2018 Yamaha Tracer 700 First Ride Video Review

Yamaha’s Tracer 700 is the lightweight sport-tourer smaller riders have been waiting for

As a journalist, tire launches are some of the best junkets. You usually get to ride around an amazing place, and unlike the press intros where everyone is on the same model, at tire launches there are typically lots of different, late-model bikes to ride.

I usually use tire launches as an opportunity to throw a leg over as many motorcycles as possible, but while in Morocco (talk about a rad place to ride!) for the launch of Bridgestone's new T31 sport-touring tires and A41 adventure-touring tires, I was focussed on getting seat time on one machine: Yamaha's Tracer 700.

Yamaha Tracer
Yamaha has taken one of the best lightweight naked bikes and outfitted it for sport-touring.Ari Henning

Based on the MT-07 naked bike, the Tracer ticks a lot of the boxes I have lined up next to my mental image of the perfect motorcycle. Light, compact, feisty, and ready to rip around town or across the state, it's something I might actually consider buying. Truth be told, I'm in the market for a new do-it-all ride to call my own, so I've been curious about the Tracer—and how it compares to Kawasaki's Versys 650, my most-searched model on Craigslist—for some time.

After riding the bike around the bizarre and beautiful landscapes of Morocco, I think the Tracer will be a great option for a lot of riders, but even if it does ripping wheelies, it’s not what I’m after. In a nutshell, it’s too small and too softly sprung for 5-foot-11, 175-pound, hamfisted me.

Yamaha Tracer dash
The dash is familiar, but the fairing (with adjustable windscreen), hand guards, and wider, taller bar are new parts for the Tracer.Ari Henning

If you’re, say, 5-foot-9 or shorter and 150 pounds or less, the Tracer should be a great fit and its fork and shock will likely offer more support and a better ride than what heavier, larger riders will get. And if the bike fits you better than it fits me, you’re in for a treat. This is one light, quick-handling, characterful bike, and it fills a void in the marketplace for more accessible sport-tourers.

The bones of the Tracer are the same as what's found in the MT, but Yamaha added wind-deflecting bodywork (and an adjustable windscreen), a bigger tank (4.5 gallons instead of 3.7), a 30mm-higher seat, and a longer swingarm for added high-speed stability, all in an effort to make the Tracer better on the open road.

Tracer front brakes
The 282mm discs and four-piston calipers are a carryover from the MT-07. They’re adequate but not particularly powerful.Ari Henning

And it is. The riding position is more upright and spacious, and there’s just enough plastic in front of you to keep you from getting smacked around by the wind. But even with a slightly taller seat and wider, taller handlebar, the cockpit still felt cramped after a few hours. And you know what? I’m happy about that, because there are dozens and dozens of bikes that fit me, but not nearly enough middleweight open-roaders for those shorter riders out there.

Tracer swingarm
Yamaha lengthened the Tracer’s swingarm for added high-speed stability.Ari Henning

Like the MT, the Tracer is still super light. Yamaha claims 432 pounds, some 45 or so pounds lighter than the Versys. Compared to the Versys, though, the Tracer’s brakes aren’t as stout and the suspension is much soggier, which means the ride quality and steering response aren’t as good. I love the Yamaha’s engine—that 689cc parallel twin continues to impress with its linear power and great feel—and how compact the Tracer is, but alas it began to feel cramped after a few hours. The slightly bigger, slightly more refined, slightly less exciting Versys is still the better choice for me.

The Tracer isn’t available in America yet, and doesn’t look like it’s headed here any time soon. As if I wasn’t already leaning toward the Versys, that sure makes my purchase decision a lot easier.