The first time I went touring on a bike, I was 22. With a licence that was less than 48 hours old in my pocket, a handful of Pepperamis down my leathers and an army issue sleeping back strapped to the back of my bike, I set of from North Devon heading for Le Mans. I was riding an Italian Supermoto that was about as reliable as a jelly doorstop and I had the time of my life. The feeling you get when you know your destination involves unknown roads and a ferry crossing is addictive. Rolling onto foreign soil with nothing to do but gather up memories and wear out your tyres can be life affirming, sometimes even life changing. I’ve done more big mile trips across continents than I can remember since that first calamitous crusade to Le Mans, and not once have I felt any less excited when the key goes in the bike on day one.
The choice of bike is sometimes less important than the choice to just go in the first place, but if you’re going to become a regular member of the high mile club, it makes sense to opt for something that makes you smile as much in the twisty bits as it does in the boring long bits. The Yamaha MT07 Tracer is a sports touring bike, if it does what it says on the tin, it should be the perfect entry-level sports tourer.
Using the ridiculously popular MT07 as a basis, the baby Tracer sits in the Yamaha sports touring category, one down from the MT09 version and two down from the big daddy FJR1300. Tracer and standard MT07 share the same engine, gearing, ABS brakes and pretty much the same chassis bar a reinforced rear subframe to cope with luggage and pillion work. The forks have a different spring rate and revised damping. The biggest mechanical difference is out the back. The swingarm is five centimetres longer than the one you’ll find on an MT07. In dynamic terms, five centimetres is massive and the effect it has on the bike is fairly major. The rear shock has 1.2cm more squish as well, all in an effort to accommodate the extra load you’re expected to place on the bike when you load it up and head off in search of adventure.
Up top the Tracer has an adjustable screen that has 6.4cm of range from top to bottom and is manually adjustable. Nestled underneath is an easy to read screen that displays gear position, fuel, revs speed and a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Thanks to the lack of digital toys, the screen isn’t clogged with rider modes, power settings or any of the other new age swag that we’ve become accustomed to. Your two piece ass sits on a comfy one piece seat and your knees lock into rubber pads on the sides of the 17 litre tank. Hands are protected by smart looking guards that flank a touring cowl that’s softer and easier on the eye than the MT09 Tracer.
The range of factory accessories spans both sports and touring intentions. Noisy pipes, stubby levers, rearsets and other shiny bits and pieces on one list, heated seats, heated grips, 12V sockets and luggage on the other. They’ve thought about the lot with the 07 Tracer. The little touches like the accessory mounting bar across the dip in the handlebars for your sat nav and hair straighteners to bolt to are a great touch, as is the integrated and smart looking bungee hook points around the tail unit.
So, on paper at least, the MT07 Tracer appears to offer the perfect blend of lively MT07 performance, with more than enough practicality and comfort to make easy work of long distance trips. Fortunately for us, we got to test the bike in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy. If the bike the bike wasn’t up to the job, at least the views would be nice.
Describing the view in the Dolomites as ‘nice’ does them the same disservice as expecting the 07 Tracer to let me down. We hit the road for a full and thankfully dry day of riding. We’ve ridden the MT07, I thought it a bit too twitchy for my tastes, the XSR700 variant on the other hand, is an absolute ripper. I loved riding that on the press launch a few months back and was looking forward to riding this bike, despite my concerns that a sports touring bike powered by a sub 700cc parallel twin might struggle. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be sucking the mirrors off sports bikes on it, but you will be surprised at how well it makes the most of the 75bhp available, Yamaha were proud of its market leading power to weight ratio. If anything, once you find your feet on the thing, you’ll start to feel like a bit of a hero, travelling everywhere with the throttle on the stop should the mood take you.
That extra length in the swing arm certainly has an effect on the MT07 Tracer’s ability to pop a wheelie. The XSR and the standard MT07 are both brilliant wheelie bikes, this one less so thanks to the stable and slightly larger gap between the wheels. Also, if you’re in the market for a wheelie toy, you’re looking at the wrong bike. Yamaha are pitching this at the younger, up and coming touring set. Over 40 percent of MT09 Tracer owners are over 50 years old, this smaller version is aimed at those between 25-39 years of age. I’m 36, which makes me target market material. Within the first ten minutes of riding, I was grateful of the extra stability this bike has over the MT07. Road manners are improved, the bike doesn’t skip along looking for roundabouts to fall into and corners to bounce off, I think this is a smoother and easier bike to ride than either MT07 or XSR700.
I opted to run the screen at the top of its adjustment, twisting the knobs and sliding the screen with two hands in between squirts of throttle on a straight road. It takes seconds to adjust. I could still feel a little bit of wind in my (beard) hair but even at close to 100mph I was happy with the buffeting. Comfort comes easy thanks to the peg and bar position in relation to the seat. Like I said, a nicer place to be than the standard MT07.
Winding our way up into the mountains, the choice of Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres seemed completely logical. The synergy between tyres, suspension and brakes felt perfect. The bike not having so much power that you feel the need to tread carefully on the gas also helped massively. We settled into the route at mid pace, not scrubbing huge amounts of speed for the corners, but without feeling the need to pile on the coals coming off them either. We were having fun, which was nice. A little further up, the corners turned into machine gun hairpins, one after the other. The altitude sapped available power and I started to feel like the throttle was a little bit dead in my hand. Not that we stopped having fun, on more that one occasion I could feel myself sliding up the seat to be closer to the bars, pushing the bike down in corners and yanking it out of them, more than a whiff of supermoto about my riding style and the Tracer was loving it. That 180 section rear tyre is massively reassuring and offers more than enough tyre for you to lean on. Fuelling felt crisp and the Tracer didn’t stop pulling until way after most would have opted for an upshift.
At the first coffee stop I made some notes and thought about the competition. The base model Kawasaki Versys 650 seemed the most logical. Six paper horsepower down and six hundred pounds up on price, the two seem to be targeting the same customer. Both fairly funky looking and seemingly up to the job of big mileage trips, it’d be great to get the two together for a proper ride. Worth noting that the Kawasaki has the bigger fuel tank at 21 litres. Then there’s the V Strom 650 from Suzuki. Slightly further down on power and ever so slightly up on price at just under £7000. Honda also has the NC750X, another worthy contender at £6649 and with all the same kind of attributes as the rest of them.
Where I think some of these competitor bikes might struggle against the Yamaha is the way they make you feel. It sounds cheesy and it is a little bit. But we’re not buying washing machines here. The Yamaha makes me feel good, the amazing views and the friends I was riding with only adding to the experience. I think I’d probably enjoy a ride across a car park on the MT07 Tracer more than the others because it has that slightly undefinable quality that usually gets labeled character. Yamaha are doing something at the factory to all of their bikes that is giving them a bit of an edge when it comes to character. R1, MT10, XSR900 and even the bonkers four wheeled YXZ1000R we didn’t crash last month, they all have it, whatever it is. I hope they carry on doing it.
Back on the mountain roads, slicing through damp patches under tress and puddles here and there, we carried on having nothing but fun. I was slightly jealous of one of our out riders when I realised he had an accessorized bike, stubby pipe, panniers and smart looking levers. It looked the part. One thought that kept on popping back up was the question of whether a 700cc parallel twin was enough motor for touring. While I can’t vouch for it two up, or even laden with luggage, it was certainly more than up to the job of making me smile in comfort. Obviously if you’re chopping your 120 horsepower 1200cc touring machine in for one of these, you might feel a bit short changed in the power department. The MT07 Tracer has enough power, it doesn’t have too much. As long as you remember that when you go for a test ride, you’ll get along with it just fine.
We spent the whole day rattling up and down beautiful mountain passes. Thanks to that longer swingarm, I didn’t spend the whole day trying to pull wheelies. Thanks to the friendly nature of the motor, I also didn’t end up riding so fast I forgot to look at the view. If that’s the kind of touring you enjoy, the MT07 Tracer needs to be on your list of bikes to consider. Stable at high speed, bags of fun at low speed in the twisty stuff and pretty enough for me to enjoy looking at it, Yamaha deserve a pat on the back for dipping their hand in the MT07 parts bin and coming up trumps yet again.
Whether you read this and decide you need to go and have a look for yourself is up to you. I will say this though, this launch reminded me how much fun riding bikes all day can be, Not a twitch or an ache after a full day isn’t as easy as you think. If you’ve yet to do your fist big trip on a bike, pull your finger out and get on with. Before you can be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid. At £6299, the Yamaha MT07 Tracer appears to bridge the gap between the two perfectly.
Words: John Hogan Images: Yamaha