Sports Tourer or Adventure Tourer? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler….I’ll save you the trouble, even a depressed Hamlet wouldn’t doubt that Yamaha have a winner on their hands.
I find Yamaha press launches entertaining when it comes to promoting a brand message and image. I recall sitting through the Tracer 900 presentation where the theme was based on the bike appealing to a younger rider who was going to discover and unleash his ‘Dark Side’. Presumably, this moody transformation would take place immediately on signing a PCP deal in a motorcycle dealership.
The thing which struck me then was that I saw the 900 appealing to a far older rider than Yamaha forecast and the only ‘Dark Side’ I could envisage was the face of his Mrs when she found out there was another bike in the garage and the RTW cruise fund depleted by (a very reasonable) £8,149.
Fast forward to the launch of the Tracer 700 where we were presented with sales stats on the 900 and informed that a whopping 76% of purchases were from riders over 40 years old and that 54% of those were over 50 years old. The major dark side here is the comb-over treated with Grecian 2000.
And lest there is any confusion, Yamaha have sold over 15,000 of the mightily impressive 900’s and have recently repositioned the brand message. The Tracer 900 is no longer to be found on the ‘Dark Side’ having been shunted over to the ‘Roads for Life’ sports touring section where we pick up the story of the new Tracer 700.
The Tracer 700 presentation opens with a video of a young couple having a domestic with the odd piece of what looked like crockery being flung around. He then sets off for a ride on the new bike eventually returning having worked off his angst to discover her dressed in leathers. Cue happy couple setting off on a lovey-dovey ride around the mountains. Roads for Life it is then with the target customer being under 30 years old.
As a 56-year-old codger having spent a few bob on tableware over the years the first thing I appreciated about the Tracer 700 was the fact that I could get both feet firmly on the floor with some knee bend in reserve. The seat is 35mm higher than the MT-07 – the machine this bike is derived from – but even the shorter members of the test group had no problems in the height department.
I mention this as when I talk to the older adventure bike rider two major concerns keep popping up about the elevated seat height of the larger and heavier machines. Quite a few are getting to the point where swinging a leg over their bikes is akin to climbing Everest and top-heavy tiptoe manoeuvres when parking are a metal crunching disaster waiting to happen.
There’ll be far less problems or concerns with the 835mm seat height and svelte 196kg of the 700. And there’s more good news, that’s not at the expense of comfort or ground clearance. The all-important hand, backside and foot triangle makes for a commanding, upright adventure-style stance where at 6ft 2in tall I found it super comfy with no leg or arm pressure points. In fact, after a long day in the saddle, I can categorically say the Tracer 700 is well suited to long-distance comfort.
As with the 900, the 700 makes no attempt to appeal to the rider with any off-road aspirations, it is a road-going bike only. In the looks department, it’s the mini-me of its bigger brother having adopted the side air intakes, twin head-lamps, triangular-shaped screen and narrow hand-guards. The overall effect is not what I’d call stunning but it’s eye-catching enough with a good deal of thought gone into the small detail.
The dash and controls are practical, clear and without the huge amount of clutter you get on the modern bikes festooned with high-tech features. The 700 comes with ABS and that’s about it. Being a big fan of adjustable engine modes, cornering traction control and the cappuccino machines found on larger, more powerful adventure and touring machines I thought I’d miss all these features on the 700.
However, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find how relaxing it was to ride a bike where the only thing I had to concern myself with was the scenery and where the next bend was rather than what degree of traction control would be best for coasting into the lunch stop.
And speaking of bends, Yamaha picked the finest place in the Alps, if not the world, for testing out the handling and performance of the new Tracer. If you’ve not yet visited the Dolomites then stop what you’re doing right now, get your partner to throw a cup or two in your direction and load up for a trip to northern Italy.
Before we move on, I’ve a little Dolomite secret I’d like to share with you here. Many years ago when I was in mountain condition (that’s code for three stone lighter, far fitter and 20 years younger) I spent three summers in the Dolomites documenting climbing routes.
When the guide was published it was picked up by the national press and extracts appeared in a number of the Sunday and Daily newspapers. Such was the public interest in the area following the publication of the features I was awarded what appeared to be ‘Freeman of Trentino’ status by the Italian Tourist Board. I’ve yet to ascertain what benefits this endows and Verona Airport has yet to be festooned with palm leaves on my return but as a climber with a motorcycle addiction, the only reward that mattered was discovering the fantastic roads of the area.
If you find you’re not climbing or descending swooping, hairpin passes whilst touring in the Dolomites then you can be certain you’ve stopped for a break. As a test of perky performance and precision handling it would be difficult to find a more testing location short of a race circuit. The only missing component would be an opportunity to check out top gear long-distance cruising.
The 689cc parallel-twin of the Tracer is the exact same engine as that found in the highly successful and well respected naked MT-07. In performance terms, you get 74.8bhp and 68Nm of torque at 6,500rmp. On paper that makes the Yamaha more powerful than its closest competitors the Kawasaki Versys 650 and the Suzu-ki V-Strom 650. It’s also lighter and less expensive at a bargain £6,299.
Where the Tracer differs from the MT-07 is that it has been modified to make touring a whole lot more practical and comfortable. The new swingarm is 50mm longer to offer better stability at speed and with a pillion. You get a larger 17-litre fuel tank, an adjustable and effective windscreen, handguards, a protective cowl and the front and rear suspension has been altered to better suit comfort and touring. Additional features include a touring seat, new foot-pegs, pillion grab bars, handlebar-mounted accessory bar and it’s been twigged to be Euro 4 compliant.
Setting off on the Tracer it was pleasing to find that the mirrors complement the increase in girth of the older rider and that my shoulders were not to be the main feature of the day. Within minutes we were heading up the first of the eight Alpine passes chosen for the ride out and immediately into a sequence of ultra-tight hairpins.
What impressed me from the off was the smooth, mid-range torque of the Tracer which felt almost perfect for powering out of tight switchbacks and tricky overtakes on short straights before the next 180 is upon you. If you’d asked me before the ride which bike I’d have chosen for these kinds of roads then the more powerful BMW XR1000 or Ducati 1200 Multistrada would have been my reply but now I’m not so sure.
The Tracer copes brilliantly in these conditions and is all the better for not possessing the ballistic power of the aforementioned bikes which tends to terrify and delight in equal measure when ridden with aggression. It’s the classic case of an engine possessing enough power and oomph in the right places to make the ride hugely enjoyable without ever enticing the rider to cross the threshold of madness.
Equally so the brakes were up to the job. Sure there are more powerful stoppers and the feel from the front calipers and twin discs are not as sensitive as some but they perform well above adequate and suit the lighter weight and less manic nature of this 700 sports tourer.
The high rise one-piece handlebars are not as thick and wide as you’d find on some but complement the look of the bike and offer great leverage for diving in and out of consecutive twisties and holding a line on fast sweepers. Compared to the larger and heavier adventure bikes I’m more used to riding the Tracer would be classed as very ‘flickable’ and overall the suspension is on the comfortable soft side though I also found it stable, predictable and it certainly copes well when ridden at pace on testing roads with broken and uneven surfaces.
By the time we’d stopped for lunch, it occurred to me that we’d yet to get out of third gear such was the nature of the fantastic Dolomite passes. It would be more of the same in the early afternoon followed by sections of less twisty roads at lower elevations where, hopefully, we’d be able to test out the ‘touring’ credentials of the Tracer.
The screen offers good protection though I did find the wind-blast focused at the shoulders and would probably get a little tiring on a long motorway run. The screen has 28 (yes, 28) adjustment levels and whilst I didn’t have the time to check them all out there may be a fix already built-in, and if not then the after-market suppliers will no doubt soon be on the case.As we headed down onto the valley roads the curves became fewer, less extreme and more predictable offering time to concentrate on the features of the bike and not the threat of an oncoming bus on the wrong side of the road. In top gear, at 70mph the Tracer is a comfy, stress-free ride with plenty of power in reserve.
As we approached the end of the ride my thoughts on the Tracer firmed up and short of there being not much room up back for a pillion, I was struggling to find a downside to the 700.
There’s some fine middleweight competition out there, in fact, I’m the owner of a Suzuki V-Strom 650, which I’ve always considered to be a great value motorcycle as long as you’re not expecting blistering performance and cutting edge technology. However, the Tracer is perkier, smoother, more comfortable, has finer handling and is an all-round better riding experience than the Suzuki and if I had to choose right now then Yamaha would have my money in the bank.
The low seat height and weight are rider-friendly whilst the bike still retains the comfort and stance of an adventure bike. I’m very impressed; it really is that simple. On the flight back from the Dolomites I sat there thinking that subject to having no off-road aspirations I would seriously consider buying a Tracer 700.
It’s comfortable over a long distance, great fun to ride performs spot on within road-legal constraints and does not scare the bejesus out of me when the red mist descends.
It’s also a bargain at £6,299 and a Yamaha. This has top seller written all over it and Yamaha would be well advised to ditch ‘Roads for Life’ and boldly proclaim ‘Just Buy It’.
In my experience, there’s nothing the buyer will regret.
Sports Tourer or Adventure Tourer?
Yamaha have designated the Tracer 700 as a sports tourer though I’d say it’s an adventure tourer for the simple reason that the riding stance on the bike is just like that found on an upright adventure bike rather than the forward-leaning position on sports tourers like, say, the Yamaha FJR 1300. What’s in a name, eh?
As a commuter
Lightweight, practical, nimble, great visibility and a no-fuss bike. Throw the car keys away and make every day a ride to work event. Spot on.
As a weekend tourer
I’m finding it difficult to think of a single reason why I’d not want to go for a long weekend away on the Tracer 700. If you can live with the knowledge that you haven’t got 100bhp plus down below the Tracer will deliver all you need in a practical and comfortable way.
As an off-roader
The Tracer 700 is no off-road bike and if you have a passion for gnarly routes and mud look elsewhere. However, the low seat height and weight had me thinking on more than one occasion that I’d feel more comfortable taking the Tracer across desert piste in Morocco than some of the bigger and heavier adventure bikes.
As a continental road tourer
The nature of the launch location meant that there was limited opportunity to check top gear motorway speed travelling. However, the bike proved comfortable over a long day in the saddle and when it was possible to ride at high cruising speeds all was remarkably stress-free. One thing I can confirm, you’ll love the Tracer on those Alpine twisties when you arrive.
As an RTW overlander
The Tracer would not be my first choice as an RTW companion. However, if your travel plans involve sticking to tarmac why not? You’ll travel a long way on the cost-saving alone.
As a pillion carrier
We’ve yet to carry out any pillion test rides but unless my eyes are deceiving me this is the one weak spot in the Tracer 700 armour. I suspect that if you regularly carry a pillion and