Yamaha MT-09 Tracer
Japanese manufacturers have a tradition of launching sportsbikes then fitting them with panniers and higher ’bars before rebirthing them as ‘sports tourers’ when they’re no longer the fastest in their class.
Cynical examples of this practice add 50kg to the original bike without altering the power characteristics of the engine, making it entirely unsuitable for its intended purpose.
Almost as cynical is a manufacturer’s claim that “the engine has been re-tuned to accentuate mid-range torque”. What this means in practice is a general detune to make the engine last longer and not to allow the kind of road speed that would show up faults in the location of the luggage, screen and extra weight. In most cases, the ‘sport’ version of the bike is faster in the mid and high range anyway.
I took this bitter and twisted view of the world into the launch of a sports-touring version of Yamaha’s MT-09 and was proven wrong. The MT-09 Tracer is a comprehensive rethink of the MT-09 and may eventually be seen as a ground-breaking example of how other manufacturers should approach the task of shared-platform models.
BETTER THAN THE STOCK MT-09
Yamaha’s MT-09 naked bike is already an international hit. It’s sold more than 10,000 units in Europe since its 2013 introduction, is universally loved by its owners and is Australia’s top-selling naked bike. Its key assets include a great power-to-weight ratio and excellent handling. Owners also worshipped the spread of power available from the 850cc three-cylinder engine with a claimed 85kW (115hp) and 87.5Nm. In the post-performance era, the MT-09 truly is the thinking person’s sportsbike.
Of course, the stock MT09 isn’t the perfect two-up tourer. The seat is too short, the ’pegs too high, there are limited opportunities to attach luggage, the 14-litre tank is too small for touring distances and, as befits a real-world sportsbike, there’s little protection from the elements. The competitive $11,999 (plus on-road costs) launch price also precluded anti-lock brakes.
Now we have the MT-09 Tracer, which systematically addresses those issues, adds a few unexpected treats and manages it all for an additional $3000, from $14,999 (plus on-road costs).
THE PILLION’S RIDE
Let’s start with what Yamaha has done for the pillion. To provide more room, the sub-frame on which the seat rests has been extended by 130mm and altered to allow for the fitting of a longer seat for both the rider and the passenger. The Tracer seat is in two parts, allowing 20mm more for the rider and a whopping 50mm more for the pillion.
What this means in practice for the rider is that the pillion has enough room not to lean on you. It’s as if you’re riding solo. The positioning of the footpegs also means your feet and the pillion’s feet don’t make contact, allowing you to move onto the balls of your feet when necessary without bumping into anyone’s toes. It’s space city.
The standard hard panniers are well positioned so they don’t interfere with either the rider or pillion and they’re easy to lock, unlock and remove from the bike. They’re not particularly large, though, and you’ll probably need to order the rear carrier rack from the accessories catalogue if you intend to carry a tent and sleeping bags. The tank provides plenty of space to carry an aftermarket magnetic tank bag to complete the luggage picture.
Pillion comfort is above the normal threshold of complaint and the launch established average-size pillions enjoy the extra space and standard comfort of the seat. Yamaha’s message is that you don’t need to buy a full-on tourer or cruiser to keep the passenger happy.
The rider’s ergonomics are also excellent. With the Tracer’s rear-set, semi-adjustable ’bars and low footpegs, you ride upright without an excessive bend at the knees but still with the benefit of being able to use your legs for some assistance with suspension.
The rider’s seat is fine for up to three hours before you start noticing discomfort. An optional ‘comfort’ seat is available for $401.05, but it’s a false economy to fit anything but the best seat available to a bike designed for big distances. The tank capacity will allow the bike to cover 300km and the rider should be able to do this comfortably. Come on Yamaha, it’s not a big ask given how well you’ve designed the seating position.
TRACER TECH TALK
With the Tracer, Yamaha hasn’t used add-on technology to disguise inferior design. Even if it had no technology, the MT-09 chassis and running gear sets a class-leading standard. The tyre sizes aren’t overdone and are a pleasing match with the chassis to provide excellent handling. This means the bike turns in willingly without giving the rider any sense that it will become unstable. It turns and leans using its own confidence and a relaxed pilot can ride normally and enjoy an enhanced sense of control.
Now add the technology. Unlike the stripped-down MT-09, the Tracer has ABS, a three-stage traction control system (which can be turned off if required) which will cut power if you overcook a take-off or a corner as well as three engine modes to suit including sport, standard and rain configurations.
When Cam Donald rode the first MT-09, he noted that initial throttle openings at slow speeds in sport mode were abrupt and expressed a preference for the standard mode which he still considered a little jerky. Yamaha isn’t alone in this situation with ride-by-wire throttles as they’re inclined to feel like an on/off switch for power.
My experience of the Tracer wasn’t much different. The launch route involved plenty of slow-speed riding to get out of town and the soft rain mode was absolutely the best option. All the power you could ever want is still available, but the drive is less responsive to throttle movement, allowing you to ride smoothly.
Out on the backroads, the standard mode comes into its own as rolling resistance and wind pressure softens throttle response at highway speeds. Resist the temptation to think anything other than sport mode is being soft – each mode has its place and learning how to apply them will give you everything the bike has to offer. Oh, the modes can be changed on the fly by pulling the clutch lever in and using the toggle switch on the left handlebar.
The fundamental integrity of the MT-09 engine means Yamaha hasn’t had to do anything to it to adapt it for a touring role. Its spread of power is ideal for sports-touring purposes.
It hasn’t been shot with a tranquiliser dart and the full power and torque is always there for your pleasure.
Maximum torque is at 8500rpm, but most of that is available from about 4000rpm, allowing you to focus on the road rather than the gearbox.
The 18-litre tank is up four litres on the MT-09 while overall, the 210kg Tracer weighs 19kg more than its naked sibling, according to Yamaha.
Largely hidden design features include handguards which look a bit like Barkbusters to protect your hands in rough terrain but act to deflect wind to keep your hands warm.
The Tracer also has a three-way adjustable screen (no tools required), which keeps wind off the rider’s chest.
Want more? The rider’s seat has a mechanical adjustment to allow you to alter the height between 845mm and 860mm, a welcome feature for taller riders.
The mirrors are vibration-free and the Tracer has a centrestand which facilitates chain maintenance and easy servicing.
The centrestand prompts longer-than-usual hero knobs on the footpegs but, even with the ’pegs in the low position, you’re not likely to scrape them even in sporting use.
With its low weight, flickability, creature comforts and performance, the MT-09 Tracer is a new benchmark for sports tourers.
It proves you don’t have to give up completely if the rest of your forseeable riding life involves a pillion.
It’s just you again with your acquired skills and a bike begging to have its performance explored. It has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Ducati Hyperstrada, Triumph Tiger Sport, Kawasaki Versys 1000, Suzuki V-Strom and Honda Crossrunner. In Tracer form, the MT-09 is exhilarating.
– Optional ‘Comfort’ seat should be standard
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