Riding the New Yamaha MT-09 and MT-09 Tracer

Blood brothers

We’re big fans of the Yamaha MT-09, openly describing it as one of the best bang-for-buck naked bike in the local market. So when Yamaha Philippines announced that they’re launching the MT-09 Tracer in the local market, we couldn’t help ourselves but salivate inside our helmets. Soon, the 2017 MT-09 and MT-09 Tracer were parked in our office garage courtesy of our friends from Y-Zone. Naturally, I gravitated towards the more aggressive MT-09. Having ridden the first version from Manila to Laoag last year, I developed quite a soft spot for the new Yamaha naked. Brando, on the other hand, was just happy to be reunited with the MT-09 Tracer for he was the first one among our team to ride it to Sagada, Mountain Province a few weeks back.

For our back-to-back comparo, we decided to bring the duo to our favorite testing grounds in Infanta, Quezon because the route provides a balanced mix of urban and fast mountain roads. Brando, Jerel our photographer, and I met up the following day at McDonald’s along Marcos Highway in Cainta for a quick breakfast before heading up the hills. A good thing about doing our photoshoot on a Monday morning is that most of the traffic is heading in the opposite direction, and once up the hills of Tanay, the roads are mostly deserted, save for some locals going about their daily business.

MT-09

Riding the 2017 MT-09 felt immediately familiar. Yamaha made a few but significant changes to the current model, but original MT-09 owners, I surmise, would feel very much at home here. The most prominent of the updates is the twin LED headlights. Nothing’s wrong with the single headlight of the original MT-09, in fact I found it really effective after we rode from Laoag to Vigan City last year while it was raining. But the new, twin LED headlights are thankfully equally effective, plus it gives the new MT-09 that distinctive reptilian look of its bigger brother the MT-10. The upward slanted subframe is 30mm shorter with a reshaped tail unit housing a new 3-dimensional 12-LED cluster tail light and a swing-arm mounted floating number plate holder. More subtle aesthetic updates are more prominent air scoops on either side of the fuel tank and new radiator cowls.

Other non-aesthetic updates include a 5mm higher seat, an uprated 41mm inverted front suspension with separate rebound (left fork) and compression (right fork) damping adjustments, a quick-shifter for up-shifts and a new Assist & Slip (A&S) clutch that Yamaha claims reduced lever effort by as much as 20 percent. The multi-function full LCD dash is unchanged, but the instruments are moved closer to the headlight assembly, and the indicators have been relocated next to the radiator. These subtle but otherwise significant changes effectively make the new MT-09 a second-generation bike. Yamaha carried over the three ride modes (A, Standard, and B) from the previous MT-09 but now it remembers your settings even if you switch off the bike. Traction control is standard and can be switched off, but the ABS stays on all the time.

The seat may be higher by 5mm but I hardly noticed it because, surprisingly, I can still reach the ground comfortably with both feet firmly planted. That’s because the forward edge of the seat is slim and the narrow chassis allows shorter riders to reach the ground. Riders no shorter than 5 feet 7 inches should be able to ride the MT-09 comfortably, I suppose. The reach to the handlebars is short with a slight forward lean and as with the previous generation MT-09, the controls are all within easy reach of the rider. The horn button, though, needs some getting used to, as it’s a bit further than usual. The rider’s perspective from the seat is expansive; you can’t see any of the bike beyond the slim LCD instrument panel that’s been carried over from the previous MT-09. For such a tiny screen, the LCD impressively packs a lot of information like speed, tachometer, gear, fuel level, power modes setting, traction control, odometer, trip meter, and time.

On the road, the new MT-09, thankfully, feels much like the old one. That’s because Yamaha knows better than to mess with a gem of an engine which is the CP3, or Cross-Plane 3 cylinder. With 847cc of actual displacement, the CP3 has the combined characteristics of an inline-4 top end rush, the midrange of a V-twin and the compactness of a triple that very much defines the soulful character of the MT-09. The addition of the quick-shifter only brings out the best of the CP3 by offering a seamless transition between gear ratios. Rewarding you with a constant (and addictive) viscous howl from the airbox as you let the revs climb to its 11,300 rpm redline before shifting to another gear. I just wish it also offers quick-shift functionality for downshifts, too. But then again it would’ve brought the price of the MT-09 higher. Besides, the new A&S clutch noticeably smooths out my most clumsy downshifts and the clutch lever, as promised, is indeed 20 percent lighter in effort.

Like on the previous generation MT-09, I somewhat got the feeling of riding a Supermoto, which I truly like. With soft-ish suspension settings you must feather the front brakes before diving into a corner rather than grabbing a handful like on a sportbike. Otherwise, the front will nosedive and upset the front-end geometry that may affect your cornering line. But once you get used to it you’ll soon discover how much fun the MT-09 can be negotiating your favorite canyon roads. The MT-09 received updated front suspension so you can adjust compression and rebound damping to your personal preference. Unlike the front end however, Yamaha chose to retain the rather very soft rear shock absorber from the previous MT-09. While it provides a supple ride over a variety of road surfaces, it sometimes tends to hop like a pogo stick over uneven surfaces inside a corner. Adjusting the spring preload and rebound damping might help.

 

MT-09 Tracer

When we reached Sampaloc in Tanay, Rizal I pulled over to the side of the road to switch bikes with Brando. Upon swinging a leg over the Tracer, you could be fooled into thinking that you’re riding a totally different bike. But it isn’t. The Tracer is simply the adventure sports-touring version of the naked and it’s amazing what a few changes could do to the MT-09 platform to make it more suitable for its new role. Foremost is a different riding position, which is higher at 845mm (adjustable to 860mm) and slightly moved forward due to the comfortable looking pillion seat. The handlebars get new hand-guards and are also wider, higher, and closer to the rider. To suit different riders, however, the handlebars can be adjusted fore and aft by 10mm. Compared to the lean forward riding position of the MT-09, the Tracer feels more upright, more natural, and arguably more comfortable for longer rides. The Tracer also gets the added benefit of a windscreen, albeit small, it can be manually raised or lowered by 30mm. For longer range, the Tracer gets a bigger 18-liter fuel tank compared to the MT09’s 14.

While the Tracer basically shares everything with the MT-09 mechanically, the Tracer gets modified intake and exhaust systems without affecting the maximum power output of 113 bhp. Like the MT-09, the Tracer gets standard ABS, Traction Control, and three ride modes. For its new role as an adventure sports-tourer, Yamaha gave the Tracer a gentler fuel map compared to the MT-09. But for some reasons, I still find “mode A” a little bit snatchy for my liking. Thankfully, there are the gentler modes B and STND. For touring purposes, and perhaps to cope with 20Kg. additional weight, the Tracer gets different spring and damping rates from the MT-09 naked. What it sadly doesn’t share with the MT-09, however, is the superb quick-shifter that could’ve made the Tracer a more attractive proposition against its rivals. This is probably to keep overall cost down. Another cost-cutting measure adapted on the Tracer is the LCD instrument panel lifted directly from Yamaha XT1200 Super Tenere adventure bike. That I actually like.

Again, it’s the soulful triple cylinder CP3 motor that defines the sweet riding experience of the Tracer. On winding roads like Tanay, you could leave it in 3rd or 4th gear and revel in the torque rich characteristics of the motor by simply rolling on and off the throttle. Power builds progressively from 4,000 rpm, gathering intensity up to 10,000 rpm where it achieves peak power before culminating to its 11,500 rpm redline. It is this flexible nature of the CP3 motor that allows the Tracer (and the MT-09 naked for that matter) to ride like a hooligan in the twisties or a refined sport-tourer on the highway. The upright riding position would make you less inclined to attack corners like you would on the naked MT-09, but strangely the revised damping and spring rates on the Tracer coped well, if not much better, with more spirited riding than the MT-09 does, especially on less than ideal road surfaces.

W2W Verdict

The MT-09 and MT-09 Tracer are both superb bikes without a doubt, but if you only have enough space in your garage for one motorcycle, then choosing between the two would be a matter of priority. If you do more trackdays and canyon riding than you do long distance touring, then there’s no doubt that MT-09 is the bike for you. While you could cover vast distances on a naked MT-09 like we did last year when we rode to Ilocos Norte and back, its lack of wind protection makes riding at elevated highway speeds quite tiresome. Installing an aftermarket windscreen would certainly cure this, but for a little bit more money, you could get the more comfortable MT-09 Tracer. Whatever you choose, though, you’re riding home a winner.

MT-09 Specifications

Engine: 3-cylinder, DOHC, 12 valve, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled

Displacement: 847cc

Max Power: 113 hp @ 10,000

Max Torque: 65 lb-ft @ 8,500

Transmission: 6-speed

Seat Height: 815mm

Fuel Capacity: 14 Liters

Curb Weight: 193 kg.

Top Speed: 260 Km/h

Price: PhP 549,000

+: Bang for buck sport naked, sublime 3-cylinder motor, superb quick-shifter

-: Softish rear suspension

C! Rating: 10/10

 

MT-09 Tracer Specifications     

Engine: 3-cylinder, DOHC, 12 valve, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled

Displacement: 847cc

Max Power: 113 hp @ 10,000

Max Torque: 65 lb-ft @ 8,500

Transmission: 6-speed

Seat Height: 845mm – 860mm

Fuel Capacity: 18 Liters

Curb Weight: 210 kg.

Top Speed: 260 Km/h

Price: PhP 589,000

+: Superb ride and comfort, lightweight handling, sublime 3-cylinder motor

-: Not much

C! Rating: 10/10

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Motorcycle Editor