One thousand, four hundred, ninety-nine point nine miles. That’s the distance from Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, to my driveway in Southern California. My carefully mapped route was estimated at 1,500 miles, and I wanted that long of a stretch to put Yamaha’s updated sport-tourer, the 2019 Tracer 900 GT, to the test. So as I stared at the the newly fitted Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display, I cursed the tripmeter and rounding errors. Really? One-tenth. Fate would deny me an all-too-perfect 1,500-mile ride by one stinking 10th of a mile? I considered going around the block—but if I clicked that magic number, I’d possibly keep going. It was too tempting, that proud turn away from comfort and toward the horizon. Not for a 10th of a mile, but that I might not return to the driveway for another 499.9 miles. For the Tracer, that’s but a song.
When Motorcyclist Editor Chris Cantle suggested I ride the Tracer 900 GT back to Southern California from the model’s press introduction in Washington, I replied with a not-well-considered confirmation. Of course I should; a couple of days on the road would do me good. But when time came to pack the bags and research the route options, it was much farther than I had thought. The American West looks so short on the map. Better make it a several days on the bike, rather than a couple.
Straight down I-5 wouldn’t cut it. Yeah, 1,000 miles of tractor trailers and minivans? No thanks. Instead, I’d wind my way down toward California by shooting to the heart of Oregon and Crater Lake, then heading west again, to the coast, for a blast down Highway 1. Finally I would cut over to the dreaded I-5 for the final push home. Taken together, the route added up to a 1,500-mile ride that would test the sport-touring chops of the Tracer: three days living on the bike. A variety of temperatures. A solid mix of epic roads, and a long final slog of boredom. Any flaws would be revealed.
Day 1 started with a blast down the highway to Eugene, Oregon, with the sapphire blue water of Crater Lake on my mind. A couple of hours in the saddle before finding any worthwhile corners got me acquainted with the cruise control and adjustable windscreen. Activating the cruise with an easy-to-reach rocker switch illuminates a small lamp next to the bright and beautiful TFT instrument cluster. Speed modulation is smooth and doesn't wander too far from the selected speed, even on hills. Cruise control only works in fourth through sixth gears and at speeds from 31 to 100 mph.
Adjusting the windscreen is simple and straightforward with just a squeeze and slide up or down. Even at speed with the larger Yamaha Genuine Accessories screen, the adjuster slides smoothly. The stock screen affords my 5-foot-10 frame protection from the elements without turbulence, but the accessory screen takes it a step further, enveloping me in a protective vacuum bubble in the highest position.
The Tracer 900 GT replaces the the FJ-09 in Yamaha’s line, but it’s not a completely new motorcycle. It is, rather, a massive redesign of the already likable Yamaha FJ-09 paired with a rebadging, to match the naming convention for the rest of the world. More mature bodywork gives the Tracer 900 GT and the Tracer 900 a more solid look and feel. What it doesn’t change radically is the Yamaha’s excellent ergonomics. Reach to the handlebars is comfortable with a upright posture, while the footpeg position is under the rider in a location that allows for sporty handling while keeping plenty of legroom. The seat gets 5mm more foam than the FJ-09 with a shape that’s wide at the rear and narrow at the front.
After hours on the road, it becomes clear the Tracer 900 GT can chew through miles like Kobayashi through hot dogs. So effortlessly, in fact, the fuel range with the 4.8-gallon tank seems insufficient when the low-fuel warning illuminates after 175 miles. That’s a totally acceptable range for sporty tourers, but time and distance fly on the Tracer.
Once at Crater Lake, the Tracer’s suspension was put to the test. Outright handling would have to wait, as the speed limits were low, park ranger presence was high, and fines would be steep. But cycles of freezing and thawing have made a mess of the ring roads around the lake. A new 41mm inverted fork features full adjustment of compression, rebound, and preload, and is sprung well, even through the rougher patches of tarmac on the eastern side of Crater Lake. A 60mm-longer swingarm is matched to a new shock that has rebound and preload adjustment. No adjustment of compression is available, which seems like a glaring omission, but I found no need for alteration of that aspect of the suspension damping. I did, however, add a few turns of preload to the rear as my 230-pound heft and loaded bags cut into proper sag settings. Overall settings are firm but not stiff, stroking though 5.4 and 5.6 inches of front and rear travel with composure.
After a solid sleep in Medford, Oregon—and a couple of 30-round magazines of 9mm Luger put through a WWII-era Sten submachine gun for breakfast (do as the locals do)—I turned west toward Crescent City and a day of serpentine roads running south along the California coast. Here the Tracer’s handling and engine package work in harmony, slicing through corners and shooting down straights with sportbike-like intent.
Fueling is not a high point of the Tracer. There’s still evidence of the abruptness that has become a well-known trait of Yamaha’s otherwise excellent three-cylinder powerplant. But we’ve found workarounds. Namely, choose to be smooth, or rev the hell out of it. Both methods ensure the fueling is a nonissue. Play in that middle ground and the Tracer responds with some jerkiness. Just put the wood to it, easy enough.
The now-longer swingarm adds stability when the 849cc crossplane triple begins to sing. And it does. Flicking the Tracer into decreasing-radius corners highlights the fact it has lost none of the FJ’s quick handling. Grabbing gears using the superbly functioning quickshifter shows why the Tracer 900 GT is the new face of Yamaha sport-touring. Forget bulbous machines like the FJR1300; this is everything you need—including heated grips. The day’s ride was over before I knew it, and the Tracer made short work of Highway 1 without leaving me fatigued. Surely, the third day would bring the pain.
Day 3 was nearly 500 miles of flattop, a necessary evil and the ultimate test of touring comfort. Could I live with the Tracer for the next eight hours with nothing but 110-degree heat and a straight ribbon of concrete stretching over the horizon? Long boring stretches of roads will test the limits of comfort and can sour whatever warm and fuzzy feeling you may have for a motorcycle.
So I plunged into traffic expecting this would be the day I’d find faults with the Tracer 900 GT. And there were a some, but nothing that would temper the love affair that had blossomed between myself and the Yamaha. The first was the representation of the Tracer’s fuel level on the TFT dash. The first bar covers a half tank, followed by one-quarter, one-eighth, and finally one-sixteenth of a tank. This little graphic representation caused full-blown fuel-level anxiety, as the gauge accelerates toward empty rather than progressing with a steady, linear march. It’s a useful tool, but not enough that you shouldn’t keep an eye on your tachometer too. Another small irritation was the reach to the thumbwheel for adjusting the heated grips and trip-data functions. It was too much of a stretch for my size-large hands, which makes it difficult to adjust on the fly. I found myself only operating the wheel when stopped or while on cruise control. But that’s it—no other annoyances surfaced.
With the seat in the tall position (34.1 inches to the ground) legroom is excellent. Yamaha fitted an accessory gel seat to this Tracer 900 GT before I embarked on my 1,500-mile journey.
When I hit my home off-ramp, I was flabbergasted that I had traveled the entire length of Oregon and California and wasn’t plotting to toss a match into the fuel tank of the Tracer. Not once—and I mean this—have I ever completed a multi-day ride and got off the bike feeling completely fresh. I am not an Ironbutt rider, and have no aspirations to be one, but if I was forced to smash 1,000 miles in 24 hours, the Tracer would be number one on my list. The ride came up short just one-tenth of a mile from perfect. It’s a rounding error. I’ll always remember it fondly as a 1,500-mile ride, and that feeling sums up the Tracer 900 GT as well: It is not a perfect sport-tourer, but it’s as close as any could be.