Touring the Redwoods and Pacific Coast Highway on Yamaha’s Middleweight Naked Sportbike

Rolling through a small town in the mountains southwest of Cupertino, California, our Yamaha-led entourage was enjoying a pristine day of riding the new generation of their venerable triple cylinder naked sportbike, the MT-09. Suddenly I felt a pinch on my right butt cheek, and looking right, saw 4-time AMA roadracing legend Josh Hayes alongside me, laughing in his helmet. He had rolled up beside me as we slowed and entered the town, reached out and “goosed my ass”, which made me jump in my saddle. At the first stop sign in the town, we pulled up together, flipped open our visors, and I joked, “Josh, you touch me like you know me, man!” We shared a laugh and a fist pump, then as we continued through town, he snuck up the line of bikes, goosing other riders along the way. It was hilarious to watch.

Such was the lightheartedness and sheer fun of this media ride with moto journalists from across the country, curve carving through the famed redwood forests of Northern California and rolling along CA 1 with the good people of Yamaha Motors USA and Alpinestars US. Beautiful scenery, enjoyable company, fantastic motorcycles and gear. The perfect ride.

The beast ready to be awakened.

The MT-09 has been a staple in Yamaha’s “Hyper Naked” sportbike lineup for ten years, alongside their MT-07 twin, both best sellers in the American market. We’ve had the opportunity to sample the torquey triple mill in their “Sport Heritage” XSR900 a couple of years ago, and were so impressed with the Tracer 9 GT+ that it won our 2023 Bike of the Year. So when invited out to sample the powerplant in their naked sportbike iteration, I jumped at the chance.

The MT-09 is tuned and geared identically as the XSR, while the clutch pack feels like it sports slightly different springs than the Tracer. This 2024 MT is a new generation of the bike, with a few significant upgrades setting it apart from its predecessors. The tranny now has 7 new gears, with a 6-drive dog setup rather than the previous gen 5-drive dog. They also upgraded 3rd-6th gears while retaining the same ratio. It translates to smoother up/down shifting, reduced back lash, and less drive-force cut time, for you gear heads out there.

We love this powerplant. Photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

What is also notable and noticeable is the new 3rd gen quickshifter setup, which now enables downshifting during acceleration and upshifting during deceleration. I don’t think that Tracer 9 GT+ has this feature, and I love the quickshifter on that bike. I tried it out several times while out on this ride and man, it works, and it’s smooth. Wow.

We lit out of the hotel parking lot in the morning, navigating Cupertino surface streets to get a feel for around-town commuting with the 09. The bike doesn’t feel like a 900, with light, easy shifting, both with the clutch and going clutchless. This was where I noticed the difference in clutch feel from the Tracer we had so long. Slightly longer clutch pull, but even smoother engagement than the Tracer 9, which I thought wasn’t possible.

Interesting side note- we weren’t even out of town, when a Cupertino police officer pulled our convoy over. Turns out, one of the Yamaha staffers (who shall remain nameless) wheelied away from one of the stop lights, and got a thorough tongue lashing from the officer. He was let off with a warning when they explained our group’s purpose, but we all determined he would not soon live it down.

Among nature’s skyscrapers. Evidence of the 2020 fires still visible.

The MT-09 rider triangle has also been slightly modded over last year’s bike, with the handlebar a bit lower, more rearward, and reshaped upward somewhat. The footpegs are lifted mildly higher and rearward, making for a more forward-bias riding position. Yet the ride was still very comfortable for my 5’8” frame. Neither my wrists nor my neck ever hurt all day.

We rolled out of town westward up into the twisty, curvy roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains toward Castle Rock and Big Basin State Parks, home to vast, massive redwood forests. These tree titans can reach over 200 ft tall and can live over 2000 years. Raging fires swept through these redwood stands for hundreds of square miles back in 2020, and the evidence is still visible everywhere- blackened tree trunks, burnt underbrush, and smaller torched and fallen trees scattered among the hillsides. Yet life was rapidly returning, with fresh flora sprouting about, and the giant redwoods pushing skyward with new green growth. Standing among these living skyscrapers at a short rest stop was awe-inspiring, from beholding the sheer size of the redwoods, seeing beautiful flowers blossoming about, to finding a bright yellow endangered banana slug at the base of a colossal tree.

Nature finds a way.

Riding the Redwoods. Photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

The roads through the parks and mountains remind me of those in the southern Appalachians, with tight curves and switchbacks, alternating out onto wide, fast sweepers. All among the breathtaking giant redwoods. The new MT-09 quickshifter/slipper clutch setup made shifting virtually second nature over the miles of mountain passes, using no lever clutching save the occasional stop due to small communities or road work. So easy, just clicking up/down through the gears as needed, without altering throttle input. As I stated, it’s a next step even beyond the Tracer’s excellent clutch system.

I didn’t try to hang with the sportbike fast boys at the front, just rode my own brisk but controlled pace, with another group behind me running their own pace as well. This afforded me a lot of time just riding the undulating tarmac by myself, no one in front I felt pressured to keep up with, no one behind pushing me along. Perfect to really get into the MT-09 and feel it, tap into its essence, mesh with the bike as man and machine. I found a rhythm with the MT up in the chilly, curvy elevations, and we danced across the mountains together. The Yamaha is so light and flickable, so effortless to shift up/down, so smooth to lightly front/rear brake as needed. I found myself in a Flow state, perfectly dialed in with the bike and the dance over the miles and moments through the seemingly endless mountain curves.

This is the Tail of the Dragon on steroids.

Curve after curve, mile after mile. Moto Heaven. Photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

With intermittent stops to refresh and shoot some photos and footage, the entourage eventually arrived at the Pacific Ocean, and turned south on the famed CA 1, Pacific Coast Highway. Abundant sunshine, stiffer breezes, colder temps blowing in off the waters, and the MT-09 group rolled to a locale for some seaside recording of each rider. Waiting my turn, I strolled up a grassy path to a rise giving me a glimpse of the mighty Pacific. Whitecaps pushed south and waves crashed against craggy shorelines below jagged cliffs, with a few brave surfers in wet suits making their way down and back along the narrow path to waters edge. I just stood there in wonder until it was time to remount for my video/photo run, then we all rode further south for Santa Cruz.

The MT-09 is a very comfortable mount for my size and riding style, and I never really felt a bothersome level of wind buffet without a fairing. Rolling into the seaside town of Santa Cruz, on the northern point of Monterey Bay, we negotiated traffic to the Municipal Wharf, riding out to the end for a seafood feast at Stagnaro Bros Restaurant. Their fried calamari and popcorn octopus (yes, you read that right) are surprisingly delicious. After a hearty seafood feast, we remounted and rolled out of town back into the Santa Cruz mountain range. Hopping on CA 17 north, a beautiful road up through the hills and forests of Scotts Valley, Fontenay Villa and Glenwood.

I rode almost unaware of the bike beneath me, I felt so in-tune with it.

Riding the breathtaking CA 1, Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

Alpinestars had partnered with Yamaha to bring samples of their riding gear for us to use, and I wore their T-Core Drystar jacket with zip-out liner and removable armor (perfect fit), the Faster-3 riding shoes (super comfortable), and a pair of Faster gloves. They had intended to let me sample their Tech-Air 3 airbag vest for street riding, but neglected to bring it with them, so we’ll do a separate review of the system soon. Alpinestars has long been regarded as one of the premier suppliers of motorcycle racing gear, but their street offerings are superb quality, highly protective, and a great value for the dollar. “When you don’t even think about a piece of gear while you’re out riding, it’s doing it’s job,” stated Heath with Alpinestars.

The Yamaha MT-09 employs a Garmin-partnered GPS navigation application as well as Yamaha’s Y-Connect app for your phone. You can set up turn-by-turn nav on the bike’s TFT screen, and can access/adjust multiple ride modes, throttle response settings, brake and suspension feel, traction control, etc. via the app. Lots of great tech at your fingertips, to completely make this bike your own. I didn’t pair mine all up just for the day ride but I took in the tutorial with the other guys, and the system looks very easy and intuitive to load and use.

Rocking the highway. Photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

We rolled back north through the curves and sweepers of CA 35, then northeast on CA 9 for our last leg of twisty tarmac before returning to the hotel. In all, we rode 125 (+-) miles for the day, through majestic towering redwoods, wide open fertile valleys, down the legendary PCH to Santa Cruz and back. It was a glorious day of riding, and on an ideal curve carver in the MT-09. This bike is so easy to ride, so comfortable, so versatile in its ride options, and so customizable, it could be the perfect all-in-one motorcycle for those with only room for one bike, in their budget and in their garage. I’m 5’8”, 155 lbs, and while I felt the bike fit me perfectly, larger riders in our group thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

If at the end of a day in the saddle, a motorcycle leaves you feeling satisfied and happy, and you want to find a reason to hop back on for “one more little spin up the street and back,” that’s a great bike. I felt that with the MT-09. The looks are a bit too angular and mechanical for my tastes, like a Transformer ready to stand up and sprout arms and legs. I’m admittedly old school, with a love for bikes with a round headlight, visible pipe(s) and nostalgic flair, which is why I loved the looks of the sibling XSR900 two years ago. But for everything this bike does so well, It’s hard to beat. And that big, beating heart of a triple, I absolutely love.

A worthy, easy commuter as well. Our route down, and back. Ride photo by Yamaha/Spec PR

Special thanks to the Yamaha Motors USA team, Alpinestars US, and Spec PR for an outstanding time with an outstanding motorcycle, wearing outstanding gear, in the perfect motorcycle playground.


For more on the 2024 MT-09, click HERE

For more on Alpinestars offerings, click HERE

*Ride photos by Spec PR

Check out our ride video without ever leaving this page-

Law Bike


  1. Lyle Branton

    Another terrific article from the best Moto Journalist in the motorcycle media business!
    Rob really knows how to let the reader in on the adventure, while also detailing the specs and benefits of a bike like the Yamaha MT-09. #ROADDIRT.TV

    • Rob Brooks

      Thank you my friend!
      Let’s ride soon!


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