MODIFED (for) TOURING - 09
I have long lamented the passing of the Yamaha XJ900. In its earlier form (late 1980s until 1990s) it gained much admiration from road-testers and owners alike; and is still owned and loved by those who know a good old thing when they ride it. The replacement model, the Diversion, became an equally popular bike: at one point being the bike-of-choice for many Ulysses Club members. But it was dropped from the model range, leaving a big hole in the market for Yamaha. When I did my first sports-tourer comparison in 2007, Honda had its VFR800, Ducati had its ST3, Triumph had its Sprint ST, Suzuki had its Bandit (admittedly with a small fairing rather than full fairing), and Yamaha had … nothing! They gave me the FZ6 and the TDM900 to try, but neither of those were true competitors. The FZ6 was completely out-classed by the bigger-engined competition, and the TDM (which many people do use as a sports-tourer) was more dual-purpose in its style. Yamaha were pointing prospective buyers to the FJR1300, but that was in an entirely different market, in terms of price anyway. You could buy two Suzuki Bandits for what you’d pay for the FJR. Finally though, Yamaha realised that they should have a model to fill the role of sports-tourer in this segment of the market. So they had a look around the showroom, saw the MT-09, which had become a very popular bike, and said, “That’ll do – we’ll turn that into a sports-tourer.” Nice idea, perhaps, but taking a Motard-inspired naked-bike and turning it into a touring machine was going to take a bit of effort. Maybe they always had this in mind though, as rumours began circulating about an “FJ900” not that long after the MT hit our shores. Those rumours said that it would be a touring version of the MT. Well, it finally came to be, overseas, late in 2014: although on the Australian market it’s called the MT-09 Tracer. Why “Tracer”? Why not give it the old touring-bike moniker of FJ as they did overseas? I don’t know. Anyway, as far as I can tell, the FJ-09 overseas and the local Tracer are the same. So, what did they do to create the Modified for Touring version of this popular fun bike? Well, firstly, Yamaha thought that if you went touring you might like to take someone with you, so they made the bike a lot better for pillions. They extended the rear sub-frame by about 130mm and fitted a longer seat, making more room for pillions and also for the rider. They also made it a lot better for the rider. They lowered the foot-pegs – by a lot! And they re-positioned the bars. The intention of all this was to create a much more relaxed riding-position. Fuel-tank capacity went from 14 litres to a more sensible 18 litres. And of course they fitted a fairing: not a full sports-type fairing but a kind of half-fairing; which I happen to think is the most practical kind. (It keeps wind off but doesn’t trap engine heat around the rider). Also, as befits the role of touring-bike, they slapped on a set of panniers. ABS, which was optional on the MT, is standard on the Tracer, as is traction-control (don’t want to get into any unwanted slides and throw that pillion off the back!).
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Approaching the bike, it looks a lot bigger than the standard MT. The fairing and windscreen, twin headlights, big hand-guards, and even the longer rear-end, all contribute to making it look – and feel – a lot bigger than the standard MT. The fairing is actually pretty minimalist though. There looks to be more of it from off the bike: when sitting on it you really only see the tapered windscreen and a narrow section around the headlights. The bike looks very different with the fairing and dual lights: and I reckon it looks good! The family-resemblance to the FJR around the front helps with that, as well as giving a visual clue to where they intend this bike to fit in their line-up. The panniers (which had been removed from the test-bike) also add to the touring-bike look. The seat is about 30mm higher, but it feels a lot more than that. When sitting on the bike I could just flat-foot the ground with both feet: and I’m a lanky old bloke! I thought they might have increased the suspension-travel, making it sit higher, but apparently not: suspension travel is exactly the same as the standard model. Yamaha do say that they revised the internals though, to again make it more suited to its new role. The raised seat and much lowered foot-pegs have transformed the bike. On the standard MT-09, the position of the foot-pegs results in quite a sharp bend at the knees. In the test I commented that it was, “Probably not a good bike for old blokes with crook knees.” Well, what a contrast this is! The riding-position is great! It reminded me a bit of a BMW GS: sitting upright behind wide bars, with the legs reaching down to low-set foot-pegs. My thighs were angled downwards, rather than being horizontal (or even sloping upwards, as they do on a cruiser for example). It feels easy and very roomy. Having your legs angled down also places your back in a better position: it tends to tilt the pelvis forward, reducing the tendency to slouch. So this would be a great bike for old blokes with crook knees! Getting back to the seat, that was one of my criticisms of the standard model – it was uncomfortably hard. Yamaha realised this, and had a “comfort seat” as an option – a $400 option! The seat on the Tracer is different to the naked model of course, but the “comfort seat” is still an option. A hard seat might be forgivable on the motard-inspired standard model, but on a bike intended for touring you’d think they’d fit the most comfortable seat they had, not leave it as a $400 option! You get hand-guards too, as I’ve mentioned. They look like something you’d see on a dual-purpose bike, but I suppose they’re intended to keep the wind off your mits. They work in doing that anyway. The instruments have been re-designed too, again, making it more touring in character than the naked’s instrument binnacle. I reckon it looks better, and it’s much easier to read. The multi-function display is controlled by a rocker-style switch on the left switch-block and it’s easy to flick between displays. There’s a lot of information there too – including ambient temperature, engine temperature, how long you’ve been riding, fuel consumption (both current and average), as well as the usual odo and trip meters. And probably more. There’s a Menu to set things up too; which I didn’t try. All the controls are light and easy to use; although I did find the blinker switch a bit awkward to get to: it seemed just a tad higher than I expected, and I was constantly prodding my thumb around trying to find it. Oh, and I had trouble getting at the side-stand too. You’d get used to where they were if you owned it, of course.
OUT ON THE ROAD
Hit the starter and the engine is fairly quiet – as most bikes are these days I suppose. Once underway – well, as soon as you let the clutch out really – there’s a noticeable whine from the gearbox. I don’t remember this on the standard MT, but it was loud enough to be a bit annoying; although it tended not to be as noticeable at higher speeds. The engine is unchanged from the original, so you get the same power and character that has endeared the original to so many happy owners. And you still get the three modes of engine-operation – from mild-mannered to wild-and-ballistic! It was set in Standard when I picked it up and I left it in that: I didn’t bother trying the different modes, because I did that last time. In Standard mode you get all the power you need, without going berserk. And if you do give it a handful of throttle it still goes very well! Put it in B Mode and it softens the response. Flick it up to A Mode and the engine turns into a slingshot! It’s quite a tractable engine, allowing you to pull away from low revs without complaining. In the lower gears you can pull away from around 2,000rpm, although it gets just a little harsh at those revs in the higher gears. From 3,000rpm you can nail the throttle in any gear. I didn’t mention this in the test of the naked, but I seem to recall noticing it. Like a few Yamahas I’ve ridden (with totally unrelated engines), there is a slight harsh-spot around 4,500rpm. It’s only slight, but enough to make you want to ride faster or slower than that speed, which on the Tracer happens to be about 110kph. It’s very smooth above or below that. One of the common criticisms of the standard bike was the low-speed fuelling; it was a bit snatchy. That wasn’t a criticism I had, but other testers, and especially owners, complained of this. Well, Yamaha have fixed this. I’ve still read criticisms of it, but I found it fine, and was able to do U-turns smoothly. It’s all in the programming of the ECU. For what it’s worth, as I flicked through the digital display I noticed the fuel-consumption average showing 5.9 L/100km, which equates to about 17 km/litre. That would include city riding, idling in the driveway and being fanged by people on road-tests, so I guess that's pretty good. The gearing is, like all mechanical components, exactly the same as the standard bike. In that report on that I said, “The gearing is perhaps aimed more at blasting around the ‘burbs and back-roads than it is for interstate cruising.” Top gear runs at 25 kph per 1,000rpm, so at 100kph it’s doing 4,000rpm, with 120kph nudging 5,000rpm. Now, as I said in the original report, the bike is fine at that, but as I also said, “It just doesn’t have that ‘next stop is across the border’ feel.” And I felt the same with this one: it will cruise easily at any highway speed, but the revs are a bit high for it to be what I would consider totally relaxing. But that’s probably just me; I prefer a more long-legged loping-along feel to cruising. And 4,000 revs at 110kph is really not high revs – especially on this bike. The gear-change was good. I didn’t find it “clunky” as I did on the previous one. Clutch-less up-changes were smooth and easy. One slight criticism I had with the original (although it was a characteristic rather than a fault), was its very responsive handling. It wasn’t ever flighty or unstable, but it turned in very quickly – that motard heritage coming to the fore again. Well, this was another thing that Yamaha “fixed” – or more correctly, changed to suit its new role. And, like the riding-position, boy, did they make a difference! The handling is great. Great for its purpose, and for the way an old bloke rides anyway. It’d be slower to flip-flop through tight twisties, but for the way it’s going to be ridden it’s perfect. It turns in easily and accurately, holding its line perfectly, while still allowing you to change your line if you need to. I’ve read reports of it wallowing a bit when you push it, but I didn’t ride it that hard; and I doubt that its typical owner will either. The wide bars and low-set pegs make it easy to control and, together with the neutral and accurate steering, gives you great confidence with the bike. It’s totally stable at all speeds, form walking-pace to highway blasting. On this test-ride I had more delays and detours with road-works than I think I’ve ever had on a test-ride; but it provided examples of that confidence and stability I mentioned. At one point I turned off a main road to head out onto some country roads. Not far along, with cars in front of me, there was a railway crossing. As we approached, the boom-gates came down. We waited and waited, but there was no train: workers had closed it to work on the road. I turned around (with no fuelling snatches!) and went back onto the main road. Not far along there was another access to where I wanted to go: a very narrow back-road. The railway crossing was open here, but not far past that I came to more road-works. This involved a temporary one-way side-track dug into the roadside and covered with rocks about the size of a cricket-ball. I felt a bit tentative as I crept onto it, but the Tracer handled it with ease. Later there was another section of dug-up road, with loose dirt and ruts and bumps, but again it was no trouble for the Tracer. I could’ve stood up (it’s easy to ride standing up), but didn’t bother. The only “negative” comment I’ll make is that, due to the tall nature of the bike, it feels like it has a high centre-of-gravity. It’s not really top-heavy, but you notice the effect of this compared to a more sports-type bike. In the test of the standard MT, I mentioned the ride, which I said was quite firm. I had the same criticism of this one. As I said in the previous report, a lot of the harsh-riding can be attributed to the hard seat, but I still felt the ride lacked compliance. I even got bounced off the seat on highway bumps. Now, I must say that this is at odds with comments from other road-tests, and even owners, who considered the suspension on the standard one too soft. Maybe it’s just me preferring a more plush ride, but in any case, I just call ‘em as I find ‘em: and for me, the ride was harsh and unpleasant. The front forks and rear monoshock are both adjustable for preload and rebound, so there is some room for tuning to suit your own preference. And of course, if you ditched the standard seat for the “Comfort” job that would improve things too. It’s funny though, while complaining about the hard seat and firm ride around town and even on the highway, when I got onto those country roads everything got better. The road I cruised along had a good surface, so that helped, but even though I’d been riding for a while, the seat wasn’t biting, and I felt quite comfortable. Cruising along in sunshine through the open countryside was very enjoyable, and I got that “I could just keep going all day” feeling you get on a good bike on an enjoyable road. The screen didn’t do a lot to reduce the wind at cruising speed. It would have to help, but I still felt the wind – just as much as I did when I rode my own bike (a naked with a small screen) along the same highway in the same direction going home. The hand-guards did work though, and deflected some of the cold air (it was a cold day) off my hands. The brakes are great! They’re very strong and require just light pressure to bring the bike to a stop. And of course if you do get a bit ham-fisted and squeeze them too hard, you have the security of ABS to make sure it all stays upright. So there it is – Yamaha’s touring-version of the big-fun naked. It’s a very good bike! I especially like the riding-position, which would even suit me better than my own bike. And of course there’s that power too: mild or wild – just choose your setting! There are things I don’t like, but at least some of those could be “fixed” or adjusted. It might not be quite the replacement for the XJ900 we wanted, but it’s a good bike! SNAPSHOT Taking a Motard-inspired naked bike and turning it into a sports-tourer was a bit ambitious; and I reckon they didn’t quite pull it off. Think of it as a smaller and lighter FJR1300 and you’ll be disappointed. But think of it as a fun naked-bike that has grown a set of touring-clothes, and had some components changed accordingly, and you’ll love it. The riding-position works extremely well, and you get a great engine and superbly easy, capable handling. Give it a decent seat, and tweak the suspension for greater compliance, and I reckon you’d have a very good thing indeed!
Engine: 3-cylinder, 847cc. Power: 85kW at 10,000rpm. Torque: 87.5Nm at 8,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork 137mm travel. Rear: Monoshock, 130mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 18 litres.
Weight: 190kg (dry).
Seat height: 845mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 17 X 120, Rear: 17 X 180
Brakes: Front: Twin 298mm discs, Rear: Single 245mm disc.
Price: $14,999 (+ORC).
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