A full review of my time with the Yamaha FJ-09, a.k.a. the Yamaha Tracer 900 in Europe. In summary — 200KM/h never felt so easy.
I took out a Yamaha Tracer 900 (known as the Yamaha FJ-09 in the US) for a happy weekend in France, rented from Locamoto for a tiny price of 79 Euros per day. A paltry price to pay for being able to fly around the back roads of southwest France at 200 km/h.
Here's what I thought of the Yamaha Tracer 900/FJ-09.
Note: I'm writing this at the time when the Coronavirus COVID-19 is wreaking havoc around the world, but motorcycles take my mind off things. They're also a great way to self-isolate!
General Thoughts on the Yamaha Tracer 900
I loved my time with the Tracer 900. I flew around the French countryside way faster than I expected. It was so comfortable that I often forgot how capable a sports motorcycle it really is.
For context, the Tracer 900 wasn't the first Yamaha Triple I had ridden. The previous month I had spent a couple of days with a Yamaha MT-09 — the same engine (tuned slightly differently), but in a naked chassis.
Overall, the naked MT-09 is a berserk motorcycle. It has an insane level of power for its tiny sub-200kg weight. It's so low to the ground that flinging it around corners is ludicrously easy. It felt as light and easy to ride as a Ninja 250, but with 3-4 times the power depending on where you sit in the torque curve.
In fact, the MT-09 had so much power that I didn't really like it. For such a lightweight motorcycle for city riding, I much prefer the Yamaha 689cc equivalent in the MT-07, or its parallel (well... its V) in the Suzuki SV650.
I've also read reviews of the Yamaha XSR900 describing how they tamed the throttle response of the MT-09 to make it a much more palatable package. Without having ridden the XSR900 — yet — I can't comment directly.
But that imbalance of power for the chassis in the MT-09 changed completely with the Tracer 900, too. Suddenly I was gifted with an engine that had a much more usable power-band, plus a windshield, an upright seating position, hand guards, and cruise control.
The Tracer 900/FJ-09 is some 20kg heavier than the MT-09, and in some ways the motorcycle really needs the extra weight. The power plant is still very ample at 85 kW (115 hp), but it just felt much more appropriate for an upright motorcycle carrying a bit more weight — and maybe some luggage, too.
Yamaha Tracer 900/FJ-09 — That Sweet, Purring Triple
I think my favourite thing about the Tracer 900 is that triple engine. Triples are sleeper favourites among motorcycle riders. Nobody hates them! They are close enough to twins to have character, and close enough to fours to have smoothness. In short — something for everyone.
The engine of the Tracer 900 is near perfect for fast European roads.
It has torque down low, so much so that it's hard to stall and I never lugged it. And revs up high enough to have fun in without being a ludicrous 4-cylinder screamer like the Yamaha R6.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Yamaha R6... but I just rarely want to be at higher than 12,000 rpm on public roads!
Since the Yamaha 900 triple (well, 847cc in actual fact — closer to 850, but I guess 900 sounds better?) revs to 11,000 rpm, I felt like the power band was perfect for back roads in Europe (and in the US). I didn't often have to shift, and just did to get the engine screaming again!
The exhaust note of the Yamaha Tracer 900 is OK in stock form, but I found it a little dull. Even though I prefer motorcycles to be quiet, I wouldn't have any hesitation putting an exhaust system onto this one. This isn't really Yamaha's fault. EURO-4 and EURO-5 restrictions means motorcycles have to be near silent at idle and so that's what you get.
Yamaha Tracer 900/FJ-09 Comfort
The thing that made the Tracer 900 much more of a practical touring weapon is what they've done to that bare-bones format fo the MT-09 to make it actually usable.
First, the obvious — the Tracer 900 is much more upright and comfortable than an MT-09 (or an XSR900, I imagine).
When sitting on a Tracer, your feet are comfortably below you. I'm six feet tall and neither felt cramped nor stretched out.
The seat and handlebars were large, wide, touring style — the kind of seating position and grip you can be in for hours on end without getting aches and pains of any kind.
When riding motorcycles my hands sometimes go numb from pressure on my wrist, but that happened very little on the Tracer. It's partly from a) the smoothness of the engine (minimal vibrations) and b) the upright posture, which meant I didn't have to lean down on the handlebars.
Even better, the machine had cruise control, which meant I could use almost no pressure at all on the controls! In fact, I learned from my time with this machine just how valuable cruise control can be.
The controls were all very easy to find on the Tracer and the display gave me easy-to-read information at a glance. I didn't find any of it annoying or difficult to use.
The one thing that was lacking on the Tracer 900 was wind protection. On any touring motorcycle with a fairing, I expect to be able to ride without having an ungodly amount of wind around my helmet. On the Tracer 900, I definitely was buffeted by wind. I've got a fairly standard 6-foot 180-lb (80kg) build (not too long in the torso nor legs), and didn't like the amount of wind around my helmet.
Riding the Yamaha Tracer 900
Somewhat of an acid test for me when riding any motorcycle is: how much do I look forward to getting onto it?
Like, when I walk up to to this motorcycle, do I feel dread? That happens sometimes with uncomfortable sportsbikes (or bicycles!) after riding them for hours on end.
Or when I'm not on the motorcycle, do I lust after it and wish I could get back on to it?
For the Tracer 900, I feel I'm somewhere in between. When I got onto the Tracer 900 I was happy, comfortable, and relaxed. I never had aches and pains and generally looked forward to the next leg of riding.
But at the same time, when not sitting on the motorcycle and when chilling in a cafe... I was happy there.
In the past, when I mostly rode my Ducati Monster 900, I missed it all the time. Same when I rode my Triumph Scrambler. I'd think of the roar, the vibrations, and I'd always get excited just thinking about it. The day I sold those motorcycles was difficult both times!
Side note: it's when you see them leave that you realise how much you're going to miss a motorcycle...
This acid test is why I'm not going to get a Yamaha Tracer 900. In summary, the Tracer 900 gave me the same highly functional, competent feeling that many upright standards gave — like a modern UJM, they perform their duty, then you get off and you move on.
I loved my time with the Yamaha Tracer 900 and I'm glad I got that out of my system. But for me, it didn't excite me emotionally enough to commit to this being part of my small stable of motorcycles.