Among all the other motorcycle genres that have spawned over the years, naked streetfighters will always have a soft spot in my heart. You can blame it either on their lack of clothes or the hooliganistic approach associated with them. So when Yamaha first launched the MT-15 in India, expectations tore the roofs apart because it was almost the same motorcycle as the R15, albeit with less weight to carry around and an extra-terrestrial fascia which could even make an alien ponder about its existence.

The Yamaha R15 might have been a raging success but the same couldn’t be said about its naked counterpart. Yamaha deployed some cost-cutting measures while launching the MT-15 in India and that meant that it couldn’t replicate the cult following R15 managed to build for itself, thanks to its supersport-derived looks and racing pedigree.

However, Yamaha has now armed the MT-15 with enough ammunition to go all-guns-blazing on its competition. The prime weapon of choice is obviously the golden USD forks and a few other key upgrades, but would these updates suffice in making the MT-15 2.0 better than its previous iteration? That’s exactly what compelled us to find out during our road test and here are our findings!

The bright side of Japan

We saw it coming, didn’t we? Now that the R15 V4 is finally bestowed with the addition of golden USD forks, it was child’s play to assume that the MT-15 would receive the same. And it has! The inclusion of USD forks has certainly added a pinch of bling, apart from lending the MT-15 with sharper dynamics. The MT-15 has never been lethargic when it comes to manoeuvring but the 2.0 has kicked up the handling characteristics by several notches.

The front end is now more reactive than sodium and feels a lot more connected than before. This particularly makes the MT-15 2.0 a perfect motorcycle for urban runabouts where you can just slice through the moving traffic like a Japanese Katana. A cast aluminium swingarm has been deployed which has now replaced the box-section unit on the previous motorcycle.

This addition has impacted its stability by a fair margin and the MT-15 2.0 now feels a lot more planted than before, even while negotiating highways. Even while tipped over in a corner, the MT-15 shows why Yamahas are one of the brilliant handlers around.

This hooliganistic and reactive handling is further aided by its comfortable ergonomics. Its riding stance is a true-blue streetfighter with a low-set flat handlebar and rearset footpegs. The rider sits slightly canted forward but the ergonomics are far from being aggressive. Its sporty stance is not too committed and tackling long highway miles wouldn’t result in body parts getting cramped. The same cannot be said about the pillion seat though but that will be highlighted in ‘the dark side of Japan’.

Yamaha has also slightly tweaked the engine, as we have already experienced on the R15 V4. The official spec sheet reveals that the overall power output from this 155cc, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine is down by 0.1PS but the torque has soared up by 0.2NM. Moreover, the maximum torque that is belted down by the engine arrives 1000 rpms earlier in the rev range.

These mild revisions have made the MT-15 a lot more tractable than before as it can chug along as low as 25kmph in the sixth gear which is a formidable feat for an engine that is renowned for its high-revving nature. This 155cc motor is an absolute gem, no wonder Yamaha has milked the cows out of this engine by deploying it in a variety of products. All thanks to the magic woven by the VVA tech, the MT-15 2.0 is a lively machine but in particular power bands.

From a standstill, it gets off nicely, taking all the assistance from the VVA but the actual feast commences when you breeze past the 6000 rpm mark on the tachometer. At around 7000 rpm, the VVA kicks in yet again, breathing a new life into this engine. After that, it keeps pulling ahead like its tail’s on fire and keeps pulling with a feisty force till it hits its redline. This is exactly what makes the MT-15 2.0 a joy to blast around. Keep the throttle pinned in every gear and it delivers in spades. The ideal cruising speed is around 100kmph with the engine humming happily at 8000 clicks.

The simplistic LCD instrument cluster is now a goner and has paved way for a Bluetooth-enabled unit which displays Call, E-mail and SMS Alerts along with Smartphone battery status available through the Bluetooth Enabled Y-Connect App.

It is now time to shed some light on its dark side.

The dark side of Japan

Life is like a perennial barter deal as you have to trade something to receive something in exchange of it. Those glittering golden USD forks might have made the MT-15 2.0 snazzier and sharper than before but stiff ride quality comes out as a major trade-off.

Since the front end now chatters a lot more than before, you can feel everything that is happening on the road. You need to be extra cautious on bumps because if you don’t, prepare for an immediate take-off as it will toss you off the saddle. Getting some air time is fun, but not in this way.

The braking feels adequate at best but more feedback and bite would have rounded off the rough edges. We still cannot wrap our heads around the fact that it still misses out on dual-channel ABS.

The cramped proportions of the MT-15 become even more pronounced when you invite someone to ride as a pillion. The pillion seat is borderline non-existent because even the number plate holder at the back is longer than the pillion seat. It might make the MT-15 look uber-cool but be prepared to get hurled with curses if you take someone along with you on a long ride.

We might adore the 155cc mill to death but it has its own set of shortcomings. Although the top-end performance of the MT-15 is to die for, the mid-range is rather bleak. There’s absolutely no juice in the mid-range so you are left with no other option than to wring it. Moreover, mild vibrations start spoiling the fun at around 7000 rpm and they keep getting more pronounced higher up in the rev range. The engine too, starts feeling a little coarse and restrained after you hit triple-digit speeds.

The MT-15 2.0 still looks more radical than its peers, thanks to that unique fascia which denotes a mutated creature born in an area riddled with radioactive materials. But it sort of comes out as a missed opportunity that Yamaha didn’t play around with the aesthetics of the MT-15. A revamped overall design inspired by the bigger MTs would have justified this generational upgrade even more.

Usually, we save the best bits for the last but this time around, we are swaying away from the regime to pinpoint the most irritating aspect of the MT-15 2.0. The horn is placed usually where we find the indicator toggle and vice versa. I had the MT-15 with me for a week and even after riding it for a considerable amount of time, I found myself cursing at this placement every single time I reached out to operate either the horn or the indicator. I could have dug deep in the thesaurus to find a better word than ‘irritating’ but it fits the bill perfectly. It also loses out on turn-by-turn navigation which could have proved to be a lot more useful than sms and call alerts.

Verdict

The new MT-15 2.0 has seen a price bump of INR 12,000-13,000 as it now retails at INR 1.60 Lakh. The pricing might sound a little steep but when you factor in the R15 V4 and KTM 125 Duke into the equation, it starts making sense.

It looks dapper than before, handles like a charm and its top-end performance will make your urban excursions a lot livelier. But the MT-15 2.0 could have been so much more! It lacks the mid-range grunt we usually associate with streetfighters and the lack of dual-channel ABS is still not quite understandable. Overall, the Yamaha MT-15 2.0 might be a better bike than before but it still needs another generational upgrade to become its best version.

Riding Gears Credit: Rynox India