WITHOUT A TRACE: The Yamaha FJ-09 Tracer
Yamaha is on a roll, having debuted a slew of great bikes in the past two years. There’s the entry-level YZF-R3, the FZ-07 standard bike, the rip-roaring FZ-09 naked sportbike, Star Bolt cruiser, groundbreaking YZF-R1 and FZ-10. Yamaha is aware of the market’s preference for sport-touring bikes, but the TDM900 has since ceased production. The midrange sport-touring market is full of accessible bikes and Yamaha just couldn’t ignore it.
Yamaha’s answer is the FJ-09 Tracer, based of course, on the popular FZ-09 (MT-09 in the Asian markets). All technologies were brought over, including ABS, traction control and ride-by-wire throttle modes called “D-Modes”. A partial fairing, windscreen, bigger fuel tank was also added to the package.
Twin LED headlights came along with the new fairing (they’re really bright!), while the instrument panel was taken straight off the Super Ténéré. Yamaha had also replaced the FZ-09’s single-piece seat with wider split seats on the Tracer for more comfort. A sport-touring bike wouldn’t be complete if it couldn’t haul luggage, so Yamaha strengthened the rear subframe and pre-installed the attachments for panniers. The Tracer also includes large, streamlined hand guards too keep the wind off the rider’s hands. Additionally, there is a much-welcomed centre-stand. The signature frame is retained, as is the rowdy inline-Triple engine.
The handlebars are mounted higher on a riser. The forks and shock on the Tracer have longer travel, resulting in a taller seat height than the naked FZ-09.
In terms of appearance, the Tracer’s multifaceted lines make for an ultra-modern and beautiful-looking bike, signalling its intentions clearly: the Tracer is more sport than touring, or adventure-touring, for that matter, so let’s be accurate to which bike you compare it to. Its immediate rivals are the BMW F 800 GT, Honda Interceptor, MV Agustas Stradale and Turismo Veloce, Triumph Tiger 800 XR series, and the upcoming Ducati Multistrada 950.
Pushing the bike around the porch revealed that it’s bereft of heft. It’s light! Lifting it onto the centre-stand is easy, even with a full tank of gas.
Gripping the handlebar the first time confirmed its higher position and how it splays your arms wide. The bike starts with a vroom and idles with the characteristic three-cylinder grind from the engine, although it’s quite soft.
The bike always resets the D-Mode setting to STD (standard) when you restart, so do pay attention if you had ridden it in the lower powered B-setting. The Tracer pulls away handily when you let out the clutch, the benefit of high torque. Yank the throttle further and the bike launches forward hard.
I had the opportunity of testing the bike on both straight and long expressways, and through twisty country roads.
The Tracer blasted down the highway with zero effort. It’s actually surprising as the specs say otherwise. It felt very close in terms of straight-line performance to those bigger European sport-tourers. It punches hard from down low in the rev range, then hang on tight as the needle swings past 5000 RPM, because it’s like the turbo just kicked in for an immense rush. The Tracer then growls all the way to 10000. There’s lots of torque everywhere in the rev range, so all that’s needed to pass other vehicles is a quick blip of the throttle.
You could choose to cruise around 120 km/h (75 mph) on the highway all the way. Or open up and charge ahead to your destination at (much) higher speeds. It’ll even run at 180 km/h (112 mph) happily all day.
What made that high-speed touring easy was the wind protection, which was impressive all the way to the bike’s top speed. The adjustable windscreen kept the chest area free of turbulence, while just enough air flowed over the top of your helmet. The fancy-looking handguards – I personally loved them for looking like a Gundam robot’s sword’s handguard – were very effective in keeping the wind from bashing your knuckles and lower arms too.
However, do remember to lean forward a little more when you ride faster to put more of your weight on the front wheel. It’s not a problem for taller riders, but for me at 167cm (5’ 6”), my weight is concentrated further to the back of the bike in a naturally upright position. Too much weight over the rear would have the bars going light and start to wiggle.
Onto the country roads, the Tracer’s lightweight, wide handlebars and slim waistline came together to demonstrate its complete package.
If the Tracer impressed in the dirt on road tyres, then it absolutely rocked on the tarmac.
Off the expressway, the old trunk road teemed with corners of every kind - short, long, constant radius, decreasing radius, positive camber, off camber. The Tracer dealt with all of them.
But it wasn’t so, initially. There’s only one thing I’d like to note.
It had seemed that the bike refused to turn in quickly over the first few sharp corners, plus a tendency to stand itself up. I later discovered that I was sitting a bit too far back on the seat. In addition to the long fuel tank, I had been putting too much weight on the rear tyre. The front, now being light, caused the bike to push wide. Sure enough, as soon as I moved forward, the Tracer steered beautifully, always eager to corner. So do keep this in mind when you ride your Tracer.
We’re happy to report that the throttle responds in a much linear fashion, in conjunction with how much throttle is operated. A huge improvement over the naked FZ-09. But that propensity to launch into the horizon still boils just beneath the skin. Try this: Leave it in sixth gear, let the speed drop to just below 60 km/h (40 mph) and open up. The Tracer will charge forward almost instantaneously and you’d be staring at huge numbers faster than it takes to read this sentence.
Shortcomings? I wished there’s a speedshifter. The transmission on the test bike didn’t like being shifted aggressively, and that allowed the engine to lose some revs before we could engage the next cog. But that’s only my fancy wish, and with being ultra-competitively priced, the Tracer is already as good as it is.
Engine Displacement Inline-Triple, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled 847 cc
Bore x Stroke 78.0 mm x 59.1 mm (3.07 in. x 2.33 in.)
Compression Ratio 11.5 : 1
Max Power 113 bhp (84.6 kW) @ 10000 RPM
Max Torque 87.5 Nm (64.5 ft. lb.) @ 8500 RPM
Fuel system Electronic fuel injection
Transmission 6-speed, constant mesh
Clutch Wet multi-plate assist clutch
Frame Diamond, aluminium alloy
Front suspension Upside down forks, 130 mm (5.1 in.) travel, adjustable for preload
Rake angle 24 degrees
Trail 100mm (3.94 in.)
Rear suspension Single Kayaba shock, 130 mm (5.1 in.) travel, adjustable for preload and rebound damping
Front brake Twin 298 mm discs, standard ABS
Rear brake Single 245 mm disc, standard ABS
Fuel tank capacity 18 litres (4.8 US gal.)
Seat height 845 - 860 mm(33.3 - 33.9 in.)
Wheelbase 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
Wet weight 210 kg (463 lb.) with full fuel tank and engine oil