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YAMAHA MT-09 TRACER
You've got to give credit to Yamaha for finally poking its head above the parapet. For too many years it seemed as though the firm was in hiding from the action with its once impressive range stagnating. While European manufacturers, and Kawasaki, forged ahead, bringing out new and thoroughly modern machinery, like the rest of its Japanese peers, Yamaha had seemingly stood still. Then the first of the new wave MTs was released (not forgetting the MT-01 and MT- 03) and a revival began in earnest.
The new R1 superbike is definitive proof Yamaha is back with a bang, but it's pinning all of its sales hopes on the MT line first and foremost. Brilliant and competitivly priced, allied to a solid and exciting platform has already seen the MT-09 and its siblings reach a level of success nobody expected. Now Yamaha has joined the packed faux adventure market, with the Tracer and has stepped up the game yet again. The MT line has been a revelation in its relatively short life span, selling well across Europe. Yamaha has sold more than 12,000 MT-09s, and in excess of 15,000 MT-07s over the last year.
The 07 is even more impressive, considering it's been on sale for a far shorter time, but the revolution began with the MT-09 and its triple CP3 motor - we see a lot of them blasting around our neck of the woods. Local dealers, such as Fowlers and Bransons, can't get enough of them, especially the MT-07 which currently has an almost unheard of two-month waiting list. The MT-07 is a single entity though, whereas the MT-09 has already been used in a modular fashion to create other bikes and broaden the appeal (in exactly the same way, incidentally, that MV Agusta have been with their own triple range over the last two years).
And this is where the new Tracer comes into play. Earlier I used the expression 'faux adventure', and we think we've hit the nail bang on the head. Yamaha will say the Tracer is unique to itself. While it may have a point, up to a point, it's otherwise hard to deny the market that's being aiming at. Squint at a Tracer side-on, and the 'adventure' shape is in evidence, bar the otherwise fashionable duck-bill. It's the upright, brush guarded and panniered look, basically. The Tracer features it all, much like many other 'adventure' bikes, although admittedly with Yamaha's own unique modern styling thrown in.
What's more important it how Yamaha has made it stand out from the crowd. MV Agusta's Stradale 800, for example, is basically the same thing as the Tracer (albeit £3,000 more expensive). MV will lean on its sporting heritage and Italian style to turn customer's heads. With the Tracer, aside from exceptional reliability and build quality that we've come to expect from Yamaha, the other significant bonus is the platform it's based on. The cross-plane inspired inline triple engine is basically the MT-09's.
That's no bad thing, because it is one exciting lump. The D-Mode fuelling has been modelled exclusively for the Tracer, with its own button, and it also has a traction control system too. The TC works off wheel-speed and first curbs the ignition timing, then cuts the fuelinjection and lastly the YCC-T valve opening for a smoother and less intrusive action. The frame is almost identical, too, the main difference being the slightly longer and more rigid subframe and a reduction in lean angle of three degrees, for a maximum of 48 degrees that shouldn't cause too many problems. The progressive link rear suspension is set for the touring market, with increased preload and damping (front and rear), while the adjustable front fork is long and features equally lenghty travel.
The weight bias is 51 per cent toward the front and 49 at the back. Tyres have been changed in favour of something a little less sporty, Dunlop's D222. The seat on the bike is adjustable between 845-860mm, and there's an 815mm lowering kit available for the vertically challenged. The seat is also wider, especially for the pillion, 54mm so. The bars are 45mm wider than the MT-09s, higher, and adjustable featuring the ability to push them forward by 10mm. Risers are available from the official accessory line.
An 'adventure' bike wouldn't be complete without an adjustable screen, and the Tracer's has three separate positions covering 30mm between them, changed via two small wheels under the dash. Dedicated switchgear allows you to access all the info you need on the instruments for your trip, tour or thrash, while the traction control button on the dash looks as though it's been robbed off the Super Tenere. As well as a 12V power outlet, the dash will display your gear, fuel reserve, consumption and temperatures, among other things. Integrated heated-grips are an extra, but weren't fitted to our launch bikes. Speaking of which, the bike's debut was held near Malaga in still sunny Spain, with the Tracer to be tested over 240kms of twisty mountain roads. I was given the blue-silver version, my favourite, and after acclimatising to the seating position, which is excellent, and adjusting the levers to my mitts, we were away into the countryside. The Tracer sounds bloody great. Like it really means business. You shouldn't judge this particular adventure book by its cover.
I decided to try the bike with its TC active at first. It only has one setting, on or off. For the first few miles I was marvelling at the ease of use, the superb balance and thrusty grunt of the CP3 engine. As early impressions go, things has started well. Then I had a big slide at the rear while turning off a motorway. I put it down to stillcold tyres and slippery Spanish roads, but over the next few miles, taken at a healthy pace, it happened a few more times and I began to wonder firstly how crap were these tyres, and secondly what's going on with the TC? Another mile or so later, traversing multiple S-bands, I had a monster slide one way, then again on the other side and seconds later Yamaha's test rider flagged me down. Turns out I had a holed radiator and had been riding for miles with coolant all over the rear tyre! Yes, that could explain it... Before long I was astride a new Tracer, but not long after had yet another big slide exiting a hairpin. However, this was down to the roads being unbelievably slippery, a factor we had to contend with all day, despite the sunshine.
The Tracer's road holding, handling and temperament would all be thoroughly examined under these circumstances. As such, caution was taken to some degree until temperatures rose enough to return at least some confidence. What became obvious was how composed the TC is considering it's a non-adjustable system. Usually, TC on most adventure machines (bar on an Aprilia or KTM), is utter pony and more trouble than it's worth. Not so here. It works well and is only obviously intrusive if you pin it full-throttle in first gear.
The bike tries to wheelie, the TC cuts in and drops the front, then turns off and it tries to wheelie again, meaning you bunny-hop all the way through first and sometimes second gear. Be more progressive with the gasser and you hardly notice it working. However, as it works on wheel-speed alone it curbs any stunting fun. There are no wheelies with the TC on, and that's that. Turning it off is also problematic. It appears it can only be done while static or in neutral, otherwise it won't deactivate. This may not be an issue for many customers, true, but it's an irritant on a bike with so much going for it. Back to the good part of the TC, its subtle working action was even more obvious when I switched it off.
Now exiting hairpins caution was needed, as the bulging torque easily stripped the Dunlop of any edge grip on the ice-like surfaces. On many more than one occasion my heart was in my mouth as it went sideways, which frankly isn't my bag. What made this kind of incident easier, was the vastly improved D-Mode throttle system. What a difference from the MT-09! It has three throttle modes, for sensitivity and how it delivers the power - A, B and Standard. A is the sporty one, and can still get a little ahead of itself.
I found a bit of a waste of time, while STD was brilliant. It allowed all the torque and power to be metered out near perfectly, only occasionally having a quick snatch or cough. It was more impressive as it took me most of the day to realise I hadn't even thought much about the fuelling, which on the MT-09 you couldn't ignore at all. Had the throttle not been as pliable and friendly, I would have probably turned the TC back on. I'm rather glad I didn't, though, as with it off the Tracer becomes exactly the kind of 'adventure' bike we like here at FB.
In other words, it rips and stunts like a champ. The engine has got some speed to it, with 220kph easily hit with more to come, but importantly it's the delivery that intoxicates. Whereas a Triumph delivers its power in a pointed but linear way, when the Tracer gets through 4,000rpm it really comes alive and bursts forward. No TC, and that means power wheelies in the first two gears. It also doesn't seem to take long until you're nearing the limiter in top if you've the room to push it. The gearing seems figured just right for purpose, and for the engine to utilise to its best advantage. You know, I think I may prefer this to the MT-09 itself. It's easier to use, and from what I can tell handles well for its class. I'll have to give that a more definitive verdict when we get one on grippier roads as it was far too dodgy in Spain to push as hard as we usually would.
The quality feel of the stroke was obvious though, especially under braking, though I would have liked to have firmed up the rear shock to match my weight. The good news with the Tracer is that these adjustments can be made. As for the brakes, they are decent enough with a lot of power and feel, again working well in tandem with the fork set-up, though did start to fade a little after the fortieth downhill hairpin.
The ABS was also good, aside from emergency braking into a hairpin where it would activate and reduce the braking power right when you don't want it to. It was only a couple of times, and it's an issue inherent in almost every ABS system on the market so not Yamaha's fault per se. To turn the ABS off, you'd have to remove the fuse, although in 99.99 per cent of all applications it would probably never happen to you. If you're an idiot journo' flying down a Spanish mountain, however... I suppose I should talk a bit about consumption figures, and attributes thereof to the adventure touring market. But then you are reading this in Fast Bikes, so chances are this and the extra applications of the 12v socket or stability of the panniers won't actually interest you hugely.
What might is just how much of a competent and fun bike the Tracer is, while being bloody comfy and easy to use. I won't lie, I wheelied the life out of it on the return journey to the hotel and it loved every second, with a useful and easily found balance point, and an engine built for stunting. It was great, really great. As far as issues go, they are small. The mirrors aren't great, some of the switchgear needs a finger rather than a thumb to flick through, and there's that inability to switch the TC off on the move, or deactivate the ABS. The screen adjustment is OK, if fiddly, but there are far easier ways of doing this, like the one-handed system on Ducati's Multistrada. There's also a tiny hint of instability at very high speed, but this isn't a surprise on a bike of this style (and height) and it's not problematic in truth. If I'm being really picky then the Tracer could do with cruise-control for long motorway jaunts, and fuel stops come before comfort breaks so a bigger range would be better. The looks may also divide opinion.
I actually rather like it, but then styling is always, and will always be, subjective. All of this aside though, it's clear that as a dynamic package the Tracer is a success, and is yet another bright feather in Yamaha's ever expanding hat. It's compelling enough to consider it as a viable alternative to the MT- 09. It's comfier, easier to use, is better equipped, has a much larger fuel tank and is even easier to stunt.
Look beyond a Yamaha dealership and the Tracer will worry many of its rivals. Bikes will start to be delivered to dealers in February, and we can't wait to get our hands on one back in the UK.
YAMAHA MT-09 TRACER - image gallery