Yamaha MT-09 Tracer First Ride Impressions

Yamaha MT-09 Tracer 36 photos
Photo: Florin Tibu
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Yamaha MT-09 Tracer is one of the latest machines the house of Iwata has delivered, and we got a chance to ride this fine steed a bit both on and off the road, to see what it can do.
While we are positive you're waiting for an in-depth review, and to some, this article will seem like barely scratching the surface, you'll make a good choice reading this piece. We only had the Tracer for a while, so we didn't have the proper time to assess each and every aspect, but since we rode it on a wide variety of surfaces, save for single tracks, mud pits and drag strips, we sorts of understood what this triple tuning fork machine can do.

The Tracer's background

As its model name already suggests, the Tracer's origins can be tracked down to the MT-09, the initial game-changer Yamaha introduced as a trip to the Dark Side of Japan. The three-cylinder platform, even though not exactly a new thing in the industry, was upgraded and refined by Iwata's engineers and a nifty 115 hp bike resulted from it.

Since all-rounders are once more gaining traction as far as customers' preferences go, it was only natural that Yamaha delivered a bike that could do almost anything on the road but that would not miss the novelty factor.

The Tracer takes things one step further, introducing a more aggressive styling and slightly better elemental protection, plus a more touring-oriented philosophy.

We won't insist too much on the looks side, as the internet is full of high-res photo galleries that will quench your pixel thirst. Without much ado, here's what we're left with after spending a little time in the saddle of the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer on a warm early autumn day.

The first impression doesn't matter that much

If you're the type of rider who finds comfort in prejudice, you should definitely test ride this bike, as it will shake the very foundations of what you hold as true based on the first things that come to mind when you see it.

The Tracer looks nice but somewhat tame if you observe certain aspects. At least this is what we thought after we got closer. Some of the design accents are only meant to make the bike look aggressive, and to us, they seemed a bit superfluous.

We'll file the excessively evil handguards under this tag. Don't get us wrong: they're not exactly crap, but better efficiency and a simpler design could make do just as fine. Plus, they will be costlier to replace in case you erm... crash.

Everything changes when you get in the saddle and breathe life into the triple. The wide bars already tell a nice story even before you ride off - they are ample and comfy, and make sure steering is effortless.

You'll not be able to find the right position in that generous seat in the first dozens of miles, but this is a part of the story that will follow shortly.

All in all, the Tracer FEELS much friendlier and forgiving when in the saddle than it appears fearsome. Remember that we mentioned "tame" and "evil" in the same paragraph, in a way that was a bit confusing to some? Well, this is just one way the Tracer can confuse you: its evil looks are not KTM Adventure-ish evil, but are a symbolic mark of how the bike can be if you lay a heavy hand on it.

The MT-09 Tracer could have done very well with less "tricks," but they instantaneously seem in the right place when you unleash the horses.

Revving high and revving low

The engine starts pulling right from the lower revs, but it is only to get you moving and not scare you away from the first ridden mile. From 3000 rpm to 5000 rpm, things seem in control, and it's hard to tell that you're riding an 850cc machine.

Still, the Tracer doesn't like those who don't dare. Riding it in the lower revs is a big "no fun game," and you could do better with a load of other bikes, possibly going cruiser-side even.

The bike was not exactly prone to stall in the lower revs as a supersport machine would, and that's most likely because of the early torque deployment of the triple. This makes riding in stop and go traffic (which we also did) less a fatigue and nuisance. We even set off in the second gear and it would roll down the road, so the city will not be a problem.

Getting past the 5000 rpm bar is where the real fun starts, and you've got 5000 revs per minute more to play with. The peak power is delivered at 10000 rpm, but we did not test this. Still, riding the Tracer with the triple doing its job at 9000 revs IS thrilling.

The A mode, which is the full-on street game mode, is perfect for longer hauls outside the city. For some reason, we felt slightly better in the city using the Standard mapping.

We even got on fuel reserve and tested the ECO driving mode, and you should not fear you'll lose the fun when doing so. Yamaha has done a good job mapping the engine in such a way that you can ride ECO and still have fun. 115 km/h (71.5 mph) is more than enough for commuting if you forgot to fill the tank, and more than enough to lose your license in certain cases...

If you feel like going a bit crazy (which we also did), a flick of the switch gets you into the A mode, with the full 115 horsepower ready to roll. We slalomed a bit riding really hard and everything felt fine, no strange vibrations, or wobbly feel, as the Tracer doesn't have that silly tendency of choosing its own path regardless of what the rider wants.

And riding around 6000-7000 rpm felt like the sweet spot of the Tracer, the zone where the sensation of being in full control was the strongest. We're no wheelie fans, so we did not try this, but it looks like the machine could be used for this, too. Still pulling the throttle hard will make you appreciate the small lower back support the stepped saddle has. You will need it to remain in the saddle and not lose control of the bars.

Working with the clutch is very easy and will not fatigue your hands too soon, even in busy urban traffic - a very fine example of how good modern clutch systems have become in the last years.

The brakes may seem too aggressive in the first instance, but you'll get acquainted fairly quickly. If anything, they are a very educative example of why deathgripping is very bad. The ABS works nicely and is not overly brutal when cutting off the braking power. We felt it work once in the rear during an (almost) emergency brake, and it seemed natural and non-startling, as is the case with other bikes.

Ergonomics and overall fun factor

The Tracer being a bike that's also supposed to be a worthy tourer, we expected it to feel comfy on most surfaces. With a 1.86m (6'1") rider weighing 105 kg (232 lbs), things can go wrong fairly easily when it comes to long-range comfort on such bikes. Still, the Tracer surprised us once more and was more comfortable than we believed in the beginning.

The riding position may feel a little bit too sporty in the first place, but this is only because the seat is very generous. The rider seat will put you in a bit of trouble when you ride the Tracer for the first tens of miles, as you'll be having a hard time finding the position that suits your style.

This happened to us and was a real nuisance early in the ride, almost to the point I started to swear. Luckily, the seat cover is quite grippy, and sliding to the sides, or back and forth, is reduced. This allows you to test multiple spots in the saddle until you find the right one.

Indeed, the Tracer might seem lousy in the beginning because of this, but as you start to get used to how the bike responds to your riding style and how you shift your body weight, things find a natural solution. It was very funny to realize I had found a very good position in the seat without even noticing this.

The seat can effortlessly accommodate larger riders, and is also height-adjustable. We did not fiddle with this feature, mostly because the rider's height meant he didn't have any sort of problems regardless of the setting. Still, it’s a valuable feature for others.

As far as wind protection goes, one can never ask too much from a naked or semi-naked machine, and the Tracer makes no exception. Anyway, the added bodywork increases wind deflection. The front cowling, radiator shrouds, and fake air intakes are a good match for the windscreen.

The latter is a bit flimsy and will shake a bit when riding in stronger winds or when riding fast with a lot of direction changes. Also, you might want to be careful when washing it, because to us, well, it felt a bit too fragile. Choosing an aftermarket one with a more aerodynamic shape and better structural strength may be a very smart idea.

As unnecessarily menacing as the handguards may be, they do their job decently, so we'd rather treat them as a plus for the MT-09 Tracer. Even more, a touring bike without hand protectors would most likely raise an eyebrow or two, wouldn't it?

The rear section of the bike looks well with sidecases, even though we rode a stock bike. The pillion seat also looks comfortable and is only slightly slanted forward, so the passenger will most likely not be all over the rider at each brake. The grab rails are sturdy and ample, but if you plan longer trips, an auxiliary rack will be needed for a roll pack or topcase, if riding solo is out of the question.

Even more, the shorty, low-swung exhaust located under the bike will allow riders to use larger, taller sidecases, for increased versatility.

Overall, the fun factor of the Tracer is pretty high, especially if you're a seasoned rider and are getting used quickly to its nature. The bike feels exceedingly light thanks to its very low center of gravity, and flipping it to either side is a breeze.

Still, on the ergonomics side, you should watch for burns on your left leg if you have a longer inseam. The engine case may sometimes touch your leg, and even though it is not smoldering hot, you can get a small burn in certain conditions. Nothing unavoidable though.

The LCD dashboard can be read in strong sunlight without any effort, and seems to be equally useable during nighttime.

On and off

We rode the Tracer on very good tarmac in highway conditions, and it felt reassuring at north of 160 km/h (100 mph), though going faster will definitely start to introduce a bit of "uncertainty factor."

As well, riding with sidecases or a topcase will reduce even more the smoothness of the ride, even though this is a generic phenomenon and has nothing to do with the MT-09 Tracer. We thought you should know this, anyway, in case you plan very fast highway hauls.

Slightly worse asphalt in the city is still not a problem for the Tracer, as it looks like Yamaha has done a good job with its suspensions. After you get to understand how the bike reacts when leaning, the road-focused tires feel confident even on rougher roads, provided you stay clear of the white lines.

We even went off the road with the Tracer, treading on both concrete so f****d-up that we almost felt sorry, and on dry, bare earth tracks. Of course, we had to ride very carefully and slowly, and were pleased to have the initial suppositions confirmed: the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer WILL get you through very bad sections if you choose your path wisely. And even if we rode on very uneven ground, the clearance was enough: the belly of the bike never touched the riding surface.

So, in the end, the first encounter with the Tracer...

Unlike the XV950, the Tracer won our hearts. The platform is very well engineered, and if it also withstands the test of time and tens of thousands of kilometers, we might have a bike that will remain in production for more than a while.

It has pretty much all it takes for setting a benchmark in the all-rounder segment, especially if you think of it as it is in reality: a bike that's closer to the middleweight-ish 800cc class than it is to the liter machines. As long as the 09 in its name does not fool you into believing it is on par with the R1 or other similar bikes, you're alright and in for quite a massive dose of two-wheeled fun.

What we liked

  • It is powerful enough to give you a good scare once in a while, has plenty of passing power, and is torquey from the lower revs, unlike pure sport bikes.
  • Can accommodate a heavier, taller rider quite well.
  • Looks just about right, even though what one might believe is carbon fiber is only injected plastic.
  • Is decently silent and has a very sweet whizz when revved high.
  • Feels very light and is easy to flip.
  • Can do mild off-road quite well, even though at a low pace.
  • A simple and intuitive array of hand controls, menus and data layout

What we didn't like that much

  • The lack of a plate for topcase in standard trim.
  • The windscreen just needs to be redesigned.
  • A slightly more responsive throttle, as it seems to lag a bit.
  • Not sure how good crash bars or crash pads would look on it.
  • Dead bugs stuck in the honeycomb panels will be hard to clean
  • Replacing the flash button with the menu one sucks.
  • Plus... the fact that it's not ours to play with indefinitely, and the fact that such a wonderful autumn doesn't last forever, but this is hardly in Yamaha's powers.

All in all, we have to thank the guys at Madras Motoparts and Motodynamics for all their support in staging this Yamaha Ride Tour.
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