'Three wheels on my wagon'
There’s been a buzz around the office this week, with the arrival of the Yamaha Niken we’ve been squabbling over who gets first dibs to take it for a spin. I’ve waited patiently and today, in glorious sun shine, I bunk off for an hour’s bimble round the Cambridgeshire countryside.
Familiar Yamaha key in hand I head out to the bike park, from the rear the Niken bears an uncanny resemblance to my Tracer 900GT. Fire up the 847cc triple cylinder engine and there’s the recognisable rumble, that calms my nerves a little. I kick the stand up for the first time and feel the full weight of the 263kg machine (40kg heavier than the Tracer), it’s heavy but not as bad as I’ve been warned. It feels like I’ve got a small pillion permanently on board and on the move it’s hardly noticeable.
Tip into the first roundabout and it’s a strange sensation, I can’t work out where the front wheels are sitting and sweep wide, to make sure I avoid the kerbs. By the fifth roundabout, confidence is growing and it’s fun to see how far the bike will lean over. I’m intrigued to see how the suspension on the twin front wheels works but the bulbous and rather futuristic front fairing covers all, possibly to avoid riders being distracted.
Through town it’s nimble and easy to turn but filtering is something that will take a little bit of getting used to, it’s not quite as easy to sneak through gaps. It’s more a case of me not being 100% confident of the width rather than the bike being at fault. I feel very conspicuous, it’s a head turner and everyone from school kids to grannies to bus drivers do a double take as I ride by.
On the open road it’s quick to get up to speed and through my favourite stretch of sweepers, a couple of miles from the office, I’m grinning from ear to ear. With a short stubby screen, there’s wind noise but not as bad as the Tracer, which I keep harping on about.
The wide, flat and well cushioned seat of the Niken, is more comfortable than the sloped seat on the Tracer, which has a tendency to make me slide into the tank. At 820mm the seat height is 30mm lower than the 900GT but with the wider cushion makes it feel a similar height and at 5ft 10in I have no difficulty flat footing when stopped.
I’m not a fan of the position of the Niken’s mirrors, they’re mounted to the fairing and I have to learn to look through my hands and the levers, that obscure the rear view. The dash is clear and informative but it’s a shame they’ve not fitted the snazzy TFT dash from my Tracer, which I prefer.
An hour with any bike is never long enough but it’s definitely time enough to realise that the Niken is fun to ride and while I’m not in a rush to swap to three-wheels on my wagon, it’s great to see that Yamaha are trying something new and innovative.
Update 10: Yamaha Tracer 900GT suffers from wind!
Published 27 September 2018
'Come on feel the noise!'
I have one gripe with the Yamaha Tracer 900GT, wind noise is at best annoying and at worst induces a headache.
When I've chatted with owners of this and the first generation Tracer, wind noise and seat comfort are the main talking point
I’ve ridden my mate's earlier version and his screen deafens and I’d be more comfortable sat on a brick. Yamaha have tried to solve both problems by modifying the 900GT, the seats improved but there’s room for improvement where the screen is concerned.
I’ve spent the summer putting various screens to the test, I am to screens, what Imelda Marcos was to shoes.
No mirrors, no screen
To give me a base to work from I whip off the mirrors and screen, I want to see how they disrupt the air flow. Expectations are different from a naked bike, I know it is going to be noisy but it less of an irritation than with the screen in place. It’s not practical to ride without mirrors and with the adjustable screen bracket laid bare the Tracer looks like it’s been vandalised.
As I get up to speed the noise is immediately noticeable. The screen is height adjustable, at the lowest of the half a dozen positions, the wind hits me smack in the face and in the highest setting it’s an improvement but there’s still an irritating whine. Removing the mirrors barely makes a difference.
Skidmarx Sports Screen
This looks the best of all the aftermarket screens, at £79.95 it's the cheapest I'm testing and as with all the different options it fits to the original screen bracket. It’s 19cm shorter than the standard screen and in any of the adjustable height positions, air is directed at my helmet. It’s a similar experience to the bike being naked but not as comfortable.
Skidmarx Taller/Wider Screen
Taller and wider than the standard version and with a curvature at the top, this screen costs £89.95. The extra 9cm of height puts the top of the screen directly in my line of vision and once on the move it wobbles like a blancmange. I had thought the bigger the screen, the quieter it would be but it’s not, noise is still significant.
Yamaha High Screen
This genuine Yamaha accessory has integrated moulded wind deflectors, rather than cut outs, to accommodate the hand-guards. It is the same height as the tall Skidmarx screen but more rigid and doesn't wobble because the wind deflectors make it 12cm wider. Noise is reduced but not enough to justify the hefty £143 price tag.
I’ve ridden at least 500 miles with each of the screen options and none have cured the problem. For now I’ll stick with the standard screen and a decent pair of earplugs, while my quest for peace continues.
Update 9: Yamaha Tracer 900GT earns its wings.
Published: 21 August 2018
It's been another fun packed weekend with the Yamaha Tracer 900GT and I took part in a fabulous event on Sunday, here's a little news report about the Trenchard Triple Challenge.
RAF 100 Trenchard Triple Challenge
A drizzly start didn’t dampen the spirits on Sunday as the Royal Air Force Centenary celebration ride, the Trenchard Triple Challenge, set out from RAF Cranwell.
On 1 April 2018 the RAF celebrated its 100th birthday and to mark the occasion there have been numerous unique events including parades, concerts and aircraft displays, to raise funds for the RAF 100 Charity Appeal. The aim of the appeal is to benefit four charities linked to the RAF and create a lasting legacy to mark the 100 years of the service.
A celebratory motorcycle ride out, called the Trenchard Triple Challenge named in honour of the first Chief of Staff of the RAF, Hugh Trenchard was planned. The aim to get 100 bikes, riding 100 miles to mark the 100 year anniversary . The route linked the two colleges Trenchard founded, the officer training school at RAF Cranwelll and home of the Trenchard Brats, RAF Halton, the school of technical training for air cadets, separated by one hundred miles, as the crow flies.
The ride was the brainchild of Squadron Leader Andy Ham. He said “I'm a keen biker and Officer in Charge (OIC) RAF Wittering Motorcycle Club. I thought it would be a good idea to organise an RAF 100 ride-out for members of the 'RAF Family' - Regulars, Reservists, RAF Civil Servants, Contractors and Veterans. What a day! We've never organised anything like this before. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't been a challenge, we didn't quite hit our target but the sight of 58 bikes about to set out from Cranwell made it all worthwhile and we raised £850 for the appeal”.
The throng of bikes were led by ex-serviceman, Andy Dring, and his team of marshals, which included a group of volunteers from PECAM (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Advanced Motorcyclists). “With last minute changes to the routes it’s been a stressful affair to help organise” said Andy. “But I knew that I’d got a good support crew and it’s been an amazing day.”
Update 8: Normal service resumes for the Yamaha Tracer 900GT
Published: 17 August 2018
I arrive at Webbs, my local Yamaha dealer, in an absolute downpour, for a long overdue service of the Yamaha Tracer 900GT. With 7027 miles on the clock, I’m slightly over, well to be precise a whole journey from Venice over, the service indicator. It’s been problem free riding, other than the problems caused by me, for the three months of ownership.
Darren, the service manager for the day, gives me a warm welcome and after a few minutes chat, I’m given the keys to their Tracer 700 demonstrator, my wheels for the day. It’s a couple of years since I’ve ridden the baby of the Tracer range, I’d forgotten how small and light it feels in comparison to my 900GT.
One thing that does stand out, the screen on the Tracer 700 is far smaller, more compact and quieter than mine. I’m already of a mind to swap to a smaller screen on the GT, to see if it makes a difference. I always think bigger is best and have tried Skidmarx’s large tourer screen and in this case it made little difference, if anything, it was slightly worse. Skidmarx have a smaller, sports screen in their range, that costs £79.95, I’ve got one to fit this weekend and will do some back to back testing. The fact I can’t solve the problem of the screen is a bug bear and one I want to resolve, it’s giving me a headache in more ways than one!
It’s a couple of hours work and I like the fact there’s no hidden charges, with a fixed price service policy, Webbs charge £218 which includes labour and VAT. When I collect the bike I have a chat with Stuart, the mechanic, he takes me through the two A4 tick sheets that show what been checked. There’s two areas he’s worked on, the first is to adjust the throttle bodies, turns out they are slightly out of sync and while I haven’t noticed any issues when accelerating, he says I may find it’s a smoother power delivery when I open the throttle.
One, self inflicted issue, Stuart was able to sort for me, was the rear brake lever. If you read further down my blog you’ll see I had a slight ‘incident’ when riding on Shetland. U-turns and me don’t get on, never have and never will, a fact confirmed when I lay in the middle of the A970 on on the outskirts of Brae, with the bike on top of me. My pride was more damaged than the bike and luckily got away lightly with mainly cosmetic damage.
Obvious damage was to the front indicator and pannier, the indicator hung by wires, it needed a quick gaffer tape repair to continue the trip and the panniers look very second hand. My other half had fixed the indicator a few weeks ago, it wasn’t a difficult job and with the replacement costing £22.84 not too pricey either. The severe case of gravel rash the beautifully colour matched panniers is now sporting, isn’t cheap to repair. A hefty £390 price tag to replace the case means that for now I’m wearing my battle scars with pride and keeping my hand well and truly in my pocket.
I don’t tend to rely much on the rear brake lever and it wasn’t until I was being given a lesson on u-turns by Michael Neeves, the chief road tester, that I noticed the lever was a little banana-like.
With a bit of brute force, Stuart straightened the brake lever, so not only an easy fix, a cheap one too.
I’m now ready and raring to go for the next service, only 5000 miles to go!
Update 7: A grand tour for Yamaha's Tracer 900GT
Published: 6 July 2018
I'm sat, alone, in a pavement cafe, cappuccino in hand and I watch as the beautiful people stroll by. I’ve just been chased by a bright yellow tram, across cobbled streets, and I reminisce about the last three days ride.
I feel slightly smug, my Yamaha Tracer 900GT is parked in the centre of Milan, I'm on a solo 2500 mile tour through France to Italy. My final destination is Venice, where I will meet my hubby, Mark. He’s taking the easier option and booked a flight from Luton, whereas I wanted to put the Grand Tour into the Tracer 900GT.
I'm not normally a selfish person, I spend my days assisting the twenty strong team in the MCN office and at home, Mark and I are very much a team of two (well, three if you count Tilly the cat). I’ve found, over recent years, that one thing that keeps me sane is the odd solo jaunt, each year these trips have got slightly longer and more adventurous.
Riding solo is great to clear your head and gives you the chance to ride at your own pace, take whatever route you choose, lunch where you fancy and have as many wee stops as you see fit.
With any big trip there’s always prep work needed and fitting a tank bag was the biggest job. A plastic shroud protects part of the metal tank, so a magnetic bag isn't an option. Yamaha have a Tracer specific one, for £205.70, there’s an easy to fit fuel cap adaptor and the bag then clicks securely in place.
Dawn breaks as I make the two hour dash to Folkestone, it’s the first chance to test the newly fitted Skimarx screen. It’d taken just a couple of minutes to fit and is sail like in size, compared to the original. So far, noise hasn’t improved but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, I’ve got plenty of time to thoroughly test it.
Deep under the English Channel, on board Eurotunnel, it’s time to go all continental, I fiddle with the menu button, the TFT dash now reads KPH.
With a bucket of mussels for lunch, I overlook Dieppe harbour, I’ve definitely arrived in France and this is a holiday, after all. I love riding in France, it’s so open and roads pretty much traffic free, compared to the UK and I’ve spent a leisurely morning’s ride, through what’s often seen as a dull bit of France. Each day's ride is to mix motorways and A roads, this way it's the best of both worlds with easy progress through less interesting bits, to leave the time to enjoy fun stretches.
That’s day one done, I’ve blasted the last 160 miles through Rouen to Le Mans for a quick overnight with friends. It’s my first chance to put the SANEF toll tag to the test, a natty little box, that I’ve stowed in the clear pocket of the tank bag. Rather than scrabble for credit card or loose change, I slip through toll booths with a beep to see me on my way.
After a fun night with mates, I’m back on the road and after a short hop I’m having coffee in Tours, it’s my first of many food stops of the day, the beauty of solo touring, I can change my mind as it suits. Bumping up the kerb, to park by a pavement cafe, seems alien, in the UK bikers are often seen as outcasts, here they’re the norm.
It’s already 2.30pm and the day’s getting away from me, I’ve fuelled up at a tiny petrol station, in the middle of nowhere. At nearly £1.50 a litre, fuel’s not cheap but I’m averaging almost 60mpg and with a range around 200 miles, the stops are relatively infrequent. A quick lunch stop in Bourges and I switch from meandering minor roads to the fast flowing motorway.
It’s my first chance to put the Garmin Zumo to the test, mounted on the natty Telferizer ball mount, it’s easy to see and the touch screen, easy to operate. I’m mainly navigating with maps and a handwritten route but the sat-nav comes into its own when finding hotels at the end of a day’s ride. Luckily the panniers are large enough to hold all a girl’s essentials, including swimwear, and after riding in near 30 degree heat for the day, the pool’s a welcome site.
I wake with the lark and am on the road by 7am, I’ve got another fun day ahead, the large field with sunflowers blowing in the breeze make way for more dramatic scenery, and gives me a taste of what lies ahead but first I have to navigate round Lyon. I start by using the maps and get so far round the peripherique but eventually give up and revert to my new friend, even the Garmin is getting confused with some of the junctions, I end up stopping for breakfast, I’ve not had a caffeine fix and unlike the Tracer, I’m not firing on all cylinders. Back on the road, I manage to find my way clear of the traffic, Lyon has sucked me in and spit me out the other side.
I’m about to cross the border from France into Italy, I’ve put a vote to the readers, do I take the Frejus Tunnel through the Alps or go up and over the top, the Twitter response is resounding. With switchback bends the D1006 is a spectacular alpine road and the newly fitted Metzeler Roadtec 01 tyres are coming into their own. A vast improvement over the OE Dunlop Sportmax D222s, the Tracer handles better and turns into bends with ease.
It’s day four and tonight I’ll be meeting my other half in Venice but before I get a few day’s off the bike I’ve got a day of touring planned. Italian motorways are made, drivers hog the middle lane and aren’t bothered about sitting an inch from my rear tyre. I stop for breakfast in Milan,the mad Italian drivers are worse in the city and throw in the Milanese yellow trams and cobbled streets, there’s lots to keep me on my toes.
I arrive in Venice, after four fantastic days, a chilled glass of Pinot beckons, I stave off the need for alcohol to make sure the GT is in tip top condition. With a ‘borrowed’ hotel towel and can of WD-40, I give the chain a clean and spray with S-Doc chain lube. Oil levels and tyre pressures are spot on. Now, where’s the bar?
Homeward bound and I have a loose plan but the sat-nav lures me, at 9.46pm, I could be tucked up in my own bed. It’s 6.30am, provided the trip goes smoothly, if at 6pm there’s a chance I can still be home today, I’m going for it.
With Milan rush hour behind me, Mont Blanc towers above, the journey’s going well. I’m on motorways but they’re some of the most scenic I’ve ever ridden, long sweeping bends are fun to ride and keep my mind off the hot, stuffy and scarily claustrophobic Mont Blanc tunnel, that lies ahead.
With a strict speed limit in place and the amount of vehicles in the tunnel at any time heavily regulated, it takes twenty minutes to ride the seven miles through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Cruise control has its uses, I set it to hold a constant speed. With a mile to go the air temperature cools and continues to drop as the exit looms.
Panic, the fuel light flashes amber and there’s no sign of a petrol station. Annoyingly, the spangly TFT dash tells me how warm it is, what time it is but doesn’t show fuel range. Luckily I’ve dragged my technophobe ass into the 21st century and the Garmin Zumo, locates a petrol station, it’s ten miles away, I ease back on the throttle and make a quick detour. With six fuel stops during the day, they’re regimented and I make sure I spend no more than half an hour fuelling up me and the bike.
It’s 12.06am, usually the sensible one, I’ve stupidly ridden 1050 miles from Venice to home. It’s a true test of comfort and I can safely say, after I’ve spent fifteen of the last nineteen hours in the saddle, the seat on the Tracer 900GT is comfortable. It’s been an epic trip, I’ve loved every minute and the the GT is definitely up for the job of touring. I’ve got a slight twinge in my lower back, there’s tingly in my fingers from the minor vibrations I get at motorway speed and a sense of achievement that’ll take a while to subside. Now, where’s my bed?
How do you tackle a long day’s ride?
I’ve run marathons, so apply the same logic I use to run an endurance event to my ride. First, break it down into rideable chunks, in this case around 150 miles would see me in the saddle for just over two hours and in need of fuel. At each fuel stop allow a maximum of half an hour to fuel the bike, have a wee, water and a bite to eat. Most importantly if at any point tiredness takes over, then stop, nothing is worth having an accident for.
The longest day….ever!
06:30 - tearful goodbye in Venice
08:38 - fuel up on the outskirts of Milan. First coffee of the day and massive croissant.
09:00 - back on the road, strict time limit per stop, maximum of half hour to fuel up.
11:26 - nervously enter, the 7 mile long, Mont Blanc Tunnel, irrational fear of riding through.
11:53 - map swap, now in France. Lunch and fuel stop with Mont Blanc as a back-drop.
12:30 - slightly longer than planned lunch stop and back on the road.
14:50 - panic - fuel light has been on for 10km and next petrol station is 20km away.
14:55 - pull off motorway into Dole to find fuel. Bike only takes 15 litres, so three left in the tank.
15:20 - raspberry tart eaten and back on the road. Lots of sugary snacks to keep me going.
17:23 - join the A26 at Troyes, first mention of Calais. Stop for fuel and large coffee.
17:43 - back on the road.
18:00 - mentally assess if I feel comfortable with riding the whole 1050 miles home today.
18:01 - still thinking.Hips ache, I stink from 30° heat all day, face is black from road grime.
18:02 - bugger it, it’s only 370 miles to go, I’ll give it a crack.
18:03 - start to panic a little bit, that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
18:04 - set cruise control and start to count down the miles.
19:44 - splash and dash, for me and the bike. Riding into the setting sun is a pain.
20:53 - Eurotunnel and the bonus of Flexiplus means I can hope on the next train.
21:20 - train due to depart, it’s delayed. Hopes of arriving home before midnight dwindle.
22:10 - we’re off. Quick change and stick base layers on, it’s still 20° but tiredness chills me.
21:35 - clocks back an hour and I’m on good old Blighty, stop to fuel up.
21:47 - just 150 miles to home and bed is calling.
00:07 - arrive home, phone my hubby to wish him goodnight...and ask he unbolt the front door.
As I reflect on the 1000 plus mile ride, I’ve got loads of questions going through my head. Was it enjoyable? Would I do it again? What was the point?
In all honesty, there is a perverse sense of achievement but the headache brought on from concentration and sheer tiredness is overwhelming. I feel slightly wired and struggle to sleep, lights flashing, every time I close my eyes.
Just like running a marathon, I say to myself, never again but in the back of my mind know that, at some point in the future, I’m bound to clock up another four figure riding day.
As far as what’s the point, I’m not sure, I felt very much like a passenger along for the ride. With cruise control set for the bulk of the motorway journey and Garmin plotting the route, I almost felt superfluous, a passenger along for the ride.
In my opinion, it’s not the most pleasurable way to ride and I can’t see myself on next year’s Iron Butt ride but that said, I did have fun and glad I’ve proved to myself I can.
At a glance, what I’ve learnt about the bike?
Cruise Control: it’s great for long motorway stretches and particularly useful through average speed cameras.
Switch Gear: the left hand control is cluttered with buttons for traction control, cruise control and main beam all on this side. It’s tricky to always hit the right button, particularly in the dark.
Menu Dial: to scroll through and alter settings there’s a dial on the right hand switch gear, it’s not easy to operate and sometimes tricky to doesn’t switch between settings easily.
Seat: it’s perfectly fine for distances of up to 1050 miles! Although, it is a little upright and my lower back did ache after my long hour day, I think it would ache sitting on a sofa for that long!
Screen: changing to the Skidmarx screen has made little difference, it is still incredibly noisy.
Tank Bag: great addition to the bike and really useful on this trip, ideal for stowing essentials.
Fuel economy: ranged from 48mpg on alpine passes to 62mpg on long motorway stretches.
Vibrations: sit at motorway speeds for an hour or more and I find there’s a slight issue with vibrations through the handlebars. It’s not painful but does cause irritation after a while.
Some handy touring tips
Get a SANEF tag for use on French motorways
Make each day’s ride about eight hours long and aim to finish by 6pm at the latest, that way you have time to unwind before bedtime (unless you are doing a ridiculous ride home)
Carry a bottle of drinking water
Fuel up at the end of each day, you're ready to be on your way the next morning
Travel light, get the clothes you think you will need and half them
Wrap a metre of gaffer tape round a pen, just in case
Chain lube, a rag and pressure gauge, for maintenance on the move
Carry an extra pair of gloves, if it rains you may need them
If budgets permit, book a hotel with pool, a great way to cool down after a hot day’s ride
Update 6: You asked, I answered!
Published: 6 July 2018
With the Yamaha Tracer 900 being such a popluar bike, I knew I'd get loads of questions when I recently invited readers to get in touch. Many were interested to find out how the new Tracer 900GT compares to the original model, in particular from a comfort perspective. Here's my pick of your questions.
‘Is the seat comfortable after an hour’s ride?’
Asks MCN reader, Barry Thompson
The seat is well padded, plush, height adjustable and after an hour’s ride there’s no hint of aches or pains. The 15mm of height adjustment between the two seat positions doesn’t sound like much, but it is noticeable. It only takes a minute to adjust and on the lowest setting, the seat sits firmly and neatly in place. But on the higher setting the seat rocks and there’s a significant gap between it and the frame and bodywork. It doesn't make any difference to the comfort – but doesn't look great.
‘Is the fuelling ‘snatchy’ especially in Mode A?’
There are three riding modes to choose from on the 900GT and they're easy to switch between, it's simply a case of closing the throttle and flicking a switch. ‘A’ mode is the most aggressive, sporty and responsive, without being snatchy. ‘B’ mode – intended for poor weather or road conditions – just feels sluggish, while STD mode is the best of both worlds.
‘How roomy are the panniers?’
Each pannier holds 22 litres. In reality, that's space for enough ‘stuff’ for a rider and pillion on a weekend away. Even though the panniers are an odd shape, they're actually easy to pack and not too cumbersome to handle off the bike, too.
‘Is the screen height adjustable?’
Yes, there’s 50mm of adjustment between the highest and lowest screen positions and the lever to move between them can be operated with one hand while on the move. While the adjustment range is decent, it’s tricky to find the right setting to give the best balance of wind protection and wind noise reduction.
‘Is it better than the original Tracer?’
The GT version boasts panniers, cruise control, heated grips, a TFT dash (originally developed for the YZF-R1) a quickshifter, plus suspension and stability improvements. Having borrowed my mate’s standard bike for an afternoon, the back-to-back rides revealed that the updates definitely make a difference. The most significant and obvious changes are the GT’s more plush seat and larger screen. Both could still be better but are a vast improvement. The dash makes the GT feel classier, and the panniers and cruise control are welcome touring benefits, while the ’shifter is a nice addition but which only works seamlessly above 7000rpm. The GT’s benefits certainly justify the £1400 premium over the standard version.
Update 5: A girl always loves a new pair of shoes!
Published: 3 July 2018
I have made one simple change to the Yamaha Tracer 900GT, just one and the difference in the way the bike handles is an eye opener. It takes a lot to impress me, so, after nearly 3000 miles in the saddle what could possibly inspire me so much?
One word, tyres, I've swapped from the OE Dunlop Sportmax D222 to Metzeler Roadtec 01s, the MCN Tyre of the Year for the last couple of years. I’ve ridden around fifty miles on them, so, literally taken the shine off but the difference in how the bike handles is really noticeable. The sporty profile makes them tip into corners with ease and in a straight line the ride is much more comfortable.
They are a sports touring tyre so ideal for my forthcoming trip, this time next week I’ll be packing for a 2000 mile, round trip, to Venice. It's going to be a fun way to find out how they handle.
Update 4: As weekends go, this has been a smash and grab affair.
Published: 25 June 2018
It’s Thursday morning, as we dock in Lerwick and the twelve hour, overnight crossing, from Aberdeen has been a surprisingly calm affair. Steve Henry, local biking guru and the founder of the UK’s most northerly bike rally, the Simmer Dim, greets us.
It’s the first glimpse of the welcoming and friendly nature of Shetlanders, along with other rally goers, we head to Steve’s for bacon baps. It’s a Simmer Dim tradition that, as the boat docks, Steve invites rally-goers back to his house for a catch up.
For one weekend of the year, Shetland has an influx of up to 300 bikes from the UK mainland for the annual rally. Bored with travelling to the UK, Steve decided that Shetland should have it’s own annual rally, now in it’s 36th year, it’s a date firmly fixed on the calendar.
It’s my longest trip, so far, on the Yamaha Tracer 900GT and I’m with my mate, Tony, on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 XT. We’ve got a weekend planned to pop along to the rally but also tour the islands and find the Shetland Reel Gin Distillery!
Steve offers to be our guide for the day and it’s soon clear that we’re in for a fun weekend, there’s so much to see and we’re here for just 60 hours, time’s of the essence. Our map’s marked up with Steve’s top spots and we head out.
We leave the metropolis of Lerwick and the roads open up, they are fantastic, well maintained, devoid of traffic and at times feel like we’re on a race track. There’s only a handful of roundabouts to contend with, no traffic lights on any of the islands and only a couple of pelican crossings. The closest thing to a motorway we see is where the road opens up to three lanes, with a ‘suicide’ middle lane.There’s a core of single carriageway roads but the vast majority are single lanes with passing places.
I’ve heeded Steve’s advice and dressed for winter, even though it’s midsummer and I’m glad. It’s wet, windy and wild but that adds to the fun. (I’ve never taken a bobble hat on a summer holiday before...but boy I’m glad I’ve got it with me).
Weather plays such a part in how we ride, with revs higher to battle the high winds, fuel economy drops by ten miles per gallon for a couple of tank fulls.
Time disappears as we cover 120 miles, sight-seeing is punctuated with coffee stops and the scenery is dramatic. At Mavis Grind the crashing atlantic waves on the western side of the mainland are separated by a roads width from the the more sedate North Sea.
My mind’s so full of we’ve seen and what we still have to see, heads barely hit the pillow before we are off and out for day two. We soon realise that we could have done with booking an extra day but make the most of the time we have and most importantly visit the ex-RAF base that’s turned into a distillery!!
The only way to get there is on the Inter Island ferry, an experience in itself, for £11 return we travel to Yell and then over to Unst. Both islands are near deserted, as we ride we’re watching out for sheep with suicidal tendencies, they’ve got little or no road sense and as much as I like a lamb roast, I’d rather not cause their untimely death.
As we arrive at the Shetland Reel Gin Distillery I’ve got the most difficult decision of the weekend, just how many bottles of gin will the panniers carry...turns out that four can be stowed in my mucky washing, without any issue.
Not only is gin purchasing accomplished we also get to see Muckle Flugga lighthouse, off the northernmost tip of Unst. It takes a bit of getting to, as the road heads up a steep incline, the wind knocks me sideways and an off-roader would have been more at home than the Tracer.
As we’re touring round the Simmer Dim Rally in the north of the mainland at Ollaberry is in full swing, we head there for a few hours and it’s so tempting to stay. Beer fuelled games and singing Vikings, are a strange mix but one that seems quite normal on Shetland.
All too soon, we’re onboard the Aberdeen bound ferry with heavy hearts, damp clothing and a desire to return soon.
Things to see (in no particular order):
Muckle Flugga lighthouse - the most northerly lighthouse in the UK.
Sumburgh Head - with swooping puffins, who star on a live web-cam.
Sullom Voe - see flames illuminate the sky as gases are burnt off.
St Ninian’s Isle - the largest tombolo in the UK.
Mavis Grind - Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea with a road to part them.
Inter Island Ferries - the only way to travel between the islands.
Pierhead Pub at Lower Voe - food is basic but good and Clive the local is entertaining.
Shetland ponies - there are loads on Yell and Unst.
Otters - signs are everywhere, unfortunately I didn’t spot any.
Seals - they come to the beaches at various locations and can be seen close too at Lerwick near Tescos.
Twatt - place names to make you smile and you’ll notice the Scandinavian influences.
Food - fish is on the menu everywhere and the mussels were the best I’ve ever eaten. Check out Frankie's in Brae, it's a former UK chippie of the year.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about the Tracer 900GT:
With 1352 miles covered in five days I’ve learnt loads about the Yamaha, some good, some not so good but all worth knowing.
Panniers: I’d got ample space for my weekend away and plenty to spare to bring my gin supplies home. I’ve got one niggle, it’s impossible to get the left hand pannier off unless bike is upright, so it’s either stick it on the centre stand or get a willing helper to hold it upright.
Seat and comfort: It was a long journey to Aberdeen and I was fine for the first 375 miles, after that started to ache, more around the knees and lower back than anywhere else, due to the sportier riding position. The seat is well padded and at no point did my bum ache but it is sloped and means I slide forward. I keep catching the pillion foot hangers with my heel, it’s because the pillion has been given more space on the updated model, it’s not awful but aggravating.
Cruise control: It’s something I’d not really played with before but is great for long stretches of dual carriageways with average speed cameras. I rode the whole journey from Aberdeen to Perth, a stretch of some 87 miles, with the cruise control set and because it was 8am on a Sunday, the roads were nearly empty, great fun
Screen: The Tracer is definitely noisy, my head doesn’t move around in the wind but the noise is loud, I’m going to investigate some aftermarket options.
Top touring tip:
If you’re using a sat-nav to plot your route make sure you research fuel prices and plot cheap petrol stations. Check out the website https://www.petrolprices.com/ Prices varied from £1.45 per litre to £1.32 by deviating from the motorway by just a couple of miles.
How to get there and where to stay:
There are two routes to Shetland, Northlink Ferries operate overnight crossings from Aberdeen or via Orkney. Ferry prices are seasonal, for around £150 bike and passenger can book a return journey, for a good night’s sleep I’d suggest getting a bed for the night, it’ll set you back around £35 each way.
There’s loads of alternatives for accommodation, we opted to stay at an AirBNB near the Toft ferry terminal. Tranquil John, the owner couldn’t have been more welcoming and was desperate to offer tots of Malt Whiskey. Voe would be a good alternative location, it’s central on the mainland and would make it easy to strike out in all directions.
Update 3: One week & counting...Shetland here we come!
Published: 14 June 2018
It’s time for a practice pack of the Tracer 900GT’s fancy panniers, this time next week I’ll be 680 miles from home but only ridden 550 of them (and hopefully won’t have thrown up for the other 130!).
My Yamaha is ideal for longer tours with cruise control, panniers and heated grips (a must for UK summer tours!), so, my mate and I, are off to Shetland for a long weekend.
I can’t remember what first made us think of Shetland, part of it could be the challenge of how to get there. We’ll ride the most direct route north from Peterborough to Aberdeen and board the Northlink Ferries to Lerwick. It’s a 12-hour crossing, over the notoriously rough North Sea and I’m nervous, I’m still haunted by memories of a sick-laden hour crossing to Calais from ten years ago.
We won’t be the only bikers on the crossing, we’ve planned our trip around The Simmer Dim Motorcycle Rally, it’s the most northerly rally in the UK and sounds like it’s a fun affair. With it being over the weekend of the longest day, they’ll be plenty of daylight drinking hours. That said, we can’t go all that way and just spend our days at the rally, so plan to explore all the islands. If anyone has suggestions for where to visit, while we are there, drop me a line.
My longest day’s ride on the 900GT, so far, has been about three hours, so this really is going to put me and the bike to the test. Yamaha have done a lot of work to improve both the comfort and handling of the bike, with regular updates on social media, I’ll be able to keep you posted on whether they’ve worked.
Update 2: Summer of fun with the Tracer 900GT
Published: 6 June 2018
I'm the custodian of the Yamaha Tracer 900GT for the next few months and can't wait to see what this class-leading Sports Tourer will be like to live with.
The standard Yamaha Tracer has been updated for 2018 and an upgraded GT version introduced. It's specced to be a comfortable, practical and fun sports tourer.
For long distance trips there's colour matched panniers and cruise control, while touches of sportiness come through with the TFT dash (developed for the YZF-R1) and a quickshifter for clutchless gear changes.
Update 1: First ride: Picking-up the 900GT
Published: 22 May 2018
After I collected the 900GT from the recent MCN Festival, I was lucky that my first ride was filled with sunshine, during a 50-mile loop through Rutland. With almost 1000 miles on the clock, the bike was already run in, which gave me one less thing to think about.
There's lots to explore, with three riding modes, traction control settings and the TFT dash. It's going to take a few weeks to get to grips with exactly what settings suit me best, but for my first ride I stuck with the standard riding mode, which was impressive.
By the end of my first riding week, I'd spent four days commuting and also popped to central London (around 150-mile round trip) to help out a colleague. It's a two minute job to whip off the panniers and I was glad they weren't there, as I forced my way through the capital's congested streets.
The mirrors are the widest point of the bike, like a cat's whiskers, if you get the front through a gap the rear will fit, but in my mind I'm nervous I'll clip a car as I filter. With panniers off there's one less thing to think about, and to be honest I've left them off, they'll not be needed for my daily commute.
Future riding plans
I can't wait for the summer to unfold, I've got trips planned to Shetland, a solo touring holiday in Italy and a weekend of camping with the girls at the Motorbike Women South Rally. I'll definitely be putting the Tour into my Yamaha Tracer 900GT (Grand Tourer).
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