The Yamaha TDM Series is no longer available since 2011, but its concept and legacy lived on to influence countless bikes available now in the market. Also, most people find similarities between the Yamaha TDM 900 and the MT-09 Tracer. Jump in as I take you on a trip to the recent past at the very heart of the Yamaha Sport Tourer revolution. Also, I will tell you about a couple of accessories I came across and are super useful for any bike.
For those who don´t know anything about the Yamaha TDM series, I have to point out it was a revolution for the motorcycle world. Maybe it was too ahead for its time to be appreciated by the general public. The truth about it is that its spirit was kept alive by Yamaha – but more then by themselves, it was kept alive by the competition. We can say that the Yamaha TDM series is one of those cases in which a wrong road can take you to a better destination. What Yamaha wanted to do was to build a bike that would be able to handle off-road as well as paved roads. To point out, the company thought that there were riders who would like to do both on a single bike. Now, in the 21st century, it seems like a common thing, even a dumb statement, but back then this was revolutionary.
Eventually, the first incarnation of the TDM series came in 1991 as the Yamaha TDM 850 MKI came out. For this motorcycle, Yamaha returned the legendary Paris Dakar winning XTZ750 engine. In other words, this was the same engine that moved the Yamaha Super Tenere towards the ending line for many years. The engine and the long front forks made the Yamaha TDM 850 MKI a bike, capable of doing gravel. However, the chassis and the construction were too big, too heavy and bulky for some real off-road action. During the years of 1992 and 1993, Yamaha exported the motorcycle to the USA as well as most of Europe. It was not a big seller, especially in the US, but it was a favourite in countries like France, Germany, and Greece. To conclude, this model was in production until 1995 without any significant modification.
After that year, the 1996 Yamaha TDM 850 MKII is a sort of Ducati Multistrada way ahead of its time. Twelve years would go by until Ducati presented such a bike in public.
However, the life of the Yamaha TDM series extended twenty years with two models: the TDM 850 and the TDM 900. By 2011 the motorcycle line was discontinued, and by 2014 many rumours appeared on the internet stating that Yamaha was to continue the TDM legacy. For many this was true, the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer is the modern successor of this bike. But to point out, no official word has been said by Yamaha, that the similarities are there.
The spirit of this revolutionary bike lives on to our days in different shapes and with a different name. Today, this kind of bike is not uncommon in most of the major manufacturers, but the revolution started twenty years ago. Read on as we speak about this legendary bike that changed the way sports touring bikes
Anyhow, the first incarnation of the Yamaha TDM series is the Yamaha TDM 850, which is the personification of the revolution and is becoming rarer to find. Not everyone is sure or agrees on the bike’s potential to become a timeless classic, but it surely is a curiosity. It isn’t easy for one of these to reach the surface in a close-to-factory condition, because motorcycle riders are used to take this motorcycle as a canvas to build the perfect bike.
To resume, the initial reception wasn’t very good in certain countries, and the bike was accused of several things. On one hand, some riders stated that it had suspension that was too soft. On the other, some said that its gearbox was tough to handle and to daunt for the most part. Although this was the statement in many countries, in France riders embraced the design and it became trendy.
Yamaha listened to what their consumers said and decided to revamp the bike. This move brought more fans on board, and the motorcycle gained some visibility in the market. By the time of launching, Honda CBF600 was leading the segment very comfortably. This Honda model was 20kg lighter than Yamaha TDM 850 and at the same time just as powerful. The problems with 1996 revamp of the bike weren’t the changes, but the timing was. By the moment when Yamaha finally launched it, V-Twin motorcycles were not everyone’s favourite. Yamaha put itself in a delicate position going against Italian giants like Ducati. They went against them – but with the model pretensions of a Transalp rather than a 916.
Above all, this later version of the Yamaha TDM 850 was a great concept executed in a not-so-great manner. The first incarnation of the Yamaha TDM 850 was a fantastic bike for the moment but is not a great bike now. It didn’t age that well because the components and manufacturing were not top-notch, which is why its “Classic” status is disputed and might never get to it. What is definite is that it won’t reflect on the price either, and it’s possible to find one rather cheap on the market. To point out, if you want a bike that will do many things in one and looks good (for many people) spending little money, this might be a great choice.
By 2001 the Yamaha TDM 850 went through the biggest revamp of its entire existence. Of which follows, that the bike underwent a redesign from top to bottom. The task fell in the hands of Sven Ermstrang as a product planning manager of Yamaha Europe. According to his vision, the changes in the Yamaha TDM 900 were going to be good for the next ten years. However, the Project Leader Etsuo Matsuki added to the statement that the bike’s design aimed at roads and soft trails. Letting the European fans know what the aim was he said “touring the Alps and the Pyrenees.” The Product Planner, Takuya Mochizuki, stated that he believed the bike represented ten years of technological advances. By saying this, he meant from 1991 to 2001. He also defined it as a different bike from tip to toe but with the same spirit.
Among the things that Yamaha changed were the displacement of the engine from 850cc to 900cc. Further, they included a variable air duct that will work differently depending on the situation. When the bike was at low RPM and torque, it would let just enough air in for the engine to deliver better torque. At open road situations or beyond 4000RPM, the full throttle of the bike was a take-no-prisoners approach. With the duct fully open, the Yamaha TDM 900 was capable of some serious power coming from the twin.
Furthermore, other modernisation was the digital injection system. It was tested inroads up to 3,000 meters up with positive results. Finally, the frame and the suspension had some revision. The structure was 6kg lighter than its predecessor and more flexible, improving torsional stiffness in 40 per cent. This change was due to a change in the material: the old Yamaha TDM 850 had a steel body. The new and improved Yamaha TDM 900 used aluminium.
However, reading any Yamaha TDM 900 review will give you the same results: a bike that can handle most surface looks good and performs well. If the Yamaha TDM 850 was a good purchase in the used market, the Yamaha TDM 900 it is a little better still. If you are in love with odd bikes and pieces of motorcycling history, perhaps the Yamaha TDM 850 is better. In terms of performance, though, the Yamaha TDM 900 is a much-improved version of its predecessor.
Not only I am a motorcycle lover, but also lucky; lucky enough to ride both motorcycles in the title. Yes, I was on a Yamaha TDM 900 more than once and was lucky enough to test the MT-09 Tracer. To point out, they are very different bikes and let’s say that the MT-09 is an all-around superior bike. It belongs to the line of the Super Naked bikes by Yamaha which are 100 per cent city-oriented. These motorcycles are competent machines and not for the faint at heart. In particular, the MT-09 is a high-speed machine with an acceleration capacity that will blow you away.
In addition to that, the touring version, the MT-09 Tracer is just as good as the naked one, but it adds some features for the open road. If the price difference between them weren’t so steep, there would be no doubts about getting the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer. Since they cost very different money, your budget can make that decision for you.
Furthermore, my testing bike was equipped with two accessories, about which I have to tell you. The first one is the Smart Brake System (SBS). This tiny gadget engages your stoplight when it senses you are slowing down. Many times, especially with touring and big bikes, we tend to make transitions smoother, avoiding the brakes, which is excellent but will not let other vehicles know of your manoeuvres.
Similarly, the Smart Turn System (STS) will disengage your turning lights when it senses you have completed the turn. Both are important for the city as well as the open road; informing other vehicles your intentions is utterly essential.
I felt safer and more comfortable with these accessories installed. The installation process was easy, and I was ready to go. If you are eager to find out if they are compatible with your motorcycle, you can easily find out by filling the form below.
To conclude, the Yamaha TDM series will go into history as the revolution of the dual-purpose motorcycles. They were touring bikes but also sports bikes and could handle most roads. Now it is not a novelty, but back then, it was a revolution.