As the ADV market has been trending toward middleweight machines, perhaps the most anticipated new bike after KTM’s 790 Adventure is Yamaha’s 2021 Ténéré 700, based on the compact and torque-rich Crossplane parallel twin from the MT-07. After being teased since late 2016 with action-packed videos featuring aggressive Dakar-style riding sequences, the Ténéré 700, or T7, is finally here and it’s not nearly as hardcore as the prototype. But that’s OK, because most of us can’t ride like 6-time Yamaha Dakar Champion Stephane Peterhansel through the dunes of Africa.
A quick glance at Yamaha’s lineup reveals a gap in its street-legal but dirt-worthy lineup between the WR250R and the Super Ténéré T12, and there is plenty of room for another player in the middleweight ADV segment currently occupied by BMW, KTM and Triumph. Most manufacturers have fully embraced the electronic aids arms race, with riding modes, IMU’s, ride-by-wire throttle, traction control, wheelie control, lean angle specific ABS, electronic suspension, color TFT dashes and more, which begs the question: how many rider aids do you need or are you willing to pay for? The T7 is a dramatic departure — its sole rider aid is ABS that is switchable when stopped, which works well. As someone who spends most of his time on lightweight dirt bikes without any electronic interventions, I felt immediately comfortable on the Ténéré 700 with its light clutch, smooth shifting and excellent fueling.
Swinging my MX boot over the 34.6-inch-high narrow YZ-style seat (there is also a lower seat, and rear linkage available that lowers the seat by 1.5 inches) reveals a relatively narrow tank and comfortably wide tapered handlebar with half waffle grips protected with plastic hand guards. The foldable serrated footpegs have removable rubber inserts for road riding, and both brake and shift lever have foldable tips like a dirt bike. An aluminum skid plate protects from rock hits (and doubles as a gong at times) and the front fender adjusts 8mm to allow for taller full knobby tires and room for mudpack.
The high vertically shaped LCD display is easy to read with tach, gear display, speed and clock. Using the right grip switchgear, you can toggle through other modes including air temp, two tripmeters, current and average fuel consumption, and disengage the ABS directly on the display. Unfortunately, bombing down a dusty road in a group renders the display almost useless. Bring a soft cloth. And rough roads vibrated the display fairly hard, making us wonder about its longevity. The sturdy crossbar above the LCD should be great for mounting a GPS, GoPro, phone, etc. One 12V outlet is standard and there’s room for another.
The T7 shares Yamaha’s CP2 689cc parallel-twin with its naked sport-standard street bike, the MT-07, which made 68.6 horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 47.6 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm at the rear wheel on the Jett Tuning dyno the last time we tested a 2016 model. This overachieving motor is impressive and has a wide sweet spot throughout the well-spaced gearing. In addition to updates to the ECU, the T7 twin gets a new airbox with a higher snorkel, revised cooling system and upswept exhaust and a final gear ratio of 46/15 vs. 43/16. The rest of bike is all-new, including the narrow double-cradle tubular-steel frame, triangulated (welded-on) subframe, double braced steering head and aluminum swingarm.
I’m a big fan of the T7’s narrow and tall Dakar styling that begs you to go stand-up dirt riding. Its flat YZ-style seat and upswept muffler, slim tail section with side panels that look like number plates complete the look and complement the riding experience. Sitting down at higher speeds the tall windscreen produced more coverage than expected and kept the majority of the wind blast off my chest at highway speeds. I experienced no buffeting wearing an MX helmet and there weren’t any noticeable engine vibes to complain about.
The T7’s sturdy 36-spoke 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tube-type tires that worked reasonably well in the dirt didn’t turn out to be a major compromise on the street. The bike steers quickly and accurately, without the usual vagueness from a 21-inch front, perhaps due to the 48% front and 52% rear weight bias, and felt like a supermoto bike on the twisty paved back roads. In the dirt the lighter front bias helps unweight the front under power.
Our dirt-heavy 140-mile loop at the T7’s introduction in Tennessee was a dirt tracker’s dream, winding through gorgeous sun-filtered forest canopies on forest roads with varying amounts of gravel on top to keep you on your toes. The Crossplane 270-degree crankshaft motor is super torquey and won me over in no time. It’s the hands-down star of the show and provided heaps of confidence in hard pack conditions with a loose top layer whether seated or comfortably standing. Keep the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires in line or let the rear slide, the choice is yours.
The best dirt section was a Jeep trail that was embedded with rocks and other obstacles like ruts, numerous water bars, sand, broken tree branches, loose rocks and even a rogue black bear. Knowing what we were about to encounter, the sneaky Yamaha staff changed the bikes’ suspension settings before you could say, “Where’s the mosquito repellent?”
The stiffer setup showcased the available adjustment within the stock KYB suspension. The 43mm fork has 8.3 inches of travel and is adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while the rear piggyback shock with progressive linkage has 7.9 inches of travel with adjustable compression and rebound damping and a remote knob for adjusting the spring preload.
Although there’s a decent 9.4 inches of ground clearance to work with and the T7 is lighter than most of the competition at a claimed 452 pounds wet, add another 200 pounds of fully geared rider and you’ll want to reserve the biggest launches for your dirt bike. Even when bottoming out, however, there wasn’t any nervous feedback. We even limboed under a downed tree only to find a larger tree around the corner forcing us to turn around.
No doubt the T7 is a solid package off road at spirited speeds. If I had a complaint riding in the dirt, it would be with the brakes. I found both the front and rear stoppers required higher effort than expected, had vague feedback and required too much attention, particularly in loose dirt combined with the 60/40 tires versus full knobs, and I began using the transmission for help slowing down. The softness might be built-in by design for entry-level dirt riders, and I didn’t have any issue with the brakes on the street. Brembo brakes have front twin-piston 28mm floating calipers with 282mm dual discs and the rear relies on a single-piston 34mm floating caliper with a 245mm disc.
Fuel capacity is 4.2 gallons, and at the end of our aggressive ride the last bar on the fuel gauge was blinking after just 130 miles. Past experience with this engine has shown that you can expect more than 200 miles from a tankful with a tamer right wrist. While dual sports connect trails, the T7 will allow you to connect states.
At just $9,999 for the Ténéré 700, the Yamaha is now the low-cost, low-weight leader of the middleweight ADV class if its claimed wet weight holds true on the Rider scale in a week or two. Yamaha also offers a lot of accessories for the T7, including two bundle packs that are a good value. The $1,549.43 Rally Pack includes an engine guard, radiator protector, oversize aluminum skid plate, tank pad, mono-seat rack, chain guide and centerstand, and the $2,264.94 Tour Pack includes an engine guard, centerstand, aluminum side cases and side case mounts and lock set.
After a day on the T7 I was still eager to keep riding. It’s not a hair-on-fire ADV race bike, purpose-built to explode sand dunes. It’s simply a fun on- and off-road motorcycle that also happens to be affordable and could pull light commuter duty as well. With all the craziness in the world today, disappearing into the woods or any other isolated location sounds like a good plan, and that’s not the moonshine talking.
2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700
Base Price: $9,999
Engine Type: Liguid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 80.0mm x 68.6mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 62.8 in.
Rake/Trail: 27.0 degrees/4.1 in.
Seat Height: 34.6 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 452 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals., last 1.1 gal. warning light on
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