A Racer Samples The Tuning Fork’s Premium Naked Sport Bike
Motorcycles- we ride them for an endless list of reasons. They are more than a mode of transportation. A motorcycle gives us a sense of freedom physically and mentally from the day to day routine. Invoking an emotional response in us as riders, above all motorcycles are a symbol of our identity. It really is true what they say, what you ride says a lot about you.
Much like ice cream, nowadays there is a motorcycle flavor for everyone. Do you want to rip around in the big city navigating your way between high rises and coffee shops? Does the thought of munching up miles on the open road sound appetizing? Or does the rush of a trackday as you carve apex after apex, sound your more style? Well, what if you wanted it all? Can you have your cake and eat it too? Say “Hello” to the streetfighter segment of motorcycling. For those of you unfamiliar with streetfighters, the formula is as follows: Take a sportbike-inspired base model, strip off the bodywork so it’s mostly “naked”, detune the engine so it’s more at home in a street environment, trade in the clip-ons and sportbike ergonomics for a more upright seating position and handlebar and you’re done. The streetfighter is a motorcycle that is a bit of a “jack of all trades” and can do a lot of things reasonably well. For Yamaha, their most powerful offering in the streetfighter segment is the Yamaha MT-10.
Yamaha’s MT-10 SP strikes an imposing stance.
When the MT-10 was first launched back in 2016, it struck a polarizing figure with that “love it or hate it” Japanese cyberpunk, transformer styling. Then add in that addictive R1-derived powerplant mated to a chassis that strikes a balance between aggressive and comfortable ergonomics. While out of the box many raved about the motorcycle, others felt some upgrades would really take things to the next level and really allow the bike to shine. Unfortunately, here in the USA we often are left wanting when special versions are released only in Europe or Asia. After the MT-10 was released it followed a similar pattern with an SP version, and we were left wishing we lived across the pond.
Fast forward to 2022 and the MT-10 was redesigned with a whole new look, ditching the previous, more blocky technical look with sharper curves, even less plastic and an unmistakable look that you either go all in on, or pass. The MT-10 has no half measures here and the style tells you it knows what it is, and doesn’t care what you think. Some other highlights over the previous model are a new TFT full color dash, acoustic intake cutouts, and Yamaha’s six axis IMU (Inertial Measurement Units) with selectable and customizable riding modes. Even better news came when Yamaha also announced another SP model, but this time it was coming to the USA!
Welcome to the MT-10 SP press launch.
I was fortunate enough to be invited out by Yamaha for the press launch of the MT-10 SP and it marked a special occasion for me. Not only was I going to get to sample this new motorcycle but this would be my first press launch, and I could not be happier that this was the bike that I could always call “my first.”
The streetfighter segment has always appealed to me with its simplistic formula. The KISS principle is synonymous with the streetfighter moniker but this being 2022 and the market being flush with offerings (remember how I said it’s a good time to be a motorcyclist?), brands are constantly looking for ways to distinguish themselves.
Yamaha chose to stand out with the SP by giving it a distinctive paint scheme, an ode to their vaunted R1M. Special accents like stainless steel brake lines, a gold chain and a 3-piece integrated sub cowling were also added. However, the biggest highlight that makes the SP so special is the all new Ohlins semi-active suspension with 3 semi-active and 3 manual modes that can all be adjusted through the display.
A line of iron. Let’s ride!
The press launch for the SP took place in Los Angeles and began with a morning press briefing at the Petersen Auto Museum, followed by a ride out of the city up into the Santa Monica Mountains for a photo stop. Then we would ride the high curves and eventually return back to the city. This ride would give us an opportunity to sample the SP in varying conditions including urban city riding, highway cruising, and mountain curve carving. As the day neared it looked more and more like we would be riding all day in rainy conditions too, but I was hopeful we might luck out.
Being my first press release I wanted to soak it all in and make sure I was thoroughly prepared. I read everything I could on the new model changes. Reading some of the stats like a 467 lb wet weight had me wondering how the bike would feel through LA traffic where I knew having something maneuverable would be important. Regardless, I found myself filled with a nervous excitement to experience the SP at my first press event. It felt like that first day of school where you want to do well, you aren’t sure what to expect but you want to make sure you have fun.
Our tools of choice. Super stoked to throttle out.
The morning of the ride, I found myself awake at 4:30 AM Pacific time, partly due to my excitement, the 2 hour time change, and daylight savings just happening the day before. I glanced out the window to see sheets of rain and my heart initially sank; however, I thought to myself it would be a perfect environment to test what that Ohlins semi-active suspension. More of a real world test in my mind. Personally, I enjoy riding in the rain because it forces me to be relaxed and the feel of the motorcycle becomes even more important.
As the time of our morning press briefing neared, the rain began to lighten and actually stopped. We might luck out with some dry weather after all! At the press briefing we gathered and I found myself among a lot of recognizable names in the moto-journalist world, all of whom I knew of and followed. There was Allan from Sportbikes Inc, Joe from “ChaseOnTwoWheels”, Alex from TFL Bike, Zach from Revzilla and even a correspondent from Roadracing World. I’m not name dropping these guys just to feel special but you can see the kind of company I was in. I felt very humbled and lucky to be here with these journalists, many of which I have followed for years. Talk about feeling like you are being thrown in the deep end!
It was easier to navigate than it looked. Lots of awesome options.
I was eager to learn and they were all a very friendly bunch, just as you’d expect. Some of them had been at the original MT-10 launch and told me the new model has a much more predictable throttle response than the previous model. It turned out Joe from ChaseOnTwoWheels was at his first press event too, so we got to be the two rookies together. We chatted a bit about our expectations of the bike as we were given more details about the day’s events.
We would begin the day with some short runs through the city to get some movement shots and then head out on the Pacific Coast Highway to our stopping point up in the Santa Monica Mountains. Even though the rain had stopped, there was another cell that was supposedly going to roll in during the early afternoon so we would be cutting our ride slightly short. I kept my fingers crossed we might not catch the rain until our return leg of the ride.
As we prepared to get under way, I took a walk around the MT-10 SP to get familiar with my surroundings. It definitely has a striking stance, a very Alien/Transformer glare with the headlights and cowling. The polished swingarm and blue accents immediately had me picturing the R1M in my mind. Yamaha definitely hit the bullseye on styling there. I turned the key of my MT-10 SP and settled into the cockpit, taking some time to familiarize myself with the TFT display and the many different functions. My bikes at home are much more analog in comparison so I was a little intimidated as I clicked and flicked my way through the various switches on the bars. Fortunately they are pretty intuitive to use, and I scrolled through the menu to look at rider aids. Some of those include cruise control, speed limiter, engine modes, wheelie control, traction control, slide control and the all new Semi-Active suspension which includes the ability to select 3 various modes and 3 manual modes. All of which are customizable.
And away we go. Felt comfortable immediately.
We all lined up in the parking garage of the Petersen and I took a deep breath as I let out the clutch and opened the throttle on the SP. The clutch pull was light and the throttle was responsive, not abrupt or lurchy. My game plan for the day was to keep the bike in one riding mode but to try changing the Ohlins suspension since that was the main highlight of the SP over the base model. Being this was not only my first press launch but also my first trip to LA, I was a little nervous about the traffic patterns, especially knowing that lane splitting is legal. That being said, the size and handling of the SP went by completely unnoticed to me. Don’t let that come across as a bad thing, because as I found myself lane splitting for the first time, I didn’t even take notice that I was sitting on Yamaha’s largest of it’s hyper naked bikes. The MT-10 handled its weight extremely well. The chassis felt light and neutral, taking any input I gave it positively. I felt very connected to the bike whether we were in tight traffic in the city or throttling through the lanes on the highway.
Speaking of positive feelings, this 2022 model includes a quickshifter for clutchless up and downshifting. This took me a few miles to get used to as I am used to always pulling in the clutch on my downshifts. Once I did though, I have to say the transmission felt sublime in both directions. The shifts felt smooth and positive compared to other systems I have tried. Even some aftermarket ones felt sloppy in comparison.
The rider triangle suited me well.
As we continued on the PCH towards Santa Monica, I noted the seating position felt very neutral with a natural reach to the bars. If I were to go on a longer trip, I could see myself wanting some higher rearsets to place my knees a little higher up so they fit into the tank cutouts a little better. For reference, I am about 5 foot 10 so if you are a little longer in the legs, you may not have this feeling. Also, I might look at a slightly wider seat around my legs where it meets the tank as I could see it getting a little uncomfortable if I was going on an extended road trip with this. As we turned off onto some canyon roads, the slight narrowness of the seat around the tank felt better because it made for moving from side to side on the seat as I began to carve through the turns, much easier.
We stopped off for our first photo op and as we prepared for our individual runs I decided it would be a good time to try out the three different suspension modes. Each journalist would do a run up and then back down a designated section of road which gave me a chance to test each setting in the same area of road. For my first run I kept the bike in Mode 2 which is where it had been since the start of our ride. For my next run I moved into Mode 3 (softest) and for my last run I switched over into the most aggressive Mode 1. It took until after my runs for it to sink in, the ease at which I was able to simply change my entire suspension setup, literally with the click of a button. In order to get to the full menu, one must click and hold the rotary wheel on the right side of the handlebar and then rotate the wheel to find your desired setting, and then click back out again. One thing to note, it was somewhat easy to accidentally rotate the wheel while you are clicking which can make the menu selecting a little finicky, but overall it was very usable.
Riding in the clouds.
Coming from the track world of motorcycling, I was curious how much of a difference I would feel with each mode and I have to say, Yamaha really did their homework in how they set up each mode. Immediately I could feel a noticeable difference with each setup. As time passed with each run we made, the conditions seemed to be getting cooler and more foggy so I found Mode 3 to be slightly more confidence inspiring than Mode 2. Mode 1 immediately felt stiffer with much harsher rebound over bumps. If I had to label a mode myself, I would use Mode 1 for the track, Mode 3 for cold and wet conditions and Mode 2 for everything in between. Honestly, Mode 2 felt like it could be used to dip into aggressive street riding or less than ideal weather conditions which is another kudos to Yamaha for dialing in a great setup out of the box.
For those of you who like to tinker, knowing each mode can be customized individually so you can get that setup dialed in perfectly, is a really nice feature. Something I would definitely want to utilize if I were to take the SP out for a trackday.
With the photo session done, we made our way down the mountains to our lunch stop. As I enjoyed rousing two-wheeled conversation with the Yamaha reps and fellow journalists, we noticed rain begin to fall. It was a slight drizzle at first but by the time we went to leave lunch, the wind had picked up and the rain steadied into a constant pour.
The MT-10 SP handled with ease whatever the roads and Mother Nature threw at us.
I was actually feeling excited about the prospect of rain riding, knowing I was able to get in some dry time before and now feeling confident in the SP and my own abilities. Before the day began I recall one of the journalists remarking on how it seems to only rain in LA 3-4 times a year, so I guess we were just lucky!
Yamaha was nice enough to provide us with rain suits and with everyone geared up, we rolled back onto the PCH towards LA. Traffic had slowed because of the rain and there were areas where we rolled through deep puddles and traffic jams. Again I found myself safely splitting through traffic on my now trusty companion. Just as when we left, I kept thinking of how easily I could flow through traffic on the bike without any worries. It really was a joy picking my way through traffic as we rode in a long snake making our way through the city. For the return leg, I kept the bike in Mode 2 for a straight comparison with the dry and did not have any moments where I felt unstable on the bike. Riding over some of the reflector bumps built into the passing lines I could feel a little bit of harshness which would have been remedied by moving into Mode 3, but I felt perfectly comfortable the entire ride back. After having ridden in a variety of conditions all day I also have to give a positive note to the factory Bridgestone S22 tires which performed flawlessly in everything we rode through.
High in the clouds, on deserted roads, diving through nicely cambered curves. Moto-Heaven.
Safely back at the Petersen Museum, we parked and I took some time to reflect on the day. I discussed the bike with my fellow journalists, curious to hear their thoughts to see if any of mine were similar or if I was simply having honeymoon syndrome, being my first press launch. Others commented on how nice the various suspension modes felt and how neutral and nimble the bike rode, which felt good to hear. No one was in a bad mood, even with the rain and colder conditions and it was nice to hear everyone’s perspective.
Everyone recorded their final thoughts with the video crew and I kept looking at the SP with quiet content. I was finding it difficult to sum the bike up but simply put, the thing just works. Out of the box, the MT-10 SP hits a lot of marks as a hyper naked streetfighter. If I could only have one motorcycle, this would handle the majority of my needs and handle them well. The question was asked amongst our group if we felt the extra cost over the standard model was worth it. Having not ridden the standard model I did not comment much but I could see the convenience of being able to change the suspension going from say, street to track, very appealing. Furthermore, some of the journalists who had ridden the standard MT-10 did comment how they felt the extra cost was justified. As with any motorcycle though, I highly encourage you to check one out if you can.
What a great time this was! Thoroughly enjoyed this motorcycle, in every condition we rode.
As I touched on earlier, motorcyclists today are spoiled with choices, and there really are not many bad motorcycles out there nowadays. Manufacturers are always pushing the envelope to stand out from the crowd. Electronic options are being elevated with much of the technology from top tier racing trickling down to showrooms at an accelerated pace. This adds to the complexity of options for us as riders and as a racer, I often used to ask myself why. I did not see the need for trick things like wheelie control, auto blip downshifts or electronic suspension on a street bike. However, after having ridden a few motorcycles including this new MT-10 SP, I have come to understand it more. It adds to the experience and makes riding more enjoyable, less to think about so we can get back to enjoying what we love, the ride.
Years ago my mind would have been racing a million miles per hour rolling through traffic in downtown LA in the rain, splitting my way through cars, winding up through unfamiliar canyon roads. During this ride though, I felt completely in control and relaxed. I have to give a hand to Yamaha and what they did with this bike. Yes, there are a few little things I would modify, depending on one’s size or main purpose for the bike, but it did everything I asked of it, and did it all extremely well. Thank you as well to Gerrad, Tyler, Ray, Joey, Remy, Stephen, Van and the entire Yamaha crew for the invite and putting on a fun and professional event. Now that I feel like a “real” moto-journalist, hopefully this will be the first event of many. Lastly, thank you to the trusty MT-10 SP which made this first journey a memorable one, where I could sit back and fully enjoy the experience of what I always enjoy being, a motorcyclist.
Ryan “Ryhno 411” Nolan
Check out our ride video below, without ever leaving this page: