First Ride Review – 2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT

In Japan, Reviews, Touring by AbhiLeave a Comment

I thought the 2019 Tracer 900 GT was an excellent motorcycle, but I had a few complaints: the passenger pegs interfered with my heels, the upshift-only quickshifter was a little clunky under partial load, the saddlebags were a little small, it had a surprisingly tall seat height, the ignition switch was in a dumb location, etc. I know that this isn’t what actually happened, but the new Tracer 9 GT makes me feel like Yamaha read my review of the preceding model and decided to fix almost every single thing I whined about, major or minor. Then they proceeded to make it hideous so I’d have something to complain about this time around, but I can let the looks slide because this new Tracer is such a fantastic sport-touring machine.


What I like:
  • It hauls the mail.
  • It hauls much more than the mail, thanks to 60L of saddlebags.
  • A fantastic blend of fun, practicality, and tech.
What I don’t like:
  • Horrible face.
  • Dual dash causes more trouble than it’s worth.

Verdict

I’m not kidding – Yamaha somehow fixed almost everything I had an issue with about the Tracer 900 GT.

In other words, I love this bike. Shame about the face.

Check out the 2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT!

First Ride Review – 2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT
Photos by Joseph Agustin.


Yamaha needs to talk to whoever is in their naming department, because they’re having trouble being consistent. This model started as the FJ-09 in 2015 in the US, though in other markets it was called the Tracer 900. So when the model was updated in 2019, the US market was renamed to Tracer 900 as well. Fair enough. Two years later, we’ve got another model update, and for some reason the name is now Tracer 9. Why? Who knows. But the previous model was offered as the Tracer 900 and an upgraded Tracer 900 GT – this time around, the US only gets the GT option, and I think that’s the right call.

Another significant difference is the price – the outgoing GT has a MSRP of $12,999, while the new model starts at $14,899 (plus the destination charge is now $5 higher). At first I was put off by the $1,905 price increase, but after riding the Tracer I’m convinced you’re getting your money’s worth and more. Here’s Yamaha’s list of what’s new, along with what I thought about each item based on my few hours with the bike:

Drivetrain: The MT-09 got an updated CP3 3-cylinder engine this year, and now it’s the Tracer’s turn to benefit. The new 890cc (previously 847cc) engine gets a new intake system, cylinder head, camshafts, throttle bodies, intake ports, exhaust, and transmission. The throttle is fully ride-by-wire and Yamaha uses a combination of tuned springs and friction to simulate the feel of a throttle cable. If I wasn’t told this before I rode the bike, I would have assumed that it was still using cables.

Having no throttle cable makes me feel old, but it works.

The new crankshaft has 15% more inertia, which means it spins up slower. Continuing my lack of observation skills, I can’t say I noticed this myself while riding but it’s been a couple of years since I rode the last model. The last model also had a bit of excess vibration between 6,500-8,000rpm – it’s still present, but reduced.

All the changes shave 3.7 pounds off the engine and the exhaust and yield a 6% bump in peak torque. Yamaha USA doesn’t provide output figures but we’re looking at roughly 115 hp and 69 lb-ft. Despite the increase in power, Yamaha was also able to bump up fuel efficiency by 9% (from 44 mpg to 49 mpg), meaning you could expect a healthy 245 miles from the 5.0 gallon fuel tank.

I saw 35 miles per gallon during my day with the bike, but I was riding…immaturely.

I may not have noticed the heavier crankshaft, but my butt dyno agrees that the new engine puts out more oomph. The bike sometimes requires a little more clutch slippage than I expected when leaving from a dead stop, but other than that there’s ample power everywhere and the front wheel will easily get light if you like that kind of thing. Want to hear what it sounds like?

The improved engine is paired with a new transmission that features ~3% taller ratios for 1st and 2nd gear. It’s also got a new shift fork design, updated assist/slipper clutch, and new clutch plate material. The shifter feel gave me nothing to complain about but there’s an upgraded quickshifter if you prefer – it’s now bi-directional and auto-blips when downshifting. It functions above 12 miles per hour and 2,200 rpm, and I thought it worked great in a wide variety of situations that I put it through. The previous model’s quickshifter was up-only and I found it clunky if I wasn’t at full throttle. This unit is much slicker and is genuinely good enough to render the clutch unnecessary above 12 mph.

Chassis: the all-new frame has a 30mm lower headstock, and the engine is mounted 5° more vertical to help with mass centralization. The frame is lighter and Yamaha claims it offers 50% more lateral rigidity. Also more rigid is the aluminum swingarm, which is now mounted inside instead of outside of the frame spars. The new subframe is steel and can carry more than before – now up to 425 pounds for a passenger, two bags (standard), and a top case (optional).

In less boring terms, one of the main reasons the Tracer 9 GT is so much fun is because the bike handles so well. The bars offer good leverage so it’s quick to change direction but it’s not twitchy when you want to hold a line. It’s supremely easy to ride quickly and is somehow light and stable at the same time – it’s the kind of bike that eggs you on to keep going faster.

Chassis upgrades aren’t the only thing that help this bike in the corners. One of the biggest updates to Yamaha’s newest motorcycles comes to the suspension, as the Tracer now has KYB’s Actimatic Damping System, otherwise known as KADS (but isn’t Actimatic a hell of a word)? KYB says it combines “active” and “automatic.” I don’t care what goofy word they make up for it, I’m just glad it works incredibly well. Using data from the IMU, ECU, a Hydraulic Control Unit, as well as a stroke sensor on the fork and angular position sensor on the shock, the system automatically adjusts suspension damping based on road conditions and the bike’s lean angle. The system handles compression and rebound up front as well as rebound in the rear. Preload is manually adjustable at both ends. There are two settings (A-1 is for sportier riding and A-2 is more relaxed), and you can change between them on the fly as long as the throttle is closed.

The difference is in how much damping force is applied as lean angle increases, and it’s not a gimmick – you’ll absolutely feel the difference when you switch between A-1 and A-2 (short for Automatic 1 and 2). Some riders might want a manual setting to play around with but I was happy with the base settings so I appreciated the simplicity. A-2 is cushier but I was happy with A-1 even in town and I kept it in that setting most of the day.

Brakes/Wheels/Tires: the weight savings continue incrementally with the new ABS pump, which shaves 40 grams. More significant is the new Nissin master cylinder, which is now radially mounted. The rest of the braking system remains the same (298mm front discs with 4-piston calipers, 245mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper). Overall I thought the system was fine – when riding very aggressively I sometimes wanted a little more bite but the strength and feel are right in line for the average sport-touring ride. Still, now that the Tracer is flirting with $15k I would have liked to see braided brake lines.

The new 10-spoke wheels save 1.54 pounds combined – they are the lightest aluminum wheels that Yamaha uses. Axle sizes have been beefed up significantly as the front is up to 22mm from 17, and the rear is up to 28mm from 20. The Bridgestone Battlax T32 GT tires are new for the model as well. We were hit with some unexpected showers so I got a brief opportunity to sample the cornering ABS in the rain. I’m still not brave enough to go 100% on the brakes when leaned over in the wet but the electronically-controlled brakes were more than sufficient based on my timid testing.

Technology: one of the few things that the previous bike was lacking was an IMU, and Yamaha has fixed that this time around with a unit that provides the same technology offered on their supersport R1 (though the Tracer’s IMU is 50% smaller). Thanks to this tiny piece of technology, the Tracer now has intelligence built into the traction control system and can also offer slide control, lift control, and brake control. You’re probably familiar with all of these by now, but I wanted to spend an extra moment on brake control because it does not, as I initially thought, refer to engine braking. It actually has to do with how sensitive the ABS becomes. Turn Brake Control on and there’s two modes: the first mode has a fixed amount of ABS interference, while the second mode increases sensitivity based on lean angle and slip rate data from the IMU as well as sensors measuring wheel speeds and front brake pressure. I have to apologize to you as I never tried playing with this during my 185 miles with the Tracer so I do not have anything to report back.

There are also four riding modes, numbered 1-4. The higher the number, the less responsive the motor is. Modes 1-3 offer full engine power, while Mode 4 has limited output and is designed to be used in inclement weather or very bad road surfaces. I haven’t had the opportunity to ride the new MT-09, but the previous model was so rambunctious in A Mode (equivalent to Mode 1 here) that I didn’t use it in day-to-day commuting. On the other hand, Mode 1 with the Tracer is very well-behaved: well-behaved + full power = my happy place. I only sampled other modes to get a feel for them and never felt a need to go back, even when we got some rain later in the day.

Touring Features: Another welcome improvement from last year: the standard side cases are 30L, up from 22L. There’s also new functionality which allows you to open the cases without a key (obviously you’re leaving the bags unlocked this way), which is perfect for when you’re on a road trip. I’m not saying it’s new to motorcycling – my ’88 BMW K75C let me do the same thing – but it’s new to this bike.

With both bags equipped, the rear of the bike is 37.8 inches wide. The bags are keyed to ignition, however if you purchase the accessory top case then you’ll be stuck carrying a different key around as well.

Yamaha made a point of noting that they’ve got a new “floating stay damper system” for the side bags which is suppose to isolate the vibration of the bags from the vibration of the chassis and absorb some of the mass transfer while cornering. I didn’t really have a way to test that as a.) my bags were mostly empty and b.) it would have been hard to convince Yamaha to let me ditch the bags on the side of the road halfway through the ride, though while I was following other riders I felt like the bags danced around a lot more than I see on other bikes. That’s presumably the bottom mount floating around in the damper and I guess it keeps some of the vibrations from being transferred to the rider or passenger, but I suspect that contents in the bags might get shook up a bit more than usual.

The GT also comes standard with 10-stage heated grips, and they get toasty in a hurry. I’d argue that 10 stages is 7 stages too many, but my bigger issue is with the tiny scroll wheel that Yamaha makes you use to adjust the heated grips (or adjust any of the settings with, for that matter). It’s not just a wheel, it’s also a button that must be pushed in to select, and there’s a lot of slop so half the time you end up rotating it when you mean to push it. It’s a pain in the ass and it really stands out because nearly everything else on this bike is incredibly well-thought out. My recent time with the R18 reminded me how BMW does this right with their jog wheel – if you’re requiring motorcyclists to use a sensitive controller for UI purposes, it needs to be large.

It’s even worse that it’s designed to be controlled with your throttle hand.

Yamaha manages to get it right when it comes to the cruise control switches, which are chunky and easy to operate. Cruise can be set as low as 31 miles per hour if you’re in 4th, 5th, or 6th gear.

I’m still on the fence about the windshield, I don’t feel like I got enough miles to properly evaluate it. It’s skinny and it’s not that tall (it might look like there’s a lot of material but half of it is behind the dash and adjuster anyway) so it doesn’t provide a tremendous amount of protection. I’m fine with that but I can also imagine other riders wanting more. We didn’t get much time on the highway but I did get a few chances to feel the windshield at speed: I liked that there wasn’t any buffeting but I didn’t like that the windshield shakes quite a bit. I need some more time with the screen but it’s probably something I’d replace in the long term if I owned a Tracer myself. A nice feature of the windshield is carried over from the previous model: it’s got 50mm of height adjustment across 10 steps, and it can easily be done with one hand while riding.

Bonus points are awarded for the inclusion of a center stand, as all proper sport-tourers should have. While riding, my left heel occasionally bumped against the tab used to bring the center stand down when parked, but it’s a worthwhile trade off in my mind. I was also OK with it, because Yamaha has fixed all of my ergonomic complaints about the previous bike!

Ergonomics: the seat, handlebars, and foot pegs all have some level of adjustability in them.

The standard seat is 31.9″ high, which is 1.6″ lower than before. You can raise the seat to 32.5″ (no tools needed), however the high position of the new bike is still an inch lower than the standard height of the old bike. Impressive. I also suspect that the new seat is a little bit thicker but I can’t prove that just yet.

Low Position (31.9″)

High Position (32.5″)

If you rotate the handlebar clamps, you can move the bars 4mm upward and 9mm forward.

It’s better illustrated from the side but I couldn’t get that photo for you, sorry.

The footpeg brackets can be moved to an alternate position which is 14mm up and 4mm back.

But the biggest news for me is that they fixed the distance between the rider and passenger pegs. The latter used to interfere with my heel on the previous model and it drove me nuts. Now there’s plenty of room, even if I’m on the balls of my feet. Hallelujah!

LED Lighting:
Every light on the new bike is a LED – the distinctive front face features the main lights on the bottom (low beam on the left [when facing the bike], high beam on the right). The lights up top which look like headlights are actually a combination of running lights on the bottom edge and cornering lights that turn on above 3 mph with more than 7° of lean.

I’ve got the high beam on here, but also note the cornering light in the top right.

The LED turn signals are also nice because they mark the end of the old pumpkin turn signals – a very pleasant styling improvement. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the bike.

Last (and definitely least in my eyes) with the updates is the styling. I’ll try not to harp on this for too long because I know that styling is subjective, but the new look really kills me considering how handsome the previous model was.

The 2019 model: classy and understated, unlike my jacket.

My review of the 2019 model includes a line saying that “it’s the right amount of aggressive without suffering from the ridiculous robot insect look that plagues so many motorcycles nowadays.” I don’t know about you, but the 2021 model screams “robot insect” to me.

Yamaha has also made a distinct styling choice with the dash, forgoing the single TFT screen from the previous generation for a pair of 3.5″ TFT screens. At first glance, I liked the idea of keeping the important stuff (speed, tachometer, gear position indicator) on one screen and having bonus information on another. But Yamaha tried to pack too much into the left side – you’ve also got a quickshifter status indicator, clock, settings menu button, heated grip indicator, odometer, trip meter, and the different mode controls for traction, suspension, and power. Fitting all that means everything is too small, especially when compared to the giant fonts used for much less interesting items on the right dash.

Someone told me the dash looks like Gonzo’s face and now I can’t see anything else. Sorry if that just happened to you, too.

Conclusion

Despite all the times I mentioned “weight savings” up above, the new bike is 11 pounds heavier than the outgoing model. A lot of that is due to the semi-active suspension, and it’s well worth it because the Tracer 9 GT handles way better than it has any right to – it’s the main factor in my adoration for this motorcycle. There’s more than enough oomph (though I’ll always want more, I’m greedy) and the touring features are all there, but at the end of the day I still keep thinking about the Tracer because of the way that it goes through a corner. It makes a very compelling argument to be the sole bike in your garage if you can only have one because it’s able to do so many things well.

With the engine, the handling, the touring features, and the electronics package, the Tracer has everything I want from a proper sports-touring bike. But the competition is stiffer at this higher price point – it’s now within $1,100 of a base Aprilia Tuono V4. As noted above, MSRP for the Tracer 9 GT is $14,899 plus a $430 destination charge. It’s available in Liquid Metal or Arrest Me Red Redline and should already be available at your local dealer for you to test ride and then tell me how wonderful and accurate my review was!

I’ve had the pleasure of riding a few ~900cc sport-tourers as of late, such as the BMW F900XR, Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+, Ducati Multistrada 950, and the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce. I unfortunately haven’t tried the Triumph Tiger 900 GT yet. But between the options I have ridden, it’s no contest – the Tracer 9 GT is the way to go. Yamaha did an excellent job taking the already-great Tracer 900 GT and improving on it to make a fantastic bike. As for the styling? Well, I don’t have to see the front when I’m riding it.