It’s hard to believe, but the Yamaha Tenere was lunched a staggering 35 years ago back in 1983. Copying the styling of the Paris-Dakar bikes, the bikes were an acquired taste restricted fairly well to the off-road aficionados, rather than the mainstream motorcycle market. The big single cylinder engine had its roots back with Yamaha’s seminal XT an TT500s from the 1970s, and against a backdrop of smooth inline four cylinder machines, the Tenere was never going to be the best seller in Yamaha’s catalogue.
THE CHUNKY TENERE HAD IT”S HERITAGE BACK IN THE 1970s
Yet almost against the odds, the dependable Tenere shifted enough units across the globe to keep it in production for an astoundingly long time, far outlasting almost all of the other models from the ’83 range.
Since the first version the bike went through a variety of revisions, facelift’s and relaunches to eventually emerge as the final incarnation of the bike launched in 2008. The modern style Tenere lasted right up until 2016 when those restrictive Euro 4 regulations finally put the nail into the XT660Z’s coffin.
But with Yamaha about to relaunch the Tenere in the form of their rather equisite T7 twin and other manufacturers looking like KTM and BMW looking to mid-sized adventure bikes as the next growth area, is a resurgance in interest in the Tenere on the cards?
Is the last of the original single pot XT660Zs a future classic – maybe the last of the true adventure bikes before adventure bikes swamped the market and became nothing more than tall sports bikes?
WITH CLASSIC SPEED-BLOCK GRAPHICS THE NEW TENERE LOOKED FIT FOR PURPOSE
FACTS AND FIGURES
OK so how does the Tenere stack up on the specifications and dimensions?
Well, firstly, unlike it’s air-cooled predecessors, the motor on the XT660Z is a liquid cooled and arguably far more complex unit. Not that this change has had much affect on the power output – the new Tenere makes a modest 48 bhp, so not a vasy amount up on the original bike’s 45 bhp – so much for progress!
And the same could be said for the rest of the dimensions on the bike, most notably the weight which has positively burgeoned up to around 180kg, almost 50kg up on the 1983 incarnation. But more on this later.
Looking at the chassis, the Tenere is fairly conventional all round. The frame is an unremarkable steel spine frame with incredibly strong subframe out the back, and a black painted aluminium swingarm holdinmg the rear hoop.
Suspension is reletively basic, but given how much riders actually adjust any of the multiple dials on more complex machines, this may be smarter than you think. Both the single shock rear and the 43mm ‘right way up’ front forks are only adjustable for pre-load.
THE TENERE ENGINE IS NOT THE PRETTIEST
If the frame and engine are heavily in the chunky side, then the bodywork is similarly rough and tough. A 23 litre plastic tank stretches from the stepped seat right to beyond the front forks and should be good for some serious mileage. There’s a collection of grey plastic protectors on the lower tank and covering the exhaust and expansion bottle and between the tank and the Praying Mantis style top fairing.
And for more big stats, we have to mention the seat height which at 89,5 cm is pretty damn high – throw on some luggage on the rear and swinging a leg over can be a big stretch.
Yamaha claimed a boisterous 105 mph as the you speed, but this needs to be taken with quite a pinch of salt – any bike with the profile of this bike is not going to be much fun on the other side of the ton.
Bringing the Yam to a halt is a twin 298mm disc set up at the front with twin-pot calipers with a single 245mm disc and single piston at the back end.
REAL WORLD TESTING THE TENERE
OK so if we are thinking that the Yamaha Ten is a future classic, how are we going to prove it? Well the answer is to buy one and use it for real life adventures and see how it stands up. So that’s what we’ve done.
THE 2011 YAMAHA XT660Z TENERE – THE IDEAL ADVENTURE BIKE
Searching the internet, we found a great condition 2011 bike with a pitifully small 9000 miles on the clock at our local dealership. The bike was pretty much stock, but did have a few useful additions.
First off and always welcome in a British winter, a set of Oxford Heated Grips were good to see and promised to keep our mitts warm till the sun returns in around May. What wasn’t so welcome was the fact that they were wired direst to the battery rather than tied into the ignition circuit – it’s only a matter of time before we leave them on and kill the battery.
Another addition. or perhaps replacement, was a lowering link from LUST Racing, taking down the seat height by a handy 25mm. When a rider of just under 6ft needs a lowering link, then you know that she’s a tall one.
HEATED GRIPS – WE LIKE LOWERING LINK TAKES 25MM OFF THE SEAT HEIGHT
At the rear of the bike, the previous owner had invested in both hardwear and semi-soft wear. A large luggage plate sits atop the rear of the bike, seemingly begging for some bags, and there are a set of SW Motech pannier frames in place which hold their rather beautifully rugged DAKAR panniers.
As is traditional, the rear mudguard has been hacked off to reduce the overhang, and so to continue the theme we’ve fitted a replacement numberplate to reduce trail breakages and fitted an LED plate light to replace the one that simply wasn’t there.
Other than that it’s all as it left the factory – it’s even got the haul loop at the front in case we need to drag it up a mountain or suspend it from a helicopter.
WITH JUST 9000 MILES IT’S A CLEAN BIKE STANDARD BACK END BUTCHERY HERE STOCK FRONT END
TARMAC AND TRAFFIC
Before we even took the bike out for the first shakedown, there were two things that needed changing quicksharp.
Top of the list was the shamefully inadequate footrests that Yamaha provided on the bike. If a high school student had made these in a metalwork class, they would have got a D – they are poorly made, too small, pig ugly and not fit for purpose. With half an hour in the garage, we’d adapted a spare pair from a KTM EXC to fit in the stock hangers and instantly upgraded the Tenere’s comfort and purpose when stood on the pegs.
KTM FOOTPEGS SLOTTED INTO PLACE WITH MINIMAL FETTLING
Second up was to swap the enormously long stock Yamaha levers with some shorty versions from eBay. We can see very little point in paying top dollar for levers when there are well-made and perfectly serviceable versions available for under £20 shipped from Asia. We’re running similar on other bikes and they’ve been as good as anything we’ve ever had.
ALLOY SHORTY LEVERS WITH ADJUSTABLE SPAN
So with the hands and feet happy, it was time to see how the bike shapes up on tarmac and trail.
The first impression s that of the height of the bike – it’s tall even with the lowering link, so you do need to commit when swinging your leg over. With the stock rear suspension setting it sinks a considerable amount, but once you stiffen the spring, it stays tall. This is great once riding because it gives you a commanding view on the road, but you do have to bear the height in mind if you have to stop on a camber and you are not able to flat-foot on either side.
The engine is nicely punchy from the off, and will move up through the gears effortlessly as you accelerate. Short shifting is not to be encouraged as the bike does chug a fair bit below 3000 rpm, so this region is best avoided. This fuelling glitch is a well documented fault which apparently can be largely solved by fitting either a Power Commander at around £300 or by heading for what is somewhat oddly called – Kev’s mod which is a bit of electronic trickery made up by an XT660Z specialist, unsurprisingly named Kev. At a fraction of the cost the Power Commander route, it’s a popular modification and one we’ll be looking into.
But let’s not get too hung up on this, it’s not a major issue. The bike is just fun to ride on the road, the high bars and relatively slim profile making filtering in heavy traffic easy, even if that cable operated clutch could be considerably lighter. Having used a hydraulic clutch on the Ride Expeditions KTM EXC250 for many years, we’re not fans of the cable, so we may look to fit a hydraulic conversion kit in the coming months.
The Metzeller Tourance tyres fitted to the bike have a very smooth and road friendly profile and as such are competent and stable on the black top. Corners can be taken at enthusiastic speeds without any worry on kicking out, which as the bike encourages spirited riding is a good thing.
TRAILS AND TYRES
THE YAMAHA POWERS THROUGH THE WATER ON STONY LANE
While the Metzellers might suit a bit of tarmac tomfoolery, their performance when off-road does not inspire much confidence at all.
As a first outing, we didn’t want to throw the bike at anything too extreme, so we headed for the Fosse Way, a legal byway that cuts through South Gloucestershire and provides an ideal soft-road option. And in the initial gravel stages, although the tyres were a tad vague, they were not too bad at keeping bike and rider sunny side up.
But once the speed increased and the tracks got a tad more muddy and wet, the Tourances begun to find their limits fairly quickly. In fairness to Metzeller, the tyres are described as for light off-road use and away from the muddy stuff and when faced with rocks, the bike faired much better. A few days later we took on some rocky lanes just outside Bath and were pleasantly surprised by the way they coped.
But looking beyond the tyres which will be easy to change the tyres, the bike is pretty good when off road. The Tenere is wider than the average trail or enduro bike and also fees taller thanks to the screen and instrument binnacle out in front, but it handles very similarly to a conventional enduro machine. The replacement footpegs help this as they do grip your boots, but had the tyres not lacked grip, then the speeds would have rapidly increased as our confidence on the bike grew.
ON ROCKS THE METZELLER TOURANCE TYRES HANDLED FAR BETTER THAN ON MUD
But what is evident is that we are going to have to make adjustments to riding styles on a bike that is significantly heavier than we’re used to. With an additional 70kg to think about, it’s like we’ve picked up a passenger without noticing.
The Yamaha handles well off-road and we’re confident that it’s going to be a competent adventure bike. But there no getting away from the fact that as with any bike in this category the additional weight is going to be an issue, particularly as the Tenere wears it’s weight quite high compared to other similar bikes.
Many of the reviews and blog sites about the Tenere identify the sispension on the bike as being far too soft and unadjustable and recommend upratinmg the suspension almost immediately. While we can certainly agree that the stock settings are incredibly soft and with only preload being changeable at both front and back then clearly there’s going to be some element of truth in this. But as to whether we need to ditch the stock equipment or just change the springs is difficult to tell with only light trail testing. Suspension tuning is always a good idea, but changing things without identifying the problem is not.
THE PLAN: FINISHING WHAT YAMAHA STARTED
So the basic bike has most of the stuff you need to set off towards the hills and take on proper adventures. It’s got a proven rock solid engine with plenty of grunt, albeit with some fuelling gremlins, it’s got a strong frame that can take the abuse of long distance travel and maybe just as importantly it’s got lots of owners across the globe that have worked on improving the bike before us.
On the downside it’s got more weight than seems entirely necessary, and that weight is held pretty high on an already high bike. How much we can do to change this is limited to a certain extent by budget but also how far we think it’s worth pursuing. We’ve read blogs of people throwing thousands at their Tenere to get it just right, but once you start doing that, you have to wonder whether they might have been better off buying something different to start with…
WE WANT TO ADD THE BITS THAT YAMAHA SHOULD HAVE TO MAKE THE TENERE FIT FOR ADVENTURES
Our plan is to take small steps to upgrade the bits that can be easily and relatively cheaply replaced and improved by your average riders. We’re not going to be making our own triple clamps or swapping the forks for motocross equivalents – that’s not on the wish list.
So lets look at the first stages and what we need.
The current tyres offer little grip away from the tarmac, so we’ll be lookimg to upgrade to something that we can use properly on the off-road sections, yet still have some road manners. It’s a tall order and there’s plenty of web experts out there ready to tell us what we need!
Rather than rely on subjective comparisons, we contacted the chaps at the Yamaha Off-Road Experience and asked them for recommendations, and took their advice. The guys have used the 600 Tenere before it’s demise and also use the bigger brother Super Tenere to know more than most!
ENGINE AND BODYWORK PROTECTION
For a bike that may spend a good amount of it’s life off road, the protection on the standard bike is almost non-existent. There are the strange grey blobs on the side of the tank and just below to cover the expansion tank and exhaust, and the sump is protected by a large ugly plastic sump guard which looks like it’s been recycled from a washing up bowl.
So we’ll be looking to add some proper engine bars that cushion any impacts without adding too much weight or width. We’ll also be looking to add a proper sump guard made from something harder – maybe metal? Now there’s a novel though Mr Yamaha
BARS, BAR PROTECTION AND CONTROLS
The stock bars are OK but it’s not a great bend compared to the swathe of options from aftermartket manufacturers, At present there may be a Renthal pad on there, but it’s on the stock metal and we’d like some genuine bars instead.
Of course to protect the bars and levers from impact, we need some proper wrap around handguards, and if they can come with some level of wind protection, then all good.
We’ve already swapped out the levers, but ideally we’d like to upgrade the cables and hoses to something more man for the job.
The stock suspension is soft – very soft. We’ve wound up the preload at both ends using the tools from the owner’s toolkit, but that has only made a slight difference as you would expect.
We’ll see how the bike performs on a longer off-road / road run before heading towards spring or shock changes, As the problem seems to be more acute at the front rather than the rear, them a change to progressive springs in the forks looks to be the first port of call.
That’s where we’ll leave it for the first stage. We’ll post blogs on the bits we add, how they fit and the difference they make.
Simple really ….
DO YOU HAVE A YAMAHA TENERE? TELL US HOW YOU’VE UPGRADED YOUR BIKE
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