We recently tested Kawasaki's LAMS - Spec ER6-n and loved its rev-happy, confidence-inspiring nature. Also sporting a punchy, 650cc-ish parallel twin, Yamaha’s MT-07 looks to be the most direct competitor. Around the world, the standard MT-07 has attracted rave reviews. So does it sweep class honours?
A crowded field
There’s no shortage of desirable machines that fit within the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme, ranging from racy-looking 300s to a clutch of bikes just nudging the 660cc capacity and 150kW/tonne power-to-weight limits. We’ve tested a fair few of the latter, some of which are simply restricted versions of existing bikes while Triumph went the whole hog with a revised-capacity 660 Street Triple.
Although they vary in character, all the bikes in this class offer genuine all-round usability and performance. The top-end rush of the full-power version might be missing but you still get a capable, full-size machine with a fair chunk of torque left intact. And, if your budget stretches to the Triumph’s $14,990 plus on-roads, one of the classiest middleweight chassis around.
Yamaha, like Triumph, have gone down the route of changing engine capacity to fit the learner-approved regs, though more simply. The LAMS MT-07 has its bores sleeved down by 2mm, while the Street Triple has a shorter stroke. By adding a throttle stop, power is capped at 52.1PS: pretty much identical to the Kawasaki.
With a low kerb weight of just 179kg (the same as Ducati’s air-cooled 659), the MT-07 has its hands on the ultimate performance crown among these learner-legal machines.
There’s a lot going for the Yamaha in the looks department. It’s striking, modern and well proportioned to an extent that makes much of the competition look suddenly dated. The design appeal starts with the bigger elements, such as the trellis-like front frame tubing, one-piece tank-seat unit and banana swing-arm. And it follows through to the details. The two-piece seat–looking like it came straight off a sportsbike–and wave discs ooze class in a way one wouldn't expect of a sub-$11,000 motorbike. Other nice design touches include the classy switchgear, oversize machined rear spindle nut and simple rear hugger to protect the shock. There’s the odd head-scratcher, though: the bare-alloy radiator looks odd and the less said about the fake swingarm pivot plates the better.
Our press bike was dripping in bling, making it look even more of a class act. But at a price: $422.08 for the billet clutch and brake levers, $793.88 for the lovely Gilles rearsets, $219.90 for the tail tidy and a wallet-clenching $1,491.25 for the surprisingly quiet Akrapovic exhaust system.
There’s no denying the LAMS-spec MT has some urge. Among those bikes troubling the capacity limits, it has close to the highest power output. In weight terms, it’s equal lowest. So you’d expect it to get along, and it does, with an encouraging pick-up in power towards the redline that’s uncommon among its competitors.
But whether it’s the excessive muffling from Slovenia’s finest pipe benders or the 270 degree crank arrangement, tapping the power is also strangely dull. Where Kawasaki’s ER-6n howls with delight at having its neck wrung, and the Street Triple shivers spines, the LAMS MT-07’s motor sounds a bit removed. A shame, really, given the actual nature of the power delivery has the potential to excite. Rumour has it there’s a removable baffle in the exhaust that liberates a more raunchy soundtrack, but we couldn't possibly comment.
The Yamaha’s power is well-served by the gearing. The lower four ratios are close and keep the bike responsive, with fifth and sixth adding long legs and excellent fuel economy. The tank only holds 14 litres but it’s good for 300km between fills. Or at least it is once you've summoned the nerve to ride on with the fuel symbol flashing - the gauge gets to that point with nearly four litres to go.
Bends, braking and bumps
On a motorcycle, lightness is almost always a good thing. And the MT-07’s svelte 179kg confers a number of advantages. It’s quick, and responsive to the throttle. With fairly sharp steering geometry (24º with 90mm trail), it can steer instantly. Plus it’s a cinch to manoeuvre at walking pace.
There is another side to the ledger, however. A big bike can soak up bumps more easily and is less likely to have its composure upset by a heavier rider. And this is where the MT-07 starts to have limitations. Budget suspension with rear preload adjustment only is pretty much par for the course in this class. The MT’s set up is inherently good, though: it’s plush, progressive, balanced and would deliver a good compromise for a lighter rider: say, 75kg. With my 93kg frame aboard, however, pressing on over bumpy roads soon had the little Yamaha bouncing, wallowing and feeling far from composed. Upping the preload did nothing apart from overwork the rear rebound, making the bike feel less stable. Short of throwing serious cash at Öhlins or Jenny Craig, all one can do is slow down.
A heavy rider on the lithe Yamaha will notice how much the bike responds to bodyweight shifts, too. It’s very easy to over-muscle it, requiring conscious recalibration of input. The reward is accuracy, at least while the chassis retains its composure. The obvious weight transfer also ups the sense of feel from the chassis.
One unquestioned advantage of light weight is in braking, and the Yamaha does pull up strongly. There is a lack of initial bite and feel, but it gives way to real power and feedback under heavy braking. Although bikes to date have lacked ABS, this is shortly to be fixed: within a few months, all LAMS MT-07s will have ABS as standard. Good.
Our press bike was shod with Bridgestone BT-023s. A classy tyre for a ‘budget’ bike and the Battlax hoops were well up to the task (MT-07s can also come as standard with Michelin’s exceptional Pilot Road 3s). The flash rearsets fitted to the press demo gave pause for thought at times, being fixed rather than flexible, but in their mid-height position didn't touch down on test.
The MT-07 has drawn considerable praise worldwide, with reviewers awarding it five stars, group test wins and general adulation. So you’d expect the LAMs version, with just a bit less poke, to be a shoo-in as a purchase decision. And indeed it is brilliant fun, great to look at and offers class-leading performance.
The caveat, though, is the rider. If you weigh under 80kg (as might be expected of a typical LAMs pilot) the lithe Yamaha offers a nigh-on perfect blend of abilities and appeal. But if you’re heavier, you might just find the substance of a 660 Street Triple or ER6-n a better match and equally exciting.
Model: Yamaha MT-07 LAMS (ER650FFFW)
Cost: $10,999 + on-road costs
Engine: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC 8-valve parallel twin
Fuel System: EFI
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
Seat Height: 805mm
Kerb weight: 179kg
Fuel capacity: 14.0 L
Classy looks and detailing
No ABS (yet)
Heavy load/hard use limits
Demonstration machine courtesy of Yamaha-Motor New Zealand