Do expectations always deliver? And just what is the true potential of the new Yamaha Tracer 900GT? Keith Yallop reports on his bike purchase of May 2018. After over 9,000 miles he asks, “Is this the ultimate jack-of-all-trades?”
I have been biking for many decades having ridden about 1/2 million miles – or to the moon and back – on over 50 different machines of various sizes and capabilities.. My last few bikes have all been high-performance sport tourers with the emphasis on ‘sports’. I do quite a lot of touring in this country and across Europe with my riding buddy, Paul Ruden. We quite often do over 500 miles a day. In 2017 we did a European trip with me on my Kawasaki Z1000SX, which is a great bike, but the riding position was starting to take its toll on my ageing joints. At the end of a day’s ride I was glad to get off it. I came to the conclusion that my biking requirements needed some major reassessment.
So over Christmas 2017 I drew up a list of what I wanted from my motorcycling, taking into account that I was entering into my twilight years and my ageing joints were not as flexible as they used to be. High on my list was comfort, ease of handling, light-weight, narrow (to aid filtering), panniers which were not too large and could be easily removed. Low on the list was dropped bars, big cc, massive horsepower and MotoGP acceleration. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a bike with low down punch but over 100mph top speed was definitely moving off my radar and comfort was becoming a priority.
So what fitted these requirements? I started to look at a range of bikes all in the upright adventure touring position. During December 2017/January 2018 I visited BMW, Triumph, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. All the dealers offered great sports tourers, all with good points and some not so good. However at The Motorbike Shop in Farnborough I was invited to take out a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer. This bike was not on my list but I thought why not give it a try? After an extended 50 mile ride I felt that this machine and I could have a long and happy relationship. It all seemed to gel for me, this was probably helped by the fact that I have owned a number of Yamahas.
The throttle response was very lively, especially when in sports (A) mode, where with its short wheelbase it would easily lift its front wheel if you left traffic lights too energetically. On my return to the shop I was informed that a brand new model called the Tracer 900GT would be launched in early summer 2018. It would have an extended swing arm to reduce front wheel lift and make the bike more stable with panniers fitted. It would have a host of extras as standard, including panniers, touring screen, narrower bars, better seat, quick-shifter, updated suspension, cruise control and the list went on. It would be sub £11k. They offered me an excellent part-exchange price for my Z1000SX so I made an instant decision to place an order, one I hoped I would not regret.
I spent a nervous 5 months wondering if I had made the right decision and found myself asking if it was going to be anywhere near as much fun as the demo MT-09 on which I had ridden. Or had the practical additions to the GT changed this new model for the worse?
On the 21st of May I was the first rider in the UK to take delivery of the Tracer 900GT, or so I was told. The first thing that struck me was just how impressive the bike feels. It has the same grand presence as an adventure bike, but obviously with the road-focused bias. Sitting on the machine allows for a good view over the traffic ahead and the large screen appears to provide good protection (more on that later).
The bike feels tall with an 850mm seat height, but despite this I’m still able to flat-foot pretty easily when sat on it (I’m 5’ 11”). For those who might be a little more vertically challenged this could be more of a problem, however there is a lowering kit available.
It’s all well and good babbling on about the GT’s finer details but unless it rides well on the roads and operates well in real situations then it doesn’t mean diddly squat. So how does it ride?
Well the suspension was not one of the best points of the MT-09 based models of old. I was therefore pleased to discover that the revised suspension immediately puts to rest any previous questions over the earlier model. The suspension has been uprated using Kayaba units featuring dual springs and adjustability of both high and low speed compression damping, as well as preload and rebound damping. The rear shock preload is easily changed thanks to a side-mounted adjuster, perfect for those who are looking to travel with a pillion and/or lots of luggage. Yamaha have obviously been listening carefully to their customers, which is certainly refreshing in the motorcycle industry. Through corners it is probably one of the most ‘flickable’ bikes I have had the pleasure to ride.
Yamaha have also gone to town on reprogramming the MT-09 ECU mapping. Renowned for being a little snatchy on the power, the old map has been updated to give a much smoother delivery and also make the bike much more manageable when sat at a higher revs.
After riding over 9,000 miles on the bike in this country and across Europe, I must say it is a very pleasurable bike to be sat on for long distance cruising. It is very responsive and agile even though it weighs in at 227kg fully kitted out with panniers and fuel. Combining the excellent chassis with the brilliant 847cc triple power unit makes for an engaging ride that doesn’t leave me feeling disappointed or achy.
It would be pretty easy to think of these rather significant updates being the end of the story, but it is in fact just the beginning. Yamaha have seemingly thrown most of their accessories catalogue at the GT to make it into a machine that you could pick up tomorrow and set straight off on a European tour.
The most notable of the accessories is of course the hard luggage, which offers a mediocre 44-litres of storage. As the silencer is tucked away under the engine this allows both panniers to be of equal size. However the panniers will not take a full-face helmet. I have modified a soft bag of similar capacity to clip onto the rear seat thereby giving me close on 90-litres total luggage for touring. I replace this large bag with a smaller bag of 15 litres for weekends away. A plus point is that the paniers are very easy to remove using the ignition key and there is no scaffolding left behind.
Alongside the panniers the GT also comes with a centre stand, hand guards and heated grips where all 3 settings can be programmed individually to allow 10 different heat choices for each setting (30 in total), this makes winter riding a far less disconcerting prospect.
The rest of the electronics package is also very impressive with three selectable engine modes and traction control settings. There’s also cruise control, which definitely makes long range touring much more pleasurable. The coloured TFT instrument panel is from the R1 dash and although it is a bit on the small size it can be programmed with just about any information you would like the bike to give you, including gear indicator.
Impressively, the Tracer 900GT also comes with a slipper clutch down and quick-shifter up. The quick-shifter certainly makes for a smooth and simple affair when kicking up through the gearbox, it’s very easy to get used to clutchless upshifting. However I have to say that I still often prefer to use the old way and change gear with the clutch. But the choice is yours.
With panniers removed the bike is fairly light at 205kg and with the ECU programmed to give low down torque it is no slouch. For those of you who are interested in the tech figures, the bike has a triple cylinder 847cc engine producing 115bhp at the crank, has a top speed of 140mph, does 0-60 in 2.7 seconds and quarter mile in 10.6 seconds. But what about stopping? Well the rear brake is ok but not super efficient, the front brakes come from the R1 and are very positive having ample stopping power with very little effort even when the bike’s fully loaded.
However it is not all honey and roses – I do have a few gripes. The first is with the original tyres. The Tracer 900GT came with Dunlop Sportsmax D222 as standard and I was not at all impressed with them. I think Yamaha must have got a bulk cheap deal from Dunlop! Driving hard out of bends the back end seemed to be a little skittish and lively which took me back to my old days of scrambling. It also seemed to grab at every crack or seam in the tarmac. Not quite what I wanted on my new touring bike. So at sub 2,000 miles I visited Mel and he advised fitting a pair of Bridgestone Battlax T31’s. The difference in handling was amazing, the skittish feel had gone and the line grabbing was vastly reduced. What a difference a good tyre can make!
Secondly, I don’t personally like the fuel gauge. It only starts reducing after you’ve dropped to lower than half of the tank’s 18 litre capacity, then it shoots down and hangs around for a long time at 1/8 of a tank. It’s not a big deal and to most of you it won’t make any big difference at all, it’s just what I prefer. So I have set the TFT screen to show how much fuel I am consuming. When it gets near 4 gallons (18 litres) I know I need to look for a petrol station pretty quickly. The fuel consumption indicator is showing 55mpg and on tours I have managed to push a full tank to over 200 miles, the warning light comes on at around 185 miles. That makes it one of the most economical bikes I have owned, other than a BSA Bantam and a Triumph Tiger Cub!
My other major gripe is the screen. I seem to be in good company with this moan as nearly all magazine and online testers say the same. At higher speeds the wind coming around the screen is noisy and seems to buffer me around, especially on motorways travelling behind vehicles. Before my tour to Europe I purchased an MRA touring screen with an aerofoil on top and that has made a lot of difference. The screen is manually pinch and adjust with one hand which was useful in Alps when we came out of a tunnel straight into a tremendous rainstorm. Yamaha do offer their own larger touring screen but it costs a lot more and I am not sure how good it is.
Another minor moan is that you cannot fully put your toes on the foot pegs without hitting your heels on the pillion foot-peg mounts. However I have learnt to come off my toes and use the balls of my feet, seems to work just fine and is probably a little more comfortable.
My final moan is the position of the ignition key. If the handlebars are straight ahead then it is difficult to get your hand in, if they are turned to the right it’s impossible to reach. So steering needs to be turned left to get to the key. Why could they not mount the key in a more accessible position?
I have to be honest though, what I’m most impressed with is the price. While on paper the £10,649 price tag may seem like quite a lot, what you get for the money is nothing short of incredible value. I could not find another comparable motorcycle in this price bracket that even comes close to the specification of the GT as standard and it really makes this motorcycle very hard to fault.
So what extras have I deemed necessary apart from the MRA screen (£108)? Well I have fitted a radiator guard (£40) along with a front mudguard extender (£22). I have also fitted twin horns (£15), a Yamaha larger side-stand foot (£48), a pair of R&G bar ends (£23) and Givi engine crash bars (£126) – just in case I feel the need to gently lay the bike down.
So did the Tracer 900GT tick all my boxes from my Christmas 2017 ‘nice to have’ list? I think it has and probably more. I believe the hard fact about the Tracer 900GT is that you’ll grin like a Cheshire cat whenever you ride it, despite the weather, season or journey. Cold or hot, rain or shine, commuting or charging; the GT will be everything you could ever need and be lots of fun whilst doing it. It’s definitely a bike that has been designed to be a little easier to live with and, importantly, you don’t need to remortgage the house to buy it. The Tracer 900GT is definitely going to appeal to those who want just one bike that will comfortably do a bit of everything and do it well. And finally, to quote MCN, ‘a seriously good bike at a seriously great price’.
First published in Slipstream March 2019