First ride: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer review

Never mind the 'Dark Side of Japan', Yamaha's MT slogan should be ´better and cheaper than the competition´

Posted: 10 December 2014
by Steve Farrell
12-volt socket is standard
As are hand-guards
...and centre-stand
Adjusting the screen involves twiddling knobs
Pannier mounts, with places to hook bungees
Not much space under the seat though
Oops. A stone from my rear tyre did this to the bike behind.

YOU don't need a 240kg motorcycle to go touring. Yamaha's new MT-09 Tracer is proof of it.

At a claimed 190kg dry, it's barely heavier than a middleweight but comfortable and roomy enough to cross continents with a pillion and a load of luggage.

It's the sports touring edition of the naked MT-09, which has proved hugely successful for Yamaha, becoming the third best-selling bike in Europe with over 10,000 shifted in its first year of production. It's behind only its smaller sibling, the MT-07, and the unassailable sales phenomenon that is the BMW R1200GS.

With figures like that, Yamaha could have been sure of selling a few thousand more just by putting a fairing and tall screen on it.

But the Tracer is more than that. It's got a new riding position. Where the MT-09's seat height is 815mm, the Tracer's is 845mm adjustable to 860mm. It's also been moved forward.

The bar's are slightly wider, higher and closer to you, and adjustable forward and aft by 10mm. It's a natural-feeling riding position, upright, with a short reach to the bars. The screen can be raised or lowered by 30mm.

It's got a bigger tank, at 18 litres to the MT-09's 14. With a claimed fuel economy of 53.6mpg, that gives it a range of over 180 miles.

It keeps the MT-09's 847cc triple engine, making 115hp and 64.5lbft. According to Yamaha that gives it a better power-to-weight ratio than the Ducati Hyperstrada, Triumph Tiger Sport, Kawasaki Versys 1000, Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and Honda Crossrunner.

It's a highly tractable engine, which, typically of triples, gives a versatile combination of useable mid-range and top-end rush.

It lets you be lazy, staying in one gear but still making good, smooth progress on twisty, winding tarmac. Leave it in third and it will pull you out of hairpins with reasonable urgency from 4,000rpm. Power builds with smooth, gathering intensity, and a crisp howl, to that top-end rush from about 8,000 or 9,000rpm. Peak torque is at 8,500, peak power at 10,000, and at 11,500 lives the rev-limiter.

It's gained traction control which can be switched off, and comes with ABS as standard, which cannot.

It's got a different fuel map to the MT-09 and a choice of three riding modes – 'A', 'B' and 'Standard'.

'A' gives an aggressive throttle response, 'B' laid back and 'Standard' somewhere in the middle. Switching modes is simple. You just close the throttle and thumb the 'Mode' button on the right bar. No need to pull in the clutch, as on some machines. Whatever mode you choose, it will revert to 'Standard' when you switch off the ignition though. Why can't modern electronics be told just once?

Close and open the throttle at low speed and the response can be a little snatchy. It's especially true of 'A', which just becomes annoying at low speed (admittedly not what it's intended for), but it's also the case to a lesser extend in 'Standard'. A gentle throttle hand deals with it.

The traction control didn't seem particular keen to intrude. On the launch ride in Malaga today, which included twisty minor roads, some not very well surfaced, at least twice the rear slid sideways under power in corners, with no sign of electronic intervention.

Brakes consist of twin 298mm front discs with radial mounted four-pot calipers and a single 245mm rear disc with a single-pot caliper. The front is superb, with masses of power, enough for one-finger braking, but also a reassuringly precise feel of progressive, growing force as you increase the pressure. The ABS seems sophisticated, coping with rough and rippled surfaces that would have some more basic systems simply denying you of brakes.

The 130mm progressive link shock and 41mm upside-down forks have more preload and damping than the MT-09 according to Yamaha. They were plush enough to make comfortable touring from some pretty shoddy surfaces. I was perfectly happy on the firm seat all day.

But they also retained a good degree of composure on the fastest bends and dips and bumps, and all three at once, whether on the brakes or gas.

Like the MT-09, the Tracer has a 17-inch front wheel. It might have a vaguely adventure-esque look but there's no pretence of off-road potential here, and it's sharper handling on the road for it.

It feels relatively agile and quick-steering, helped by its low weight, that front wheel, and the wide bars.

Adjusting things is easy. Lowering the seat (which I did immediately, because I'm 5'9”), is a quick and tool-free operation. It put me comfortably on the balls of my feet.

Raising the screen is a two-handed procedure involving the loosening and tightening of two knobs, and again no tools. You'll have to stop to do it but not for long. At the highest level, I had wind protection up to my neck.

The Tracer also has an LED headlight which can be height-adjusted without tools.

There are more concessions to touring, all standard equipment. You get a 12-volt power socket, sizeable hand-guards and a centre-stand.

The pillion seat is large and comfortable looking and at either side are four places to hook bungee cords.

Options include a lowering kit taking the rider's seat to the same height as the MT-09's, a rack, spot lights, heated grips and a full Akrapovic exhaust.

The 'sof-hard' zip-up panniers are optional but the Tracer comes equipped with the mounting points for them, which have a bare, functional look, managing to retain some of the aggressive attitude the MT range aims for.

It's a combination of the attitude and performance that has made the MT-09 a success with genuine two-up touring capability and comfort which should ensure the Tracer's popularity too.

Shan Miyazawa, Yamaha's product manager, had an interesting way of putting it in the presentation before the ride: 'Your wife will be easier and a little more supporting when you try to switch your bike to an MT-09 Tracer.'

But you'll still be on an MT when you go out with your mates.

Yamaha's economy and range claims seemed plausible at the end of our ride. The digital dash on my bike had 16 miles on the low-fuel trip-meter after a 158-mile ride. Among other things, the clocks can also tell you your trip duration and the ambient temperature, and the information is fairly easy to navigate through using up-down buttons on the left bar.

I've left perhaps the strongest argument for the Tracer till last. Again in line with the MT range, it's pretty cheap – starting from £8,149 plus on-the-road charges. That's £1,500 less than Kawasaki's ABS-equipped Z1000SX. It's nearly £5,000 less than Ducati's Multistrada.

Okay, so those are more powerful machines. Suzuki's V-Strom 1000 isn't and still costs more, at £9,999. Kawasaki's new-for-2015 Versys 1000 is barely any more powerful, at 120hp, and costs £9,749. Honda's Crossrunner makes less power than the Tracer, at 106hp, and costs two grand more, at £10,299.

Triumph's recently launched Tiger 800 makes significantly less power, at 95hp, and costs from £8,499 on the road.

Aggressive pricing has been part of Yamaha's MT strategy and it's had an impact across the market. After the MT-07 was introduced at just over £5,000, Kawasaki and Suzuki slashed the prices of the ER-6f and SFV650 Gladius.

The MT-09 Tracer could have a similar impact on its competition. It's good enough and cheap enough to warrant it.

WATCH OUR YAMAHA MT-09 TRACER VIDEO REVIEW

Model tested: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer

Price: £8,149 on-the-road

Engine: 847cc triple

Power: 115hp @ 10,000rpm

Torque: 64.5lbft @ 8,500rpm

Dry weight: 190kg (210kg wet)

Fuel economy: 53.6mpg (claimed)

Tank capacity: 18 litres

Seat height: 845mm-860mm

Availability: Mid-February 2015

Colours: Matt grey, red, silver/blue

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Discuss this story

You know, I was reading down that list of adjustable this and standard that and thinking "Nice, but how much is it all going to cost?"

Then WHAM! Out of the park again.

Bravo to Yamaha for eschewing "How much can we charge?" in favour of "How many can we sell?"

I imagine the only problem with this bike will be making enough of them and getting them to customers: if you want an MT-07 in the UK at the moment, you'll need a set of bolt cutters.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 09:03

Agreed, the price and what you get for it, is out-of-the-park. Well done Yamaha. The only problem is: I hate the styling. I know it's a personal thing, but why do all these new sport-touring-adventure bikes have to look the same? Both this and the new bmw go after the multistrada look and it doesn't work..

Surprised the Tiger 800 is not mentioned in the competition as it's the nearest rival I think - 800cc triple after all. The simple ABS costs 8,199, so same as this, but has less power and less specs. I would still choose it though over the Yam due to better (imo) styling and, by the sounds of this review, a smoother throttle. I'm baffled that they don't seem to have sorted the throttle issue out...

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 10:09

I really like this bike. Having seen it in person at Motorcycle Live I'll admit that I'm not 100-percent hot on its looks but I'd turn a blind eye for the price and capabilities. Things like the 12V plug are so simple and make so much sense. Well done, Yamaha.

Also, looking at pictures of the bike's tail it seems it won't be difficult for aftermarket companies like Givi to come up with an easy pannier rack so you can use something a little more reliable than Yamaha's sof-hard luggage.

I expect to see A LOT of these on the roads in the coming years.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 11:20

Thanks Steve for yet another brilliant review. I was looking into a DL650 but this is certainly worth the wait.

Why not MT-07 Tracer too? Minus the wheelies.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 11:30

Wolfclaw - I read recently that there is talk of just that sort of thing being introduced in 2016.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 12:48

Is it me or does it look like a Transformer that might at some time turn into a motorcycle... or a truck... or something... ?

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 13:12

Yeah, interesting that the article doesn't mention the Tiger 800. But the Tiger only makes 95bhp.....which, coincidentally, is the max power a bike can make for the restrictions for the A2 license. Hmmmm.....I wonder
if Yamaha are confident in selling enough of these that they aren't worried about missing that section of the market? Or if Triumph may have limited the appeal of the Tiger to full A license holders, in pegging the power back to accommodate A2 riders?
Time will tell I guess.
Personally I prefer the look of the Tiger.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 13:29

This is quite honestly the perfect bike for me. Naked hooliganism with a veneer of touring ability.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 15:44

This is the bike that Kawasaki should have made, take note Kawasaki there is room for a triple 850-900cc Versys.
I owned a 2010 Versys 650 and now own a Yamaha Fazer8 ABS... if it rides as well as it reviews, which isn't always the case, then may well be my next bike, sorry Kawasaki looks like Yamaha caught you napping

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 19:42

I've got a standard MT-09 (Martine, for short) and here's my story.
My first ride was Southampton to London on motorway and A roads. It was steady and relaxed, no drama. And then I hit London. Ooh la la! What a beast! Imagine waking up a hungover hornet, waterboarding it with very strong coffee, swinging a saddle over it and trying to ride the crazed insect. That's what to expect.
I've since had it remapped and put a 2 brothers exhaust on (cos it sorts out the snatchy throttle at low revs, ahem) so there's 127 brake at the back wheel and I can tell you that my Martine is nothing like the one you rode in Malaga.
I'm utterly amazed that Yamaha call this a tourer. It's a super moto on steroids and nothing less. The weight, riding position and steering geometry mean this will out handle any hyper sports bike (with the possible exception of an RSV4) and with the engine straining against the leash from tickover, it feels more responsive than a big bang R1. This is not hyperbole, I sold my R1 to buy one.
Gentlemen and ladies, it's a thoroughbred hooligan tool. Not for the faint hearted nor anyone prone to mislaying their licence. My final warning goes like this; don't test ride one cos you'll end up owning one.
Nice one Yamaha, I'm now in the dark side.

Posted: 11/12/2014 at 21:42

The article mentions "Peak torque is at 8,500, peak power at 10,000, and at 11,500 lives the rev-limiter." I thought hmmm...interesting....the same peak torque RPM, peak power RPM, and redline as my CBR150R. Then I took a look at the specifications at the end of the article and noticed they were completely different.

Posted: 12/12/2014 at 00:19

MT-07 Tracer PLEASE ...! Or KTM Duke 390 Adventure ...!

Posted: 13/12/2014 at 05:01

After a test ride on an mt 09 at my mates dealership i will want a real thrash on one of these before deciding to buy,The mt 09 is totally under devoloped,The fueling still isnt right although much better,the front end is hopeless when you really press on the seat is terrible.i ike the look of the tracey but need a proper test ride as a trundle behind some berk in an orange bib tells you nothing,Which is exactly what yamaha want.

Posted: 14/12/2014 at 13:47

i test rode a standard MT-09 engine awesome ,, suspension aweful seat painful after one hour ,, hope the tracer is better as i liked the engine ..

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 08:03

I'm not sure if this is the case, as I haven't test ridden the MT09 with a pillion (solo only), but it always looks in the photos like there isn't much 'clearance' between rider's feet and pillion? 'Bike' mag commented on this when they had one, saying the pillion's boot tip was actually touching the riders calf?? As the Tracer is aimed at touring, I thought Yamaha might have addressed this, but haven't? There must be something in this, as I've now seen 2 MT09s on e-bay, where both riders swapped the pillion peg hangers for those off an FZ8 (apparently they're a straight swap). Agree with Kneedown on this - the MT seems underdeveloped and this could have been addressed pretty easily by Yamaha at the outset. Still like them, but they need tweaking in a few areas. Same applies to the shock - remote pre-load adjuster would have been nice, given it's aimed at touring - and before anyone says, if that had been done by Yamaha as part of the package, it would have hardly been noticed in the price. Remote pre-load shocks are nothing new...

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 13:17

OK as the owner of a normal MT ABS and covered 5000 miles on it I think I can give a good review, the first thing to do is to go on a long ride to get used to it as its not a bike like any other to be fair, its not a sports bike and its not really a typical roadster naked , neither is it a commuter or cruiser but after a while it sort of makes sense it does a bit of everything , yes the suspension is not the best or the worst for that matter and regarding the fuelling I am still on the original map and don't have any problems at all and if im in busy traffic I just put it in b mode and its as smooth off and on the throttle as any bike but most of the time im in A mode which is the most "aggressive" map but I like it , if you spend some money on a new shock and better fork springs and get it set up which you can for 600 quid you have a serious weapon on the twisty stuff and a better ride overall, im still on the original suspension though and with a bit of set up fine and I go out riding with litre sports bikes and it holds its own on the UK roads , as for the seat I have done 300 mile rides without a problem and taken pillion on 100 mile rides an they were comfortable , the reason I think this bike is so good is the riding geometry and weight with such a lovely engine I always smile and that's important, its the only bike I have owned that on my way back from a ride that I want to keep riding and not go home, Things I have changed are the tyres I now run Pirelli angel gts which are superb and I have an akrapovic exhaust which is a lot lighter than stock I also had the fly screen and tail tidy fitted when I bought it, its a great bike and I have no plans in changing any time soon.

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 14:45

I still think VFR800x cross tourer is better

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 16:43

The article mentioned the Triumph in the context of its having less power and costing more. Okay, but like yu said, and further the Triumph has self cancelling indicators, cruise control and heated grips available. Plus your choice of a 17" or 19" front wheel and better styling. And less weight, I think

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 17:28

the triumph is heavier, and to be fair with all the options the price starts to rise,and why would anyone be concerned in the real world with a 19 inch front wheel when the only off road they do is riding up the drive lol , a serious adventure bike is a lot lighter and probably a single 450-700cc, The tracer and triumph and cross tourer are just tall road bikes and if you went off road for long periods they would soon become a nightmare, the amount of very clean "adventure" bikes is proof .

Posted: 15/12/2014 at 18:27

@Rogerborg "if you want an MT-07 in the UK at the moment, you'll need a set of bolt cutters"
Really? I walked into my local dealership, did the deal and picked the bike up a couple of days later! Maybe I was lucky :)

Posted: 19/12/2014 at 10:58

Have to agree with Deadly on this one - just looked on eBay, and there's plenty of MT07s on there - inc. very low mile used and new dealer supplied. My local Yam dealer, when I had a test ride back in May, said to me "You, need to decide now, as they're going fast!" I went past him on the way home yesterday, and he's got 4 MT07s sitting in his front window!! Maybe he has a different meaning to "going fast"? I didn't buy though - where's the MT07 Tenere Yamaha?

Posted: 19/12/2014 at 19:34

So it still has a "snatchy throttle", and last I heard Yamaha was on their third revision of the cam-chain tensioner in that engine and it's still failing. That's not my idea of "bang for the buck".

Posted: 20/12/2014 at 00:02

Sentinal that is bullshit the cct is sorted now and the throttle is not snatchy , it has different riding modes anyway , I have ridden 5000 miles without any problems on my standard MT09 and the Tracer comes with a softer map anyway .

Posted: 20/12/2014 at 16:51

Hi Jamo 2, a few factual corrections:
- The Tiger 800 with the extras you mention is a higher spec model which is significantly more expensive: £9,499 for the XRx and £9,999 for the XCx.
- The choice of front wheel sizes is 19" (XR) or 21" (XC). There is no option for a 17" front wheel.
- The Triumph is heavier.

Cheers!

Posted: 12/01/2015 at 13:19

Do Givi do a 3 box kit for it? I can't find one. A lot of Yams won't take a top box & side boxes, it's often either or. I looked at the TDM once but the top box had a limit of 2kg?

Any info' on this? Looks like it could be a good lightweight tourer if it will take the weight of decent luggage eg 10kg a box.

Posted: 25/04/2015 at 12:36

The soft panniers that I ordered with the bike finally arrived and have just been fitted to my Tracer. The bracketry detaches easily leaving only the top and bottom connectors when removed, which I like as most of the time I won't be using them and didn't want the bike cluttered with a supporting frame. Looking forward to trying them out on an Alps trip in July. I use a Givi soft case that straps to the pillion seat for my daily commute which works well rather than a top box. Reckon the Tracer makes a lovely light weight tourer fitted with this kit. Only other changes are mirror extenders and a bit of seat reprofileing. I have the taller touring screen but after trying it out plan to use it only in the winter.

After1800 miles I am enjoying the Tracer more and more and find myself looking for reasons to go the long windy way to every destination.

Posted: 12/06/2015 at 06:41

I've done 4000 miles on mine and fully agree with Simon Tobias on all counts...

Posted: 30/08/2015 at 15:07

Thanks for the tyre tip Simon Tobias... Put GTs on at the 12,000 mile service which have transformed the handling! Tracer still giving me miles of big smiles (except when I wash her).

Posted: 14/10/2015 at 22:35

It's a nice ride, for sure, but without self cancelling indicators, cruise control and heated grips it falls short of a "best" pick.

I think the BMW has those things.

Posted: 22/03/2016 at 14:36

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