Nick Ienatsch

2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Long-Term Test

Nick Ienatsch sets out to ride the Rockies

The wind built steadily throughout the day but wasn’t a big deal because we were tucked in a parking lot surrounded by buildings doing ChampStreet clinics in northwest Las Vegas. It was October 14. The gusts had almost no effect on the day and the clinics went great; instructors Steve Ritchey, Andrew Cox, and I wrapped up at about 6:15 p.m.

“You still riding north tonight?” Steve asked as we put the cones away. He was asking because my Arai helmet had snapped a critical piece in the face-shield mechanism when the wind toppled it off a cement wall, and I had decided to return home to get another helmet before heading north. And home was about 45 minutes south of our parking lot.

“Yep,” I answered. “I’ve got another helmet at home so I’ll head back and grab it, then ride up the Lake Mead road, probably stop in Hurricane (Utah) overnight so I can see Zion Park first thing tomorrow.”

“It’s gonna be cold,” Steve replied.

I pointed to the Tracer GT’s handlebar and said, “Heated grips, stock,” and then to the Venture Heat wires I had tucked into the panel under the seat, “and heated gear… I’m all set.”

Steve Ritchey
Steve Ritchey (left) with "my" new Tracer GT at our ChampStreet clinic. See that helmet? Two hours after this picture, it was blown off a cement wall and broke the face-shield mechanism, delaying my trip north. Steve, with 600,000 trouble-free Las Vegas motorcycle miles under his belt, agreed this delay was "meant to be." As a police officer and riding enthusiast, he knows how time works in motorcycle riding.Andrew Cox

But I didn’t count on the dastardly wind. After the helmet swap where I replaced my size large street-riding helmet with a size medium race helmet, and swapped over the Chatterbox radio, it was past 8 p.m. when I finally turned onto the lonely, fast, dark road that parallels Lake Mead. I wasn’t late because all I had to do was be in Salt Lake City by the next evening. But immediately the wind began to do its best to ruin this fast, lonely road.

One moment it was a 35-mph headwind, then it switched to a blast up the right side that would end as abruptly as it started before becoming a headwind again. Of course never became a helping tailwind! The GT's amazingly informational TFT dash displayed an air temp of 51 degrees. I snuggled into my vest and heated grips, resting my chin on the tank bag as the wind did its best to unseat me. It was bad—I raced at Willow Springs Raceway for many years so I know bad winds. Got my heart rate up a few times…

Richard McKim and Nick Ienatsch
Richard McKim met me at the AIM motorcycle expo in Las Vegas and introduced me to my new Cycle World long-term test bike. I asked for his help because the Tracer comes with adjustable power modes, traction control, grip warmers, maintenance intervals... and Richard is much smarter than I. Initially the electronics were intimidating but proved very intuitive. "And read the owner's manual," Richard added. The manual (and Richard) gave me complete understanding of the trick dash and electronics, how to work the saddlebags, how to raise and lower the seat, and how to quickly adjust headlight height. This little 900 packs a lot of goodies.Yamaha USA

Into this potential misery came the character of the Tracer GT. In a word: willing. It revved easily and quickly, steering with a light and precise touch but was stable and comfortable enough to allow me to hide behind my tank bag in one place. We made it all the way to Hurricane in one wind-battered stretch, and I dismounted for fuel with my whole body vibrating. I had run the whole way with the windscreen in its highest position but the screen wasn’t to blame—it was just a nasty night. The towers of Zion were just north, unseen in the dark but already promising a magical second day on the GT.

Windgate Inn
The Windgate Inn in Hurricane, Utah (pronounced “Hurkin”), built this parking area for Tracer GTs right next to the main doors: handy and secure. The 900 is very easy to roll around and pop up on the centerstand. I love a centerstand and left the locked saddlebags in place overnight. Zion here we come.Nick Ienatsch

Sport-touring motorcycles were invented for the riding so many of us do: minimal freeway slogging for maximum back-road enjoyment while carrying our gear and bodies in comfort. I have never had a bike with hard, lockable saddlebags, much less cruise control and heated grips plus ABS, TC, and power modes as the Tracer GT has; so it was a pleasure to grab my tank bag and rear bag and shuffle into the hotel after a long and successful day of motorcycling, leaving much of my gear safe in the saddlebags. The ignition key is also the saddlebag key…smart.

Tomorrow, Zion Park and the ride north to Salt Lake City would launch my much-anticipated Tracer GT relationship though it had already proven a competent and willing companion in unfriendly conditions. We were getting to know each other and the first 235 miles left me with no complaints, though we had been in survival mode during Las Vegas traffic and the notorious Nevada winds. Up to this point the GT had been the tool that got me to Southern Utah, tomorrow I would really meet the bike.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park on day two of this new relationship with a Yamaha 900 Tracer GT. Zion is a good for relationships as it’s here that I proposed to Judy; that has lasted 22 years so it’s a good chance this one-year deal will work out.Nick Ienatsch

Zion National Park’s silhouette once again ripped the air from my lungs—the rugged beauty reminding me of one of life’s great pleasures: being out in the world on a motorcycle. It had been a long time since my last extended bike trip and I took my time getting through the park, including a stop at the lodge gift shop. I’m fighting against old man grumpiness, so I’ll only say that the crowds on this mid-week day in October were disappointingly large. I’ve been blessed enough to visit and hike in Zion for over three decades and have watched the world discover this place. Sigh. Once again I thanked the heavens above that I was on a motorcycle as there is no better way to see the beauty of this world while instantly passing the people who ruin it. Was that too grumpy?

Ah, passing. The GT leaps forward at almost any rpm but really sings above 7,200 rpm and all the way to redline at 11,500 rpm. We did the yo-yo many times and were the final vehicle through the tunnels that lead to the northern part of the park. They close the tunnels for one-way traffic if there is a large vehicle coming through, meaning that after a 10-minute wait at the side of the road we had a clear run through to the northern boundary of the park. Once again, and for the thousandth time, Malcolm Forbes' words echoed through my mind: "The best view is a clear road ahead of me." We were riding Harley-Davidsons in Yosemite National Park in the 1980s when the Capitalist Tool spoke those words to our group. Amen, Malcolm.

After the tight technical park road, Highway 9 and 89 were open, flowing, and fast yet still fairly crowded. The Tracer 900 GT and I settled into a pace that put us faster than traffic but not beyond the “Golly, sir, I am so sorry about my speed and I was just a bit cold and looking forward to a cup of coffee in (add town here) and I’ll slow down” type of discussion. That’s a tough discussion when you’re 30 mph over the limit, so I utilized the GT’s cruise control and ran a fun pace that put me past the texters quite easily.

We had a very fast run into Salt Lake City because a metallic gray Chevy Suburban with Ontario plates set a blistering pace, driving quickly with actual focus and deliberation, until traffic began to back up on Interstate 15 around Provo. I gave him a thankful wave for the rabbit work as I slipped past in the slowing mess, then bailed off the interstate once into the Salt Lake Valley where I lived from the age of 10 to 24. My dad was a mining engineer with Kennecott Copper Corporation and my mom was a first-grade teacher in Murray, so I navigated the remaining few miles to my mom’s house. My dad passed away three years ago, but because he gave me the gift of motorcycling, he will never be gone from my life. We talk in our helmets all the time.

Mom and Judy
Mom and Judy lunching during a hike in Zion a few years ago, pausing for a sip of beer and bite of snacks, or “ambrosia” according to mom. In this picture, I believe Judy is telling my mom, “We’re going to snip your Achilles tendon if you don’t slow down!” Mom can hike!Brian Smith

As I pulled the GT into mom’s garage, helped immensely by her dogs Willow and Todo, I begrudgingly admitted this Tracer was a better tool for today’s job than my amazing and much-loved 2006 Yamaha FZ1. There, I said it—and it’s high praise. The FZ1s used at YCRS impressed me so much that I bought my own and it has been outstanding, with a capital O. My mom asked about the ride; I omitted the big speeds, crazy winds, and the lone deer I whizzed past in the dark outside of Hurricane (did you read “Hurkin”?). I talked about how much fun this new bike is and how much I am looking forward to the next 12 months. I might have mentioned the heated grips and hand guards a few times too. Over wine we reminisced about the empty Zion we remembered, both agreeing that it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved.

Mom's garage
It’s always good to bring a new friend home to meet mom. She approved of the Tracer 900 GT and allowed it into her garage. This could be a beautiful friendship. There are many things to love on this bike, and near the very top, for me, is the quickshifter. If you’ve never upshifted with the throttle pinned, you are missing out on one of riding’s cooler feelings: Uninterrupted acceleration is addicting. “But officer, it’s got a quickshifter!” Probably words I will speak soon.Ellie Ienatsch

During my three-day visit the Tracer 900 GT and I would blast up Big Cottonwood Canyon with Gary Klein before leaving Salt Lake headed for southern Colorado. Part 2 of my Tracer GT introductory ride next Tuesday.

More next Tuesday!