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Common Tread

2019 Yamaha Tracer GT first ride review

Jul 17, 2018

It’s not often I ride a motorcycle and walk away with existential questions for the readers.

I’m a simple man. Point and shoot. Yet when grappling with how to assess the Tracer GT, I took pause and asked myself why readers read motorcycle reviews. Is it to find out if a bike is “good?” Or perhaps readers are looking for an answer to the question we all ask from time to time: Should I buy this motorcycle?

I think for most people, some variant of one of those questions comes into play. If you just want to skip ahead, my answer to one of those is at the end of the article in just a few words. If you want the long version, though, let's start with some background on this machine.

The Tracer GT is not really an all-new bike. It’s a rename, bringing the U.S.A. the name the rest of the world has had for a little while now. Mechanically, the underpinnings here are very similar to the FJ-09 that has gone without major modification for a few years. I feel Sean’s original review of that bike was very fair, and has stood the test of time. I’m gonna briefly rehash some of the unchanged features that make up the bones of the bike, then home in on what makes this bike different.

Lem on a bike
2019 Yamaha Tracer GT. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The FJ-09 was Yamaha’s smaller sport-tourer, intended for those who needed something a little more versatile than Yam’s FJR1300. The 2019 Tracer ($10,699) replaces the FJ-09 (same price), which went by that moniker only in the United States. Those bikes are pretty much the same thing. The GT ($12,999) is an upmarket version of that bike, and has enough changed that I think it’s fair for The Tuning Fork People to refer to it as a different model. Be clear, this is not a clean-sheet redesign. Instead, this is a heavily tweaked version of the same motorcycle.

I don’t recall riding an FJ any farther than a RevZilla lunch run, but I’ve also put a few thousand miles on an XSR900 and a few more on its sibling, the FZ-09, so while my FJ-specific knowledge is hardly all-encompassing, I have a case of the hots for the 847 cc triple (115 horsepower) that a few years of cold showers still hasn’t quelled. I was enamored with the FJ’s upright riding position, which is all “touring” and very little “sport,” and made its way to the overhauled Tracers. There is still a 4.8-gallon fuel tank on the Tracer and GT. And the LED headlight carries over, as well. The traction control from the XSR that the FJ was granted in 2017 remains, as does the slipper clutch hailing from the same model.

There are plenty of opinions out there on this platform’s ride and capability, so let’s get into the meat an’ spuds of this review: the GT-spec Tracer.

What changed

This bike has had enough tweaks that it is now a different model, I would say — the list of changes is fairly long. Yamaha invited me to the Columbia River Gorge area on the Washington-Oregon state line to test the Tracer GT. I was in and out in 46 hours, so my impressions here are definitely not scientific, but they were illuminating: Nearly every change they made was something I noticed, and in most cases, it was something I loved.

Lem in Washington
I can't say I've ridden a bike to many places as picturesque as this one. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The first thing my hand hit as I jumped on the GT was the handlebar, of course. The second thing my hand hit was the rear preload adjuster, which is now remote, and sits under your left cheek. You can (and I did) adjust preload while sitting on the bike, trying to gauge where I wanted it with a quick-but-not-dirty “butt bounce check.” Riding with the wrong suspension settings really can make a bike act poorly, and it’s worse on a bike like this one, which may be asked to do anything from sporty hustlin’ through twisties or hauling a mess of gear and a pillion. I am like everyone else: a little lazy. I am guilty of not breaking out the spanner and getting dirty and readjusting suspension, and the ride always suffers for it. Remote preload adjusters are a very great thing, and I always champion their addition.

Front suspension is now fully adjustable. Yamaha has done a good job upgrading this line's forks since the original Fuzz9. 2019 Yamaha Tracer GT. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

After we were underway, our ride leader mentioned he had tools to adjust front preload, too, so I took him up on the offer. I did not feel I had the time to make any further changes, but had I more time with the bike, I would have, because the front KYB fork is now fully adjustable: compression and rebound damping can be tailored to rider and and road.

As I got comfortable and settled into the bike, I noticed how much more “mature” the bike seemed. As compared to the XSR and the Fuzz-9, this bike has the same amount of power (loads), but I didn’t feel like I was pointing my front wheel at the sky so much. Make no mistake, this bike can and will rip a wheelie, but it took me a while to figure out how to do it. (Many of my colleagues figured this out far more quickly than I did, which made me feel a little bad.) So what gives? The drivetrain was the same, right? (It was. Did I mention how much I love that triple? What a sweetie.)

60 mm more swingarm makes one heck of a difference. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Yamaha extended the swingarm and subframe on this bike. The swingarm is 60 mm longer, which extends the wheelbase from the FJ-09’s 56.7 inches to 59.1 inches. (This holds true for all models of Tracer.) Two and half inches is a ton. The bike feels stable when underway, and I didn’t feel like I was sitting right over the front end. It’s a great change for a bike focusing on longer hauls. I like a wheelstand as much as the next guy (and wish I was better at them so I’d have more reason to do ‘em!), but the reality is that when I put Mrs. Lem and some gear on the back of a lot of bikes, the front end becomes annoyingly light. I hate it because I have to fight the bike to transfer load onto the brake-end of the bike, and Mrs. Lem doesn’t have the same appetite for disaster that I do. This one change seems minor (it’s really not… a new subframe and swingarm are pretty drastic), but they really change the character of these motorcycles.

I stopped at some point to pull my camera out of the side case. The side cases are the same as on the FJ-09, except for the color-matched paint, but with the new subframe, Yamaha changed the mounts to make them more integrated. For whatever reason, these bags looked tiny and flimsy in all the Yamaha press photos, but they’re really super-solid. They evoke the FJR bag, but they’re squared off a bit more, so I think they’re probably a touch more useful. They pop on and off beautifully, and the mounts are pretty unobtrusive when they’re off. They’re solid and sturdy, and Yam continues the current trend of designing the bags into the bike, to both prevent the aftermarket from taking that part of their business and to make meaningful storage more than a simple afterthought.

Ooooooh, a quick-shifter. Shifts were lightning-fast with this item. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

After bangin’ gears the normal way up and down gorgeous Route 14, I decided to use the new quickshifter Yamaha included. It’s clutchless on the upshift only, and to me, needed quite a bit of upward pressure to make the shift if I wasn’t close to full power on the throttle. I didn’t much care for it, but this is one of those features that is transparent: if you don’t want to use it, it changes nothing about the motorcycle.

Next up is a gizmo I am quickly becoming a sucker for, and that is a TFT display. It’s not large; the screen is surrounded by idiot lights, so when you turn on the bike, it’s surprisingly little. But it’s clear and bright, and all the info you could hope to want is conveyed quickly and concisely. And why do I like these so much? They’re perfect in all light, it seems. Triumph TFTs are sort of my gold standard for the moment, but the Yam’s is actually a bit simpler and easier to use. It’s not nearly as configurable, which I actually found to be a relief.

The TFT display is beautiful, but it's also a little smaller than I expected. However, it told me what I needed to know with little fanfare, so is it really fair to complain about it not being large enough? RevZilla photo.

In blinding sunshine, the display was crystal clear: black writing on a white background. When I went into a longer tunnel, I noticed the dash automatically flipped to white on black, presumably to reduce glare in low or no light. The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was a tach that changed colors as the revs climb. Black turns to green which turns to amber and finally (I believe) up into red. I’d be fine with a simple red/green go/no-go. There is also a programmable shift light, which I did not ever seem to see, but I also was not redlining the engine. Rarely do I feel a need to do that on the mighty three-banger.

Risers are offset to the rider, and can be flipped around for additional reach if desired. RevZilla photo.

The handlebar is narrower, too, but the mirrors are longer. This means you can see better, (the mirrors are effin’ mint) and even though the bars are skinnier, the mirror tips appear to be just a touch wider than the bags, so you can use them like a cat uses his whiskers. (I mean using a wide part in your field of view to determine if the bike will fit through a hole.) No doubt this will serve you Californians well. Risers are still adjustable; they can be flipped around and place the bar 10 mm farther away from the saddle.

Pinch both parts with one gloved hand, and lift or drop. It's cake. RevZilla photo.

Yamaha also redesigned the windscreen to be a bit larger, and it is truly one-hand height-adjustable by 50 mm. I adjusted it several times on the fly. I couldn’t seem to find a position either with my ass or my arms or the windshield that did not result in wind hitting me square in my visor. No matter. A larger screen is available from Yamaha as an accessory, and you know the aftermarket is still alive and kicking, so… that’s an easy and cheap purchase to make if the screen doesn’t work for you.

Let’s move back to my ass for a minute, since I brought it up. Remember I told you about the longer swingarm? And the upright riding position? I could move fore and aft probably two inches on the very comfortable saddle, which is height-adjustable. I have said many times that every position is uncomfy to me after enough time, some more than others. They key to my personal happiness on a bike is being able to move around, and there is a ton of room on the GT.

Abhi's foot
Abhi Eswarappa of Bike-urious (and buddy) agreed to be my foot model showing the interference between p-peg brackets and rider foot. It's not egregious. If you have smaller feet, you might not even notice a problem. RevZilla photo.

I couldn’t get the balls of my feet all the way up on the footpegs the way I like due to the new relocation of the passenger pegs, but A) it’s not as bad as some more egregious offenders (looking at you, Z900), and B) the pegs are located where they are to make Mrs. Lem happier. Yam revised their pillion peg brackets and they appeared to be lower and farther forward, which is often what my bride is looking for (and I suspect other fender-bound friends want, too). I am willing to suffer a great deal if Mrs. Lem does not suffer, because she is very cute and I like to have her along. 

The GT seat has two heights. I kept mine in the low position. Most riders will likely do what I did: pick one setting and stick with it, but the ability to adjust is a nice feature. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

I did not test the tall version of this seat. The bike has a 33.5-inch seat height: It’s getting up there for a bike with no offroad pretense. (That climbs to 34.1 inches with the tall position engaged). It will probably be a little-used feature among most riders, but highly prized among the Spurgeons of the world.

Ugh. What a juxtaposition. A nice, sensible LED taillight, with turn signals from a 2004 R6. Easily rectified, I suppose. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Things I did not like

This will be short, because this bike is a very, very solid machine. Other than the kvetching about the foot placement and the quickshifter, which are both very minor, I want to know why in the hell this bike, which has an LED tail/brake lamp and LED headlights, still has the incandescent orange pumpkin lights Yam uses on all their bikes. Come on, guys. For twelve grand, call up China, order some sleek, clear, modern-looking LED turn signals, and put them on the bike. Come on.

Argh. RevZilla photo.

They’re still pushing this “CP3 Crossplane” branding. Of course it is a crossplane. It’s a triple. It’s cross-plane by definition. Whatever. If that’s what it takes to sell a bike, it’s a venial sin.

And since Sean’s review almost four years ago, the side stand is still a devil to kick down if a centerstand (Which is standard! Whooo!) is installed. The locating tang is just not in a helpful spot.

Nice job, y’all. Nice job indeed.

Brief interlude: Things I complained about and Yamaha fixed

I throw manufacturers under the bus with reckless abandon, but I give credit where it is due. Yam appears to have gotten their cam-chain tensioner woes put to bed. They also changed that slide-y kill/starter switch to a rocker style that’s much more similar to a conventional kill button. This machine carries way more fuel on board than the XSR I spent so much time with, so it does not sacrifice function for form in that department.

Power port
Power ports are a necessity nowadays. Happily, Yamaha delivers. This is on the side of the windshield cowling. There's a blanking plug on the opposite side, so presumably another port could be installed. RevZilla photo.

There is a power port near the dash, and a plug where it would presumably be easy to add a second. This is nearly a requirement in 2018 on a serious hauler.

And happily, there was no frivolous marketing push beyond a hashtag or two, which is basically a necessity at this point in time. Yam built a straightforward bike, and didn’t sugarcoat it. The bike did most of the talking, and I liked listening. Maybe that's not important, but it certainly is notable.

Answer to existential question two: Should you buy one?

Now it gets sticky. The Tracer GT is fending off so many potential competitors, depending on what factors one may consider essential.

If you want a premium all-rounder: There are fancier models with more power, a la BMW S 1000 XR or Ducati Multistrada. Case in point: I heard someone talk about a rider who exclaimed that the Tracer GT was a “poor man’s Multi.” Very true. There are some similar features (but not all) for about six grand less. Of course, the Multi has things like 40 more ponies, variable valve timing, clutchless downshifting, Brembo M50 calipers, and Skyhook suspension, but the Tracer GT packs a hell of a value punch with this update.

That's a pretty cheap bike. I could put up with a few flaws for that kind of price off retail, you know? Cycle Trader screenshot.

If you want a budget sport-tourer: Eeeek. If you just want a cheap sporty machine that has a set of bags nicer than a set of Cortech Super 2.0s thrown over the pillion seat, you can get something for considerably less. The 2019 Tracer GT has to compete with bikes like the still-new leftover Kawasaki Versys 1000LT sitting in a less prominent corner of the showroom. A new model’s discounts surely will pale in comparison to a bike with three years of dust on it, but if money is the bottom line and bags and a warranty are the only thing that matter, it’s hard to justify the extra cost of a Tracer GT. Hell, at that point, look at an FJ-09 leftover, too.

If you are Lem-lem shaped: You might want to look at something larger. Load-carryin’ capacity is 395 pounds. That would mean that one Lem plus one Mrs. Lem riding nude with no travelin’ gear would overload the Tracer GT by 25 pounds. Granted, I am a pretty fat fellow, but that is something to be aware of.

If you are a tech junkie: You might want to look long and hard at a Kawasaki Ninja 1000 — but you might still walk away with a Tracer GT. The Ninja also has a TFT dash, and also boasts that hot, hot IMU for only a bit more money. (Actually, the bike itself costs a bit less, but when you add in the bags to spec it comparably to the GT, it’s slightly more ‘spensive.) But the Ninja does not have cruise control, and heated grips are optional. Those are prolly cheaper to add after the fact than an IMU and associated software, but the Ninja’s focus on S (instead of T) might be a bit off-putting for the less-serious among us — especially the price-conscious.

Right rear three quarter shot
2019 Yamaha Tracer GT. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

If you like the nice, upright riding position offered by an ADV bike but feel no urge to be limited to the tires available to fit a 19- or 21-inch wheel: The Tracer is all you. I thought Lance would be a Tracer GT customer. He likes triples, this has a half-fairing, it’s a light-touring machine. Wrong. Lance also likes a very sporty position on a motorcycle. I prefer that “I’m a nerd sitting up look at me riding is so awesome” position, so this bike has my adoration. Honestly, this is a big deal. You can change/add/modify a lot of stuff on a motorcycle, but riding position is a potentially difficult one to really “fix.” Sport bike performance, ADV seating position. It’s not really a common combo.

There are so many ways for an all-’rounder to be taken under consideration, and it’s impossible to know what individual riders are willing to compromise on. This model's versatility is specifically what makes it not perfect at any one thing, but very capable at so many. Yamaha managed to find a niche in a market I thought Kawasaki had already sliced as finely as possible, but here’s a fresh take from a Big Four manufacturer on a lighter sport-tourer. I have no idea if this bike will be successful in terms of sales, due to the general decline of bike sales in general, but that in no way affects this bike’s quality. It deserves high marks, so I can safely give them out, but I can’t tell you if you should buy one. It really just boils down to what you want, and what else you're considering.

Answer to existential question one: Is it good?

Yes. It's wonderful. I highly doubt anyone reading this article who gets seat time on this bike will argue this point. I can tell you with absolute certainty that if you’re even a little interested in a Tracer GT, you should definitely test ride one — because then you can answer question two for yourself.

2019 Yamaha Tracer GT Specifications

MSRP $12,999
Engine type Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline 3-cylinder; 12 valves
Displacement 847cc 
Bore/Stroke 78.0/59.1 mm
Compression ratio  11.5:1
Transmission 6-speed
Fuel system Fuel injection with YCC-T
Clutch Multiplate assist and slipper clutch
Front suspension 41 mm inverted fork, fully adjustable; 5.4 inches travel
Rear suspension Single shock, adjustable preload (w/remote adjuster) and rebound damping; 5.6 inches travel
Front brake Dual 298mm hydraulic disc; ABS
Rear brake 245mm hydraulic disc; ABS
Tires front/rear 120/70ZR17; 180/55ZR17
Trail 3.9 inches
Rake 24 degrees
Wheelbase 59.1 inches
Ground clearance 5.3 inches
Seat height 33.5 and 34.1 inches
Tank capacity 4.8 gallons
Weight (wet) 474 pounds(does not include side cases)