Review: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer

Review: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer
 

The MT-09 Tracer is the latest Yamaha to reach South African shores, and it’s an important one for the Japanese manufacturer. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s a not entirely unexpected development of last year’s “naked” MT-09, but in fact it is so much more of a completed bike — a great deal more.

Let’s take a quick look in the rear-view mirror at when the MT-09 arrived. Although on the face of it the bike was nothing to get too excited about, this was in many ways a significant move by Yamaha. Times had been lean for fans of the brand that had given rise to such class-leading machinery as the R1 and R6, the Super Ténéré adventure bike and an endless line of innovative, championship-winning dirt bikes.

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This is, after all, the factory that has helped Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo dominate much of the past decade of MotoGP racing, a factory that is renowned for developing new technology and trickling it down to the street. The crossplane crank of its current R1, for example, can trace its ancestry to MotoGP. So, although only a fairly basic naked bike designed to be practical during the week and a bit of fun on the weekend, the MT-09 arrived in a somewhat unexpected form.

It is powered by an 847cc in-line three-cylinder unit, an engine format that until recently had been pursued only by the Brits over at Triumph and, more recently, the Italians at MV Agusta. Yamaha isn’t a complete novice with the triple; between 1976 and 1981, it produced the XS750/850, both engines sporting a three- cylinder motor. It was a moderately successful model, but never led to any further serious engagement with the setup. Then came the MT-09, which, although a decent enough bike, was really only notable for its engine.

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It featured in 2014’s Pirelli South African Bike of the Year and garnered a couple of top-three votes from the 14 judges, but otherwise went largely unnoticed. The engine, although entertainingly grunty, suffered from slightly snatchy fuelling, the suspension was a touch on the soft and soggy side, and the looks were neither here nor there. Close, but no cigar. Worthy, but not quite good enough to justify all the pre-launch hype. The Tracer has been a lot less shouty about its arrival in South Africa, sneaking into the market more like a thief in the night than the belle of the ball. Is it worried that it too might prove to be something of a disappointment?

It needn’t worry: if ever a bike was set up to surprise and delight, this is it. There might be nothing much more than an extra bit of (good-looking) fairing and a bigger fuel tank, but somehow these minor additions — and some even tinier tweaks in other areas — have conspired to produce a quite superb all-rounder. The Tracer is quite probably the best sport-tourer on the market today. Include its more than competitive price of R125 000, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it towers over what is an eclectic mix of class contenders. The engine is now perfectly civilised, with a nigh-on perfect throttle response in all conditions; the three different riding modes encompass an emasculated 95hp B mode (for rain), a standard 115hp mode and a sportier A mode that doesn’t increase power but does liven up the immediacy of the engine’s response to any throttle input.

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The power delivery is punchy in the middle of the gear range, and more than lively at the top end, to have you regularly hunting for the 11 500rpm red line. The brakes feature radial callipers and provide not only more than enough power, but plenty of feel through the front stoppers too. ABS is standard, as you’d expect, and won’t intrude on your sport riding if you stay off the back brake. Suspension is firmer on the Tracer, perhaps to deal with the bit of extra weight it’s carrying; but whatever the reason, it is a welcome development. Now the bike is more controlled — and significantly more encouraging when you start attacking your favourite twisties. So the MT-09 Tracer has the sports part of the sport-touring equation nailed.

But the touring side is also a success story. The riding position is roomy (with seat height adjustment) and there’s an adjustable screen that does a good job of deflecting most of the wind from riders who are of average height. Thoughtful additions such as an auxiliary power socket (for navigation units, heated clothing and so on), hand guards, proper pillion grab handles, mirrors that work even at speed and a decently specced on-board computer all combine to make an already good bike great. It has been a while since my jaded journalist’s preconceptions have been so rudely — but enjoyably — shattered. By all rights the Tracer, given its rather ordinary origins, shouldn’t be quite this good.

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But it is, it really is. If you want a bike that can be all things to all people, then you can’t afford to overlook this model — a product that announces Yamaha is very much back on form. And at this price, well, I think we have an early contender for 2015’s Pirelli Bike of the Year.

The Facts: 2015 Yamaha MT-09 Tracer
Engine: 847cc in-line 3
Power: 86Kw at 10 000rpm
Torque: 87Nm at 8 500rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed
Weight: 210kg (wet)
Fuel Tank: 18 L
Price: R125 000
Rating: ★★★★★

Mat Durrans