Test rides

2018 Yamaha Tracer 900 – First Ride

One of best bikes you'll ever ride, but perhaps not one you'll want to own

That engine, though. The Yamaha Tracer 900 may have been built so aggressively to budget that it’s embarrassing, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have one of the finest engines in the moto biz right now.

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The Tracer 900 has been around for a few years. First introduced in 2015 as the MT-09 Tracer, it was, as the name implies, an extension of the incredibly successful MT-09 platform that had been introduced two years before.

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I remember being incredibly excited when I first heard about the Tracer 900 because, on paper, it sounded fantastic: 115 hp, multiple riding modes, traction control, and a price tag lower than that of a less powerful, less features-laden Suzuki V-Strom 1000. How could you not want one?

But then I saw the bike in person. It looks cheap.

You’ll find a fair few reviewers that disagree with me on that point. The United Kingdom’s MCN, for example, states: “This is an affordably-priced machine – but it certainly doesn’t appear ‘cheap.'”

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I personally feel they were doing a bit of contortionist thinking in making such a claim – hoping to avoid burning any bridges with Yamaha. True, the Tracer 900 does not appear cheap when compared with, say, one of those £500 Italika bikes that are so popular in Mexico. It definitely looks better than a motorcycle you can buy at Walmart. But for a Yamaha? For a bike being powered by that incredible engine? No, it looks cheap. All Yamahas – even lifestyle-focused machines like the XV950 and XSR900 – have a certain utilitarian quality to their styling, but this one just looks cheap.

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Cheap paint, cheap fixings, cheap plastics, cheap dash – even the flimsy locking mechanism to keep the seat in place looks cheap. Which is a damned shame, because otherwise this is a top-of-the-line moto.

Engine and Transmission

Powered by an 847cc transverse triple, the Tracer 900 delivers a claimed 115 hp at peak (10,000 rpm) and a respectable 64.5 lb-ft of torque (at 8500 rpm). Obviously, as the owner of a Triumph triple I’m biased, but I really do feel three cylinders is perhaps the best engine configuration for long-haul focused bikes. Smooth and and unobtrusive on boring motorway slogs, the bike will come alive when you want it to – ready to charge through corners with aplomb.

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The Tracer 900’s triple has a more aggressive feel than on the comparable Triumph Tiger 800. After a long internal debate, I decided it was impossible to declare one better than the other – it’s really just a matter of taste. I personally prefer the more syrupy nature of the Triumph but I could easily – and happily – grow accustomed to the Yamaha’s sharper grunt.

That’s not to say it’s too sharp, however. The MT-09 platform had some notorious teething problems in terms of throttle response when it first hit the scene, but all the kinks appear to have finally been worked out. Crack the throttle and the bike most surely goes, but predictably. The engine’s bark is enjoyable, too, but won’t upset the neighbors.

The bike’s six-speed transmission is problem free, even when being mistreated. A standard assist and slipper clutch means you can be a little sloppy in your downshifts without having to pay the price.

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Ride Quality and Brakes

The Tracer 900’s cheap looks might lead you to believe its suspension would be awful, but I had no complaints. In fact, I was able to zip along mountain curves with a fluidity that resulted in one of my most enjoyable rides of the year so far. A 214kg wet weight (471 lbs) again puts it more or less in the same boat as the Tiger 800, but I’d say the Yamaha feels just a little more flickable.

A MORE EXCITING TAKE ON THE SAME THEME: 2017 Triumph Tiger Sport – Ride Review

Partial credit for that no doubt goes to the very wide handlebar, which allows a rider like me to go into bulldog stance and push through corners with ease. I think it’s possible, however, that someone with shorter limbs might find the bike less accommodating – a test ride is strongly encouraged. This is definitely a bike built with taller riders in mind. At 6 feet 1 inch tall, I really enjoyed its ergonomics and commanding riding position.

There is notable buzzing in the pegs and the looks-like-a-wonky-shard-of-broken-glass windscreen does very little to keep wind off the rider, but otherwise the set-up is comfortable and spacious. The seat, too, seems capable of supporting long-haul ambitions.

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The brakes are somewhat off/on, with a little more bite than I think is necessary for an affordable adventure sport. I mean, I guess you can’t really complain about having good brakes – being able to stop is kind of an essential feature for a motorcycle – but I found the them difficult to nuance.

Bells and Whistles

As mentioned above, the Tracer 900 comes standard with an assist and slipper clutch, traction control, and three riding modes (ABS, of course, is a given, since it’s required by EU law). The three riding modes are imaginatively called A, B, and STD.

A mode delivers full power and a sharp throttle response. STD mode still gives you access to all 115 ponies of the Tracer 900’s engine but smoothes out throttle response, whereas B mode cools things even further and restricts the bike’s power to roughly 95 hp. So, A is fast riding, STD is everyday riding, and B is rain riding.

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Meanwhile, the wiring is in place should you want to accessorize your Tracer 900 with the quick shifter that comes standard on the Tracer 900 GT.

Doing a side-by-side comparison, the Tracer 900 and the Tracer 900 GT are exactly the same bike, with the latter simply having been smacked hard with the accessories catalog. They’re good accessories, mind. In addition to that quick shifter, you get cruise control, a fancy TFT dash, and 44 liters of hard luggage. You’ll pay £1,400 extra for all those bits but I genuinely think it’s a fair price.

Verdict

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but, man, does the Tracer 900 look cheap – distractingly so. I realize it’s a simple truth of the whole adventure sport segment that the bikes be ugly, but this is different. No matter how much fun I was having I couldn’t get myself to ignore the overall low-quality look of the bike.

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As an owner, that would concern me. I’d be worried stuff was going to snap off or rust away with normal use, and I’d always be nervously thinking about that day when I’d head to the dealership hoping to trade in the bike for something new. To that end, I feel the Tracer 900 is a bike for the sort of person who is really committed to the idea of owning a Tracer 900.

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There will be some Yamaha faithful, I’m sure, who will tell me there is nothing to worry about when it comes to fit and finish, that the tuning fork company makes solid, reliable bikes that hold up for a really long time (my pal Jason Marker would say such a thing – he’s been riding the same ancient Yamaha for years). They may be right. I’ll admit my experience with Yamahas is limited. Simply looking at this bike, though, I would struggle to dig into my pocket for the sake of claiming one.

Which, as I say, is a damned shame. Affordable, comfortable, nimble, packed with features, and driven by a fantastic engine, the Tracer 900 is otherwise one of the best bikes out there.

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Maybe I’m being petty. Maybe I’m allowing myself to be duped into ignoring the steak for lack of sizzle. But I just can’t force myself to really want this motorcycle. If you can get over the concerns I have about fit and finish you definitely won’t have any complaints about the rest of the bike. And I’ll be jealous of all the fun you’re having.

The Three Questions

Does the Yamaha Tracer 900 fit my current lifestyle?
Yes. I live a car-free life, relying on a single bike to tick all boxes – from business trips to London, to sunny-day jaunts in the mountains. Issues with the useless windscreen aside, the Tracer 900 is fully capable of answering all the demands I have for a bike. Were I to step up to the cruise-control-equipped Tracer 900 GT it would be an even more perfect fit.

Does the Tracer 900 put a grin on my face?
Hell yes, it does. I loved the bike’s aggressive triple, and its ability to float through twisting sections of road is downright addictive. There’s even a decent exhaust note – more raw and mechanical than the sound of a Triumph Tiger 800.

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Is the Tracer 900 better than my current bike, a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx?
No. My Tiger Explorer has all the features of the Tracer 900 and then some. Its build quality is superior, as is its weather protection, it looks better, it has more power, I personally enjoy its engine more, it carries more stuff, and it’s shaft-driven. Of course, it also cost a shitload more than a Tracer 900, so you’d kind of expect it to win out.

Rider Stats

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Physical build: Lanky

Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Hideout Touring
Pants: Hideout Hybrid
Gloves: Dainese Universe Gore-Tex
Boots: Dainese Tempest D-WP
Backpack: Kriega R20

ADDITIONAL IMAGES