ALL-ROUNDERS GO TO WAR

TRACER AT­TACKED p32

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Front Page - By Michael Neeves MCN CHIEF ROAD TESTER

When Yamaha’s rasp­ing three-cylin­der Tracer 900 ar­rived on the scene in 2015 it was an in­stant success. It cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the bike-buy­ing pub­lic and clinched MCN’S pres­ti­gious Best All-rounder award at the end of that year.

It won again last year, but for 2017 it faces its strong­est com­pe­ti­tion yet. The Du­cati Su­pers­port, up­dated BMW F800GT and Yamaha are all gun­ning for the same kind of rider, who’s pin­ing for a do-any­thing, go-any­where, comfy, rel­a­tively light­weight ma­chine with lots (but not too much) get up and go.

These all-rounders have sim­i­lar sized en­gines, pro­duc­ing sim­i­lar power out­puts and weigh­ing about the same. They’re de­signed for tour­ing, scratch­ing and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, so we’re rid­ing them across the UK to the rocky top of the tow­er­ing Mam Tor (Mother Hill), near Castle­ton in Der­byshire’s Peak District.

Let’s re­mind our­selves why the Tracer 900 (for­merly called the MT-09 Tracer) is such a hit. Chas­sis and en­gine-wise it’s not too far re­moved from the street­fighter-in­spired naked base bike. And that spa­cious rid­ing po­si­tion, with its gen­er­ous legroom and wide bars has an added dash of prac­ti­cal­ity with ex­tra body­work and a man­u­ally ad­justable screen.

Yamaha’s MT-09 se­ries of ma­chines are all pow­ered by the Ja­panese firm’s first in­line three-cylin­der mo­tor since

the 1980s XS850. And this fruity, grunt­laden, 113bhp, 847cc triple is the se­cret be­hind the Tracer 900’s in­stant success.

Ex­cit­ing bikes have ex­cit­ing en­gines and the Tracer’s pow­er­plant is burst­ing with smooth, punchy power and a zesty sound­track. It’s non-threat­en­ing, but there’s enough oomph to keep rid­ers of any level happy. A light clutch, easy gear­box, trac­tion con­trol and elec­tronic rider aids all add lay­ers of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and depth to the Tracer’s per­son­al­ity.

On the Peak’s switch­backs the Yamaha is fun, in­volv­ing and ag­ile. On the dual car­riage­ways and towns to get there it’s light and easy to han­dle. Cost­ing the sunny side of nine grand it’s a lot of bike for the money, so it’s lit­tle won­der the Yamaha is the easy, safe choice for any­one with their eye on a new all­rounder. In many ways it’s the 21st cen­tury, pre-rr Honda CBR600 – the go-to bike for the dis­cern­ing masses.

But it’s not all fluffy hill­top sheep. The throt­tle is snatchy in all but its soft B-mode and the chas­sis gets flus­tered when you push it. At very high speed the Yamaha breaks into a gen­tle weave, ex­ac­er­bated by its wide, wind-catch­ing bars and hand­guards. In the corners, the soft rear shock gives a bouncy ride and the over­damped front end pro­mote un­der­steer and vague­ness when pushed.

Fit af­ter­mar­ket tyres, shock and fork in­ter­nals and you’ll banish the Yamaha’s han­dling woes, but it would be bet­ter if they weren’t there in the first place.

Al­though spa­ciously set, the Tracer’s Mt-09-de­rived pegs are rear-set, so your body is tilted down to­wards the fuel tank, su­per­moto-style when you grab the wide bars. Af­ter a few hours in the sad­dle you wish you’d opted for Yamaha’s ac­ces­sory com­fort seat and that’s not be­fore the nar­row, buf­fet­ing screen has given taller rid­ers like me a headache.

Life is calmer on the new Su­pers­port and, as you’d ex­pect from a com­pany with such racing her­itage, han­dling and road-hold­ing are its forte. Short, low, crisp and re­spon­sive, the Du­cati be­haves ev­ery inch like a ra­zor-sharp su­pers­port bike, but cru­cially it’s more com­fort­able than a race replica.

This is a bike built to ham­mer the miles as well as the bends. It’s not as roomy as the Yamaha, it chucks out a lot of heat in traf­fic and its vibey mir­rors are next to use­less at mo­tor­way speeds. But its er­gonomics are cos­set­ting, the plusher seat gives you more sup­port and the two-po­si­tion screen does a bet­ter job of cut­ting through late spring air.

It aces the Yamaha with stronger brakes, sharper steer­ing and su­pe­rior sta­bil­ity. Build qual­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail are a step up, with a deeper paint fin­ish and de­signer chas­sis parts from Brembo, Mar­zoc­chi, Sachs and Pirelli.

You never re­ally miss the ex­tra sup­ple­ness of the more ex­pen­sive S model’s Öh­lins sus­pen­sion, but its quick­shifter and auto-blip­per would be nice, es­pe­cially on a bike cost­ing £11,495.

Talk­ing of which, this Bologna bling comes at a price. The Su­pers­port is three-grand more than the Tracer 900, which will put many off. But thanks to the mag­i­cal pow­ers of PCP fi­nance, the Du­cati is ac­tu­ally cheaper to ‘buy’ per month.

A glance at the spec sheets re­veals iden­ti­cal power and weight for the Su­pers­port and Tracer 900, but they couldn’t feel more dif­fer­ent. The Yamaha is lighter on its feet, more ag­ile and its more ex­cit­ing, smoother three­cylin­der mo­tor is oh-so ea­ger to rev. Du­cati’s V-twin en­gine might have lots of grunt and a hard-edged, growl­ing top end, but you’re al­ways left wish­ing it had an­other 20bhp, to do jus­tice to

‘The Du­cati has bet­ter brakes and su­pe­rior sta­bil­ity’

such a sweet chas­sis and not-quiteso-sweet price.

BMW’S more re­strained F800GT is a bit of a sleeper in this com­pany and it’s not the first bike you con­sider when you think ‘all-rounder’. It has the small­est mo­tor here with the least power. It’s 4kg heav­ier and doesn’t have the Du­cati’s shiny bits, or the Yamaha’s pres­ence, but the 90bhp, 798cc par­al­lel-twin cylin­der Beemer has stacks to of­fer.

From the com­pany who first made their rep­u­ta­tion cre­at­ing the world’s most re­fined tour­ing bikes, it’s shouldn’t come as a sur­prise that the F800GT has the com­fi­est seat, the most nat­u­ral stretch to the bars and the widest, qui­etest screen. The new ride-by-wire throt­tle has the peachi­est, well-damped pick-up (Yamaha, are you lis­ten­ing?) and al­though the mo­tor doesn’t have neck-snap­ping ac­cel­er­a­tion, or much in the way of real char­ac­ter, it has a throaty rasp, slick trans­mis­sion and enough go to keep up with the Du­cati and Yamaha in the real world.

The low-slung F800GT has sta­ble, sure-footed han­dling, loves fast A-road sweeps and has brak­ing power that eclipses the Yamaha’s. Fit­ted with its £705 Dy­namic and £525 Com­fort Packs the BMW has an ex­tra rid­ing mode (Dy­namic), elec­tron­i­cally-ad­justable sus­pen­sion, sta­bil­ity con­trol, heated grips, on­board com­puter, cen­tre­stand and pan­nier fas­ten­ings.

These good­ies take the £8400 BMW from the cheap­est here and add £1230. This puts it out of reach of the Yamaha cus­tomer, but even with its higher spec it’s still cheaper than the Du­cati.

Af­ter a great jour­ney to one of the UK’S most cher­ished beauty spots, it’s clear that even with its quirks, the Yamaha is still a great all-rounder… but it could be bet­ter still. Stick the Tracer’s lovely three-cylin­der en­gine in the Du­cati’s chas­sis, pour in the com­fort from the BMW and you re­ally would have some­thing spe­cial.

‘The F800 has the com­fi­est seat and widest screen’

Not an in­line four in sight. The twins and triples rule this class

Du­cati’s Su­pers­port has the beat­ing of the oth­ers in the corners

Sta­ble and sure-footed BMW loves an A-road sweeper Bo­ingy rear shock gives a de­cid­edly lively ride Higher-spec sus­pen­sion gives Du­cati the edge

Con­struct a bike out of the best bits of all three and you’d never need an­other Speed­well... see what we did there?

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