TYRE CHOICE DICTATES WHETHER YAMAHA TENERE IS A LONG DISTANCE TOURER OR GO-ANYWHERE BIKE
There are two things you you need to know before you even look at a Yamaha Tenere in the dealership. First, it is tall, very tall, with a seat height of 895mm. So if you’re short in the leg you will probably struggle with the big Yammie single.
The second detail is that if you’re after a high-performance, high-speed, thrill-a-minute ride, you’re looking in the wrong place, pal.
With the Tenere you have a bike closer in personality to a tractor than a superbike like the legendary Yamaha R1. But like the R1, the Tenere is a legend in its own right, and if you’re a fan of the Dakar Rally you’ll see some distinctive rally raid styling in the Tenere.
I picked up the Tenere from Yamaha NZ with the express purpose of using it for Pro Rider’s gravel riding course, and I chose my ride for the day well.
The Tenere is named after Africa’s Tenere desert. This rugged, desolate part of the Sahara was well known as a notoriously difficult stage of the Paris-Dakar rally before it moved to South America.
With such strong rally heritage, and the need for long range in the desert, Yamaha has carried on the theme with a huge 23-litre fuel tank on the Tenere. This gives the XTZ660 a potential range of well over 350 real-world km depending on how hard you are on the throttle. Keeping with the rally raid theme, Yamaha NZ also fitted the optional $264 alloy sump guard as well as hand guards and hand deflectors.
The engine is a 660cc single cylinder unit with a single overhead cam and 4 valves. It is a simple, rugged unit, exactly what you want in an adventure bike. It puts out more than enough power at 33.8kW and 58.4Nm, with particularly good low to mid-range torque. While that might not sound like a lot, you’ve got to remember this is strapped between the frame of a learner-legal machine.
The spacious cockpit is a no-frills affair
One of the most noticeable features of the Tenere is the how well thought out the 5-speed gearbox is. The first two gears are short, with 1st gear topping out at 55km/h, while 2nd tops out at 80. The rest of the gearing is reasonably well spaced, with a noticeable drop of at least 500 rpm per shift. Top gear is noticeably an overdrive/motorway gear which sits just below 4000 rpm at 100km/h. You will shift a lot with the Tenere but there always seems to be a gear that the bike is happy in, no matter the situation.
The overall styling of the Tenere is classic rally raid, with a short wheelbase with big spoked wheels, these being 21 inch and 17 inch respectively.
Up front is an upright windscreen in the classic rally style, and though it’s not adjustable I had no complaints over the level of protection from the wind it offered. It’s a proven concept that the flatter a windscreen is the more wind protection it gives the rider, and the Tenere is a perfect example of this put to use.
The optional alloy sump guard does its job well.
Apart from being very tall, the seat is in extremely comfortable. Sitting atop the Tenere you feel like a part of the motorcycle. The scalloped seat holds you in, while the bars are at a nice level for cruising along the motorway.
A thought constantly going through my mind was just how tall I felt on the Tenere, and that I could probably give truck drivers a high-five as I passed them. Suspension is plush with 210mm of travel available up front and 200mm from the rear, meaning the Tenere has no problems soaking up the bumps on our more gnarly roads.
Yamaha NZ had kindly set the bike up for my 100kg frame and the adjustable suspension soaked up my ham-fisted abuse until I perfected the teachings of my tutors. Even with a few small jumps at the end of the day, not once did my tubby frame bottom out the suspension.
An integrated tow hook is standard
With a course set for the Nikau Cave and Cafe over 125km of gravel roads I was all set to put the rally heritage of the Tenere to the test. With knobbly tyres fitted to the Tenere for my gravel adventure it soon became clear why they are a favourite of off-roaders. The tyres dug into the softer patches of gravel and kept the bike feeling stable, unlike my experiences with road tyres and gravel.
One of the most useful skills learned on the course was counter-weighting, the act of placing your body weight in the opposite direction of travel to ensure the best traction. This came in handy cornering uphill on loose gravel, and with the addition of a little clutch slip and a handful of throttle, I was cornering with my tail out and a grin on my face.
Knobbly tyres are excellent off-road
On sealed roads the Tenere isn’t as stellar as it performs off-road. Its short wheelbase of 1500mm combined with that huge 21-inch knobby-clad front wheel, means at higher speeds it isn’t as stable, with tank slappers a possibility if you’re going too fast. I’m confident that with a less off-road focused set of tyres the on-road handling would vastly improve.
Ultimately, Tenere is a machine of compromise. It offers the potential to be a hard-as-nails go-anywhere bike when fitted with knobbly tyres, or strap a set of road tyres on and treat it as a long distance tourer. The choice is really up to you.
YAMAHA TENERE XTZ660
660CC single cylinder 4-stroke sohc 4-valve
Incredibly capable off road, great ground clearance
Susceptible to tank slappers at high speed, very tall