2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Road Trip

Nick Ienatsch puts more miles on his long-term sport-tourer

If you read Part 1 of my long-term test last week, my 2019 Tracer 900 GT was parked in my mom's garage in Salt Lake City after a back-roads run from Las Vegas on the way to southern Colorado. Yamaha, through the grace of Marcus DeMichele, Kim Knupp, and Tommy Carroll, delivered the bike to me at Vegas' AIMExpo motorcycle trade show, and I barely had a chance to check tire pressures and hook up my electric clothing before heading north. With the bike finally stationary and unloaded, my mom's dogs and I had a chance to look it over.

Yamaha 900 Tracer GT
Ah, the advantages of motojournalism! A fully fueled, already-broken-in, brand-new Yamaha 900 Tracer GT with my name on it waiting at the AIMExpo motorcycle trade show for me to ride it anywhere I want for 12 months. Yes, I realize how lucky I am.Nick Ienatsch

Based on the previous day’s ride, I slowed the rear rebound damping to two clicks out from the max and took two clicks out of the front compression, to nine clicks out from the max. I added three lines of front spring tension until four lines showed and then added five clicks of rear spring with the handy-dandy every-bike-should-have-one remote spring preload adjustment knob. I left the front rebound where it was stock. My changes came from a desire to slow weight transfer forward and backward with a bit more spring and slower rear rebound, yet take some of the harshness out of how the GT tracked over smaller pavement irregularities by reducing front compression damping (rear is unadjustable). I liked how the front rebound felt with the stock setting. Changing suspension settings is free and easy, but make sure you write down where you start!

’08 Yamaha FZ1
Longtime friend Gary Klein and his '08 Yamaha FZ1 rolled up, ready for a Big Cottonwood ride-a-ganza. Gary wears a wind-blocking vest over his jacket in cold weather, available at bicycle stores, with an electric jacket underneath. A health-care professional, Gary, who works on me pro bono, advocates riding as the best therapy.Nick Ienatsch

Up to this point I had ridden the GT on slightly familiar roads, but when I met Gary Klein at the 7-Eleven positioned at the mouth of Salt Lake’s Big Cottonwood Canyon, that was about to change. Big Cottonwood figured large in my youth. It was here that my dad and I would meet Mitch Boehm, Sean Sorensen, Don Debusk, Reed Jensen, and other early ’80s sportbike riders for some casual Sunday morning fun. This was the beginning of the Utah Sport Bike Association (USBA). I dragged my knee for the first time in this canyon on my 1982 Katana 1000 in the right-hand switchback and will forever remember each and every corner in this free-flowing ribbon of pavement heaven.

Gary, my friend since the fourth grade at Upland Terrace Elementary school, arrived on his 2008 Yamaha FZ1 and in his own electric clothing, so we headed up the canyon for a cup of cocoa at Brighton Ski Resort. It was just over 50 degrees and we slipped into a quick cruise that didn’t ask much from the cold tires as they rolled over cold pavement.

The GT rolls on Dunlop Sportmax D222 tires and I was running them at 31 psi cold in an attempt to get more feel from them. Keep in mind that all my street riding lately has been on Dunlop Q3s; I’m sure the stock tires are designed for longer wear and consequently less grip. Our pace took all this into account. But it was still as fun as fun can be.

The GT yawned at every corner. By that I mean it simply railed through uphills and downhills, fast and slow, braking or accelerating. Certainly, we were far from the ultimate limits of grip but this bike was a joy to ride quickly on a road I knew by heart. The electronic shift interrupt makes shifting a bit of an addiction and we arrived at Brighton in low-40-degree temps and savored our hot chocolate.

Yamaha Tracer at Brighton Ski Resort
Gary aboard the Tracer at Brighton Ski Resort. Brighton dates back to 1936… Gary and I have been skiing there almost that long, usually traversing the canyon in his Ford Maverick GT with three-speed on the column. Those trips were much slower than today’s adventure.Nick Ienatsch

Once back at the bottom of the canyon, we switched bikes and ran up again. Gary had commented that he thought the GT’s taillight should be brighter but the brake light conspicuity was good. He noted that, like on our older FZ1s, only a single headlight is on at low beam and he’d like to see them both on for safety’s sake. From the saddle he really enjoyed the new bike and rode it well from the first 10 feet.

We both noted how much more legroom the GT has over the FZ1 and our 57-year-old bodies didn’t complain about the higher handlebar either. He had never tried a quickshifter and he loved it; I made him jealous when I told him my FZ1 has a Dynojet quickshifter. He commented on how light the GT felt, how eager it was to turn, accelerate, and brake. Yamaha claims the GT is only 12 pounds lighter than Gary’s Gen 2 FZ1 (wet weight) but the tall, wide handlebar and better weight distribution (“stacked” crank and transmission shafts, for instance) make it feel 50 pounds lighter.

We both agreed the FZ1 felt faster everywhere, and the specs back that up, giving the FZ1 a significant horsepower edge, though the bikes are much closer in torque numbers. We can thank the GT’s flat-plane crank now. My friend Chris Gieter at Dynojet tells me the FZ1 makes about 30 more horsepower but only about 10 more foot-pounds of torque than the Tracer 900 GT. Through my trip north I cherished the instant-on acceleration during passing but noticed that while the GT pulled joyfully to redline it wasn’t with the alacrity of my own modified FZ1. But don’t worry, I’ve already called Ivan’s Performance for an ECU reflash, based on the improvement that company delivered to my FZ1. More on that later.

Tracer GT
The Tracer GT ready to leave Las Vegas for its 12-month home in Colorado, via Salt Lake City. The passenger grab rails are very handy for backpack straps and that's my United States Marine Corps backpack that was a gift from Gunnery Sergeant Tina Kelly. The Chase Harper tank bag came out of a storage box and dates back to my Sport Rider magazine days of the mid-'90s. Why buy new when you have boxes of 20-year-old new stuff?Nick Ienatsch

Hit The Road…The Cold, Wet Road

I had been watching the weather and felt it closing in. So it was time to load up and take the GT to its home for the next 12 months: Southern Colorado. I left for the 10-hour ride just after daybreak and spent only one hour on the freeway before diving onto back roads. I saw a low of 33 degrees and unfortunately that low lasted for a few hours! At this point my Venture Heat vest, pants, boot liners, and gloves were all plugged in and saving the day, yet again. This gear got me home from Texas during one of the toughest days I've ever had on a bike and I give it a five-star recommendation.

Alpinestars undergear stretchy shirt.
Who’s the smartest guy in this photo? Yep, me. Because I’m headed into the Rocky Mountains in mid-October dressed head to toe in electric clothing from Venture Heat. One secret: Wear the vest or jacket over a thin T-shirt and cover it with a tight shirt like my Alpinestars undergear stretchy shirt. The tight Astars shirt holds the vest tightly against the body, something you’ll appreciate at 9,500 feet. The Tracer GT cranks out 415 watts of charging power to keep electric gear hot, grip warmers working, the dash bright, and the ignition igniting.Nick Ienatsch

As it warmed to 42 degrees it started to rain, hard, and my body was on ice alert for another hour. I shrugged my 1989 Honda rainsuit over my 1996 Aerostich Roadcrafter suit in a McDonald’s in Price, Utah, just prior to a lengthy downpour, congratulating myself on finally learning to put the rainsuit on before it rains, as opposed to jumping around on one leg in a monsoon. Yes, the gear is old, but 1989 seems like yesterday.

As I entered Colorado the skies began to clear and while it didn’t warm up much, 44 degrees in the sunshine is significantly better than 44 degrees in the dark or shade!

Monarch Pass on Colorado’s Highway 50
Yes, that’s snow, melting in the 38-degree weather at the top of Monarch Pass on Colorado’s Highway 50. This is a potentially highly entertaining road but seems to be constantly and completely covered with highway patrol and sheriff's with radar shooting out at every angle. Hmm, look at the upper part of the windshield adjuster… That flat section could serve as a radar-detector mount, no?Nick Ienatsch

About 100 miles from my home I turned onto very familiar roads and let the GT roll. The same feel of equanimity and “I got this” confidence radiated from the bike, which was now fairly heavily loaded. Traction was a bit dodgy in the higher passes that had already been sanded for snow once this year, but I rolled into the Rock & Horse Ranch 10 hours after I left my mom’s garage. It was nice to be home but it’s significant to note that this GT hadn’t worn me out or made me sore in the nether regions; the stock seat took care of me in a way the FZ1’s never did.

FZ1 seat
Joe Cat agrees: “Yep, more comfy than the FZ1 seat. Hey, let’s have a snack.”Nick Ienatsch

On-Board Coolness

The cruise control figured a great deal in my first 1,300 miles aboard the GT. We’ve all ridden with throttle locks but the difference here is the GT’s cruise control locks your speed, not your throttle setting. One button turns it on and just the lightest touch of the set button locks it immediately. That said, the left handlebar switch area is a busy place and it took more than a few miles to get used to the turn-signal switch being so close to the grip. Also note that the horn button is in the proper place, just where you need it in a panic, because a few recent Yamaha models had relocated it to a less-intuitive position.

A GT rider’s right thumb must learn to be quite dexterous because it’s turning and pushing a wheel that selects most of the items on the very interesting TFT dashboard. Setting the cruise control prior to spinning and pushing the wheel reduces the mistakes, as does reaching over and doing it with your left hand. Spin to select something like Trip 2 or grip warmers then push to highlight, spin to select, push to lock it in, push and hold to clear… Pretty simple. And amazing. At a stop you can push and hold the wheel to get into the base page which allows you to mess with maintenance intervals, grip-warmer settings, and rpm colors. Yes, the tach changes colors as revs rise. I sat with the manual during lunches and once again thanked the Lord for smart people who help our lives.

Wind Protection, Key Reaching, Thank You Officer

I’m 5-foot-8 and ran with the windscreen in the highest position but still had quite a bit of wind noise. If I dropped my head 3 inches it was much quieter. I’m convinced that getting away from wind noise on a motorcycle requires a screen with the top edge above your ears. In the cold weather I could feel wind come around the narrow screen through the cutouts and hit my shoulders. I plan to get a taller screen for touring and take it off completely (four screws and 30 seconds) for trackdays.

I wear earplugs when I ride, and this was the first time I used the Bluetooth connectivity available between my phone and my Chatterbox helmet radio. Chatterbox sponsors the Champ School and the Spencer School before that, and is a game changer when coordinating a busy school day, but I had never piped music into it from my phone. Wow. It makes those long straight sections bearable as Pandora radio keeps you company and is one of the reasons I’ll try a bigger screen on the GT.

The ignition is hidden down in a well between the handlebar and the dashboard, making it tough to reach with bulky cold-weather gloves; the Venture Heat cold-weather gloves come with roadrace-level armor which added difficulties when reaching the key. Turning the handlebar fully to the left eases key access considerably but here’s the deal: We need keyless ignitions! Once you ride keyless-ignition motorcycles, as the Champ School gang did last winter, putting a key into an ignition switch seems so carburetor-ial. So drum-brakey. So bias-ply-tirey. So pushroddy.

This trip involved only one conversation with the police, and I got off with a warning. Thank you, officer. He had radared me from the oncoming lane and immediately braked to begin a U-turn. Rather than cruise along innocently, I immediately pulled over far off the road, killed my bike, and began pulling off my gloves and helmet; I was guilty. He pulled up and thanked me for pulling over and said he was going to let me go with a warning because I had pulled over right away. I don’t believe there is one single best procedure if pulled over for speeding, but have seen respect and humility (and admittance and apology) win the day many times.

Mileage And Oil Level

I have spent many miles aboard a first-generation Kawasaki Concours, including a few 1,000-mile-per-day endurance rides, and highly prize a large fuel tank when really trying to make time. The GT carries 4.8 gallons with 0.7 of that a reserve. In the headwinds out of Las Vegas the bike gave me 36.7 mpg and in the reduced speeds (read: “close to the speed limit”) of rainy southern Utah each gallon gave me 53.5 miles. That means the worst fuel mileage gave me 150 miles until reserve, the best 219. Yes, I’d like more range in a sport-touring motorcycle running around the American west, but with a restrained right wrist it takes three to four hours of riding to empty the tank to reserve and that will work for the comfort limits of most riders. As the GT goes on to reserve a third tripmeter starts to tell the rider how many miles they have covered since they began to use the final 0.7 of a gallon; you have about 30 miles to find a station if you stay mellow.

Some feel the Tracer GT should be a shaft-drive sport-touring bike and I can see that argument, but I’m thankful it is a chain drive because I’m interested in adjusting the gearing taller to reduce rpm and thus improve range. Right now it spins a busy 5,400 rpm at an indicated 80 mph (78 mph according to a few side-of-the-road radar signs), but because it makes so much low-end power I believe taller gearing will retain drivability while boosting fuel mileage. I’ll let you know.

I also love Yamaha’s use of an oil level light, rather than an oil pressure light like so many manufacturers have. The joke is that an oil pressure light tells you exactly when your bike blows up. When the oil level light flickers it’s an easily fixed warning.

This GT's Future

Like many of you, I keep a bunch of bikes running all the time. Not this year. I’ve mothballed most of my machines and will focus on this GT. I’ve already ridden it a few hundred miles on dirt and asphalt since being home and carried things home from the store that would have been a hassle on a bike without these saddlebags.

During one local trip I discovered the speed limiter at 130 mph (132 indicated, 9,000 rpm in sixth gear). I know that type of speed sounds crazy to some, but you don’t realize two things: Many parts of the American west are wide open, and this Tracer GT is one-hand, on-rails stable. I believe this speed limiter will be too low for Pueblo Motorsports Park’s or High Plains Raceway’s longest straights and Ivan’s Performance has a fix. I already left a message.

Using the cruise control (orange light is “on,” green is “speed set”) on rutted dirt roads is usually smoother than manual throttle control, much like a friction hand throttle while four-wheeling. Also note that I drafted the windscreen adjuster to double as the mount for my Valentine 1 radar detector, a job made simple by the stock 12-volt plug to the left of the dash.Nick Ienatsch

This Tracer GT will take the FZ1’s place as my main ride and most-frequent trackbike, and the mods performed will be aimed at making it better on the street and track. I might even race it in the MRA’s streetbike class and run it down the dragstrip at Pueblo Motorsports Park on some Friday night. That said, I don’t expect to make many changes because of how impressive and suitable this bike is off the showroom floor. It’s going to be a fun year!

More next Tuesday!