Copyright 2021, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
By Michael Gougis
Quick, light for its market segment, comfortable, and balanced, Yamaha’s Tracer 9 GT always has been on-target for the rider who really does want a 50-50 balance between speed and comfort in their motorcycle. It’s always been an excellent choice for a rider who wants one motorcycle that can perform a wide range of duties, with style but without pretense.
For 2021, Yamaha changed the recipe for the popular sport-tourer, adding functionality at the cost of slightly more weight. New suspension components, new rider aids, and a new cockpit make a proficient machine even more so. And if that sounds dull and pedestrian, it’s not. Not by a long shot.
Yamaha let a pack of motojournalists loose on the latest Tracer 9 GT on the back roads of Southern California for the day, and after several photo stops we managed to cover exactly 166.5 miles. By then, I had a pretty good idea of the good and the bad of this machine, and the list of the good absolutely dwarfs the list of the bad.
This model always has been based on Yamaha’s sweet Inline three-cylinder engine, and this year the Tracer gets the newest iteration of that powerplant. Displacement is up to 890cc, emissions are Euro5 compliant, and most of the internals have been redesigned. Of greatest significance are the increased crankshaft inertia and the slightly taller first and second gears. The fuel injection system has been redesigned, as has been the intake and exhaust.
An all-new aluminum frame showcases some of Yamaha’s mad Controlled Filling aluminum die-casting skills–some sections of the frame are as thin as 1.7mm. The swingarm is longer and is now mounted inside of the twin frame spars now increased rigidity.
Electronic upgrades abound. There is a new six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), part of a neural network that includes cornering-sensitive ABS and active KYB suspension front and rear. Clutchless up- and down-shifting are standard. A full complement of LED lighting now incorporates cornering lamps that illuminate the apex of a corner.
Smaller changes include a new radial master cylinder for the front brakes and a twin Thin-Film Transistor dash layout. New bodywork and new saddlebags are part of the upgrade.
Riding The Tracer 9
A wildfire forced us to alter our route, so we spent most of the time hustling through the roads behind the Angeles National Forest, through miles of scorched landscape and past at least one bemused-looking llama. We did get in a few miles of crowded urban streets and some moderately crowded freeway as well.
I took a moment to set the machine up to my liking before we got underway. I set the electronically active suspension to the softer A-2 mode, set the traction control suite (it also incorporates slide control and wheelie control) to the #1 (least intrusive) setting, and set the Drive mode to its most aggressive setting. I remembered that Yamaha had done a remarkable job with the mapping on its prior Tracer models and their predecessors, and banked on the company continuing its good work here. Pulling away, the clutch lever was light, and then I never used it again. Clutchless shifting is a godsend in traffic.
I found the riding position comfortable as the machine came from the factory. Remember, this model has adjustable footpegs, adjustable handlebars, adjustable seat and windscreen. The higher bars really don’t make moving around, road racer-style, in the cockpit all that comfortable. The machine felt like it wanted the rider to sit in one place and stay there.
Fortunately, once onto the back roads, the bike responded well to inputs from the bars and a bit of upper body lean. The chassis allowed for quick transitions and was reasonably stable mid-corner. The electronic suspension, set to the A-1 mode for the twisty bits, was still compliant but really helped minimize back-and-forth pitching on the forks and shock. I admire the job KYB’s done in adapting the technology to a moderately priced machine.
The new radial master cylinder provided better feel at the front brake lever, and there was plenty of braking power for anything this machine was likely to encounter.
Yamaha wanted this bike to build power in a more deliberate manner than previous versions of the Triple did. And I definitely noticed it. Combined with the slightly taller gearing, the bike revs more slowly on the bottom end of the rev range. Above 6,500 rpm, however, the Triple wakes up and sings all the way to the indicated 9,500 rpm redline.
Little things: The cruise control is simple, effective and intuitive, and I used it all the time. Yamaha has struck a real balance between sophistication and usability when it comes to its electronic rider aids. It’s very simple to toggle through the choices of the traction control suite, the drive modes, and the suspension modes. More granular settings on things like ABS mode require the rider to stop, which, really, I don’t mind–it’s a good idea for a rider to be at rest when dealing with small, detailed changes. The twin dashes are completely customizable and are more useful than you might think. The heated grips now offer 10 different settings–pure luxury.
Here’s my entire “bad” list: With more buttons on the left handlebar, I found it a little more difficult to locate the turn indicator switch. And while the wind deflectors on the handlebars definitely kept the breeze off my hands, I had a little reptile brain meltdown every time I reached for the brake lever and touched the deflector. I learned to brake with two fingers, thus avoiding the deflector and aforementioned microsecond of panic.
Yamaha had a solid hit with the Tracer 9, and the new model is an even better place to spend a long day in the cockpit. The combination of speed, handling, and comfort is the definition of the sport-touring concept, and the new electronics allow the bike to do more of what I wanted it to do with greater comfort and confidence. I feel another ride to Seattle coming on…
Suggested retail price is $14,899.