Yamaha Tracer 900GT
Waving summer goodbye with a sun-up to sun-down ride on Yamaha’s Tracer 900GT
A WEEK BEFORE the clocks go back and it finally hits me: summer’s over. Call me slow; perhaps I’ve just been in denial for weeks. But here we are, end of October, the sands of 2018’s riding season slipping through my fingers. The Tracer 900GT still doesn’t have a Grand Tour to its name. Never made that pilgrimage to Applecross I’d been promising. Never got round to chasing the Isle of Man’s Mountain road into a setting sun. Never unpacked the panniers in a Parador.
Woe is me, tune up your tiny violin and so on, but the guilty regret of missed opportunity is real. If I’d been living with a superficial retro or a focused superbike I wouldn’t mind so much, but the Tracer GT’S all-round aspirations mean it deserves a big ride. Or at least the biggest I can manage before the nights draw in. Unfortunately, I can only manage a day. Less, in fact: I want to cram my Tracer tour into the 11 hours and 19 minutes between dawn (7:06am) and dusk (6:25pm). Seems a suitably solar send-off to the summer.
I leave my Lincolnshire lock-up 20
minutes late, after forgetting to fit a sat nav the night before. The sun rises as I pass Peterborough and head on to Uppingham, where I pick up the much-loved B664. It’s deep into rush hour but traffic’s still sparse on this squiggly, diverse backroad. No need to rush along but the Tracer’s effortless motor devours the empty tarmac, surging forwards with irresistible force from all revs and howling with a feral snarl on wide throttle openings. Tourers aren’t supposed to sound or feel like this.
One roundabout after crossing over the M1’s mid-week misery I stumble across the Frank Whittle Monument, which never fails to lift spirits. Who isn’t cheered up by the sight of a silver jet taking off from the middle of a roundabout? Just a few miles up the A5 is a less glamorous but no less historically significant monument: High Cross, a stone marker located at the centre of Roman Britain. Weirdly for something so noteworthy it just sits unassumingly at the side of the road, projecting the cultural importance of a discarded Lucozade bottle.
Still, when in Rome… I head southwest on the Fosse Way, one of England’s most famous Roman roads. On the map it’s a tedious-looking, arrow-straight
stripe down to the Cotswolds but the reality is a charming, ever-evolving, gently meandering backroad through quiet countryside. I follow it to Moretonin-marsh, turn right where my granddad owned a bakery decades back, and take the A44 up to and down the twisting Fish Hill. I got my knee down here for the first time back in 2004. Demolished a Benelli here too six years later. Ah, memories.
The Tracer’s fuel light stops me at 140 miles. A hurredly scoffed cheese sandwich primes me for the hour(ish)long dual-carriageway slog down the M50 and A40 to Abergavenny. The GT’S cruise control is a godsend when it comes to churning out the miles, and ergonomics are generally relaxed. I’ve added Yamaha’s supposedly plusher accessory seat, though my buttocks can’t discern £150’s improvement from the stock perch. But the Tracer’s biggest limitation is its noisy screen (discussed in the last issue). Having spent a month with Yamaha’s taller touring screen (£143) I’ve now swapped for a Skidmarx option (£90) which doesn’t cure the problem either. The search continues.
At last: the B4560. All of five miles long and less than 10 minutes end to end, this gnarly mountain road north to Llangynidr is a personal favourite: wide, mostly smooth, always varied, generally quiet and stunningly scenic. The Tracer dances across it joyously, steering with the sharp speed of a streetfighter through the tighter turns. Well worth a 200-mile trip.
I’d hoped to steal a longer ride through the Brecon Beacons, but the sat nav tells me it’s home time already. So it’s north through Bwlch, a snigger as I pass Three Cocks, and a spontaneous U-turn to check out the signposted Orgasmic Cider Company (shut today, sadly). On to the belting A44 at Leominster, across to Worcester and pick up the M5 for the ride home. The fuel light rears its head again at 300 miles, by which time my bum, head and back are all begging for a break too.
Two hours later I’m home, a fitting 20 minutes late, though the unplanned night ride highlighted the Tracer’s stonking LED headlights. Grand total for today’s Grand Tour: 426.5 miles. Farewell summertime, and roll on Sunday March 31, 2019.
Sun-up in Lincolnshire at the start of the ride
The beauty and isolation of the B4560 to Llangynidr Welsh tarmac unfolds in the late summer sun
The glorious Brecon Beacons
Frank Whittle monument outside Lutterworth