Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Yamaha Tracer 900 GT - My Impressions

First, I owe some thanks to the folks at YCH in Camp Hill, PA for letting me try out the Yamaha Tracer 900 GT. One of the things that occurs to me is that buying a bike is a lot like getting married. You get the spouse, but you also get the in-laws and the extended family. So, while buying a motorcycle (the spouse) is critical to get right, it's also worth noting you're going to get a dealership to support you (or not), and it would make the whole relationship better if they were knowledgeable, likeable, and even a tad welcoming. The same could be said about the (extended family) people on the boards that represent the bike and the brand. Of the dealerships in my immediate area, the one who meets these criteria the best, in my opinion, is YCH.

The Tracer GT has a fantastic power plant, and I have to say I LOVED that engine - it pulls from absolute EVERYWHERE! I found it to be lively and spirited, and there is torque from the bottom to the top. It's not the low-down power I feel from the Multi, but it is more immediate, and because the bike I sighted, it feels more pronounced. I also felt that lighter weight in the steering, because the bike goes EXACTLY where you point it, and it gets there in a hurry. With the Tracer GT, there is no wasted movement in the cornering, and it just gliiiiiiiides through corners on a rail. That said, the bike is not twitchy, which it easily could be, so much as it is exacting. If the Multistrada is a Swiss Army knife, the Tracer GT is a scalpel. The bike has one job - carve the road - and it does it with precision. I was thinking, “I want to cut in there” and I found myself magically in the exact place I wanted to be, without shortcoming, waste, our excess. The brakes are spot on, and grab with incredibly strong but smooth stopping power. It is nice to note there is a front AND rear brake on this bike, unlike the Ducati, which has an admittedly lacking back brake.

Is the Tracer GT perfect. Negative. First, the screen sucks (and is kind of ugly, to boot) and would need to be upgraded or discarded, depending on your needs. But, screen choice seems an almost immediate and invariable upgrade item on every bike, and there seems to be an already growing aftermarket for this bike to meet the riding and touring needs of it's aficionados. Similarly, the seat would probably need to find the trash bin as well. My commuting and touring include longer rides of 3-500+ miles, and I expected the seat to be comfortable, certainly more than it was. I suspect the seat/plank was designed by the same people that brought us the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!). If you are thinking about touring, budget for a seat.

But, if these are the only niggles, they are small ones. This is especially true in consideration of what I would get for an MSRP of $13K (I did not talk out-the-door price at the dealer, that day). In addition to the fantastic 849 triple engine, the GT bike comes standard with a center stand, making tire work, chain maintenance, and the like, so much easier. It has Anti-lock Brakes which, for me, are a minimum-level safety requirement, in the same way ATGATT is (and part of my agreement with Mrs. Fishr). The bike has cruise control, and it is easy to access, use, and turn on and off. The full-color TFT dashboard is big, easy-to read, and offers some customization, which I did not get into, but which would be helpful as riding needs change. The heated heated grips worked great, and it was in the mid-to-high 40s (another reason I appreciated the guys at YCH coming out with me to test the bike). The bike comes standard with side panniers, and they are integrated wonderfully into the bike. Overall, the Yamaha Tracer GT is a FANTASTIC weapon for that price, and nothing else comes close, IMO, when approached from a value perspective.

However, there were some areas it did not meet my needs. I am coming off the Multistrada, and I am looking for something more substantial and more “planted”. It might sound weird to say I want a bike that is heavier,, but I left the heft of the Multi. It was windy on the test ride, and thee Tracer did get blown around a bit, though the power of the bike carried me through. That does not happen much with the Multistrada, even on I-81 with the notorious truck traffic and cross winds that are part of my everyday riding. This is part of the trade-off nature of what I was thinking about, and I am not certain it is one I would like to make.

Another thing I noticed was that I felt like I was perched up on the Tracer GT compared to the Multistrada. The position is both higher in the seat, and more forward in the cockpit. This gives the Tracer an overall position that feels more akin to a naked bike. I will say, this is not a bad thing, if this is what you like, but it made me feel a little disconnected from the bike. I have ridden friends' Triumph Triples, Buells, and the like, and this bike felt the same way. The best way I can describe it is like bodysurfing a wave; you know you are a part of something really powerful, but because your face and eyesight are so far out ahead of it, it feels like you are not a part of it. In riding the GT, I realized how much I prefer to sit "in the bike" rather than on it. There is a line, of course, where one can get so low that you feel sunken behind the bike, and it's like riding in a cage. In my experience, I've never ridden a bike that blends "in the bike" connection better than the Multistrada.

With all of that said, if I was still in my twenties, or if my daily commute involved canyon-strafing and absurdly twisting roads, or if I could have two bikes, I’d have a hard time thinking of a bike I would like to have more. I haven't closed the door completely on this bike, but at this point: close, but not quite a cigar.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Out with the Old?

As I think about my next ride, it probably makes sense to think about my current ride, the 2012 Multistrada S Touring. I bought the Multi with less than 2000 miles on it, from a guy whose wife was beating him up to get rid of it because it was just gathering dust in his garage. I got a GREAT price on it, and it was, at the time, my dream bike. I have enjoyed it immensely since then, and it is, hands-down, in my opinion, the finest single do-it-all motorcycle the world has ever seen. Twisting, turning, speed, handling, distance, comfort, looks (subjective, I know, but I think the Italians can make a paper clip sexy), carrying capacity, on road, off-road (a bit of a trade-off here, but it will get you through it, if slowly), urban, commuting, touring, sport, and even track days. Don't believe me? Check this out. 

With that said, like any sexy Italian supermodel, she is demanding, and those demands come at a price. There are the known issues of brand reliability (and cost of ownership in general), and the Multistrada is not immune to any of it. I have replaced the fuel sensor, which is a known problem for the Multistrada. I got a boot full of fluid when one of the fork seals blew, probably as a result of sitting unloved and underused in the previous owner's garage. I had a leak from the tank, but never the notorious tank bloat which comes from using ethanol in the plastic tank; a solution is the use of a coating, which keeps the tank from swelling but voids warranties. I replaced the kickstand sensor, which decided to go, cutting the engine and turning the bike off, as I was getting ready to dive into a turn, and again as I was in the middle of a busy intersection). I needed a new slave cylinder on a trip to Seattle, which almost stranded me, which brought to light the shortcomings of the dealer network, the dearth of Ducati dealers in Montana and South Dakota, and the inability/unwillingness people have too work on these bikes, in general. I also sorted some wiring problems and replaced a bunch of rear tires. In short, if she doesn't try to leave me, she will likely try to kill me.

None of these issues was as inexpensive as other bikes (read as: Japanese), and the Ducati is not one to wrench on your own, generally speaking (I have a buddy who has a C14 and he laughs at how difficult it is, even though it takes him a fortnight to take the plastic off to change the oil on his). Another complaint I have with the Multistrada is the wind. Ducati mismanaged the front end design for 2010-12, and at speeds of about 75+ the wind flows up into the helmet creating a racket and a lot of buffeting. I have tried multiple screens, gadgets, helmets, and the like, to no avail - people at my exact height all seem to have the same complaint for the bike. Ear plugs help, and I suspect custom ear plugs would be better. The lights suck. The low beam is “okay” but when you switch to high beam, it throws light out to the distances and inexplicably turns off the low beam, which was previously filling in the 0-20 feet directly in front of you. If Ducati thought about it, they would have both lights on when you get to high beam. There are a couple of people who have made their own wiring harnesses and strung them together in their bikes to do exactly this, but it’s a miss for Ducati. Apparently, the newer models are GREAT at this, and I have a guy that rides a '16 reporting it's the best bike lighting he has ever had. The heated grips on the ‘12 are on the right side. This is still weird to me, but they are fantastic, with three levels, the top of which will cook an egg in a Pennsylvania winter. The dash screen scratches easily; on a bike of his caliber, I would expect better. Some of these are niggles, I admit, but I list them here as points of reference as I move forward, and also perhaps as a reminder to myself, because I have had these thoughts befoore, and every time I get back in the saddle with her, she makes me forget all of these shortcomings.

There are certainly a lot of other pluses, which I am including to point out what what I love about this bike and to showcase what I am seeking in a bike. The Ohlins suspension is remarkable. People have also raved about the Skyhook suspension when it came out. I love the adjustable-on-the-fly suspension AND power settings. Urban is 100HP and relaxes the throttle aggression; Enduro is 100 HP, turns off TC and increases the travel on the suspension; Touring is 150 HP and gives a plush ride for long highway days; Sport unleashes the beast with 150 HP and aggressive throttling, and it has a profound effect on your ability to do anything but smile (In the words oof Buddy the Elf: "I like smiling. Smiling's my favorite."). Keyless fob is nice to have. The range is great, and I CAN get more than 200 miles on a tank. The engine has character, soul, and it's undefinable to someone who does not get it, unneeded for those who do. There is just something about that twin, and, I changed out one of the gears to make low speed handling easier - she purrs like a cat, prowling through parking lots, now. The riding position is 100% neutral to me, and it just feels like home. Even with the stock seat, I just throw a Pat Garrett sheepskin on and go all day long.     

With all of this in mind, I am looking at, most likely, a Japanese bike, I want something with great power, strong handling, solid reliability, a broad dealership network, and a sensible cost of ownership. If we are going to be honest, what I really need is a touring bike, a sport bike, and an off road bike, but Mrs. Fishr, CFO is finally getting comfortable with the idea of me having a motorcycle at all, and the accompanying expenses, and would not be too keen on a stable of bikes...yet. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Fish on a Bike: Choosing My New Weapon

I have come to the conclusion that it is time to replace my 2012 Ducati Multistrada S Touring. I am going to record my thoughts, ideas, and (internal) questions as I go about making a choice. Think of it as my Kerouacian stream-of-consciousness novella to arriving at my next ride.

Let's start with a little about me and my riding. I am 6 feet tall with a 32 inch inseam and I'm 51 years-old, but a fairly athletic guy. I log about 6-8,000 miles a year, and this number has been increasing steadily. My riding:

  • I commute to offices across Central PA, riding slab for 1-2 hours to get there and then finding fun, twisting roads home. I do this maybe 1-2 times per week, and this is one area I am looking to increase. I wear a suit and tie for client meetings, and will ride to offices, get out of my overgear there, then go to meetings with other folks driving, often, so I can get to my out-of-office appointments in good shape. The rides home are a beautiful tour of some great roads, and because a lot of people are on the highway and I am on the backroads, it's even better. 
  • On weekends, I do 3-400+ miles at a clip, mostly on back country roads, around farm country, and through gorgeous forests, with lots of twists and turns. This is the meat and potatoes of my riding, but commuting is an increasingly larger part, as noted above. The guy I ride with the most is on a C14, and we are somewhat comparable in the twists, though he is a far better rider than I, and when he wants to get into it, he gets that pig up and rolling, then slows and waits for me in the "boring" sections.    
  • Take longer (weekend) trips occasionally, on mixed pavement, mostly twisting or long, sweeping roads. I am planning on taking more of these (2 or 3 or more day) weekend jaunts.  
  • I also log a 6-10 day 1500+ miler once a year. We pick a city or a state, things we want to see along the way, and roll out. I love this type of traveling, and it's where I feel the shortcomings of the Ducati's wind management. 

All of my riding is one-up, as Mrs. Fishr doesn't ride. It's cool. I am primarily a fair-weather rider, but Brad could find a rainstorm in Death Valley, so I try to be prepared. I like to ride year-round, even in Pennsylvania, so with some heated gear, I will get out in Winter if the temps are in the 40s and the roads are clear. I can wrench a bike, and even enjoy it, occasionally; I have a very good friend, Roge, who doesn't ride anymore, but, even when he did, probably liked this side of it as much or more than the riding. He's probably forgotten more about bikes than I will ever know. I like doing projects with him, and it is always time well spent.

So, I am looking for the "one bike to rule them all." There are inevitably going to be trade offs, I know, and I am going to set about exploring what those trade-offs are, and how they impact my decision.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


I love commuting on the bike. Gearing up is a bit of a pain in the butt, but once I get moving, I am quickly reminded of just how great an option it is.

There are times when I have to get someplace in a hurry, but I almost invariably take the long way home, finding some interesting (read as: twisty, winding and picturesque) roads home.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Autumn has come to Pennsylvania, her trees shedding their leaves, hesitantly at first then with renewed enthusiasm. They remember the routine, and the sooner the leaves are gone, the sooner they get to sleep. Still, this has been a longer Fall, the warmer weather encouraging them to to hang in there a little while longer.

Sudden storms arrive, unexpectedly. I checked the weather report diligently, but nobody is perfect, least among them weather "experts". I put the periscope up and soldiered home, grateful that the road was highway, avoiding those sodden leaves that spell peril for riders.

You may have noticed the PINK socks, there. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I was asked by the American Cancer Society to participate in their Real Men Wear Pink Campaign. It's a way for men to get into the fight, and, as an eleven-year cancer survivor, I am proud to do it. You can read my story by CLICKING HERE.


"Take the back roads instead of the highways."
-- Minnie Pearl

Cheesin' at the top of King's Gap Nature Center. 

The road to get there isn't so bad, either. 

Dappled sunlight and no shortage of beauty. 

Scenes from a Summer Commute

Pennsylvania and her back roads are simply unparalleled.

I love stopping and visiting the local streams. You never know what you're going to see - Hawks, trout, kingfishers, deer, raccoons, snakes, or, in this case, a blue heron...

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Trip West - Day 7

I woke up the next morning, and got ready to head out. I threw open the curtains in my room, which is funny, because I normally do that as the first thing when I arrive in a new room. I was surprised to find the hotel sat on a fairly large pond, hence the singing of the frogs the night before. I kicked my feet up and watched the sunrise, drinking my coffee and thinking about home. I would be home tonight, but there were miles and miles between us.

I threw small pieces of my breakfast bar into the pond, and they were hungrily devoured by catfish. There were hundreds of them, writhing in a slimy grunion-like feeding frenzy. A lonely turtle also surfaced, looking for a meal, but found it difficult to compete with the swarming catfish. I was able to toss it a bite, and it brought me a small satisfaction.

I left and hit the road. It seemed that, at each stop, I was able to make new friends, from bison to elephants, and even the occasional human.

At one stop, an elderly woman parked next to me and eyed me and the bike, then got out of her car.
"Is that a Ducati," she asked.
"Yes it is," I replied, surprised not for the last time.
"My grandsons think those are the bees knees!"
I smiled, and said, "You tell them they're right!"
We talked for a while, about you her grandsons, my trip, the bike, and the like. In the end, she asked if she could take my picture to send to her grandsons, and I agreed, so she did.

Much of the rest of a trip is a blur, until I reached Pennsylvania. There is a quickening of the soul, on a trip like this, when one reaches one's home state.

One thing about Pennsylvania, though - you MUST be careful of the bears!

I narrowly avoided the attack, and quickly moved on.

T.S. Eliot once wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.
And so it was when I reached the Susquehanna River, seeing it anew yet recognizing it as home, nonetheless.

I rode along the river at sunset, the steady thrum of the engine bringing me closer and closer to my door, then turned over the bridge and made the short hop to home.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trip West - Day 6

I crossed over the Missouri River and stopped at the rest stop, where there was a monument of Sacajawea, who guided Lewis and Clark on their journey to map the Louisiana Purchase. As a teacher, I covered this period of history with my high school students, so it was a warm reminder of that time, and that I was traveling on historic grounds.

The overlook was beautiful...

...but not without its perils.

I also liked the metal relief they had erected.

As I rode on, the scenery continued to be spectacular.

Wisconsin: My God, it's full of clouds!

I stopped into the Third Ward in Milwaukee, and threw on a proper shirt, so as not to frighten the locals.I have been to Milwaukee a couple of times, and I love this town: friendly people, clean city, and good food. I am not a drinker, but a proper beer would have been hitting for the cycle.

I found a sweet little tapas place, and tucked myself in for a fantastic meal.

Milwaukee was a nice to be off the bike, so I took a little stroll around the area.

Then I rode on, through Chicago, which was the worst riding I have ever done. Aggressive drivers, stupid and poorly marked toll roads and toll booths, and just an all out crappy experience. It was even worse because I was coming off so many wide-open spaces, and to enter into this crowded idiocy was just awful.

I got lost, turned around, and made a point to pull off and find a hotel as soon as I was past Chicago. I was knackered. I took a quick shower, crawled into bed, and fell asleep as a chorus of bullfrogs sang me sweetly to sleep.