Cape Town – Released at the same time last week as the R1 and R1M superbikes, the MT-09 Tracer shows an altogether different side of Yamaha’s corporate culture.
It’s a fresh take on the MT series of urban warriors – almost as if somebody at Shizuoka had decided that the distinctly attitudinous ’09 was a bit too edgy.
So they gave it some minimalist body panels, a bigger tank, a small but effective screen, upgraded the suspension and beefed-up the rear sub-frame so it could handle a passenger and (optional) hard luggage without breaking in the middle - and called it a ‘dynamic tourer’.
The result is a remarkably versatile sports-tourer, and far more of an all-rounder than its hooligan-tool progenitor. Yamaha’s hand-outs insist that the engine is unchanged, with the same three drive selectable-on-the-fly modes - the default STD mode, A for full-tilt boogie and B for soft power delivery on less-than-trustworthy surfaces – the same fly-by-wire throttle and identical outputs of 84.6kW at 10 000 revs and 87.5Nm at 8500rpm.
But the power delivery feels subtly different, more so than can be accounted for by the 22kg difference in kerb weight. This is no more than a seat-of-the-pants observation, but after riding them back-to-back at the launch, the power delivery of the Tracer seems more linear, its throttle response less edgy – which is interesting as the only criticisms I have heard or read of the earlier model concerned its limited range and hair-trigger twistgrip.
The Tracer’s standard traction control system is switchable, its ABS is not.
The new MT’s ergonomics are set up for the long haul, with the added ability to accommodate a wide range of rider sizes. The tapered aluminium handlebar is higher than that of the ’09, 45mm wider and its risers can be reversed to move it 10mm forwards or back.
There are also Gilles Tooling risers available from your Yamaha dealer to offer an additional 30mm of height and 24m of reach adjustment. The seat is wider and flatter, with an extra 30mm of padding, and seat height is adjustable from 845 - 860mm – or you can get a lowering kit from Yamaha – a more deeply dished seat and a special rear suspension linkage – that’ll drop it to 815mm.
The liquid-crystal instrument pod is a simplified version of the one on the Super Tenere, with a bar-graph rev counter, digital speedometer and displays for time, gear position, distance, range and average fuel consumption, as well as coolant and air intake temperature.
There’s even a 12-volt outlet on the left of the instrument pod, with a mounting point (and wiring provision) for another on the right, and the screen is manually adjustable through three positions and 30mm by simply loosening a knob on either side and moving it by hand, as are the full-LED headlights.
ON THE ROAD
The first thing you notice is that, as with most Yamaha’s, the clutch has very little feel while the vertically stacked gearbox has, if anything, too much. Once you get used to that, however, you very quickly feel at home.
The switchgear is unusually but logically laid out and quickly becomes intuitive, the steering - thanks to the wider ‘bars - is quick and positive, while the surprisingly effective screen makes express cruising on the open road easy and comfortable; being frame-mounted, it also adds a welcome degree of stability in blustery conditions and at seriously naughty speeds.
Most of the three-hour launch ride, however, was on the mountain passes around Cape Town, where the Tracer’s long-travel suspension and narrow chassis endowed it with seemingly limitless ground clearance, while its superb mid-range torque (as always, the defining characteristic of a three-cylinder engine) catapulted it from one corner to the next like the hooligan tool it’s derived from.
The next morning however, we timed it all wrong and got caught in the worst of the city’s notorious traffic congestion, where the Tracer proved an even better commuter than the ’09, thanks to its more upright seating position, stability at low speeds and predictable power delivery, making easy to grab the gaps before the cagers even knew they were there.
Far from being a compromise between touring comfort and urban agility, the R124 950 Tracer gives nothing away; it’s everything the earlier MT-09 is, and a whole lot more.
Yamaha MT-09 Tracer
Engine: 849cc liquid-cooled three.
Bore x stroke: 78 x 59.1mm.
Compression ratio: 11.5:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 84.6kW at 10 000rpm.
Torque: 87.5Nm at 8500rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with three 41mm Mikuni throttle bodies, ride-by-wire throttle control and three drive modes.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 41mm inverted cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Progressive linkage with gas-charged monoshock adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: Dual 298mm discs with four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 245mm disc with single-piston floating calliper and ABS.