The MT-09 competes against the Triumph Street Triple, the Kawasaki Z900 and the MV Agusta Brutale 800. It is intended to restore Yamaha's fortunes, as the factory has in recent years lost its reputation for innovation.[opinion] The MT-09's product manager, Shun Miyazawa, said Yamaha had considered parallel-twins, inline-threes, inline-fours and V-twins, but that the inline-three gave the "best solution" of power, torque and low weight. Comparing the MT-09 to the Street Triple, he said the Triumph was a streetfighter, but the Yamaha was a "roadster motard".
Both the frame and the double-sided swingarm are made of lightweight alloy which are cast in two pieces. The frame castings are bolted together at the headstock and at the rear, but the swingarm parts are welded together. The MT-09 is the first Yamaha motorcycle since the XS750 and XS850 to be powered by an inline-three engine. Both are shaft-driven motorcycles produced from 1976 to 1981.
In 2017, the MT-09 was updated with fully adjustable suspension, traction control, ABS, slipper clutch, LED headlights and updated styling.
In October 2020, the MT-09 received the second update with a larger 890 cc (54 cu in) engine.