Julian challis travels to Tenerife to put the new Yamaha tracer 700 to the test
When I got my first office job back in the ‘90s, there was a pleasing simplicity to life. I’d get up, get dressed, have breakfast, put on my Belstaff jacket and Kiwi helmet, and ride my Suzuki TS185ER the 10-minute commute into central Bristol. Once at work, when I needed to contact customers or suppliers, I’d give them a call and speak to them. When I needed to talk to my colleagues, I’d walk over to their desk and chat to them, before returning to my desk and continuing with my day. Come home time, it was back on with the bike kit, and with a swift prod of the kickstart, I was off. With no mobile, email, or indeed any modern technology at all at home beyond a twin tub washer and a hi-fi unit, I wouldn’t give a thought to my job until the following day.
OK, so let’s not pretend that everything was fantastic in those halcyon days. Organising anything was ridiculously complicated, keeping in contact with friends and colleagues required far more effort, and travelling anywhere, even in the UK, required planning, maps, phone calls, letters, and God knows what else. But ignoring those undeniable and inconvenient truths for a moment, as the control of technology reaches into every second of our lives, there is a definite appeal to keeping things simple. And it’s this basic strategy that has proved to be incredibly successful for Yamaha. While the other mainstream manufacturers seem to be locked in an increasing spiral of constantly adding more technology, more devices, and inevitably more cost to their new models, the engineers at Yamaha have an entirely different game plan.
From the initial launch of the MT-07 and MT-09 back in 2014, it was immediately apparent that producing uncomplicated bikes with great engines and a ridiculously cheap price point was going to be a popular, and perhaps somewhat obvious, plan. The two bikes have gone on to become some of the all-time best sellers in the brand’s history, and with the subsequent upgrades and the introduction of new models, the hyper-naked sector now represents a staggering 42% of Yamaha’s output.
With such strong central components in the punchy and compact CP2 and CP3 motors, using these units for other model variants was the obvious progression, and the Tracer 900 followed just a year after the original MT-09. Immediately proving a popular choice for the mid-range sports tourer market, Yamaha followed on with the first Tracer 700 in 2016. The bike sold well for the first year but then the smaller Tracer’s sales dropped off. Even the introduction of the Tracer 700 GT in 2019 failed to make an expected upturn to the model’s sales or come even close to that of its older sibling. With the whole Tracer range selling an incredible 73,000 units since its introduction in 2015, and the sport touring sector accounting for 21% of Yamaha’s sales (second only to those hyper-naked machines) bringing the 700 back up to speed was always going to be a priority.
So, fast forward to pre-coronavirus lockdown 2020, and Yamaha has set up camp in the sun-kissed Spanish island of Tenerife. Prior to the evening presentation, there’s a chance to cast an eye over the machines and get an initial impression. There are three colour variants on offer in the new range: Icon Grey, Phantom Blue, and the confusingly named Sonic Grey, which is clearly not grey, it’s red but looks almost as good as the blue one. Common to whichever colour you choose is the new ‘face’ of the bike with its mean-looking, opaque slit lights sitting over a pair of powerful LED headlamps. Compared to the 2016 Tracer 700, the new bike looks altogether more sporty, purposeful, and focused and still comes in at less than £8,000.
The next morning, we head out of the front door bright and early to be met with an immaculate line of identical 700 Tracers sparkling under chilly February skies. Once we are allocated our keys, there’s a chance to sit on the bike and get a feel for the new machine. There’s a new dual seat, with a full centimetre more padding on the back section and finely detailed stitching that gives a high-quality look. The Tracer is not a physically big bike and the seating position makes you feel nicely sat in it, rather than perched on top. Firing up the bike is not quite what I expect. The stubby little side-mounted end can emits the softest of exhaust notes imaginable. There’s an Akrapovic option available, but straight out of the showroom, the standard exhaust is very, very quiet.
Setting out onto the roads, we head west to Buenavista and follow a winding route out of the village. The new bike is incredibly light and agile to move around the narrow streets. It has slightly wider bars than the previous version and this makes for easy changes of direction with little effort, with the low-down torque allowing you to squirt through bends. As the road opens up a bit towards Garachico, it’s time to open the taps and the motor responds with the purr of a very contented tabby. Despite the changes to the engine to meet the Euro 5 emissions regulations, Yamaha has managed to maintain the power of the outgoing model, coming in at a respectable 72 bhp at 8,750 rpm, although to match the figures, the rear sprocket on the Tracer 700 has gained an additional two teeth.
But on the A roads, you barely notice the altered gearing, save for a bit more responsiveness and urgency to the power delivery that is an altogether welcome upgrade from the 2016 bike. There’s no quick shifter, but changes are so smooth that it’s not something I’m missing. Even on clutchless upshifts, the motor doesn’t object in the slightest. The new bike has a completely redesigned screen, adjustable by a little handle. The movement is a tad jerky, but with such a small screen, the effect of changing from the fully down to fully up position does not seem to make a noticeable difference. There’s a larger screen available as an accessory, and if you are going to be doing big distances, it will prove to be a very worthwhile purchase indeed.
Our route takes us as far as the town of La Orotava, where there’s the need for a bit of assertive urban driving, darting through gaps and dodging the traffic. The little Tracer proves the ideal tool. In the wish list from last night’s presentation, the development team at Yamaha had anticipated that, alongside longer trips, owners of the new Tracer would most likely be using the bike for the daily grind, and it would be the ideal tool to slice through morning congestion. The combination of agile handling and easy ergonomics contribute to the overall confident feel of the motorcycle when riding in traffic.
The speeds increase as we leave the town behind and it’s the chassis that gets a chance to shine through a series of tight hairpins, and then on a beautifully sweeping road. Although it might have been tempting to do so, Yamaha has resisted the temptation to change what was already a pretty well balanced and compliant frame which worked well. The lightweight, high tensile, tubular steel frame arches over the top of the parallel twin motor, the central spar branching into two beneath the tank, leading into the rear subframe and down to the lower frame tubes. Like on the Ténéré 700 and MT-07, the motor is used as a stressed component to reduce overall frame weight, and the frame tubes have variable wall thicknesses to give the required combination of flex and stiffness. At the rear, the swingarm is 60mm longer than that on the naked MT-07, so this means the Tracer is a little less flickable, but that penalty results in better all-round stability for those longer journeys on the bike.
While the frame has not changed on the new Tracer, the suspension has received a much needed improvement. The 700 now gets 41mm cartridge forks that are adjustable for both preload and rebound damping, with both reduced spring rate and spring free length. The forks respond beautifully to the Tenerife roads, soaking up the contours of the surface well without ever getting out of shape, but it feels like a cost compromise that the forks are conventional rather than upside down. There might be little discernible difference in the fork function save for the advantages in unsprung weight on the front wheel, but for a bike in this sector to still have forks that look straight out of 1995 feels like a mistake. At the rear, there’s a new shock too, lying almost flat within the frame which again is adjustable for preload and rebound damping. Like the front, the new shock tracks the roads effortlessly at whatever speeds you choose, the Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres clinging to the road like a toffee in your grandad’s pocket.
We stop for a quick coffee at the café at Las Cañadas del Teide, where there is a selection of adventure bikes and sports bikes. Considering that most manufacturers seem to be avoiding the whole sports tourer label in an effort to dip into the deeper and more lucrative adventure bike pool, it’s again a mark of Yamaha’s independence of thought that they are calling the Tracer exactly what it is. It would have been easy to add some dual-sport tyres and call it an adventure bike, but they’ve resisted, leaving the Ténéré 700 to that market, one that it has proved incredibly, and, if they were honest, unexpectedly successful in.
After a photo stop framed against some of Tenerife’s incredible volcanic rock landscapes, our route to lunch takes us down from the high ground through another achingly beautiful road that snakes through a cool larch forest. It’s quite so perfect, it feels like some sort of Disney film set. The soft, brown needles neatly cover the ground between the tall trees and dappled sunlight lights up the smooth tarmac that winds between the trees like a lazy grey snake. It’s the perfect road for this agile little bike, and when we eventually reach the restaurant for a suitably Spanish lunch, the grins on all our faces are huge.
With lunch eaten and espressos downed, it’s off on the road again and a brief bit of motorway. The bike is pleasingly stable at raised speeds and the new sporty profile works well, even if the screen is a bit ineffectual. I also notice the higher gearing as I have to run higher revs than expected to push the bike over 80 mph, but with the comfortable new seat and improved ergonomics, it’s easy to imagine putting in big miles on the Tracer with ease.
A few miles later, we cut back through La Orotava again and retrace the route to the top of the island, the sweeping road now basking in the afternoon heat. With a slightly more familiar road to enjoy, I can take a bit of a longer look around the dashboard and play with the controls. I say that, but there is very little to change or choose. The modest, landscape-oriented LCD display that sits snugly behind the screen is negative contrast. This means white figures on a black background, and there’s a big clear speed display with the rev counter over the top and fuel level below. With the one menu switch on the left-hand bar, you can toggle between a few options of range, temperature, fuel consumption, clock, and trip meters, but beyond that, there’s nothing else. Simple and effective is written through the Tracer like a piece of Blackpool rock.
The remainder of the day is taken up with four glorious hours of riding in the unexpectedly beautiful north of the island. We travel along pencil-straight roads through almost lunar landscapes under the glare of Tenerife’s enormous volcano, and wind our way through forests and cool woodland. The Canary Islands never feature highly as a place you’d want to go motorcycle touring, mainly due to the horrendously long ferry journey needed to get your bike here, but if you made the effort, then it’s an exceptional place to ride.
If you were to do this, then the road from Santiago Del Teide towards Masca might not be one to take riding two up on a fully loaded GS. However, on the Tracer 700, the incredible sinuous climbing and descending along this ridiculously tight road is a beautifully testing and rewarding challenge. The torquey little motor allows you to zip between the bends, and the brakes are predictable and strong enough to haul it all up for the next 90-degree hairpin. The road goes on for the best part of an hour before we eventually find ourselves heading out of the mountains and dropping down towards the coast, with the last of the hairpin bends disappearing in our mirrors behind us.
So, as the sun slips gently away into the Atlantic, we cruise back into Buenavista and it’s time to reflect on both the strengths and perhaps the limitations of the Tracer. As a stand-alone bike, it can handle everything you can throw at it and more. From weekday commuting to weekend scratching, two up touring to solo trips, you could buy this bike and do the lot. Like the entire MT range and the previous Tracers, a combination of nothing more complicated than a great engine placed in a well-balanced chassis results in a very competent, likeable and enjoyable bike to ride.
But against the competition from within the brand, it still feels like the bike may struggle to find its niche. The Ténéré looks and feels more exciting to ride and own, and will allow you the option of going off-road if it takes your fancy. And, if you are just looking for a do-everything sports tourer, then the bigger triple motor in Tracer 900 feels like it would be a smarter choice. OK, so the 700 comes in at a very reasonable £7,799, but on a PCP plan, the 900 is not going to be that much more per month. Do you still choose to buy the smaller twin?
But leaving that conundrum to one side, if you are looking to make the transition from one of those hyper-naked bikes, like the MT-07, to take on bigger journeys and adventures, then it’s an obvious next step. If you’ve just got your full licence and are looking for your first big bike, buy the Tracer and the world is waiting for you. Or maybe if you’ve just had enough of massively overcomplicated and overpowered bikes that tip the scales at the top side of 250 kg, then perhaps the pleasing simplicity of the very capable Tracer 700 is the perfect antidote.
Specs at a Glance
Parallel twin CP2 Motor
72bhp @ 8,750 rpm
68Nm @ 6,500 rpm
Front; 41mm cartridge style conventional forks adjustable for rebound damping and preload. Rear; single rear shock adjustable for preload
Front; twin 282mm discs with four-piston callipers with ABS. Rear; single 245mm disc with single-piston calliper with ABS