Some rides are more challenging than others. Sometimes we seek out the challenge, and sometimes the challenge finds us. It was a little of both when I found myself stopped on the side of the road, trying to stay upright on a Yamaha MT-10 while being battered by 60-mph winds and sandblasted by a dust storm.
It was Valentine’s Day, and I was headed for Las Vegas to attend the AIMExpo dealer show while a winter storm was sending a freight train of frigid air down from the Sierra Nevada mountains. South of me on Interstate 15 in the Mojave Desert, tractor-trailers were being overturned by the wind. I had avoided that route because I’ve ridden it a million times and find it boring, so I was taking a longer, more scenic ride along part of the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway (U.S. Route 395) and through Death Valley.
Related: 2023 AIMExpo Highlights
While I expected it to be a cold, windy day – and was warmly cocooned in my Zerofit HeatRub baselayers, Gerbing’s 12V heated jacket liner and gloves, and traffic-cone-orange Aerostich R-3 suit – I didn’t anticipate it would be quite this bad. My arms and neck were sore from leaning into the wind for the past couple of hours, and things went from bad to worse after I filled up in Olancha and turned east on California Route 190 across the Owens Valley. The snowcapped Sierras were partly obscured by dusty haze, and soon I became engulfed in a beige cloud and got blitzed by stinging sand.
After a few gusts nearly knocked me off the road, I slowed way down and turned on my hazard flashers. At one point, I stopped on the side of the road to get my bearings near the Olancha Dunes OHV area, with my legs splayed like outriggers and my feet planted firmly on the ground. I didn’t dare get off the bike or it would have toppled over, but I managed to dig my phone out of my pocket to capture a video of the blasting sand starting to cover the road and slamming into me and the bike like millions of miniature BBs.
Once you’re in it, you’re in it. You can either wait it out or proceed with caution.
Sport-Touring on the 2023 Yamaha MT-10
In calmer days last fall, I traveled to North Carolina to attend the press launch for the Yamaha MT-10, a naked sportbike based on the YZF-R1 that was updated with engine refinements, R1-sourced electronics, new styling, and revised ergonomics.
The MT-10’s suck-squeeze-bang-blow comes courtesy of a 998cc inline-Four with a crossplane crankshaft that produces sound and feel like a V-Four, and its aural symphony is amplified by acoustic sound grilles atop the air intakes on either side of the tank.
At the launch, we rode stock MT-10s in the Cyan Storm colorway, which has a mix of gloss black and gray bodywork with bright blue wheels. One of the Yamaha guys rode a Matte Raven MT-10 fitted with factory accessories: Windscreen ($249.99), GYTR Frame Sliders ($209.99), Comfort Seat ($299.99), Rear Rack/Top Case Mount ($250.99), 39L Top Case ($241.99), and Universal Mount ($24.99). After the launch, Yamaha agreed to let us borrow the accessorized bike for an extended test.
The first thing we did was take the MT-10 down to Jett Tuning for a dyno run. Measured where the rubber meets the road, the MT-10’s quartet of 249.5cc cylinders chuffed out 138.5 hp at 10,200 rpm and 76.5 lb-ft of torque at 9,000 rpm. Yes, that’ll do nicely.
Then we flogged it around town and up and down the canyon roads that make Southern California such a land of milk and honey for motorcyclists. The balance and smoothness of an inline-Four is always a delight, but the MT-10’s particular blend of herbs and spices is truly mouth-watering. Twist the throttle hard, and the bike leaps forward, emits a joyful noise, and flashes an amber light as the wheelie control keeps the front wheel close to the ground.
- Helmet: Schuberth C5
- Suit: Aerostich R-3
- Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin Gauntlet
- Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex
Have Trunk, Will Travel
Flash forward to my trip in February. The temperatures had been in the 40s all morning, and after making it through the dust storm and climbing out of the Owens Valley, it dropped into the 30s by the time I stopped for a photo in front of the Death Valley National Park sign. It was a Tuesday, and there were few cars on the road – just the way I like it.
No matter how many times I visit Death Valley, I never get tired of it. Covering nearly 5,271 square miles, you could fit Rhode Island and Delaware within its borders and still have 1,237 square miles left over. It’s a place of extremes, contrasts, and wonders. And with nearly 1,000 miles of paved and unpaved roads ranging from tame to intense, it’s a two-wheeled playground.
I savored the long, winding descent into Panamint Valley, enjoyed the sweeping curves up to 4,956-foot Towne Pass, and cruised the 17 miles back down to sea level at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. After passing Mesquite Dunes, I was engulfed in another dust storm near the Devil’s Cornfield, where clumps of arrowweed resemble corn stalks. Even though wind was battering me, dust was obscuring the wide-open views that make Death Valley such a unique place, and hours of being cold were beginning to take their toll, it felt good to be hundreds of miles away from my desk.
The windscreen provided more protection than the MT-10’s stock flyscreen but not by much. The comfort seat, however, was a huge improvement over the stock seat. It has a flatter shape, more supportive foam, and a suede-like finish. The top case provides 39 liters of lockable storage, and I used it as a solid anchor point for my Nelson-Rigg Hurricane 2.0 Waterproof Backpack/Tail Pack that sat on the passenger seat. For those who want more storage, Yamaha sells a 50L Top Case ($298.99), Side Case Brackets ($249.99), and MT Soft ABS Side Cases ($484.99).
By the time I made it to Las Vegas, the MT-10 no longer looked Matte Raven but a light gray because it was so powdered with dust and grit. In my hotel room, I poured handfuls of sand out of the pockets of my Aerostich suit.
Cold and Flat
As I wrote about in First Gear last month, it wasn’t just me at AIMExpo. Our dispersed editorial team also came together in Las Vegas, and we enjoyed a group ride to Hoover Dam and Valley of Fire State Park. In the hotel parking garage after the ride, my colleague Kevin Duke pointed out the center of the MT-10’s rear tire was getting thin on tread. Admittedly, of the 2,000 miles on the bike’s odometer, most of them had been ridden with little to no lean angle, but I figured the tire had enough life left to get me home.
From Vegas, I rode north on I-15 to St. George, Utah, where I spent the weekend with my father and stepmother. Wanting to avoid the interstate for the long ride home, Dad helped me plot out a route west through the sparsely inhabited interior of Nevada.
On Presidents Day, I suited up, plugged in my heated apparel, and set off north from St. George on State Route 18, which passes by Snow Canyon on its way to Enterprise. Dawn was just breaking, and it was below freezing – and it stayed that way for the next two hours, mostly down in the 20s. My heated gear did its best to keep up; my core was warm, but my hands, even with the heated, insulated gloves turned to the highest setting, were still cold. The accessory I most wished the MT-10 had was heated grips (Yamaha doesn’t offer them).
After crossing into Nevada, my teeth chattered as I rode over 6,718-foot Panaca Summit, and then I made a brief stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park, which has walls of eroded bentonite clay that look like intricate sandcastles. Continuing southwest on U.S. Route 93, I went from cold to colder over 6,243-foot Oak Springs Summit. At Crystal Springs, I turned onto Nevada Route 375, known as the Extraterrestrial Highway because it passes near Area 51, the infamous secret government facility where there have been reports of UFO sightings.
Nevada is known for its “basin and range” topography, with abrupt changes in elevation as you travel over steep mountains and across wide, flat valleys. I passed over two more of Nevada’s summits – Hancock and Coyote, both around 5,500 feet – before reaching the rundown town of Rachel, home to the Little A’le’inn bar/restaurant/motel, the Alien Cowpoke gas station, and scattered mobile homes.
Other than a few overpriced souvenirs, Rachel didn’t have much to offer. Route 375 passes through vast emptiness, but there was no evidence of Area 51 or anything otherworldly.
My dogleg westward route eventually brought me to the old mining town of Tonopah for gas. I entered California by way of Nevada Route 266, which took me over 7,420-foot Lida Summit, the highest pass of the day.
After crossing the state line, I stopped at a ranch that straddles both sides of California Route 168. Nearly 15 years ago, on a moonless night at that very spot, I crashed a Ducati GT1000. I had no business riding through an open range area after dark, but I had left home late and was on my way to meet my father at the Bonneville Salt Flats. I suddenly came upon a herd of black cows on the road, grabbed a handful of brake lever, locked up the front wheel, and went down.
All things considered, I was lucky. It could have been much worse that night. My apparel was thrashed, but I wasn’t hurt and the bike was rideable. The Swiss Army knife that I carry in my pocket to this day still bears scratch marks from sliding along the pavement during that crash. Had I not stopped this time around to preserve the memory with a photo, I wouldn’t have noticed that the MT-10’s rear tire, with just 2,600 miles on it, was worn down to the cords. Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires are marvelously grippy, but they’re not much for longevity.
I rode slowly and gingerly for the next 50 miles, which, regrettably, also happened to be the curviest section of my entire trip. I made it over 6,373-foot Gilbert Pass and 7,271-foot Westgard Pass on my way to Big Pine, a small town that sits in the shadow of the Sierras on U.S. 395. I was safe and sound, but I was 250 miles from home.
Unwilling to risk a catastrophic blowout, I got a motel room and hunkered down. The next day, my dear wife drove up to Big Pine in our 4Runner with a motorcycle trailer and rescued me. It’s not how I wanted the trip to end, but once again, it could have been much worse. Maybe my guardian angel lives at that ranch out on Route 168.
How about a Tracer 10 GT?
The MT-10’s performance, handling, and ergonomics make it a great streetbike, and with some accessories, it makes for a very sporty sport-tourer. In fact, we’d love to see a Tracer 10 GT version with an even taller windscreen, a lower fairing, heated grips, wind-blocking handguards, hard saddlebags, and higher-mileage sport-touring tires. Hey Yamaha, whaddaya think?
2023 Yamaha MT-10 Specs
- Base Price: $14,199
- Price as Tested: $15,477
- Website: YamahaMotorsports.com
- Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline-Four, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
- Displacement: 998cc
- Bore x Stroke: 79.0 x 50.9mm
- Horsepower: 138.5 hp at 10,200 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
- Torque: 76.5 lb-ft at 9,000 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
- Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch
- Final Drive: Chain
- Wheelbase: 55.3 in.
- Rake/Trail: 24 degrees/4.0 in.
- Seat Height: 32.9 in.
- Wet Weight: 467 lb
- Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal.
- Fuel Consumption: 36 mpg