photography by Riles & Nelson
[This 2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré Road Test was originally published as a Ridden & Rated in the February 2011 issue of Rider magazine]
Ténéré (pronounced tey-ney-rey), which means “desert” in the language of nomadic Tuaregs, refers to a vast, dune-filled Saharan plain that was once a particularly challenging stage in the Paris-Dakar Rally. Frenchman Cyril Neveu clinched the first two Paris-Dakar titles, in 1979-1980, on a single-cylinder Yamaha XT500. When the XT was updated for 1983, Yamaha paid homage to its Paris-Dakar success with a rally replica model, the XT600Z Ténéré. The twin-cylinder XTZ750 Super Ténéré arrived in 1989, and Yamaha’s works version won six more Paris-Dakar titles. Then, oddly, Yamaha faded from the large-displacement dual-sport scene; XTZ750 production ceased in 1996. Following Yamaha’s streak, BMW won Paris-Dakar in 1999 and 2000, and KTM has won it every year since. BMW’s 1150/1200 GS and KTM’s 950/990 Adventure came to dominate the adventure touring segment. Lured by burgeoning sales in this class, Yamaha ended its hiatus with the European release of the XTZ1200 Super Ténéré for 2010. And now it’s headed our way.
We puddle-jumped to Arizona to ride the Super Ténéré on paved and unpaved roads around Sedona, famous for its red rock formations and spiritual vortices (don’t ask). With a rally-style fairing, hand guards and beefy spoked wheels, the Super Ténéré cuts an imposing profile. To crank up the go-anywhere aesthetic, our test bikes were equipped with an accessory skid plate, engine guards and panniers.
Straddling the Super Ténéré, I settled onto a wide, flat, spacious seat. The taller position suited my 34-inch inseam; in seconds, seat height can be lowered from 34.3 to 33.3 inches (an accessory seat is another 1.4 inches lower). The handlebars, which span 38.6 inches, were at a sensible height and bend, especially for stand-up riding. The analog tach is flanked by an array of indicator lights and an LCD panel showing speed, fuel, clock, trip/odometer, traction control, D-Mode and one of several fuel/temperature functions. Nearby is a 12V power outlet.
I thumbed the starter button and fired up the 1,199cc, four-valve-per-cylinder, DOHC, parallel twin. The compact, low-slung engine has an 11.0:1 compression ratio, two spark plugs per cylinder and a 24,000-mile valve adjustment interval. The 270-degree crank’s uneven firing intervals (270 and 450 degrees) generate closely spaced power pulses to mimic the torquey feel of a big single. The broad powerband is smoothed out by dual-axis primary balancers, and vibration was never an issue. These were U.K.-spec bikes; U.S. models haven’t been built yet. Yamaha Motor U.K.’s website claims 108.5 horsepower at the crank, and other websites cite 84 lb-ft of torque—competitive figures. Power was sufficient throughout the rev range, but not enough to make you forget this bike weighs 575 pounds wet (claimed). The tubular steel frame uses the engine as a stressed member and bolts to an aluminum subframe and swingarm. To locate the engine as low and far forward as possible, Yamaha mounted the radiator inside the left fairing.
Power reaches the rear wheel via a multiplate wet clutch and a drive shaft that uses a compact spiral bevel gear to reduce unsprung weight. Driveline lash and algorithmic vagueness in Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle limited throttle-to-rear-wheel directness. Like the R1, the Super Ténéré employs D-Mode dual engine maps. Sport mode provides quick throttle response, Touring mode softens things up a bit, overall power is the same. The transmission has widely spaced ratios and an overdrive sixth gear. Shifting was effortless, with a light clutch pull that’s easy to feather with one finger.
Traction control, which is standard, comes in three flavors: TCS1 (most intervention), TCS2 (mild intervention) and Off. When the rear wheel out spins the front by too much, the ECU cuts back throttle input, ignition timing and fuel injection. I didn’t hammer the Super Ténéré hard enough to engage traction control on the street, but off-road the yellow TCS light flashed like a disco strobe. Without traction control on such a big, powerful machine, a momentary lapse of reason could easily put you in the weeds. TCS1 and TCS2 both allow wheelspin, TCS2 more so. After just a few off-road miles, I began entering corners with the confidence of Stéphane Peterhansel, gassing it to bring the back end around while TCS politely constrained any irrational exuberance.
Wide handlebars and narrow tires (110/80-19 front, 150/70-17 rear) quicken handling on a bike with relaxed steering geometry (28-degree rake, 5-inch trail) and a longish 60.6-inch wheelbase. The nearly even front/rear weight distribution and low-slung engine also help, but the Super Ténéré isn’t the most nimble adventure tourer. Mental comparisons with the BMW R 1200 GS and KTM 990 Adventure are unavoidable, but judgment will be withheld until we’ve ridden them back-to-back. At speed, the Super Ténéré feels stable and understressed, spinning a mere 4,000 rpm at 80 mph in top gear. Tubeless Bridgestone Battle Wing radials gripped the road well and were very effective off-road, even without airing down.
The Super Ténéré is equipped with dual four-piston monoblock front calipers and a single pin-slide rear caliper, and standard ABS and front-to-rear linked brakes. Unusual for a dual-sport, the ABS can’t be turned off, as deemed by Yamaha’s safety minions. Technology can’t replace good sense or training. I was impressed with the Super Ténéré’s ability to stop quickly on and off road with minimal pulsing. But not being able to turn off ABS will limit its appeal among skilled off-road riders.
Long-travel suspension is a big part of why dual-sport and supermoto bikes are so fun on the street. The 43mm, fully adjustable male-slider fork and preload/rebound adjustable rear shock, both with 7.5 inches of travel, handled rough pavement and half-buried rocks and dry creek beds on the trails with ease. Rear preload can be easily dialed in with a hydraulic adjustment knob. In fact, nearly everything on the Super Ténéré can be adjusted: windscreen and seat height, clutch and brake levers, shifter and brake pedal height, in addition to D-Mode and traction control.
A centerstand and rear carrier are standard equipment, and the latter offers several configurations: rear rack, rear carrier for accessory top trunk ($369.95) or lower rear rack with the passenger seat removed to provide a large carrying platform. I struggled with the accessory side cases. The key didn’t like to turn and the lids didn’t like to latch. This should be addressed before motorcycles are delivered to customers.
The Super Ténéré provides the commanding confidence that every SUV-driving soccer mom loves: accessible power, comfortable roominess and a reassuring tough-is-safe feeling. More power to you if you take roads less traveled and get dirty. Yamaha has priced the Super Ténéré at $13,900, and it will be sold exclusively through a predelivery deposit program. Through March 2011, put $500 down to reserve your place in line; bikes will be delivered in order starting in May. You can also order an accessory package, which comes with a free GoPro onboard camcorder. See your Yamaha dealer for details.
2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré Specifications
Base Price: $13,900
Price as tested: $15,640 (saddlebags and mounting kit, engine guards, skid plate)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 98.0 x 79.5mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 60.6 in.
Rake/Trail: 28 degrees/5.0 in.
Seat Height: 33.3/34.3 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 575 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gals.
Average mpg: NA