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*** SURVIVAL SKILLS in NZ *** Tracer 900 4000 km update

[I wrote this article  back in February 2019 towards the end of our riding tour visiting the Shiny Side Up venues on New Zealand’s North Island. It’s the second of three about the Tracer 900 that was loaned to me by Yamaha NZ.]

As my time with the Yamaha Motors New Zealand Tracer 900 comes towards the end, it’s time to follow up my first report of this long term test.  In the first instalment, I talked almost exclusively about the motor. The Yamaha 900 triple is, in my opinion, simply a brilliant power unit.It reminds me very much of my old FZ750, combining more-than-adequate torque to haul two people and full-to-the-brim panniers around twisting rural roads, whilst having the power to overtake without fuss and render strong headwinds impotent. It really does make me wonder how anyone can think more than 115hp is needed for a go-anywhere, do-anything bike. But how does it handle? Today, that’s my focus.  Now, I should point out that I’m riding the standard Tracer 900, not the GT model which has a bunch of extras including a remote twiddler for the rear shock preload, something I’ll come onto in a moment. I did read somewhere that Yamaha were only bringing in the GT to New Zealand, but clearly that article was incorrect.

Up front, the base model forks have preload and rebound damping adjustment only, whilst the rear shock also has preload and rebound damping.  Solo, with the standard settings and a not-too-light rider in the saddle, the bike rides beautifully, with light responsive steering and decently controlled movement at both front and rear. But a bike like this is likely to spend its days loaded up, if not two-up at the same time, and as the suspension loosened up, things did start to get a bit too loose and bouncy at both ends particularly on big bumps. The big surprise has been limited ground clearance – it seems to have settled lower over the 4000 km I’ve been riding it. With a centre stand fitted, that is – rather alarmingly – the first part of the bike to hit the deck on either side. 

The footpegs are also quite low. That makes for a lovely relaxed riding position but has also resulted in a few toe-down moments. I’ve had to be careful to reposition my feet to avoid that problem when cornering enthusiastically. Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t simply add some preload to front and rear. There are a pair of answers. Firstly, Judy has a replacement knee and was initially finding climbing onto the back of the bike a bit tough, so I didn’t want to make it any higher. But at the same time as she perfected her mounting technique, the front and rear springs seemed to ‘bed in’ and both ends, but particularly the rear, of the machine settled. So I decided to add some preload. Without the GT model’s remote knob, it needs a C-spanner to do that. Guess what?  With the shock in the standard middle of seven position, I discovered I couldn’t actually get the C-spanner to hook onto the adjuster ring in a notch which allowed me to turn it. There simply wasn’t any clearance to do that. Not wishing to dismantle the rear of the bike, I had to let it be. It was a real frustration that the remote adjuster on the GT model didn’t make it to the base bike. Fortunately, both ends also have rebound damping. At least, the manual says rebound but to me it feels like combined compression and rebound. I added a bit of extra damping at the front and turned the rear up to near max. That stopped the big compressions and bottoming-out on  the mega-bumps, and I also wound the pace down a little on the bumpier roads.  But if this sounds critical, don’t jump to the conclusion that the suspension renders the bike useless for two-up travel.  Out of the box, it copes well enough and on smooth roads where the suspension’s not being pushed so hard, the bike handles like a dream, even two-up. The real surprise is how little work is necessary to roll the bike from a big lean angle one way to a big lean the other.  It feels almost as light to steer as my 600 Hornet, but without the twitchiness. It manages to pull off the trick of feeling hugely stable at the same time. Even loaded, there’s no hint of the wobbles that can come with a bike heavily loaded at the rear.  Nimble and stable at the same time – that’s quite a feat. Some of the credit belongs to the original fitment Dunlop Sportmax tyres. Experience has taught me that OE tyres are often one-offs, designed for that particular machine so I’d be a bit cautious in recommending them based on my experience, but they offer excellent grip in the dry, and no scary moments in the wet either. But that is at the expense of tread life. Although South Island roads are notorious as tyre shredders, they weren’t going to last much beyond 6000 km. They saw us around our tour of North Island but not very much further.  Brakes? Smooth, powerful and predictable, with switchable ABS. I didn’t fiddle with it, and simply left it alone. Nor have I triggered it, not even on the one occasion I had to hit the brakes hard and suddenly when a car turned across my path. The traction control is also untested.  So even without the GT logo and the extras, the basic bike is a pretty darn competent tourer. It gets a very definite thumbs-up from me, even with that shock preload issue.  In the final article, I’ll run over all the other bits and pieces. For me the Yamaha Tracer 900 ticks an awful lot of the boxes that are personally important. It’s a very, very competent machine and is truly rewarding to ride, too.

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