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*** SURVIVAL SKILLS in NZ *** Tracer 900 5000km & handback

[This is the third and final part of a series of article I wrote reviewing Yamaha’s Tracer 900, that was loaned to me by Yamaha NZ back in February 2019 for our riding tour visiting the Shiny Side Up venues right across both of New Zealand’s main islands. In just over four weeks, I covered 5000 km two-up with luggage and gave the bike a thorough work out on some very demanding roads. These are my impressions.]

In the first two parts of my review of Yamaha’s latest 900 Tracer model, based on over 5000 km riding the machine around the North and South islands of New Zealand, I focused on the engine and the chassis.

So what about all the other elements, the ones that can make a difference between a relaxing or a frustrating machine to ride?

Let’s start with ergonomics.

The bars are a bit wide and straight for my liking – slightly narrower and angled further back and downwards would be a much more natural position for me – but they do provide plenty of leverage and feather-light steering.

The straight bar angle does work when you’re standing on the pegs, but seeing as the only time that most of us will do this is riding over speed bumps, it does seem that it’s a compromise aimed at the genuine adventure rider rather than the tourer who is more likely to buy this bike and ride it  unmodified. As every long-distance overlander I’ve ever known modifies virtually everything before setting off, I’d prefer the bars fitted the road rider. Incidentally, the minimalistic looking bark busters keep a surprising amount of cold air and rain off the fingers!

The pegs are fairly low which makes it a spacious riding position, although as I mentioned last time, I did touch the toes of my boots down a few times when cornering enthusiastically. I was also pleased to find they were set rather more to the rear than I was expecting, more or less under the spine, which makes it easy to take some weight off your backside over bumps.

The rider’s part of the split seat is shaped very much like an old-style bicycle seat; narrow at the front, wide at the rear and rising up slightly at the back. Result? Just like the similarly-shaped seat on my 1992 GSX-R 750, it’s very comfortable. I only started wriggling around as I approached the range of the tank, which is around 300 km. To put that into context, my Honda Hornet 600 is a pain in the butt after 100 miles – barely half the distance.

The Tracer seat is also two-way adjustable, and somewhat to my surprise, switching positions is also really easy. It lifts the seat about two centimetres. I left it in the lower position, which gives a seat height of 850mm.

In common with most new bikes, the passenger accommodation is perched higher than the rider’s. I’ve never quite understood why, unless it’s to allow the rear wheel a bit more travel underneath.

Anyhow, Judy initially found it a little difficult to get on and off without me finding a handy kerb to use as a mounting block, but by the end of the trip had perfected her technique. Someone without a titanium knee wouldn’t likely find it an issue at all.

The passenger grab rails are big but a bit oddly-shaped for a handhold. The factory side cases are well-made, and lock securely into the built-in supports that come with the luggage kit.

Put that all together, and although at 175cm height, with an inside leg measurement of around 90cm, I found that I couldn’t quite get both feet flat on the floor, it hardly made for a threateningly high machine. It was easy to find a firm footing and get balanced for Judy to climb on and off.

Ahead of the rider there’s an adjustable screen, that can be slid up and down with one hand. That means you can move it whilst riding but is that such a great idea? There’s a bit of helmet-rattling turbulence but it does keep a surprising amount of wind off.

With the exception of the headlight dip switch, the switch gear is easy to use and hasn’t (yet) succumbed to the new fad of moving the horn button to where the indicator should be. The dip is functional but a bit fiddly because it also has the headlight flasher built into it. The flasher button’s old location is now used to change power modes. There’s also a rocker button on the left cluster to cycle through the menus on the dash.

The mirrors are widely-spaced and big enough to be reasonably effective and the machine is fitted with LEDs for the headlights – brilliantly effective – tail lights and brake lights, but for some reason not the indicators.

The clutch is reasonably light and very progressive – much better than my XJ6 – and the brakes produce plenty of stopping power. I only had to use them hard once and it didn’t trigger the ABS.

Fuelled up wet weight is a not-unreasonable 214 kg. As the bike carries its weight fairly low, helped by the low-slung engine and underbody exhaust, this makes for a highly manageable machine – even two-up and fully loaded, stopping slightly off balance doesn’t result in the bike feeling like it’s about to instantly topple sideways.

The fuel tank capacity of 18 litres is big enough for on-road use, and touring two-up at NZ-legal speeds that’s sufficient for between 280 and 300km (175 to 185 miles) with a bit to go. 

However, judging refuelling stops isn’t helped by the fuel gauge. Initially, I thought it was faulty, but bizarrely, it seems to be a ‘feature’.

The ‘steps’ as the blobs count down aren’t progressive and the tank shows full for about 200km. Then the display abruptly drops to halfway (at which point the tank is actually two-thirds empty) and continues to plummet to E(mpty), at which point the fuel trip comes on.

It’s all a bit disconcerting and I never really got used to it, and if Yamaha can’t manage to program the display to actually mirror what’s left in the tank, what would be of far more use is a ‘range to empty’ display on the dash. Unfortunately, you only get is a choice of average or instantaneous fuel consumption.

I got so alarmed by the false fuel readings on the long runs between towns that after just a day or two I went back to the old-fashioned approach of setting one of the trips to zero every time I filled the tank, then using that to estimate range to empty. It was far safer than assuming there was almost half a tank left when in fact well under a third remained. 

The average consumption held steady at 21km per litre, which works out at around just under 50 mpg. Although we were pulling two people and full panniers, I was a little disappointed with that. I suspect aerodynamics have something to do with it – I like to pull the clutch in to see how a bike coasts downhill, and it needed to be a surprisingly steep hill if the bike wasn’t to slow down.

Talking of the display, I found it easy to read. By contrast, the updated dash on the GT model being ridden by Dave Moss was more comprehensive but cramped and far less intelligible. The GT also comes with cruise control, heated grips and a remote preload twiddler for the inaccessible rear shock.

Suspension wise, the base model bike I was riding has adjustable preload and rebound adjustment up front, (although it felt more like combined compression and rebound to me). As I collected it, it was dialled in at about the midpoint. The rear shock was similarly on the middle step of its seven-way preload adjustment and is also rebound adjustable.

If I’m really picky I’d say the bike is a bit soft for hard riding, but the average rider will enjoy the comfort whilst sports bike riders are bouncing over the potholes. Having said that, despite some fairly serious lean angles on less than perfect surfaces, the plushness of the suspension never compromised the bike in corners despite what I’d read elsewhere. My guess is that those test riders were trying to brake into corners and creating the wallows. Corner properly on a positive throttle and the bike is stable and steers just fine.

The bike looks well-built despite the impressive price point for the basic machine. It comes with two-stage traction control, ABS and three power modes as standard, although I left everything on the base settings. There’s also a slipper clutch, for what that’s worth.

It’s good to see a centre stand as basic equipment rather than a pricy add-on, although fully-loaded it does touch down a bit too easily for my liking.

To sum up, I found the bike a delight to ride solo or with a passenger. Having ridden it on just about every sort of road from tight and twisting switchbacks via motorways to urban traffic, it handled everything I could throw at it. And that motor…

…is just awesome.

It really is a highly versatile machine, a seriously good bike at a great price, and as I said previously, after rather more than 5000 kilometres in the saddle, I was genuinely sad to hand it back.

I’m incredibly grateful to Yamaha Motor New Zealand for the loan of the machine to me as part of the Shiny Side Up team. Yamaha deserve to sell a lot of these bikes.

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