“Sport-touring” is such an unfortunate term because it takes two things that make perfect sense individually and combines them into something nebulous – is the ideal a sportbike with bags or a touring bike that can hustle? I don’t know if the correct answer is to emphasize sport over touring or vice versa, but I do know that I love Yamaha’s mid-sized solution. It seems I’m not the only one, because Motorcycle Industry Council statistics show that the FJ-09 was the 2nd best selling 2-wheel sport-tourer in the US over the last 12 months. Now it’s back with some upgrades and a new name: meet the Yamaha Tracer 900.
Photos by Brian J Nelson.
While the Tracer model name is new to the US, the bike itself is not. Yamaha’s Senior Motorcycle Product Planner, Aaron Bast, calls this an “evolution” of the FJ-09 that we’ve had since 2015. But it’s more than just a name change – this isn’t like when your boss gives you a job title/promotion in lieu of a raise. There are plenty of tangible updates to be excited about.
The headline can be summed up in just two letters: GT. They represent a new up-spec model that will be sold alongside the base Tracer. Curiously, a Yamaha USA rep told me that in America, GT does not officially stand for anything, so you can feel free to make up whatever you like:
Great Triple / Gravy Train / Grab Throttle / Getaway Threat / Greater Than / Good Times…
…or you can just go with Gran Turismo, because that’s what Yamaha Europe officially calls it. I think that’s too logical and that you can do better, so the person with the funniest/most clever suggestion for what GT could stand for in the comments below will win a $50 Aerostich gift certificate. Make me proud.
At the end of the day, I don’t care what you think GT means as long as you understand how much those letters cost and what you get for your money.
● Color Matched Hard Saddlebags.
Each bag costs $479.99, plus you’d need to pay another $82.99 to get locks and $129.99 for mounting brackets. If you’re better at riding than you are at adding, that’s a total of $1,179.96.
● Quick Shifter – $159.99
● Heated Grips – $290.99
The above three items are genuine Yamaha accessories that you could add on to your base Tracer for a total of $1,630.94. That leaves ~$700 for you to somehow source the following upgrades via the aftermarket:
● Electronic Cruise Control – aftermarket solutions are around $500
● TFT Dashboard – good luck replicating that!
● Fully Adjustable Front Fork
● Remote Preload Adjustable Rear Shock
An option package that costs 21% of the base price isn’t cheap, but this is a relative bargain, as you wouldn’t be able to replicate the extras for close to the same price, and each individual component makes riding the Tracer a better experience. There’s no fluff like a “chrome accessory pack”.
If I was to buy a Tracer tomorrow (they’re available in dealerships as you read this), I’d get the GT without hesitation. In fact, I would have estimated that 85% of buyers would be purchasing the GT, but Yamaha is projecting nearly a 50/50 split with slightly more sales going towards the base Tracer. Am I crazy? I understand that some customers will be at the limit of their budget with the base Tracer price of $10,699 versus the GT price of $12,999, but if price is the driving factor, you may as well go used or with a leftover model anyway and that’s not what this review is about.
If Jeremy Clarkson was your friend, he’d just tell you to “work harder” so you could afford the GT, as he did with his joke ad on Top Gear which was supposed to promote bicycle safety:
If you’re considering the Tracer but would rather go with the base model, I’d love to hear your reasoning. Do you think you could buy the base bike and then get more for your upgrade dollars by going to the aftermarket? Do the upgrades in the GT package just not excite you enough? Or is it something else entirely? I’m sincerely asking – it helps me better understand what my readers are looking for!
With that said, the GT isn’t the only model with fancy features. Both the base model and the GT get several updates over the outgoing FJ-09.
The updates for 2019 start with a full body redesign. It’s the right amount of aggressive without suffering from the ridiculous robot insect look that plagues so many motorcycles nowadays. The most distinctive feature is the lower cowl, which Yamaha refers to as a “floating wing”. The color contrasts well with the rest of the bike, while the pyramid shape adds some depth.
In addition, the windscreen is larger at the bottom to increase wind and weather protection, and there’s now a one-handed mechanism that offers 50mm of adjustability.
There are new hand guards, and the luggage mounts have been integrated into the bodywork more tightly so that the tail looks cleaner if the bags are removed.
The Tracer will be easier to lane split as the entire bike is a whopping 3.93 inches narrower. This comes from a .65″ reduction in the width of the handlebars and a new compact design for the hand guards.
The seat height is up .2″ (now 33.5″) thanks to thicker, more comfortable multi-density foam. The passenger seat also increases by the same thickness, plus they get new hand grips and 1.3″ longer footpeg mount brackets for more legroom. Lastly, the bike is longer. Both the swingarm and subframe have been extended – the former for improved stability and the latter to keep everything proportional from a styling standpoint. The new swingarm is made via Yamaha’s “Controlled-Fill” aluminum die cast technology, which is said to result in stronger but lighter parts. Gerrad Capley, Yamaha’s head of Motorcycle Testing (how’s that for a job?) says the 2.36″ longer swingarm means the Tracer “holds its line better and keeps the front wheel down better coming out of a corner.” All I heard was “it’s now harder to wheelie.”
On paper, this bike is a winner. But people said the same thing about the Bimota V-Due and the Cannondale X440, so you probably want to hear my riding impressions as well. Thankfully, Yamaha gave me that opportunity by taking me to Stevenson, Washington to test the Tracer 900GT in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Silly me was doubly excited, because I figured I’d get a break from the 100-degree weather expected in Los Angeles, yet the temperature up north was somehow even worse.
Normally, a “First Ride” review like this is limited to a day of riding – though that may actually be better defined as a day of getting the information and assets needed to give you this story. Every reviewer needs photos, videos, and tracking shots, and there isn’t as much time left as you’d think to actually ride.
Don’t worry, I promise I’ll keep “suffering” for you. The reason I mention any of this is because this trip was different. At one point during the event, I semi-jokingly said it’d be a lot more fun to ride back than to fly. I was pleasantly surprised when Yamaha made that happen, and the end result is that I rode back home to Los Angeles from Washington over two days to determine if the Tracer 900GT is any good.
I’ll have a separate travel story for you soon [UPDATE: here you go], but the short version is that the Tracer GT is a fantastic tool to cover miles at speed. I ended up riding just over 1,300 miles of curves, tourist traps, and freeways – hopefully a fair approximation of what a Tracer owner might do on a given weekend.
It should be obvious that the Tracer has the first part of “sport-touring” down pat thanks to the Great Triple (see what I did there?) it shares with the MT-09 naked. It’s a motor that has rightfully earned praise since its debut three years ago, and I see no reason to rehash all of the good things that have been said about it, so I’ll just remind you that it still holds up with 115 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque at the crank. It’s docile when it needs to be, but even when I was cruising at 80 mph in 6th gear, there was enough of a hit that I didn’t need to downshift to pass. Oh, yes, and it sounds incredible above 8,000 rpm.
That jewel of a motor is now paired with an upshift-only quickshifter that was originally created for the MT as well. Is it necessary? No. And if a quickshifter is a dealbreaker for you, then you’re not looking at the right bike, anyway. Besides, you’re not obligated to use it. Like most OEM quickshifters, it’s a little clunky at slow speeds and when the throttle is barely open, but that’s not the point. You should really just be using it when the throttle is pinned, because then it’s an absolute blast. It worked seamlessly under load, allowing me to enjoy the wonderful high-RPM sound.
The Tracer has enough performance to keep street riders entertained, but I knew that would be the case going in. What I was more concerned about was touring ability, and I was relieved as soon as I sat on the bike. The ergonomics are ADV-esque with a sit-up-and-beg riding position. From there, the majority of features are touring-oriented. The color-matched luggage is well-integrated and easy to use, whether you’re trying to operate the lock/lid or remove the bags completely. Each bag can fit 22 liters, which is on the smaller side, but they’re adequate for a multi-day trip, and the relative lack of width makes them easier to split lanes with – a fact I sincerely appreciated once I eventually crossed the state border back into California. Oregon, you’ve got to get your priorities straight and allow lane splitting!
On this impromptu trip, the bags were able to swallow everything I had flown up with except my 15.6″ laptop (I have a 13″ laptop I use when I know I’m going to be on a bike, but my original plan was to fly back). I can’t really dock the Tracer for this, considering I had the same issue with the BMW R1200RS on my Spain trip. So I threw my laptop in my backpack and headed south.
I adjusted the seat from the stock height of 33.5″ up to the tall position of 34″. It’s a surprisingly tall bike – an Africa Twin is at 34.3″ – so I find it comfortable, but I can imagine that a few of you are considering this a deal-breaker. The new seat is spacious and comfortable, though I feel that there’s a slight curve to the rear of the seat which pushes me forward. I found it annoying, but other people I spoke to at the launch did not have the same sensation. I found that I could knock out at least 300 miles at a time before my butt would start to go numb and I’d have to stand up.
Those 300-mile stints would require a gas stop, as the fuel tank is 4.8 gallons. I rode this bike aggressively and was stunned to see that after 1,300+ miles, the trip computer displayed average fuel mileage of 48.7 miles per gallon. At that rate, a tank would be good for 230 miles, though I would see about 180 before the low fuel light went on, and I had no interest in pushing much further than that. I took mental notes at various speeds in top gear – at 60 mph, I got 63 mpg; at 70 mph, I got 51 mpg; and at 80 mph, I got 40 mpg. Little ol’ me would never go faster than 80, so I don’t have anything to report beyond that…
I was able to spot those fuel mileage numbers thanks to the TFT dash, which is pulled from Yamaha’s speed demon R1. It’s vibrant and easy to read in all light conditions, though I found the “night” mode of a black background more pleasing to the eye than the white background of the “day” mode, so I kept the dark background on 24/7. The screen is smaller than the housing would suggest, but the information I needed at a glance was always easy to find. A scroll wheel on the right handlebar controls some of the displays, such as the heated grips or trip odometers at the bottom. The wheel scrolls effectively, but the “push to select” functionality is hit or miss – it’s too easy to scroll while you’re trying to push.
Fundamentally, I can’t see how anyone could go wrong with the Tracer as a sport-touring platform. I don’t think it’s a world-beater in any specific category, but it does nearly everything well. I’ve actually asked Yamaha to keep it for a little longer because I’m enjoying it so much, and you should consider that a high level of approval. With that said, I’ve got some gripes…
My biggest annoyance may not apply to you, as it’s only relevant to riders with larger feet. My size 12 boots often bumped up against the passenger footpeg mounting brackets. I could never put the ball of my foot on the pegs to vary seating position and maintain comfort during long riding sessions. If you’re solo riding all the time, you can unbolt the brackets.
A second issue is the location of the ignition switch. It’s deeply recessed in between the gauge cluster and the bar clamps. It’s silly, but it bothers me every time I turn the bike on or off, especially if I have gloves on.
Between 6,500-8,000 rpm I feel enough vibration to remind me that I’m sitting on top of something that’s containing thousands of miniature explosions a minute. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it was noticeable through the pegs. More bothersome was the shape of the seat, as I mentioned above. The seat is spacious, but I couldn’t move all the way back because the riding position would cant my spine forward in a manner that almost made me feel like I was going to fall forward. The only way to fix it was to scoot my butt forward, defeating the point of having extra seat space in the first place. I did not have a chance to try the official Yamaha comfort seat. Hopefully it addresses my whining.
Lastly, the turn signals. I think the Tracer is a good-looking motorcycle, but whenever I see these turn signals on a Yamaha, it bums me out. I joke that Yamaha USA placed an order for them years ago and accidentally added a “0” to the quantity they wanted, so they’ve been slapping these abominations on models in a quest to burn inventory. As far as I can tell, these indicators are also on the R3, MT-07, MT-09, FZ6R (before that was killed off), VMAX, XSR700/900, and even the SMAX and XMAX scooters. It feels very cheap on a bike that’s otherwise well-thought-out.
If your takeaway is “that’s not a lot of complaints”, you’d be right! The turn signals are an easy fix and the vibration isn’t a big deal. The seat could potentially be taken care of with one of Yamaha’s 30 accessories for the Tracer.
I’d limit my spending to the comfort saddle and Yoshimura exhaust, but you can get all kinds of protection for the frame, radiator, and motor, as well as 39 or 50-liter top cases, Gilles Tooling levers, an extra DC outlet, and plenty more. For the full list of accessories, head on over to Yamaha’s site.
However you accessorize your Tracer, you’re going to have fun and you’ll be comfortable enough to do so for hours at a time.
The entire time I was riding back home, I was thinking that the Tracer would be an excellent choice for my upcoming Coast to Coast in 50 hours challenge, and that just might be the highest compliment I can give for a bike that’s designed to eat up miles.