There I was last Wednesday night in Stevenson, Washington, on the northern bank of the mighty Columbia River via the excellent hospitality of Yamaha for the launch of the new Tracer 900 GT. I was slurping a fine glass of the local vino when I overheard Greg the Rider magazine guy talking about riding home to SoCal on the new bike, via the Cascades and other places.
I wanna ride home, too, I heard myself saying in my typical half-serious manner.
You can if you want to, said Marcus the Yamaha guy.
Yes. We can prep you a bike.
For me, this is good planning-aheadness. Hmmmm, a quick Google informed me that Portland to Los Angeles was 964 miles (the fine print I ignored was via I-5 the whole way). My scheduled return flight (two hours) wasn’t going to have me home until 4pm Friday afternoon anyway, so why not ride?
For a few dollars more, the new Tracer 900 GT version of what used to be the FJ-09 gets you color-matched hard bags, adjustable suspenders, cruise control, bright new LED lights, a swell TFT display, and some other stuff you’ll grow to love, including a centerstand. All the basic building blocks for long-term love, really. It’s part of Yamaha’s new vision for sport touring, somebody said.
The next day, Thursday, I’d get to ride the new GT all day on the excellent roads around the Columbia Gorge – so I decided I’d keep my ride-home options open. Let the butt decide.
Has it really been 3-½ years since the new FJ-09 bested all comers in this four-bike “Land of the Roosting Sun” comparo? We loved Yamaha’s 847cc Triple then. Maybe I’d forgotten how much? A big part of the FJ’s ability to beat up bigger, more powerful bikes then was that things like the Kawi Versys 1000 and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 are just, ahhh, bigger. On the official MO scales, the FJ-09 with bags weighed in at 494 pounds. That’s really light for a sport-tourer, and remains a huge part of the new Tracer’s appeal – depending on how big the rider is.
At the same time, plugging that last FJ onto the dynamometer revealed an engine that makes 104 horses up top (9900 rpm) – more than the V Strom 1000 and almost as much as the 107-hp Kawasaki Versys 1000 – even if Yamaha’s 847cc Triple isn’t quite as torquey as those bikes at lower rpm. The Tracer still feels plenty intense in its midrange and has no problem lugging down to 2500 rpm in sixth gear either.
It was a quick-handling bike in 2015, and nothing’s changed except Yamaha extended the swingarm by 60mm (to 59.1 inches) to provide more room – a change that doesn’t seem to have affected the bike’s footspeed much at all. Quick side-to-side direction changes with the gas on will still pick the front wheel up in second gear. This is a sporty sport tourer.
Anyway, with the Tracer GT, the goal was to increase versatility and comfort, by adding a 5mm thicker and comfier seat using multi-density foam (adjustable to 33.5 or 34.1 inches), narrowing the handlebar by about 0.65-inch, and adding a bigger new aero windshield that’s one-hand adjustable. Passenger accommodations received an upgrade too.
The new KYB three-way adjustable fork and remote preload-adjustable shock feel like they may be a bit softer, but Yamaha says the springs are the same as before. The increased leverage of the longer swingarm must be what makes the rear feel softer. I kept meaning to dial in a little more spring preload up front to keep the bike from diving quite so much on the brakes, but every time we stopped I’d start yakking with somebody and forget. Other than that, suspension felt nice for 180 pounds of me and gear – sporty and well-damped but not so sporty you wouldn’t want to sit there for 800 miles. A little adjuster twiddling should make it near perfect for a wide range of people (and rear preload adjusts via hand-twistable knob).
Then there’s the three-level heated grips (and handguards), ho ho ho we won’t be needing those for our Washington ride with temps in the 90s… and as I mentioned, the one thing I would not have attempted my ride back to SoCal without – the magic of electronic cruise control.
All in all, this is a sporty semi-lightweight, super-comfy motorcycle that also feels like one you could cover serious miles upon, and if it reminds you of Ducati’s Multistrada 950, that’s probably not a mistake.
By the end of my day in the saddle I was a fan, but still not sure if I wanted to ride one home to SoCal. Hmmmm, an hour to the Portland airport and an hour hanging around there, two hours squeezed into the airbus, another hour in OC traffic after arrival at Long Beach airport… or 16 hours or so on the Tracer? After a nice piece of fresh-caught steelhead and a couple more glasses of the local red I was ready to ride like the wind. No choice really. Gerrad the Yamaha guy, who introduced me to the phrase “rocket surgeon” in his presentation, changed my oil and snugged up my drive chain. Next morning I was rolling out at 6:13 am.
I-5 in Oregon is to I-5 in SoCal what Venus de Milo is to a dog-chewed kewpie doll. Up and down, curvy and lined with pines and douglas firs and whatever trees those are, crossing beautiful rivers with the cruise locked on 85-90 most of the way it was almost as good as being on a nice, flowing two-lane. Better for me, since I was trying to make time. At that speed, the bike’s dead smooth and quiet enough with decent ear plugs, and all you need to do is steer. I felt so fresh by the time I got to Grant’s Pass, in the southern part of the state, I left I-5 and set off for Crescent City, on the California coast, via the Redwood Highway 199. On the map, it doesn’t look like it would be any farther, does it?
This too was an awesome ride, but two lanes instead of four in many places, which slowed things up a little but not all that much, as the skinnyish, midrange-intensive Tracer had little trouble squirting past the 18,000 RVs and fifth-wheel trailers lumbering toward the coast. The closer you get to the Pacific, the curvier the road gets and the bigger the trees. I highly recommend 199 when you have a whole day to devote to it.
In Grant’s Pass it had been 96 degrees, at the coast it was 58, ahhhh. I closed my jacket vents, snugged up the collar and started looking for the grip heater button. I had plenty of time, because the 101 along the coast up there is under construction in about five places, and I needed it. Hmmm.
I was only impatient because I’d told my buddies Jim and Cristina in Los Alamos, California – 180 miles north of LA – to expect me on their couch around 8ish, and I didn’t want to make them hang around all night waiting. My calculations were slightly off.
By 7 pm and San Francisco, where it was still cold and foggy, I realized I was gonna be a little late. I think I did the right thing, though, by taking the coastal route. The brisk temperatures and moisture in the air were keeping me refrigerated and hydrated. A seat that had felt kind of thin and hard the day before had now broken in as my butt flab had molded itself to fit. Using cruise control as much as possible kept claw hand and carpal tunnel at bay, and by then I’d figured out how to turn on the heated grips – a system that’s really my only complaint with the bike and not much of one.
Every time you want to adjust the grips heaters, you have to scroll to the grip icon on the TFT screen with that little menu wheel, then push it in, squint to see the setting on the screen, turn the wheel to the heater setting you want… You get used to it, but I much prefer the one dedicated button lots of other manufacturers use. The menu wheel’s kind of small, and it’s easy to wander off into the electronic wilderness if you hit a bump while you’re playing with it. Anyway, any heated grips are better than no heated grips when it’s chilly.
It seems like the compact size and light weight of the Tracer somehow makes it less fatiguing to ride for long distances. It may not be quite as comfortable as the Gold Wing I’d been putting lots of miles on, but it’s surprisingly close – and it’s just much less weight and bulk every time you want to pass somebody, go around a corner, stop for gas, ride through a town… I do kind of miss the ’Wing’s DCT gearbox, but the Tracer’s quickshifter (upshifts only) and light clutch pull are second nature by now, and no real sacrifice.
By sunset in Morgan Hill and 800 miles, blasting down California 101 with CC on mostly 85, none of my body parts were complaining. Distance to Los Alamos remaining: 214 miles. My gracious hosts gave me the green light to proceed even though I was running three hours late, bless their hearts.
After dark, the TFT display goes from black on white background to white on black, which is easier on the eyeballs. New LED headlights (and tail) are plenty bright. On a steady diet of Coca-Colas and Frappucinos at every gas stop, I never really did get sleepy. And it’s amazing to think I usually have withdrawal symptoms after 15 minutes cut off from the internet, but on a motorcycle with zero connectivity and not even a radio for company, I was perfectly content for all those hours with only the voices inside my head. Maybe that’s the magic of motorcycle travel? Reboot the brain.
It had been my intention to do a 7 or 800-mile day, but when I got to Los Alamos, the TFT said 1048.1 miles. Apparently my little detour off I-5 added quite a few more miles than it looked like on the map, or Google lied to me. Longtime friend of MO Jimbo and his lovely mate Cristina fixed me up with excellent food and drink, then tucked me into fresh high thread-count sheets, where I slept like a dead person. What a nice day. SnooOOOOORE.
It doesn’t take a dang rocket surgeon to surmise that being able to do a spur-of-the-moment 1000-mile day on a brand-new box-stock motorcycle, with no real complaints or issues, speaks pretty highly of the motorcycle, so I have to speak pretty highly of the new Tracer GT. When I first climbed on, the footpegs felt like they were an inch too rearward and again, the seat felt kind of cruel – but 1048 miles later everything about the bike felt perfectly natural. (Guys with bigger feet than my size 9s complained their heels didn’t have enough room between footpegs and passenger pegs.)
Handling and the ride feel the same, light and natural. And the proven 847cc Triple is not only a great, howling sport motor, its torquey midrange makes it also ideal in a lightweight sport-touring bike. Lightweight being a key: It’s semi-amazing how a sub-500-pound bike (494 lbs to the Multistrada 950’s 522 on the MO scales) as light on its feet and sporty as this one can transport you that far in reasonably plush comfort, and for maybe half the price of some full-size sports tourers. The 194 miles home Saturday morning, a third of it splitting nasty LA traffic, was a dawdle.
Wow, great bike.
|2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT|
|Engine Type||847cc inline three-cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||78.0 x 59.1mm|
|Fuel System||EFI, three throttle bodies|
|Valve Train||DOHC, 4 valve per cylinder|
|Transmission||6-speed w/ quickshifter (upshifts only), slip-assist clutch|
|Front Suspension||Inverted fork; adjustable for spring preload, compression damping, rebound damping; 5.4-in travel (137mm)|
|Rear Suspension||Single shock, linkage-mounted; adjustable for spring preload; 5.6 in (132mm)|
|Front Brake||Dual 298mm hydraulic disc; ABS|
|Rear Brake||245mm disc; ABS|
|Front Tire||120/70 ZR 17|
|Rear Tire||180/55 ZR 17|
|Rake/Trail||24 degrees / 3.9 in (100mm)|
|Wheelbase||59.1 in (1500mm)|
|Seat Height||33.5 in / 34.1 in|
|Curb Weight||494 lbs (2015 FJ-09 measured with hard bags)|
|Fuel Capacity||4.8 gal|
|Observed Fuel Economy||45 mpg|