Alun Davies travels to Granada to check out the new versions of Yamaha’s best-selling and great-value sports tourer
A few years ago I was sat in a darkened room in a hotel complex in Spain for the launch of the original Yamaha Tracer 900, or as it was then called, the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer. The presentation stage was predominantly black and moody, the music loud, the video lively and the theme surrounding the new bike was ‘Discover Your Dark Side’.
I remember thinking at the time, the only dark side I could see my mates discovering was the part they’d just treated with Just For Men. That’s working on the assumption that they still had anything growing up-top.
You see, the Tracer, following on from the deservedly successful MT-09, was to be a bike that attracted the younger male, and market research and sales were forecast to be mainly to the under 35s. As much as I admired Yamaha’s enthusiasm, optimism and the spirit of the event, I just could not see it happening.
The prime law of market research is no different from the number one rule to use when forming an opinion. It’s not what they say, it’s what they do. The human species does not always tell the truth when confronted with a metaphorical clipboard or an online list of questions.
There are many, many reasons for this and quite a few glowing examples to quote as supporting evidence. Your honour, I present exhibit A and B; Brexit and Trump.
Whilst all the pollsters had Remain and Hillary in pole position, when it actually came to the physical act of picking up a pen and delivering a cross, the public demonstrated where they were really at as opposed to where they said they were at. In the event, just about every pollster and market research company was floored by the old sucker punch; it’s not what they say, it’s what they do.
I’m not sure what research Yamaha carried out (if any) in the UK specifically. But any casual look around confirms what is happening with the motorcycle market; I don’t need to see the research, I can view it with my own eyes: young people are just not buying motorbikes. And the biggest threat facing the industry right now is whether a sustainable, profitable market of under 35-year-old motorcycle riders exists?
On the other hand, I reckon the aging demographics of the motorcycle rider are going to support the sales of a bike such as the Tracer 900. In fact, I can see a pincer buying movement from both ends of the grey spectrum.
I see older adventure bike riders who are done with any off-road pretence looking for a lighter, lower, more manageable machine that still offers upright riding comfort. And then there’s the sports bike rider taking his first tentative steps into the hair restoring isles of the chemist, whilst simultaneously concluding that a cramped-up pocket rocket and arthritis do not a satisfying ride make. Enter the new Tracer 900 and Tracer 900 GT.
Yamaha has moved on from tagging the Tracer with ‘Discovering the Dark Side’ and settled on the more sedate and slightly philosophical ‘Roads of Life’. From the off, it’s obvious that the Tracer has no off-road aspirations and is aimed squarely at the rider who does not see any of their life roads covered in dirt.
The company has also positioned the Tracer as a sports tourer rather than adventure sports, though what the difference is between the two I’ve yet to fathom. Maybe you’re expected to stay in hotels if you’re on a tour and sleep in leech-infested ditches if you’re on an adventure.
What I do know is, the sport touring sector of the motorcycle industry is highly important to Yamaha, accounting for 22% of overall sales with the Tracer 900, Yamaha’s top selling sports tourer. The UK is it’s third largest market behind Italy and France.
Customer research by Yamaha has shown that over 55% of Tracer owners have owned a motorcycle licence for over 20 years and that 35% have traded down from a larger capacity machine. Additionally, owners have rated the versatility, engine, design, handling, agility, lightness and the fast and fun factor as the features that most impress.
So, armed with all that info, the company decided to stick with the core Tracer 900 identity and features and improve on the design and touring capabilities. In other words, no big makeover from pulverising weights and cardio machines at the gym, just a bit of nip, tuck and dye at the hairdressers and a facial and body wrap at the spa.
Improvements, Yamaha told us, would be achieved by a more integrated design, improved riding position, better comfort, upgraded touring geometry, a fancier luggage system and the creation of a higher spec premium model, the Gran Turismo (GT).
Right then, so what’s new? First off, there’s a 60mm increase in the length of the swingarm, which improves high-speed stability and traction. To go along with that, there’s a new and slightly longer rear sub-frame that comes with integrated mountings for hard luggage and there’s also a bit more room for the rider and pillion.
The new screen is bigger than the old one and comes with a new one-handed multi-stage adjustment. The handlebars are 16.5mm narrower, but with the addition of new handguards the overall width of the bike is decreased by 100mm, which is always handy around town and when filtering. There’s a new seat, upgraded handgrips and the pillion pegs have been dropped by 33mm to allow for more legroom at the rear.
The design has been tweaked here and there and whilst the bike looks refreshed, there’s no mistaking that the new ‘Roads of Life’ Tracer 900 is a close blood relative of the outgoing ‘Discover Your Darkside’ Tracer 900.
The GT (Gran Turismo) is the 900 with the following additional features as standard: cruise control, quick shift gear change, fully adjustable suspension, panniers, heated grips, plus a new full-colour TFT screen and the relevant controls.
And just so you know, the Tracer 900 is available from 1 May and costs £9,249, with the GT costing £10,649 and arriving in dealers in the last week of May. So, there you have it, let’s go riding.
Speaking of riding, especially at recent launches in the sunny south of Spain, there was a moment, when a spell of violent horizontal rain interrupted the general torrential downpour, that I thought the Yamaha launch could be going the way of the recent BMW wash out. But luck was on our side and a small patch of blue sky and sunshine appeared as we walked from the hotel to the bikes.
The Tracer looks a small and compact bike almost defying that it’s a 900cc tourer. I found the size, weight and height extremely user friendly and manageable from the off, and I know this is going to be an important consideration for riders uncomfortable with the effort required to manhandle a large-capacity adventure bike.
Throwing a leg over was a lot less of a circus act than with taller machines and although the riding position is comfy, I was aware of the narrow bars, the slightly back peg position and that my knees were bent more than I’m used to. And whilst the stance is generally what you’d call upright, I felt pitched a little forward, but in no way am I talking a forearm workout here.
You just don’t get that ‘King of the Road’ riding stance as you do with an adventure bike, which is not surprising, as it is a sports tourer after all.
Yamaha has changed the padding and size of the seat and I would not be surprised to find a mould of my arse in a motorcycle design studio in Japan. The seat is exactly as I like it in firmness, shape and size… slightly on the firm side, narrow at the front, supportive at the rear and plenty of room to move around.
There’s also extra seat room for the pillion, who gets substantial grab handles and more legroom. There’s no doubting that the Tracer will handle a pillion with ease, but would the pillion still be on speaking terms after a long day touring in the saddle? If you’re both above average build, then maybe not.
Whilst I’m talking pillion touring comfort, there’s no Yamaha top box or fixing plate available for the Tracer 900, though you can pick up aftermarket kits. I know my regular companion is far more comfortable with a top box fitted, in fact she insists on one. Setting off from the hotel on wet and greasy Granada roads, the conditions were perfect for checking out the traction control.
Within a mile I’d had the back end unexpectedly slide out twice, with the traction control coming to the rescue on both occasions. Full marks.
The Tracer comes with three throttle maps: A (sporty), Standard and B (soft/rain), and whilst there’s a noticeable difference between the power delivery, the three traction control levels (including off) are not linked and have to be set via a separate operation.
Even on the wet, slippery roads, I felt comfortable with the power set at standard mode, coupled with level one traction control. However, as we cleared the city limits and the roads started to dry out, the more sporty response of mode A brought out what is, without doubt, the best feature of this machine.
The 847cc triple is what anyone over the age of 50 would describe as a corker, with bags of smooth, useable power and torque exactly where and when you need it. I spent most of the morning hurling the Tracer around a never-ending sequence of tight twisty mountain roads where I was rarely out of third or fourth gear.
In both gears, the engine pulls seriously hard, with zero stutters from speeds of under 20mph to close on 100mph (and a little more). It is a supremely flexible unit and makes for an ultra-thrilling ride when pushed, especially so when the roads turn wet and are splattered with mud from farm vehicles.
On one very spirited section of twisty, greased up tarmac, I was so absorbed my toes were gripped and curled so tight I was close to digging a hole through my boots. I remember thinking… just relax, trust the bike and enjoy the ride, which I did, massively. I’ll also add a special mention for the clutchless quick shifter fitted on the GT version and the super smooth fuelling systems on both models… faultless.
If pushed and asked if there is one area where the Tracer could have performed better, then I’d have to say the suspension is a little on the soft side. The counter, of course, is that at normal riding speeds the suspension offers a very comfortable perch for all-day riding.
For further context, I’ve also had the Tracer flat-out in top gear (141mph) both in a straight line and on sweeping bends and it proved a stable place to be. And that’s without tinkering with suspension settings.
During the afternoon, we spent some time checking out the Tracer at motorway cruising speeds and I have to say the new screen, whilst better than the old version, could still be more effective. In addition, and despite the mirrors being repositioned, there’s still a little too much shoulder showing up for my liking. Other than that, the Tracer 900 is a stress-free place to hang out at legal speed limits.
The Tracer has been built to offer the rider a competitive price. When held up against the competition, that shows up most obviously in the technology used and deployed.
Whilst the competition is ramping up on lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, electronically adjustable suspension, integrated communication systems and fitting motorcycles with displays on a par with the quality of iPads, the cost savings on the 900 are obvious. If you’re a tech junkie then you’re not going to have your head turned by the Tracer.
On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a great value sports touring motorcycle that offers the stance and comfort of an adventure bike and is far more manageable in size and weight, then I urge you to take a test ride on the Tracer 900. Far better to dream about and recall the pure riding pleasure and thrilling performance of that 847cc peach than the pixel density of the dash.
As a commuter
Commanding riding position with good visibility, nippy, slim profile and comfort make this a good choice for long or short commutes. It needs an aftermarket top box for convenience.
As a weekend tourer
The Tracer 900 has that perfect blend of stress-free motorway riding for the Friday afternoon quick getaway, with the added ability to offer great fun on the A and B road blasts at the destination.
As an off-roader
The Tracer 900 is a sports tourer and if you’re looking for a bike with off-road capability over and above a run around a rustic pub car park, look elsewhere.
As a continental road tourer
Long days in the saddle at motorway speeds will get tiring if you stick with the current screen and if you’re over 6ft you might find the knee bend a little too sharp. Other than that, all’s well.
As an RTW Overlander
I can’t see why not as long as your route planning sticks to the tarmac. All reports we’ve seen come with great long-term reliability.
As a pillion carrier
Yamaha has made changes to enhance the pillion comfort, but it would not be my first choice if a pillion was a regular companion.