By: Peter Jackson
A spirited ride through the North Carolina countryside on Yamaha’s 2023 MT-10 base model left us suitably impressed recently. Here was a motorcycle, for under $14,000, with the kind of performance a machine twice its price would be pressed to deliver. It was one of the standout bikes we’ve been on this year.
Yamaha, though, wasn’t done yet. In many of the world’s markets, Yamaha has ramped up the tech by selling the MT-10 SP, but not in North America—until now. The 2023 model year will be the first time we’ve been able to buy two variants of the MT-10 in North America, and the SP will retail for $17,199, $3,000 more than its lower-spec sibling.
The SP is close to the same specification as the MT-10 base model but gains some important additions like an exclusive paint scheme of blue, silver, and black and, more importantly, a semi-active Öhlins electronic suspension that replaces the conventional KYB suspension setup. The model’s YZF-R1-derived, 998 cc crossplane-crank inline-four motor is a gem of engineering. It’s no surprise that the Yamaha execs saw no need in upping the ante when it came to the power plant. That motor is mated to a lovely quickshifter-equipped six-speed transmission and three different intake ducts—of different lengths—that increase the audible roar under acceleration and makes the MT-10 SP’s throttle a joy to wind back.
The base MT-10 surprised us in how effortlessly it carved through those southern backroads on its conventionally adjusted KYB suspension, but the SP takes it a step further. The Swedish team at Öhlins has been recruited to fit its “next-generation” Semi-Active Suspension System, which is Öhlins-speak for revised electronic compression and rebound damping in the 43 mm fork and rear monoshock.
When run in one of the three automatic modes, the Öhlins system will vary compression and rebound damping continuously over the course of your ride, allowing you to pick a range from street/rain soft to racetrack-level stiff. And the system will operate within a defined set of parameters across the ride. Should you want more control over the suspension’s performance, you can switch over to the manual settings, again, with three levels.
We experimented a bit in manual but predominately stayed within the auto settings, coming away suitably impressed with the latest Öhlins software, especially when combined with the grip on offer from Bridgestone’s brilliant S22 tire that comes as standard fitment on both the MT-10 and MT-10 SP.
The SP’s range of adjustments means you’ll almost always be able to find a suspension setting that suits the ride. Whereas the base model has conventionally adjusted suspension, having the extra adjustment is a boon for the SP rider. Road holding has increased with the Öhlins fitment, the SP tracking through corners with a surefootedness that bolsters a rider’s confidence.
The only other difference between the SP and the base model is the rather bold looking Liquid Metal/Raven color scheme, which makes the standard MT-10 look a bit adolescent by comparison. And the SP’s paint reflects spectacularly at night due to the tiny metal flakes that illuminate the overall presentation.
Yamaha’s premium MT-10 SP is one of the least expensive of all hyper-naked bikes, but its performance is right up there, especially in real-world conditions as opposed to solely being piloted on track.
The combination of those gold Öhlins suspenders, that motor and chassis and the easily understood electronics proves that Japan is far from out of the game in terms of hyper-naked-bike performance. The MT-10 SP provides a real alternative to the KTM 1290 Super Duke R, Aprilia Tuono Factory, Ducati Streetfighter V4 S and the BMW S 1000 R. It looks like Europe’s status quo for the category is in for some stout competition.