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Boy, is the big adventure segment ever crowded. Once upon a time, if you wanted to do that big off road trip, you bought a BWM R1150/1200 GS. Nowadays, it seems it's a segment that everyone is in and it's only going to get more crowded if Honda ever brings the (apparently) superb Honda Crossrunner to North America.
Yamaha's entry into the field is the Super Ténéré, which was released in 2010 --before that the Ténéré was actually a 750 from the 80's and early 90's. The new bike is built around a 1200cc parallel twin engine which delivers a claimed 108bhp via a 6 speed shaft drive transmission. According to Yamaha, the larger displacement engine is what makes the Ténéré, 'Super'.
Named for a region of desert in the southern Sahara, you're supposed to look at this and think "I could go anywhere". Like most bikes in this segment, you're probably going to spend more time on the road than off it.
The Super Ténéré looks pretty smart in blue, which unfortunately won't be a colour choice in 2013. The odometer tells us it's done 11,000 kms --not a lot by any stretch, but for what basically amounts to a year's worth of riding its standing up pretty well with no hint of corrosion or road-wear. And remember that's a year's worth of journalist riding. We don't always treat these things with the respect they deserve…
Our review model came with a host of add-ons including: A bash plate -- essential if you are going to off road this ($221.95), side panniers ($1208.85), engine guards ($498.95), and fog lamps ($519.19).
Most riders wouldn't need all that, but these accessories certainly help make the bike look a little more hard core and I suspect they'll end up on most bikes sold.
Settling onto the bike, the initial impression is that Yamaha have done an amazing job of hiding the weight. At 261kg (wet), it's actually 2kg heavier than my Tiger 1200, but it actually feels a little lighter. It's also about 30kg heavier than the BMW, but again, you wouldn't really know it until it falls over.
It was cold when we did the review. The daytime high was 4-degrees Celsius and the bike was not equipped with heated grips (although they are an option) and I couldn't be bothered to wire up my heated kit. As such, we didn't ride as far as we might have liked, but we took in urban, highway and some fun twisties to understand the Super Ténéré. We also took along the Tiger 1200 for comparison. Unfortunately, we did not have chance to ride either off road.
The Yamaha feels pretty neutral out on tarmac. The 270 degree parallel twin does however feel reasonably "lumpy". If you've ridden twins before it's a normal thing (though not on the Multistrada) but for those of you used to more cylinders, it feels rough and agricultural. That's not to say it's bad, just that it has a character that you may need to adjust to.
I found the Super Ténéré to be comfortable enough for all day riding. The saddle is better than the Tiger though I did notice some strange aches and pains the day after. I suspect this was due to the cold rather than the bike.
The Yamaha does a reasonable job of entertaining on highway and backroad alike. It didn't make me smile the way some other bikes have, but it also didn't bore me either. It pulled well on the highway and handled well when leaned over. In the city, it felt heavy but not unmanageably so and that is par for the course in this segment. If your primary goal is commuting, the Super Ténéré and its competitors are really not your best choice.
The throttle does take a little while to respond; twist your wrist and it takes a few tenths of a second before it starts to pick up, but when it does, it pulls pretty evenly across the entire rev range. This is probably a function of using a standard cable throttle while some bikes (Triumph and Ducati for example) are moving towards throttle by wire. In practice, it's not a big deal, but side by side, it makes the Triumph appear to pull more quickly. Of course, the Triumph also has a 30hp advantage over the Ténéré.
The Yamaha does sport two throttle modes; T for touring and S for sport. While Sport mode did seem to help with standing starts, I couldn't tell them apart in the middle of the rev range.
The brakes are adequate on the Yamaha. Linked ABS is a nice touch but unfortunately, it can't be disabled which reduces the bike's abilities off road. On road, they stop reasonably well, but lacked the bite and confidence inducing ability of those found on other comparable bikes.
Suspension is similar. It feels a little soft to me, but I didn't have a chance to play with it. It was great at soaking up highway bumps but didn't inspire confidence in turns and I suspect would be similarly loose off road.
Traction control is standard, too, not that I noticed, though unlike the ABS, this can be disabled for off-road usage.
Gears shift reasonably well, but it needs a positive foot to avoid hitting neutral or missing your shift.
The dash on the Super Ténéré is adequate. Speed is nice and big, but the rest of it feels squashed. Oddly there's no gear indicator and the general impression is you have to look to see what you need.
Unfortunately, the Ténéré feels cheap compared to its rivals. There's no one thing you can point to, but overall, you get the impression that compromises were made at most steps of the design process.
I especially disliked the windscreen. It works in deflecting air, but it's just a piece of plastic suspended above the headlights and looks cheap.
Similarly, the positioning of the side stand was annoying. The tang is positioned between the peg and the gear shifter. For me, this meant catching my boot if I used my toe and the only practical option was to lift the peg with my boot and push the stand down. It's not something you can do without looking (or a lot of practice.)
I also disliked the safety feature, whereby the engine cannot be started if you are in gear. I know you're meant to start when in neutral but most bikes seem to understand if you stall, it's just easier to clutch in, fire up and go. Not Yamaha. Stall at the lights and you need to find neutral before you can hit the starter.
In testing fuel, we took a very unscientific approach. Fill the tank to the brim, ride them around and the fill it back up. This gives us a very quick and dirty number.
The Yamaha completed 184.1km on the fuel run and consumed 11.882 litres for a total of 6.45L/100km (36.44 mpg US). The Triumph Tiger by comparison completed 175.2km and used 10.089 litres for a total of 5.75l/100km (40.84 mpg US). While this is hardly scientific, it does seem the Tiger is more frugal.
At a base price of $16,499, it's not too expensive. It's $1,000 less than the Tiger 1200 and $1,500 less than the base GS, though the latter will cost you another $1,875 to get ABS --as part of the safety package.
Add in some options, as most riders will, and the costs narrow. Kitted as we had it, the Yamaha would be just shy of $19k before taxes, pdi /etc. The Tiger would cost a little more, but you also get a lot more bike for your money. The BMW will set you back in excess of $24k, but you'll also get the pedigree.
So, can the Super Ténéré be recommended? In a word, yes, but I'd also recommend other bikes more. On balance, the Tiger is significantly better value for money. After switching back at the end of the day, I had more smiles on the Tiger in 30 minutes than I'd had all day on the Yamaha. If you can afford it, the BMW will similarly entertain you more and (I suspect) give you better off-road rideability too. With the new water cooled model coming from BMW, I suspect there'll be no competition unless Yamaha does something radical.
If you're not into off-road so much and prefer touring, the Ducati Multistrada would also be a better bike for you. It's both more powerful and a more engaging ride.
The Yamaha suffers from a feeling of compromise and nothing about the bike stands out: I doubt it's anywhere near as capable as the GS or KTM off road and on-road the Tiger is a significantly more fun bike to ride (though I am of course biased), but I'd also rate the Ducati and the R1200GS as better roads bikes, too.
All this serves to make the bike sound worse than it is, and it certainly suffers by comparison. But that's the problem with being a bike tester: We get to ride lots of bikes and we have to make comparitive decisions. The real question most of you would like answered is could you live with one? I'd have to say, yes. It's cheaper (just) than most and it's a fully capable tourer you could ride all day long with the possibility of gentle off-roading. Just don't borrow a friends bike and expect to be happy when you give it back.
You may want to consider
- BMW R1200 GS/GSA: The yardstick of the Sport Touring segment. Buy this because you want to look like Ewen and Charley
- KTM 990 Adventure: For the hardcore. It's probably the most capable of the segment but quirky to look at
- Moto Guzzi Stelvio: For the standouts among you. Buy this and it may be the only one you ever see
- Triumph Tiger 1200: The new kid on the block. Better value, better fun, better made. Better, period (I do happen to own one though)
- Ducati Multistrada: For the off-road wannabe that doesn't really want to go off road. More sportbike performance than dirt bike but an awesome ride, too