LIKE MOST people who aren't President of the United States or Prince Charles, I hate flying and planes. I've spent too much time inside crappy airports and crappy Airbuses over the years, and any vestiges of airborne magic have long, long since disappeared.
So when I had to return to the Motherland of Scotland last week for an unforeseen family event, I considered every means of travel except a plane. Car? Stupid traffic. Train? Bit slow. Hijack a Chinook from RAF Benson? Couldn't find my AK47. Gah.
Luckily, I had a few test bikes parked outside at my disposal. The Suzuki GSX-S750 would be okay, but a naked sportster isn't really the perfect tool for a 900 mile round trip over two days. The Honda X-ADV adventure scoot would maybe be up for it, but again, it would be a little bit outside its competence. I like to have plenty of headroom in terms of engine performance and speed for a long jaunt.
I very nearly took the Z900 RS Cafe I had out on test too – luxury padded seat, neat half-fairing and windscreen, USB port under the seat, comfy riding position. But it was my long term test Tracer which really ticked all the boxes. It's a bike built for distance work of course, with upright riding position, wide bars, adjustable screen, large 18 litre fuel tank, etc etc.
I wanted more though. Yamaha had offered me some bolt-on accessories, so I had a topbox and rack ready to go on. Just four bolts has the standard grab rails off, and the new topbox mounting rack was on in a trice. The box is mid-sized, enough for one full face helmet, and could easily carry a suit and change of clothes - but isn't stupidly massive. It's ideal for a solo jaunt for a couple of days.
I slipped my laptop, camera and some other bits in there, and then used my Kriega US 30 tailpack to carry the rest - mostly a big chain and several disc locks.
The last mod was a taller touring screen - which we covered here – and I also had some new rubber on there too. The stock Dunlops have been okay, but nothing very special. Some Metzeler Roadtec 01s are the new hot-poop road tyres, and I just had time to spoon them onto the Tracer's rims before I had to set off on my trip north.
There's nothing very epic about a ride up the UK motorway network of course. From my house in SW London, the trip home to my folks reads A3-M25-M40-M42-M6-M74-M8. I left around teatime, blasted through the commuter traffic with aplomb, and was in Greenock before midnight. 450-odd miles in a very decent time indeed (not my personal record though, which was set a long time ago, before there were so many cameras and average speed zones).
My Ultimate Addons iPhone mount (www.ultimateaddons.com) was just the job, giving easy phone access for Google Maps directions and Radio Four via my Ultimate Ear custom moulded earplugs (www.ultimateear.com).
The Tracer was the perfect partner in almost every way. The seat is fairly comfy for me, although I know a lot of owners are less keen, and have plumped(!) for the optional comfort seat from Yamaha. The Skidmarx screen gave a good bit more protection, yet the excellent manual screen adjuster on the Tracer lets you dial it down for a bit of cooling breeze when needed. The engine is great on the motorway - obviously you can never have enough bhp on an empty M74, but the 115-odd ponies coming out of the grunty triple were always raring and ready to go whenever you needed a bit of gas for overtakes, or climbing up the big hills of Cumbria and the Borders. And the new Roadtec rubber was noticable sharper than the stock rubber, with a quicker feel to the steering and oodles of grip whenever I hit the roundabouts on the way into the motorway services...
There's a lot of time to think about stuff on a big motorway jaunt of course, and I did have a couple of grumbles (both of which show how spoiled we've become nowadays). Firstly, I do love a 'Fuel Range' countdown display on a bike. Knowing exactly how many miles you have before running out is just so convenient, and lets you be much more efficient with stops on a trip like this. Sadly, the Tracer just has a 'fuel mileage' display, so when you hit reserve, a new trip meter appears, counting the miles you've done since hitting reserve. That's okay, but you have to do some sums in your head (and know that reserve is 2.6 litres) to work out how far you have. And you end up stopping sooner than you have to, because you don't want to run dry do you?
The Tracer fuel gauge is also a bit crap. There's one massive segment on the LCD which lasts for about 100 miles, and then disappears, and the remaining four segments all go in the next sixty miles, which is a bit meh really. Fine once you get used to it, but not the best design ever. Finally on fuel - 18 litres is good nowadays, and if you go steady it will go 180+ miles easily. But I would really love a 19 or 20 litre tank - it would lift the Tracer up a level in terms of touring prowess. So - a range display, 5mpg more at 100mph and a 20 litre tank for the 2020 Tracer please Yamaha.
Petrol whining apart, the only other thing I missed was something I've been thinking about on the Tracer a lot - a quickshifter. The stock bike has nothing at all, while the GT version has a neat setup. Luckily, it's a plug and play accessory option on the Tracer, and Yamaha has promised to sort me one out next time I pop down to see them, woo!
After my day in Greenock, I saddled up again, and rode home next morning. Another 450 miles dispatched, with as much ease as you could expect on a bike. Nearly a thousand miles in two days, and the trusty Tracer didn't miss a beat. Okay, crappy Gatwick airport and a crappy Easyjet Airbus might have been a bit quicker, and less demanding. But to be honest, once you add on getting to and from the airport either end, hanging about, security checks, inevitable delays and all the other nonsense, there's only maybe an hour or two in it. And there's definitely a bit of magic appearing around the Tracer 9 for me...
* The Tracer took me up to Greenock to say farewell to my amazing auntie. RIP, Annie Hutchison, 1943-2018 x