Five Years with the Tracer

It’s difficult to believe it’s been five years for me with the Yamaha Tracer. I only really realised when I had to get the shahken done on it. The shahken is Japan’s road suitability test (like an MOT in the UK), done after the third year of a vehicle being on the road, and then every two years after that, so yes, it passed its second with flying colours.

So how has it been? Overall, it’s been excellent as a bike. However, those five years have been a bit odd to be honest – I had a shoulder issue in the first half of 2019 which reduced my riding ability for about six months, and of course COVID, even here in Japan, has limited things in some ways too, and yet despite all that, the bike has been great fun to ride and own.

Coast to Coast 2017 - pit stop in the rain in the mountains
Up in the mountains and snow.

To be specific, my model is a 2016 model MT-09 Tracer in a nice shade of red. The model line then went on to become a Tracer 900 and then a Tracer 9. It also gained a GT model, and a smaller sibling in the Tracer 700 in some countries, though sadly not here in Japan.

I think it ended up this way because when it launched, it was trading a little on the MT-09 name and that association of design attitude and the engine, whereas it quickly evolved into its own thing as a well received midsize sports tourer in its own right, distinct from the edgier (‘dark side of Japan’) themed original model. Good for it.

So let’s talk about that engine. No matter how many times I go out on this bike, that engine is pure fun every time. On a run to the shops, around town, on the expressway, deep into mountain touge, it’s just a pleasure from beginning to end. That CP3 triple has that wonderful balance of grunty torque and enough at the top end to make a 6th gear roll on overtake on an expressway a breeze. No complaints – it’s great.

I should probably mention the fueling. Of the three modes, I mainly stay in the standard (‘STD’ – stop smirking at the back) mode though I have ventured into the softer ‘B’ mode for some heavy rain and bad road condition times to just smooth things out – also when I first started carrying a passenger. I have used the ‘A’ mode for some more decisive riding on expressways, but it’s very ‘immediate’ which is what the early MT-09 fuelling was sopmewhat known for. You can certainly tell the difference between the modes, but honestly you could also spend your whole life in standard and not really be too fussed.

Coast to Coast 2017 - great views of Fujisan

As is obvious, I really like the bike. However, in interest of balance and fairness. I feel like I should point out some quirks:

Firstly, changing the coolant. Sure, it’s not difficult, but why so many washers and small plastic fittings on the two mounting bolts of the tank? I suspect this is a result of the many variants of the platform (MT-09, XSR900, Tracer etc.) and trying make sure it could fit each.

Secondly, I like to remove the chain guard when I’m cleaning the chain or adjusting the tension – I don’t need to, but it makes it easier. It’s held on with two bolts and a fastener. The bolts are easy to remove, but that fastener is a true pain, and I don’t see what the benefit of the design is against a bolt, or perhaps they never intended me to remove it for the work I’m doing.

On the subject of the chain, that tension – 5 -15mm deflection – still feels very tight, like a guitar string to me, but hey, that’s the spec, so that’s what I do. It gets a chuckle from the mechanics at the shop too.

I think previously I’d mentioned initial issues with the mirrors, just not being high or wide enough enough for my chunkiness, and also their propensity in the first year to start spinning loose, which whilst novel, isn’t something I want to happen when changing lanes on the expressway. The positioning I addressed with some 30mm risers, which helped enormously. The spinning I addressed by simply tightening them up a bit more, and since I put the risers in, I haven’t had the problem again.

I haven’t done much in the way of mods to be honest. I fitted my own frame sliders, which wasn’t too difficult, and then about 18 months ago I fitted the mount for my Givi top box, which whilst it took some time, wasn’t difficult really and has proven very sturdy – and incredibly useful, and made multi-day tours much easier to do than having my dry-bag strapped to the pillion seat, and it means I can have a pillion and some storage, which has proven useful on many occasions.

As for future mods, the only thing I have planned is LED indicators since the ones on there just look oddly rounded compared with the rest of the styling, and potentially some additional front lighting. Up in the mountains at night, the very urban street oriented headlights don’t give much light into tight corners. It’s not really the bike’s fault, it’s just a reflection of what it was intended for.

That’s all matter of fact though; let’s talk about what I’ve been doing with it. Firstly, everything I’d been doing with previous bikes! I also took it on multiple Twistybutts, both the coast to coast and Kantou loop versions. It’s been great on those, where the torque pushes easily through some of the most insane goat track inclines and twists Touge Express has on his list.

Some of that comes from having that Aux/USB power point to power my smartphone navi RAM mounted to the handlebars – meaning that I’m not stopping to dig out my paper map, or get my phone out of my pocket, with my old one being.

That reminds me of a feature I didn’t value initially on the bike – the riding time on the dash display. Time vanishes on a good ride, and sometimes it’s good to have a reminder of the last time you stopped and turned the engine off. It can often be a lot longer than you think, and reminds you that you might be more fatigued than you thought.

As you can probably tell, it’s been a mostly positive five years. In fact the only mechanical issue I’ve had was as weird ECU/throttle issue where the bike wouldn’t start again after it’d been running for a while, and ultimately cut out at low RPMs after a bit of time on the road. I took it in to the dealer who had it all working again within about 30mins and said they’d seen similar issues with someMT-09s and MT-07s which share the same throttle assembly, so not a sticking throttle as such, but somehow the throttle wasn’t sending correct data back to the ECU which got more incorrect the longer the ride (…).

So there we are, five very happy years with the Tracer and I suspect quite a few more to come!