With a new touring model joining the incredible Yamaha MT-07 line-up, learner riding has never looked so good.
Words: Paul Pics: iKapture
It was the truck which I happened to encounter at an inopportune time which let the others get ahead. Once the road became remotely straight, I slipped past the B-train effortlessly and began my pursuit of the rest of the journos, tucked down behind the screen and hanging onto gears in an effort to squeeze the last bit of performance out of the Yamaha’s 655cc parallel twin powerplant. As I watched the figures on the clear digital speedo continue to rise, quickly creeping into anti-social levels while I peeled through corners, linking them together without touching the brakes and risking scrubbing off any speed, it dawned on me that this is one hell of a learner’s bike. In fact, it’s taken the LAMS segment to a whole new level, with no other learner-approved model this fast, fun or versatile.
The original MT-07 is a stunning bike. Naked layout, simple features, great chassis and a peach of a powerplant; the MT is the bad boy bike like the RD range was back in the day. It encourages you to misbehave and puts a bloody big smile on your face when you do it. But with Yamaha’s master-stroke of developing entirely different models using the same base platform, next out was the custom-styled XSR, which took what was already an excellent bike and added a swathe of coolness. And now we’ve got the grown-up version, with the Tracer arguably the first learner-legal bike to offer trainees a motorcycle that’s capable of serious touring straight from the shop floor.
Yamaha really hit the nail on the head with their 655cc LAMS bikes. With the parallel-twin featuring their trademark cross-plane crankshaft supplying an uneven firing order, the motor not only sounds great but also supplies its power in a very unthreatening way. Don’t get me wrong – it’s punchy when you snap the throttle on coming out of a turn. But as there’s only a claimed 52hp to play with combined with 57Nm of silky smooth torque rolling in at 4,000rpm, the mid-range is where the MT-07 varieties are happiest and perform at their best. And that’s what learner riders require, with an easy to access power delivery meaning they’re not hunting through gears trying to get decent drive.
The tubular steel chassis is carried through the range with only minor alterations between models. It not only keeps things simple but also keeps weight down. As tourers go, the Tracer is a featherweight, only tipping the scales at 196kilos which again is important to those either new to riding or simply sick of heavy, unwieldly motorcycles. With the bulk of the kilos kept low and central – notice the exhaust is tucked away underneath – despite being a touring motorcycle, the Tracer is no more intimidating than the naked MT version. A low 835mm seat further compounds the Tracer’s friendly nature.
Despite being classed as entry-level, sitting aboard the Yamaha it feels anything but, with the same LED clocks that feature on the other two models looking sharp and supplying you with everything you need to know at a glance. I love the fact the gear indicator is front and centre, and as the revs climb across the bottom of the screen it gives you an easy reference of where you’re sitting in the power, which again is great for newbies.
The riding position is all-day comfortable, with a solid few hours sampling the delights of the famous Putty Road, just out of Sydney, followed by the usual slog through traffic as we got closer to town. Looking at the other riders in the group, I only noticed one stretching his legs, and as he’s a seasoned racer it was probably more to do with old “war wounds” than anything the bike was doing that caused the stiffness. From the nicely positioned high bars to the seat/peg relationship, the Tracer just feels right, and riding it is seriously easy.
Obviously as it’s classed as a tourer, you need somewhere to put a change of undies and the Tracer comes already fitted with a set of semi-soft luggage. It’s more of an overnight capacity than touring round the world type deal, but they look good, don’t protrude too far so lane splitting isn’t inhibited, and can be removed so you can take your gear into your hotel, motel or tent… A few more litres added to the fuel tank gives the Tracer a decent range between drinks, with 17litres on board (three litres up on the MT’s) likely to get you well over 250kays before you need to start thinking of servos. With a day of heavy-handed riding on the launch, the digital display on my test bike was showing 6.4litres per hundred kilometres, and even managed 57km on reserve before we finally made it to a fuel stop.
Best just got better
Bike journos, identical bikes, twisty roads and Aus/NZ rivalry is guaranteed to produce one result, and the Tracers weren’t relinquished from their throttle stops for quite some time as we worked our way further from our overnight stay within the vineyards of the Hunter Valley and carved our way through the rock-lined route. This was the closest I’d come in Australia to the great NZ biking roads that we take for granted, with smooth tarmac weaving its way through national parks for roughly 170km between the centres of Windsor and Singleton. You’d think we would all have been wishing for more powerful machines, but the Tracer with its linear power delivery, simple yet compliant suspension and light but agile road manners, made this one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had. And we all conceded that it wouldn’t have been much quicker on machines with double the horsepower.
If you’re going touring and want to click off the kays, put the screen up and enjoy the ride. The suspension is designed to meet a budget and bigger holes or compressions in the road can give you a jolt and a want for a bit more rebound damping. But in most cases, it simply gets on with the job in hand in a predictable fashion. The twin four piston brake calipers gripping 282mm discs aren’t the most exotic or powerful, but they do the job and do it well with plenty of feel – again the perfect choice for new or returning riders. I can testify that they work well when squeezed in anger, with a Toyota Corolla driver deciding that the group of bikes going past was all she needed to concentrate on before hitting the throttle and pulling out in front of the remaining rider – me – who was 50metres behind. With my fingers and foot jumping into action while I simultaneously yelled at her from behind my dark visor – I don’t know why I didn’t use the horn instead! – the Tracer dived on its nose and brought me to a controlled stop, with the ABS pulsing gently and saving me from becoming a hood ornament. It made me fall for the Tracer even more, which dealt with the situation in a such a manner that even the newest rider would feel comfortable grabbing a handful.
Also adding to the feeling of stability is the addition of 50mm to the swingarm, which takes away the flighty nature that made the naked version so much fun. The MT-07 is a seriously great wheelie bike, but the added length of the Tracer calms the front-end with a much more concerted effort required to loft a mono. The rear sub-frame is stronger to take the added weight of the panniers while the rear shock is also increased in length, giving 12mm more travel to a total of 142mm. Rake is increased by one degree to 25 degrees while the trail in unchanged at 90mm.
But these changes designed to add to the stability of the Tracer haven’t transpired into a slow-steering motorcycle, with only a slight nudge of the swept back handlebars required to get the Tracer changing direction. The slim feel of the bike between your legs despite the increase in fuel capacity makes the Tracer impressively entertaining and puts it firmly in the realm of sports touring, despite the reduced power. The Tracer is sure to stir up the mid-sized all-rounder market just as vigorously as the MT-07 did the naked division on its arrival two years ago. The Tracer is quick, fun, agile, practical, stylish and inexpensive. Despite being a LAMS version, the Tracer 700 is still all the motorbike that plenty of riders will ever need.
Are you looking for a LAMS bike that can handle some serious kays but also deal with a bit of adventure? Yamaha Australia dressed one of the test bikes up with a smattering of their genuine accessories, with crash bars, spot lights, a touring screen and Akrapovic exhaust giving the Tracer a hard edge. Finishing off the adventure look with the brilliant Metzeler TKC80 tyres, the exercise showed at least one of the Japanese manufacturers is looking to the success the Europeans have had with genuine accessories and are finally following suit. The bike looked stunning and was no slower through the admittedly dry corners than the road-tyre-shod alternatives. And if this isn’t your cuppa, then there are over 40 genuine accessories to choose from.
2017 Yamaha Tracer 700
Engine type: 655cc liquid-cooled parallel twin four-stroke
Valve arrangement: DOHC, four valves
Bore x stroke: 78 x 68.6mm
Carburation: digital fuel injection
Maximum power: 52bhp @ 8000rpm
Maximum torque: 57Nm @ 4000rpm
Clutch: wet multiplate
Front suspension: 41mm telescopic, 130mm travel
Rear suspension: single shock, 142mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload
Front brake: two four-piston Monobloc calipers with 282mm petal discs
Rear brake: single-piston caliper with 245mm petal disc
Front tyre: 120/70 x 17in Michelin Pilot Road
Rear tyre: 180/55 x 17in Michelin Pilot Road
Rake/trail: 24.8 degrees/90mm
Seat height: 835mm
Fuel capacity: 17-litres
Weight: 196kg wet