Jim Black­stock

Pro­duc­tion ed­i­tor

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome - Words Kev Ray­mond Pics Gareth Har­ford

Martin and I swapped longter­m­ers for a cou­ple of days this month. I was keen to see how his Yamaha Tracer 900 GT felt in the flesh, af­ter read­ing about the all-round abil­ity it — and its com­peti­tors — dis­played when we took them to Wales.

I’VE ONLY JUST re­alised I don’t even know what to call these bikes... The Kawasaki Ver­sys GT is more tall sports tourer than ad­ven­ture bike (Kawasaki calls it an Ad­ven­ture Tourer), the Tri­umph Tiger Sport is more big su­per­moto than any­thing and the Yamaha Tracer GT is a bit of both.

sup­pose it doesn’t mat­ter what you call them - what mat­ters is how they work.

We’re go­ing to find out with a cou­ple of days en­joy­ing some of the finest roads Wales has to of­fer. It’ll be a mixed bag of road sur­faces, from smooth, fast A-road to grav­elly sin­gle-track and from cob­bled streets to con­crete slab. For a bike to work well across all these sur­faces it’ll need sup­ple, well-damped sus­pen­sion. It’ll also need ac­cu­rate steer­ing and con­fi­dent brak­ing per­for­mance. For our pur­poses it has to com­bine all that with de­cent lug­gage ca­pac­ity and all-day com­fort. Since we’re here for fun, it’ll also need enough ground clear­ance to en­cour­age spir­ited cor­ner­ing, and enough power to make us grin like loons when we open the throt­tle wide. But be­fore that, we’ve got to get to Wales.

Rac­ing for the border

Well, not so much rac­ing as just munch­ing miles. There’s noth­ing en­joy­able about loads of mo­tor­way but we all have to do it some­times, so it’s a case of see­ing which bike does it best, cos­set­ing the rider and leav­ing them set for some fun later. To start with I’m on the Tiger Sport, purely be­cause Martin wanted to get ac­quainted with the un­fa­mil­iar Ver­sys and Si­mon wanted to use the Tracer’s ac­ces­sory socket to plug in his heated gloves (he has the body fat of a stick in­sect, so he feels the cold.)

First im­pres­sions of the Tri­umph are of

a sur­pris­ing soft­ness. Soft seat, soft sus­pen­sion, soft power de­liv­ery. It’s ini­tially very comfy, with plenty of room to move around but I’m ex­pect­ing the seat to com­press and cause numb bum within an hour or so. It’s only later I re­alise it hasn’t - def­i­nitely the com­fi­est seat here.

Ahead of me on the road, Martin’s get­ting on fine with the Ver­sys. Like me he’s a bit ver­ti­cally chal­lenged, so he’d been ap­pre­hen­sive, as he ad­mit­ted when we stopped for cof­fee and fuel south of Shrews­bury. “I’ve never rid­den one be­fore as I’d al­ways thought they were too big and heavy for me. Ini­tial im­pres­sions are very good though. The slip/as­sist clutch is light as a feather, the gear­box is slick up and down. Once mov­ing it’s very smooth, with lots of low-down grunt — very easy to ride. The po­si­tion is good and the screen is sur­pris­ingly ef­fi­cient given its size. But the lack of cruise con­trol is sur­pris­ing for this spec­i­fi­ca­tion and price bracket.”

Ah yes, cruise con­trol. Ab­sent on the Ver­sys (which doesn’t have ride-by-wire en­gine con­trol) but very wel­come on both the Tracer and Tiger. I’m find­ing the Tri­umph’s cruise a bit trou­ble­some — I ac­tu­ally have to think about how to turn it on (the trick is… you don’t: just press the ‘set’ but­ton twice). The Tracer’s is much more in­tu­itive, but they both work fine. Si­mon’s lov­ing the Yamaha’s com­bi­na­tion of cruise and quick­shifter but he’s less con­vinced about the bike’s ap­ti­tude for this sort of rid­ing. “It’s not as planted as the oth­ers, and it’s not as re­as­sur­ingly sub­stan­tial ei­ther — there’s some­thing about sheer mass that makes be­ing a thou­sand miles from home less daunt­ing.”

I know what he means — the Kawasaki feels like it’s just soak­ing up out­side in­flu­ences and damp­ing out your in­puts and the buf­fet­ing from sidewinds and other ve­hi­cles, so the re­sult is a smooth mo­tor­way ride. The Tri­umph does the same to a cer­tain ex­tent. The Yamaha is lighter, more stiffly sus­pended and with

sportier ge­om­e­try, so it doesn’t have that same weighty, floaty feel­ing. The best way I can de­scribe it is it feels as if the Ver­sys and Tiger are happy to sit there all day, every day, while the Tracer fid­gets, like it can’t wait to get on with some proper rid­ing. That fits my own mind­set, so I’m chomp­ing at the bit as we turn off the A49 near Shrews­bury and into an­other world.

Into the val­leys

But first, up into the clouds, ex­cept there aren’t any clouds. It’s a beau­ti­ful, hot, clear day as the road climbs steeply up. Road? It barely qual­i­fies — at first I’m con­vinced we’re on the drive to some­one’s house, but as we come out of the trees and onto the heath­land of Long Mynd, we’ve got a stun­ning view down the val­ley and off to­wards Wales. A few wild ponies are ar­ranged at­trac­tively on the rocks above us, red kites wheel and soar, and even the sheep are just far enough away to re­main pic­turesque. How come I’d never even heard of this place be­fore? It’s beau­ti­ful.

Un­for­tu­nately it’s so lovely that we

need to take some pho­tos, which in­volves rid­ing up and down the hill a few times. No hard­ship ex­cept that the road’s still ex­tremely nar­row and there’s nowhere to turn round — it’s solid rock on one side and sheer drop on the other. The Tracer and Tri­umph make rel­a­tively light work of it, but the heav­ier Ver­sys is a dif­fer­ent story.

So long as you’re mov­ing, it’s fine - well­bal­anced and with the grunt to roll along at tick­over with­out stalling. But below walk­ing pace, all that poise in­stantly dis­ap­pears. It’s as if it’s been hold­ing its belly in to im­press you, but has sud­denly breathed out and it’s all flopped over the waist­band. Brake down to a halt, put your foot out to touch the ground, then the sus­pen­sion bounces back up and sud­denly your boot’s off the floor, at which point you re­alise just how top-heavy it is. Martin would later fall foul of this and drop the Ver­sys on its side and I didn’t even have the heart to take the Mick out of him, be­cause I knew it could just as eas­ily have been me...

On this oc­ca­sion I’m grate­ful to keep it up­right, even though I’m now a sweaty wreck, so I’m happy to wave good­bye to the ponies and go in search of some quicker twisties. Join­ing the A489 near the Welsh border ought to hit the spot, with some nice fast sweep­ers, but most of it’s freshly ru­ined by a thick top-dress­ing of tar and chip­pings, so we’ll have to wait a bit.

We’ve been see­ing warn­ings of slow arafs painted on the road for a good few miles now, and we come across them around New­town – a long line of traf­fic do­ing 40mph as we come onto the A483. A twist of the wrist and we’re past, with miles of fast, flow­ing bends to en­joy.

The Ver­sys is back in its el­e­ment on this ter­rain - it’s just so smooth and the en­gine’s in­cred­i­bly flex­i­ble. The road’s so good we go back and do it again, swap­ping bikes so I’m on the Tracer. Bloody hell, this is dif­fer­ent! Nar­rower bars, pegs fur­ther back, a more as­sertive rid­ing po­si­tion all round. It just wants to gob­ble up each cor­ner, spit it out and move on to the next one. So that’s what we do, all the way down to Cross­gates on the A44.

We don’t re­ally need fuel but we’ll top up any­way (for the record the Tracer and Tiger both aver­age 51mpg over the whole test, with the Ver­sys on 47.5mpg), but take ad­van­tage of the ex­cel­lent café there. Ah, no we won’t - it closes at four and it’s ten past now. Bum. For­tu­nately the garage has caf­feine and grub, so we can sit and swap im­pres­sions of the bikes.

Si­mon in­her­ited the Ver­sys at the last swap: “It’s a proper cul­ture shock af­ter the Tracer. It feels like a barge with a hinge in it,” he gripes. “It takes so much more ef­fort to get it to steer and hold a line.” Martin’s

“As long as you’re mov­ing, it’s fine”

much hap­pier with the Tri­umph: “The mo­tor is as­ton­ish­ing! Smooth power, low­down grunt, not snatchy at town traf­fic speeds ei­ther. And the po­si­tion works for me — more ag­gres­sive and sporty than the other two, my knees felt higher but the bars still al­lowed me to get com­fort­able.”

Head­ing to­wards Rhayader on the A44, I’m back on the Tri­umph and ini­tially I’m im­pressed. It’s very much a halfway house be­tween the heavy, smooth Ver­sys and the rel­a­tively light and flighty Tracer. It’s soft and heavy enough to damp out a lot of smaller road im­per­fec­tions and the sus­pen­sion’s much more con­trolled than the Ver­sys, while the steer­ing’s smooth and in­stinc­tive. It still ties it­self in knots a bit if it hits a se­quence of bumps one af­ter the other though. That’s the price of soft springs and heavy re­bound damp­ing — a se­quence of bumps pro­gres­sively pumps the shock down and ru­ins the ride.

The en­gine’s the star of the Tiger show, no ques­tion — a de­li­ciously growly thing that can grunt away from low down or wind its way up to an im­pres­sive top end. It may share its triple lay­out with the Yamaha but they’re worlds apart in feel and de­liv­ery – this feels hewn from solid, the Yamaha feels like a four-stroke two-stroke.

Yet there’s some­thing about the Tri­umph that just doesn’t do it for me and I’m strug­gling put my fin­ger on it. It’s not any­thing I can com­plain about dy­nam­i­cally – as Si­mon said, “It’s vice­less – comfy rid­ing po­si­tion, fab­u­lous throt­tle con­trol,

smooth sus­pen­sion and de­cent ride qual­ity. It’s pleas­ant, use­ful, ver­sa­tile — real-world prac­ti­cal.” And yes, it’s all those things, but it also feels... well... old-fash­ioned, out-ma­noeu­vred, a bit staid. Sud­denly we’re at our desti­na­tion the Elan Val­ley Ho­tel. Or rather, we’ve just rid­den straight past it and onto the lake­side road be­side the Elan Val­ley reser­voirs. Rude not to, since we’re here ear­lier than ex­pected. It’s a great road — up, down, twist and turn — with fan­tas­tic views over the reser­voirs that have flooded the val­ley since the late 19th cen­tury. You might won­der why an un­der-pop­u­lated area of Wales would need such a large store of drink­ing wa­ter, and the an­swer is it doesn’t. It was built to sup­ply Birm­ing­ham...

Home­ward Bound

But not just yet... We still have some qual­ity rid­ing to do on our way back out of Wales, start­ing with the reser­voir road again the next morn­ing, and then one of the best roads I’ve rid­den in years — from the Elan Val­ley to Cymys­t­wyth along­side the river. It’s a twisty, quick, chal­leng­ing road that’s made more chal­leng­ing this morn­ing by a shower that’s left damp patches ev­ery­where, and is still spot­ting my vi­sor.

That’s caus­ing a slight prob­lem for me on the Tri­umph, be­cause what you need

for these con­di­tions is ab­so­lute con­fi­dence in the front tyre and the Tiger’s not re­ally de­liv­er­ing — it’s okay as soon as you get back on the power, but for that split sec­ond at cor­ner en­try, it feels like you’re chas­ing the front. Fur­ther back, Martin’s got a sim­i­lar prob­lem with the Tracer on its stan­dard Dun­lop 222s, which are pretty rub­bish in wet con­di­tions. “I never felt out of con­trol, even though we were go­ing at a fair lick – hoonery was still clearly pos­si­ble — but it would have been bet­ter on stick­ier tyres.” He was si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to work out how to turn the scald­ingly hot heated grips off, via the TFT dis­play, which isn’t very in­tu­itive: “I reckon you’d need a good 15 min­utes with the own­ers’ man­ual to get the hang of it...”

Up ahead, Si­mon’s find­ing the Ver­sys works re­ally well within a fairly nar­row en­ve­lope. We’ve al­ready en­coun­tered its low-speed squidgi­ness but now he’s push­ing hard and get­ting be­yond its cor­ner­ing com­fort zone. “The idea of ba­si­cally mount­ing a Z1000SX on long­travel sus­pen­sion isn’t the worst in the world; the same con­cept works well with BMW’S S1000XR, for ex­am­ple. But it only suc­ceeds if the sus­pen­sion is qual­ity and the chas­sis well-bal­anced. The Kawasaki’s softly sprung and softly damped, which gives nice ride qual­ity for gen­tle bendswing­ing. On smooth, fast A-roads the Ver­sys can get into a lovely rid­ing rhythm.”

The prob­lem comes when you ask the en­gine for more than the chas­sis can deal with. “The bars sway around and the bike needs a good heave to get it to turn, then im­me­di­ately fights back. Mean­while the back end wal­lows and shim­mies as it tries to keep up. Get a proper lick on and the shock bot­toms-out com­pletely, ground­ing the col­lec­tor box over big yumps.” I can tes­tify to that – im­pres­sive sparks...

The roads are dry­ing out now as we pass through what looks like an old quarry, the gaunt skele­tons of old build­ings flash­ing past in the cor­ner of my eye. I won­der who lived here,and how long ago. Then we’re into the vil­lage of Cymys­t­wyth and I no­tice a sign on the side of a build­ing: “SHED = A LAD IN HIS CAVE”, which makes me smile all the way to the Devil’s Bridge cof­fee stop.

The smile’s still there when we set off back to Rhayader, loop­ing round via Pon­ter­wyd and Lan­gurig rather than re­trac­ing our steps. The smile gets big­ger

when I swap from the Tiger to the Tracer for some of the faster sec­tions. I had Si­mon’s com­ments from the pre­vi­ous day ring­ing in my ears: “I had a mad ten min­utes down by the reser­voir and pulled the pin on the Yamaha. Wow, what a bonkers cre­ation – it’s got more ‘crazy’ than the other two put to­gether.”

It cer­tainly has and on more-or-less de­serted roads I can give it some beans, rev­el­ling in the planted feel from the front end and es­pe­cially in that won­der­ful en­gine, which just punches out of cor­ners so hard. The sec­tion of the A44 from Dyf­fryn Castell to Eisteddfa Gurig is per­fect for the Tracer — fast and sweep­ing, with a change­able road sur­face and some tricky blind turns over crests that put a premium on be­ing able to change di­rec­tion quickly and with­out fuss. Lovely.

From Rhayader we’re re­trac­ing yes­ter­day’s steps as far as Cross­gates but then stay­ing on the A44 east­bound. The bal­ance of the road shifts grad­u­ally away from cor­ners, crests and stone walls to­wards straights, hedges and junc­tions, but there’s still the odd twisty sec­tion, where the Tracer’s happy to change char­ac­ter in a sec­ond. Bang it down a gear or two, change your stance, at­tack the bend, drive out hard, then short­shift back up, sit up straight and pre­tend to be sen­si­ble for an­other few miles.

It’s the split per­son­al­ity that makes the Tracer GT so much fun. You don’t have to make al­lowances for its tour­ing abil­ity if you want to go nuts for a bit, as you do on the Ver­sys and, to a lesser ex­tent, the Tiger Sport. When we stopped for a breather in the beau­ti­ful half-tim­bered vil­lage of Pem­bridge, Martin pointed out that though in this com­pany the Tracer was the hooli­gan’s op­tion, it’s ac­tu­ally con­sid­er­ably more sen­si­ble than the pre­vi­ous Tracer: “The en­gine’s the same – smooth, seem­ingly end­less power. The dif­fer­ence is the chas­sis tweaks that let you use the en­gine with­out hang­ing on for dear life!”

Fun’s over now – back to work to­mor­row so we need to get back on the road. Be­fore we set off, Si­mon says: “The Kawasaki is pure tourer – smooth, mas­sive, comfy, easy to go a long way with­out think­ing. Great on fast, well-sur­faced roads, not so clever on tight, nadgery bumpy stuff.

“The Yamaha is at the op­po­site end of the spec­trum; a hooli­gan en­gine and a crazy power de­liv­ery added to its pan­niers, fair­ing and cruise con­trol. It’s a tourer with at­ti­tude and could be less fun over long dis­tance, but way more fun when you get there. The Tiger is a sport­ing step back from the Ver­sys with bet­ter han­dling and sweeter steer­ing than the Kawasaki, but stead­ier, more con­trolled and more civilised than the Tracer.”

In the­ory that should be that. Three very dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions on a theme, so just choose which suits you best. But here in the real world, there’s the small mat­ter of price, which com­pli­cates things a bit...

KAWASAKI VER­SYS 1000 GT SE £12,142 • 1043cc in­line four • 118bhp • 250kg • 840mm seat • 21 litres TRI­UMPH TIGER SPORT £11,143 • 1050cc in­line triple • 123bhp • 238kg • 830mm seat • 20 litres

YAMAHA TRACER 900GT £10,649 • 847cc in­line triple • 113bhp • 215kg • 850-865mm seat • 18 litres

Head­ing off the beaten track re­veals the bikes’ strengthsSwingarm 60mm longer than on the MT-09The Tracer 900 GT gets a full­colour TFT dis­playFac­tory-fit pan­niers won’t take a hel­met

GT by name, GT by na­ture, es­pe­cially when hooned Seems like a fair point, in­com­pre­hen­si­bly made...

The Tiger is poised but not too com­mit­ted

Empty roads, sunny day and no mo­bile sig­nal... bliss

Cruise con­trol but­tons are on the Tiger’s right gripA sim­ple but ef­fec­tive dis­play on the Tri­umphRa­dial Nissin calipers give plenty of stop­ping power

Af­ter two days dis­cussing the bikes, our testers felt a lit­tle hoarse

Sim­ple switches un­hin­dered by cruise con­trolSim­ple dash dis­play is busy but works wellVer­sys pan­niers can ac­com­mo­date a full-face hel­met

The Kawasaki is the most ‘toury’ of the three

Kevin prac­tices his car­i­ca­ture skills

Three up­right all­rounders in a row. And some mo­tor­bikes...

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