ALL-ROUNDERS GO TO WAR
TRACER ATTACKED p32
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?