Yamaha MT-09 Tracer Review & Ratings
- 17 February 2018
- Author: Nikolas Perseputto
LAST YEAR’S MT-09 signalled a return to form for Yamaha. Powered by a new 847cc three-cylinder engine giving 104bhp, the naked bike was punchy, fun, capable and sensibly priced. Despite the sharp throttle and comparatively soft rear shock not being to all tastes, some 10,000 Europeans bought one in 2014, making it Europe’s third most popular bike (behind the BMW R1200GS and twin-cylinder MT-07). For this year the MT-09 is also available in Tracer guise, with fairing, revised ergonomics, amended suspension and its sights firmly set on the horizon. It’s £8285 on the road, and was the UK’s best-selling big bike during the spring.
TRIUMPH HAVE PRETTY much taken ownership of inline three-cylinder engines in recent years. However, the Yamaha shows the Hinckley folk are not the only people who can build a responsive, engaging and characterful triple. Blessed with realistic road-biased gearing and torque dished out liberally across the rev range, it punts the Tracer forward at low revs or in a high gear with the wallop of a bigger machine – wind open the throttle in top gear and the Yamaha strides onward with as much fervour as BMW’s 38% bigger R1200GS. Sit back, tease it gently and the triple is polite and calm, purring almost imperceptibly. Or hold on to lower ratios, explore the revs and allow the wailing triple to easily turn the landscape into a streaky blur. This is a motor that can turn its hand to anything.
Turn off the traction control (see ‘electronics’) and it only takes half throttle in first gear for the MT to rear up enthusiastically. Employ a dash of cable-operated clutch in second and the Tracer rattles out horn-mono ten-pumper wheelstands with amazing ease. It’s a wheelie monster. B-roads and high-spirited use drop economy into the low 40s to a gallon, while motorway whirring knocks it back up towards the mid 50s. The dash claims we’ve averaged 51mpg overall, but fag packet maths shows a real 49mpg – that’s nearly 200 miles from the 18-litre tank (a gallon or so larger than the naked bike’s tank). Oh, and you can forget all of that old-school nonsense about Yamahas slurping lubricant.
THERE ARE SIX RATIOS in the gearbox and all can be selected quickly and cleanly with a light touch of the toe, either up or down. Any missed gears? Nope. Clutchless up-shifts are easy, if that’s your bag. The Tracer’s clutch has never grumbled, even laden with luggage and two-up during extended stop-start. A desire to try out different tyres means the drive chain has been adjusted during fitting, but it hasn’t needed any tweaks in the 2000-mile spells between.
» Chassis and running gear
THE FAIRED MT-09 has very similar weight distribution to the naked variant, however both the front forks and rear shock have more preload and additional damping. The settings give a more conventional feel and more predictable handling, although for some are too far the other way from the super-supple naked. ‘The suspension is a little too firm for my liking,’ reckons Ben. ‘It’s composed on smooth surfaces but can nearly bounce me out of the seat on bumpier roads and I have to grit my teeth over cat’s eyes.’ At nine-and-a-half stone he’s the lightest of the testers, which is probably the reason for his views. For everyone else the upside-down forks and rear shock have proved sportily firm but not too stiff or harsh – it’s a ‘fun pingy ride’, according to Steve. There’s also a better front-torear balance than the naked MT-09, on which the supple rear and tall, firm front can seem a bit at odds occasionally. Even after more than 4000 miles the Yamaha’s low-speed agility and the ease with which it can be placed are still remarkable (it’s just 210kg wet).
Ride quality is perfectly acceptable and the bike’s feel and feedback are good, with the up-and-down bits retaining control in pretty much all situations. Only when pushed hard at the test track does the damping become a bit lacking, and after a long day on knotted, rippled roads the ride quality can start to feel jiggly. Adjusting the rear preload for a pillion or bundles of clutter requires a C-spanner – not a major hardship, although not having a remote preload adjuster on a bike with such obvious passenger capability seems like an oversight. Steve’s very many camping excursions show that the extra weight from adding passengers and tenting kit improves ride quality massively, the Yamaha ‘floating over bumps’. The downside is a loss of low speed accuracy and slight front vagueness. Steve also wonders why this colour scheme’s blue forks aren’t the same hue as used on the wheels. Or for the stickers, thinking about it.
ANTI-LOCK BRAKES are standard and work adequately, but it isn’t the fanciest system. I’ve had a couple of occasions riding briskly on nadgery backwaters where hitting bumps under heavy braking has given a brief running-on sensation as the ABS cut in early. It happened with the sportier tyres more than with the standard fitment (see sidebar, right). Traction control is standard as well. It’s a ‘help you if you get it wrong in the wet’ kind of system, not an aid for going fast. Pin the twistgrip in first and the traction cuts power in and out as the front wheel tries to lift, resulting in mildly unpleasant surging and stutters. There are no levels to adjust (no bad thing), although you can turn it off by pressing and holding the TCS button on the dash. There are three riding modes: STD (standard), A (sharper response) and B (slightly softer response).
For the first month or so you’re tempted to adjust for the riding environment, using A for ballistic back lane blasts and B around town, but after a while you stop bothering. ‘The modes get pointless,’ says Steve, who’s done the lion’s share of the Tracer mileage. ‘A is too snatchy for towns and roundabouts, B is too flat, and I ended up using Standard all the time as it’s just right. If you do like a different mode you’ll wish it didn’t default back to standard when you turn the engine off.’ The only place modes offer a distinct benefit is on a motorway. The Yamaha is super smooth cruising on a neutral throttle at 70mph or 90mph, but sit with the 80-85mph traffic flow and speed creeps up and down. B is the cure.
» Controls and comfort
COMPARED WITH THE naked MT-09 the Tracer sits you more upright, and has a two-height seat – 845 or 860mm. Adjusting it means using the key to take off the pillion seat, then spending ages levering out a too-tight piece of rubber that obscures the release for the rider’s perch. Why this ill-fitting wedge of joyless rubber is required is anyone’s guess. Handlebars are 45mm wider on the Tracer, and can be adjusted forward 10mm, and the knee bend is less extreme for both rider and pillion. Comfort is very good… at least in terms of having relaxed, natural, all-day ergonomics.
Steve again: ‘The seats are longer and wider than on the unfaired MT-09 but unfortunately the standard seat is too hard for all-day rides. The accessory comfort item is much better.’ The display is borrowed from the XT1200Z. It’s an easy to fathom layout, with plenty of trip data and easy control from the left switchgear (nicked off an FJR1300). Pity there’s no range indicator, though. And the headlight flasher is in the wrong place too – it’s all too easy to find you are pressing the menu button (which only makes changes to the display data when the bike is at a standstill) to signal to other road users. There are three positions for the screen, adjusted by turning handwheels under the dash and a bit of yanking.
One of these wheels has come out during adjustment on a couple of occasions, and though the slender screen is OK it isn’t perfect – both Ben and Steve have slight issues with the wind blast, and at 6ft 2in I could do with something taller/wider for long high-speed treks. Chunky handguards do pretty much bugger-all in terms of protection. Mirrors and headlight are superb, and there are neat little adjusters to quickly adjust headlight throw to suit load or your desire to dazzle oncoming cars. Pillions get well-placed handles. Sidestand jostles with the footpeg.
THERE’S A CENTRESTAND, making lubing the chain a doddle and also allowing easy cleaning. And any assistance in removing the muck is welcome, as the MT is not easy to make shiny. ‘Hardest bike to clean I’ve ever owned,’ claims Steve. ‘Takes twice as long as other bikes to get looking good. Watermarks behind the screen
every time so I have to take it off to clean it. And the grill between the headlights is a total pain in the balls when it’s full of flies.’ There’s a 12v socket as standard, next to the display, and pannier mounts (for accessory luggage) are standard. The subframe is longer and stronger for extra payload, though it’s no full-on load-bearing tourer, as reader Geoff Pluck notes. ‘I assume a pay-off for the bike’s low weight is the carrying capacity. I’d like the option to load up panniers, add a top-box and disappear with my fiancée on the back, but it grossly exceeds tolerances in the handbook.’
» Finish IT
COSTS JUST £8285 on the road, so it would be fair to accept some corner-cutting on the MT. Yamaha clearly haven’t scrimped with the motor, chassis or standard-fit widgets, so it must be in things like the finish. Except nothing stands out as not being up to scratch. Some of the cable routing is a tad ‘that’ll do’. The two-position seat never looks like it’s fitted correctly in the higher location, with a clumsy gap underneath, and there’s a Tracer decal that’s coming up at the edges due to the attentions of the cleaning cloth.
But that’s it. Go over it top to bottom and there’s little of the presentation or robustness that can realistically be criticised.
You’re forgiven if you’ve read all this and found it a tad gushing. It isn’t that we’re biased, governed by advertisers or are jumping on the bandwagon. It’s simply that, no matter how hard you poke and prod, the Yamaha is a ruddy good device. For little over eight grand it’s flippin’ stupendous. You can chunter about the headlight switch, kick up a small fuss about the screen or moan about a decal with curled-up edges. But we’re talking tiny flaws, all rapidly forgotten when you crack on and ride. Last word to Steve, who’s spent the most time with our Tracer. ‘It’s such fun – light, energetic, easy to use in all situations. It’s smooth, handles brilliantly, has character from the torquey triple. And it’s endlessly capable, on any road, solo or two up… There hasn’t been a ride where I wished I was on something else. I’m seriously thinking about buying one with my own money, and I have never felt so compelled by a test bike. The Tracer really is that good.’