[I wrote this article back in February 2019, when Judy and I were making our way back north after riding down to the ‘Burt Munro Festival of Motorcycling’ at Invercargill, on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. We were loaned the Tracer 900 by Yamaha NZ. In the article, I talk about the three cylinder motor.)
We’ve just reached Fairlie, on our way back up north to the ferry at Picton, and have just rolled past the 2000 km mark after what should be the longest day’s ride.
We left Manapouri on the edge of the Fjordland in the SW of South Island around 9am this morning and rolled into Fairlie which is just beyond Lake Tekapo after 6pm. The photo is of Lake Pukaki, and Mount Cook is in the background. And yes, it really IS that blue.
Tomorrow we follow the ‘Inland Scenic Route’ that we took last Tuesday, but in the opposite direction before turning left and heading over Arthur’s Pass towards Greymouth. But before reaching the coast we turn back inland and finish up at Reefton where we have booked a room in an old nurses’ home – that should be interesting!
Anyway, it seems like a good time to put some thoughts together on the Yamaha Tracer 900 that I’ve been riding for the past ten days.
And I’ll focus on the motor. I probably won’t be telling anyone anything they don’t already know by telling you that the bike’s powered by the three-cylinder engine that first appeared in 2014 in the naked MT-09.
Years ago, I wrote online about the ‘platform’ concept, where the same basic machine is modified to perform different roles, thereby saving heaps of cash for the manufacturer.
I wondered why so few bikes were built using this concept, and pointed to the TDM / TRX machines which shared an 850 twin cylinder engine.
Of course, Honda (almost) immediately revealed their NC700 range (which morphed into the 750) which all shared the same engine and frame but with different ‘bolt-on’ bits. Not long after, they repeated the exercise with the smaller 500 engine.
And in fact, it didn’t take long for Yamaha to do the same. The MT-09 was launched with the much-publicised ‘crossplane’ crank, and the motor can now be found in not just the Tracer 900 but also the XSR900 retro.
It’s actually 53 cc’s short of the full 900, weighing in at 847cc. It’s liquid-cooled and fuel-injected, and spins up to produce a peak of 85kW / 115PS.
Even with the standard exhaust, opening the throttle produces a wonderful growl from the exhaust and a ‘jet engine spooling-up whine’ from the top end.
It’s an aural treat.
But sound’s not everything. It’s how the motor delivers in the practical riding situation, which in New Zealand’s South Island often consists of twisty, undulating roads. And that means a fair amount of accelerating and decelerating between corners.
Though the peak power figure is impressive enough, there’s a limit to how much acceleration you can use with a passenger on the pillion, particularly if you want to keep them there.
So it’s the 88Nm of torque that really does it for me. But even then it’s less to do with the number and far more to do with the shape of the torque curve.
From the saddle, it feels flat.
Let’s explain. Flat is good. You simply open the throttle, and the bike accelerates, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the rev range. And that makes the motor wonderfully flexible. It’ll pull hard from under 3000 rpm or spin upwards of 11,000 rpm. There’s no ‘winding up’ needed to get into a ‘power band’.
It’s a joy to use the torque to pull round corners and it’ll deliver plenty of acceleration to overtake too. The roads also carry a fair number of campers and tour buses moving at somewhat below the speed limit. Two-up, the bike is never short of get-up and go.
But it’s useful to have revs too. Whilst gear selection is not totally redundant, the combination of flexibility AND revs means you can be caught in the ‘wrong’ gear and the engine will still pull you out of trouble.
I’ve already mentioned the bike’s enthusiastic acceleration but the triple engine also offers plenty of engine braking when you roll the rubber grip the other way.
But there is one thorn in all the roses – there is an annoying stumble between 3500 and 4500 rpm, which I suspect is right in the middle of the noise test regime. Trying higher octane fuel didn’t cure it but it was a bit distracting on slower downhill corners where the machine’s neither on a closed nor an open throttle. I simply rode around the problem by keeping the throttle slightly open, and controlling the speed via the rear brake instead.
So… to sum up. Yes, you can get faster bikes. Yes, you can get machines that will leave the rear tyre’s rubber on the road surface.
But personally, the performance is just about perfect for my two-up requirements.
And I also think that for most riders who are being honest about their riding rather than being seduced by a spec sheet, that motor would tick just about every box.