to spawn more machines.
That good idea deserved another, or so Yamaha thought and thought and in 2010 came the FZ8 which featured a 799cc inline four. It was a little brother to the FZ1 and a truly naked version (things are coming together now) was available. The bike was an acceptable middle-weight option but Yamaha had a much better machine coming down the assembly line – something unique. The better idea was an inline tripe and the FZ-09 arrived to fanfare in 2014. Sorry Triumph, a new triple came to town and was priced better and served by a much larger dealer network. The motor was a revelation and the price was equally so. For straight up character and value the FZ-09 could not be beat. Fast, comfortable, cheap, light and full of torque – a motorcycle nirvana. It was the start of something special. Depending on your tastes, the only glitch in the ointment were garishly painted rims.
But the bike also began the confusion as the nomenclature wrinkles start with the FX-09. Over in Europe lucky riders were discovering the same bike but it was called the MT-09 – same fun, different name.
Knowing they were on to a good thing – again, Yamaha quickly followed up the FZ-09 with the FZ-07. This time the bike featured a crossplane 689cc parallel twin and it was even cheaper. Now there were a few things that gave the bike a lesser price – the traditional fork rather than an upside down fork like the FZ-09 was one example. But the family resemblance was clear. The FZ-07 was a friendlier bike for the less experienced rider. It was milder, lighter and less expensive than the FZ-09 and yet would serve well the transition from less to experience rider without the need for sacrifice. The FZ-09 required jumping in the deeper end of the pool – although not so much as that FZ1 that we started this story with.
We could stop here and say the FZ-09 and FZ-07 morphed into what we now know as the MT nikes but there is more to the story. Yamaha had a couple more bikes in the pipeline – in actuality three although we in North America would see only two of them. The problem was there was a very successful bike on opposite sides of the planet with different names – the MTs and the FZs – they need to get the names figured out. Something had to give and it was FZ. The FZ name has a long history in North America going back to FZRs and the immediate predecessors the FZ8 and FZ1. There was continuity but there was baggage and confusion – where to the FZRs fit into the equation?
The MT name on the other hand was fresh and it had, at least in Canada and Europe, a worthy patriarch – although one with an odd engine configuration, the great and magnificent MT-01. The MT-01 was the almost unclassifiable bike with the iconic air-cooled, 1670cc motor from Yamaha’s cruiser line-up. It was epic, looked fantastic and deserved to be the 01 of MT bikes (although if it followed Yamaha’s current naming practices would have been the MT-17). Some claim that the MT name came from the MT-01 and stood for “Monster Torque” which, considering the 111 ft-lbs torque available, it was a monster. On the other hand in 2014 Yamaha Japan launched an anime series called “Masters of Torque” with characters riding MT machines. So that could be a more boring explanation.
The world is now one giant marketplace and it must have seemed to Yamaha redundant and a watering-down to have the same bike named differently in Europe and North America. Why not have one flag flying and focus the accolades on one clearly defined family of bikes because, as we said earlier, there were more bikes coming.
With a strong family name anchoring the bikes, the MT-01, MT-03 and MT-10 soon joined the family. It was now possible to ride everything from a 125cc single through a 998cc superbike derived naked bike – or as Yamaha like to refer to them – the hyper naked. Honda with the CB series – CB125R, CB300R, CB650R and CB1000R offers a similar training wheels to retirement spectrum of bikes as does Kawasaki with the Z family. However, it is the MT family with the MT-09 that really makes a unique contribution with the triple motor.
Which is why we also have the Tracer9 and the XSR900 (probably the best looking of the lot) to expand the MT-09’s platform. And there is the XSR700 to compare with the MT-07. And don’t forget the new R7 which is really just a MT-07 with a fairing on it and there are strong indications that Yamaha is going to put a fairing on the MT-09 and call it a R9. And the there’s and XSR125 in Europe …