Tested: Yamaha Tracer 9 GT long-term review (2021)

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_01

 

Mileage: 782 | Economy: 51mpg | Power: 117.3bhp | Torque: 68.6lb-ft | Weight: 220kg | Price: £12,202

 

As the owner of a 2019 BMW S1000XR, I clearly like the idea of a sports tourer that can be a blast when you’re on your own riding fast back-roads, while also comfortably carry a pillion and full luggage across the country, into Europe or beyond. The 2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT promises all that, but it’s going to have a tough job convincing me to change.

Over the next several months I’ll be covering everything from summer scratching to winter commuting, but as the UK launch was a tour into Wales, where I was able to ride a bike home to start this long-term review, we’ll kick off with what I think is at the core of a motorcycle that sold more than 63,000 units since its launch in 2015….

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_02

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT: Touring and pillion comfort

I rode one of the first versions of the Tracer 900 to Luxembourg in 2015, taking in beautiful backroads, fast A-roads, and a dash along the French motorways to catch a ferry. It built on the excellent MT-09 platform to offer a bike with some decent touring potential.

In 2018 I tested the second generation, which gained hard panniers as standard; with the heated grips, cruise control and uprated suspension – and a launch price of £10,649 – it felt more like a purpose-built sports-tourer.

Over the years the price has increased, but if you take into account inflation the new Tracer 9 GT’s price of £12,202 (for either of the three colours) isn’t that much of a jump, especially when you consider the excellent semi-active suspension now fitted.

I’ll be looking more closely at the full equipment and spec of the bike in the next instalment, but for now, do the first impressions gathered after a 450-mile ride lend any credibility to the idea that this could be the best sports-tourer on the market right now?

Starting at Tamworth Yamaha (worth a visit if only to see every iteration of the R1, and a stunning R7), I rode 150 miles on the first day to Wales, around Lake Vyrnwy then on to the Nick Sanders Expedition Centre, all with my wife Helen on the back. If you ever see an event being held at Nick’s place, get yourself booked in as Nick and his wife Caroline are incredible hosts and the locally sourced, home-made food is beyond gourmet quality.

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_03

 

Helen’s benchmark is the Kawasaki Versys 1000 when it comes to all-day comfort, but despite some appalling weather, some tricky, bumpy roads and a few real fast sections, she loved the Yamaha. “It was comfy throughout the run,” she told me. “The pegs give my 5’3” frame plenty of space, and I don’t feel perched up high.

“It’s easy to get my hands into the grab rails, though having the top-box does of course help. I’m really surprised at how quick it can be, yet never get me feeling nervous – it’s pretty obvious that you’re relaxed while riding it.”

She’s right. While I’m happy riding any bike, tight, uphill junctions on loose surfaces with blind bends can be really tricky on anything tall, especially with a passenger. The Versys had a pretty good stand-over height, but our own BMW leaves me just on tiptoes. I’ve never known Helen as relaxed on any motorcycle, and while I’m sure there was a bit of showing off to the other riders in our group, it’s obvious that the ease with which I could handle the Tracer meant Helen could enjoy herself a lot more.

The next day was a 300-mile ride along the coast, back to Tamworth then on home with the ‘Icon Performance’ black and silver machine that I’ll be using this year. Helen spent 120 miles of the second day with another rider so I could try the bike out on my own (was she a bit too eager to jump on the back of a bike ridden by someone half my age?!), but her opinion at the end of it all was the same; this is the bike she wants to tour on.

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_04

 

From my point of view the semi-active suspension on the Tracer 9 GT is outstanding. To have been able to ride very fast on some of the backroads with Helen on-board, and not once feel the machine start to get loose or knotted-up is testament to the work that’s gone into it.

For 95% of riding the system’s perfect; Mode 2 is smooth and comfortable but can start to get a little wallowy under hard acceleration on some roads. Switch to Mode 1 and it firms up a little, though still keeping a level of comfort that meant Helen never chipped in over the Cardo asking me why things had got crashy.

On some potholes and pronounced over-banding the front-end can feel a little harsh in either mode, but I’d rather have that than in any way change the handling on the kind of routes that Helen and I so love exploring.

With 117.3bhp the engine’s clearly making a lot less than our 165bhp S1000XR, but on my own it’s not something I’ve worried about yet. If anything, it has the potential to be a bit more enjoyable as I can work it harder in most situations. With Helen on the back on steep Welsh roads it’s definitely not lacking, but of course it’s not as punchy as the crazy inline-four of the BMW. Having said that, Helen reckons the Beemer scares her a bit; maybe I need to back off a little.

I will be looking more closely at the brakes (which are fine if not sharp), the equipment (cornering ABS, traction control, lift control and some great heated grips), the sound (which is great, despite there being no end-can and Euro 5 trying to hamper things), the screen (it’s fine, if a little noisy at speed) and the dash (ermm, yeah, I’ll come back to that).

What matters for now is that the new Yamaha Tracer 9 GT finally has the load capacity to use the included panniers and an optional top-box, it handles incredibly well whether you’re touring on your own or with passenger, it gave about 47mpg two-up (the equivalent of a roughly 186 mile tank range), it sounds brilliant and it has more than enough torque (which, incidentally is increased from the last model and comes in 1,500 rpm earlier) to make for some seriously spirited riding whether you have someone on the back or not.

First impressions? If there is a better sports-tourer, I haven’t ridden it yet.

 

Full touring test of the Tracer 9 GT

Get the full pillion opinion, handling and performance from our UK review

 

In detail: getting under the skin of the Tracer 9 GT

After more than 2,000 miles on the Yamaha Tracer 9 GT, I wanted to pull over and take a closer look at this adventure-sports-tourer.

It was unusual to kick this long-term report off with a two-up tour, but now I’ve lived with the bike for a while – and taken it apart – I can give you a bit more insight into why every bit of it comes together to make a truly brilliant package

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_06

Stripping the panels off is easy, with quality plastics and very few fasteners to remove

 

The video below goes into depth about each part of the bike, but to summarise, here are my key thoughts…

Wheels & Tyres: While the previous Tracers weren’t known for having the best tyres out of the factory (Japanese brands often commission ‘special’ versions of rubber, made down to a budget), the Bridgestone T32s now fitted as standard are excellent, giving the confidence to scrape the pegs in the dry, yet feel utterly planted in even a Welsh deluge. The wheels are lighter, but I’m not going to pretend I can feel the more nimble handling.

Brakes: They’re good. They’re not sharp feeling, which to most riders is a good thing, but they do lack some of the initial bite we’ve come to expect of modern machines with any pretence of sportiness, despite the new radial master-cylinder. Braided brake lines would probably give a bit more feel, though changing them will require a trip to a Yamaha dealer to get the ABS pump purged.

Suspension: The new Tracer 9 GT, with its semi-active KYB suspension, strikes an excellent balance between comfortable and sporty. I can have a lot of fun on my own on twisty back roads with this, but it’s also compliant enough for Helen to feel very happy as a pillion, even if I do start to get a bit silly. There’s no electronic preload adjustment, which is a shame, though the remote preload adjuster on the rear shock is easy enough to use (at a push, even while riding, but please don’t do this!).

Headlights: The GT’s graced with cornering headlights, which means that as the bike leans, the inside of the turn gets some extra illumination. In practice, the effect isn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but the biggest issue – for me at least – is that under braking the harsh edge of the LED headlight means the approaching bend is lost. Check out the video to see what you think.

Fairing and screen: Those who complained about the previous model’s standard screen might be disappointed. I’m 5’10” and find it okay, but anyone taller than me (like BikeSocial’s Michael Mann and MCN’s Michael Neeves) both complained that it’s noisy. It does shake, but I’ve not done a full day’s riding and not been desperate to replace it. The fairing offers good protection, though Michael Mann noted that wind seemed to be channelled to a position that tried to push his legs apart.

Clocks & controls: The dash has everything you need of it, though I’m not a fan of the split screen’s style, or the fact that the right-hand screen only has four ‘slots’, which seems a little inefficient. I have two complaints about the controls – one is the mode button to cycle through the riding and suspension modes being where most other bikes have the main beam flasher, and the other is about the thumbwheel on the right-hand bar being a bit of a fiddle. A big thanks though to BikeSocial viewer Henning Holgersen, who pointed out that if you select the heated grips (which are excellent, and very powerful), activate them, then hold down the thumbwheel for a few seconds, it locks to the grip control, so you just need to spin it to adjust the heat level, not find it and select it each time. If you have the optional heated seat, tapping the thumbwheel briefly will toggle to control of that as well. If you want to reset trips, you’ll need to hold the wheel in again to get it back to normal. It’s not perfect, but it’s made riding in the cold a lot better.

Oil pressure switch: It’s worth pointing out that the previous Tracer 900 (and MT-09 Tracer) had an oil level switch to warn you that the fluid might be getting low. The new triple engine in the 2021 Tracer 9 (and the MT-09) has an oil pressure switch, which is a lot more accurate. But… while it’s unlikely to happen, if the light does come on you must stop immediately and check the levels.

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_05

The tank’s easy to remove with an accessible quick-release fuel pipe and single wiring connector

 

Fuel economy: I’ll keep updating the fuel economy over the coming months, but after a fair few motorway runs (and some excited back-road riding), it’s currently sitting at a very good 50.6mpg, which gives a tank range of up to 202 miles. I know I can get at least 20 miles after the reserve light, but based on getting 17 litres in there when I filled up, I reckon it’s good for at least 30.

Comfort and seat height: I have a sensitive posterior, and while this isn’t the absolutely comfiest machine I’ve ridden, it’s not far off at all, being more than good enough for a full tank with just the odd cheek wiggle. Pillion comfort is excellent, but the video above covers that more thoroughly. Overall, this is a really easy bike to get along with, thanks to its weight being carried fairly low, and in no small part to me being able to stand over the bike with my bum off the seat and feet flat on the ground (remember, I’m a fairly average 5,10”).

Engine and gearbox: Of course, that triple engine. It does offer some really surprising mid-rangle punch, which is great out of corners and roundabouts, though if you’re a motorway cruiser you might prefer a big, lazy four-cylinder. It’s not as characterful as a V-twin, but I’d rather spend a long day with this than the vee. And it sounds very good – which is particularly impressive given that there’s no end-can – especially when you snick up and down with the quick-shifter. The gearbox is very good, though not quite as tight as my S1000XR, and I have had a couple of instances when the quick-shifter just refused to change down. I’ve not had this on my BMW, but I am more than willing to bet that it’s user error, rather than a mechanical issue; I might not have cleared my foot properly between changes.

Overall, while there’s not one single thing that jumps out as being mind-blowingly awesome (though that engine’s midrange is very good), the complete package comes together as one of the most instantly accessible motorcycles I’ve ridden. Compact, relatively lightweight, bags of power and with the load capacity to easily take a pillion with full panniers and a top-box, a month or so and 2,000 miles in and the Yamaha Tracer 9 GT strikes me as a truly accomplished machine…

 

2,000 miles later: still good?

Get under the skin of our long-term-test Tracer 9 GT

 

Three things I’m loving about the 2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT

  • Brilliant sound and performance from that motor
  • Outstanding handling with a pillion makes it great to enjoy together
  • Great load capacity

 

Three things that aren’t so good…

  • Screen’s a little noisy at motorway speeds
  • I can’t stop seeing a face in those clocks
  • It’s making me consider selling the S1000XR, but I’ll try lowering it first

 

Modifications and accessories

  • 50 litre Yamaha top case: £213 (box) + £79.70 (mounting plate) + £36.20 (back-rest)
  • Yamaha GPS holder: £44.70

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT review_07

 

2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT specification

New price

£12,202

Capacity

889cc

Bore x Stroke

78x62.1mm

Engine layout

Triple

Engine details

Inline, DOHC, liquid cooled, 4v per cylinder

Power

117.3bhp (87.5kW) @ 10,000rpm

Torque

68.6 lb-ft (93Nm) @ 7,000rpm

Top speed

Estimated around 140mph

Average fuel consumption

50.6mpg tested/ 55mpg claimed

Tank size

18litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

202 miles based on tested mpg

Reserve capacity

No switchable reserve

Rider aids

Cornering ABS, cornering traction control, slide control, lift control, four riding modes, quickshifter, heated grips

Frame

Pressure die-cast aluminium with steel sub-frame

Front suspension

41mm KYB inverted fork

Front suspension adjustment

Semi-active rebound and preload damping, manual preload

Rear suspension

Rising-rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Semi-active rebound and preload damping, manual

Front brake

2x 298mm discs, four-piston semi-monobloc radial calipers

Rear brake

245mm disc, single-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 Bridgestone T32

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 Bridgestone T32

Rake/Trail

25°/108mm

Dimensions

2,175mm x 885mm 1,430mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1,500mm

Ground clearance

135mm

Seat height

810 or 825mm

Kerb weight

220kg (230kg with panniers)

Warranty

unlimited miles / two years

Website

www.yamaha-motor.eu

 

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