Yamaha knows there’s room to play in the adventure bike market, but it didn’t necessarily jump straight in and try to take down the established heavyweights.
It was inevitable. Yamaha’s new Super Tenere was bound to be compared to BMW’s R1200GS. It should be, they’re both from the same adventure bike genre after all. The trouble is, the Beemers sell like hotcakes and there has to be a reason for that. Could the Japanese really challenge the mighty Germans to produce a motorcycle that’s equally capable all round? It’s a tall order which ever way you look at it. On paper, things do look promising. A 108.4 bhp, 1199cc Parallel Twin against the German 110 bhp, 1170cc Boxer engine. Both bikes have a shaft drive, aluminium luggage and a riding stance designed for hours in the saddle… hence the mammoth press launch.
Journalists from all over the world joined the trip at various check points, from Paris to Toulouse, then on to Madrid, with the finish ending up in Lisbon. Once in Portugal, I joined the final leg of the adventure to ride with seven competition winners to Marrakesh where we would donate five of the Super Teneres to Riders for Health. Founded by our very own Randy Mamola back in the late 80s, the charity uses motorcycles to courier blood samples across rugged terrains of Africa. It’s a commendable slant to add to a bike launch, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much the “Ride for life” would also tug at our heart strings and encourage us overlook the bike’s downsides, should there be any.
The thing is, the Super Tenere is pretty capable and it’s extremely comfortable. Aesthetically, as with most bikes, the ST creates a divide between those who prefer its inoffensive, tidy looks and those who liken it to a big Varadero. It doesn’t have quite the same rugged go-anywhere appeal as the GS, but that’s part of the plan. Apparently. Yamaha was keen to stress that the ST wasn’t introduced to tempt BMW riders away from the globetrotting German model. It’s more for hard-core Yamaha fans. If that’s really the case, then making direct comparisons with any other bike in this genre is simply irrelevant. But what happens when all the Yamaha riders have been placated. Surely the rest of us will wonder how the Super Tenere stacks up to other bikes like the tried and tested GS, or the ridiculously powerful, technically advanced Multistrada.
The Tenere has a smooth motor that isn’t exatly what our tester would call exciting, but it gets the job done.
The first thing to strike me was how flat the Super Tenere’s engine felt. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The torque curve is as steady as a surgeon’s hand and the power delivery is predictable and measured. Wind the throttle on and the bike picks up so gradually, the more inexperienced riders will find it encouraging and totally unintimidating. There are two engine mappings, Touring and Sport. The first one is about as sharp as a butter knife and while the Sport mode has more edge, it’s not exactly mind-blowing. In twisty sections, there is enough poke in Sport to offer a lively ride, and, together with the easy handling, the Super Tenere can be pretty rewarding. But on the straights it’s a different matter. Take it easy, enjoy the comfort of the adjustable seat (from 33.3 to 34.3 inches) and you can literally ride for days on end, so to that end the power delivery is just fine. But ask for more aggression, and the ST just won’t play ball.
On one particularly long stretch, somewhere in the Moroccan desert, I snapped the throttle back to the stop and held it there with the frustration slowly building in the pit of my stomach. It’s not often I can wring a twist grip like a wet flannel, and to an extent it’s a fun experience. But this is a 1200cc twin-cylinder motorcycle. I expected it to have a little more fight. And in the mountains, the ST almost throws in the towel, wheezing through the thinning air indecisively. At “normal” altitudes, the bike behaves far more predictably and although it definitely has less punch than BMW’s latest GS, all seven (non-journalist) riders in my group were completely and utterly satisfied by the bike’s engine performance while I continued to fantasize about aftermarket exhausts.
The onboard technology is as limited as the optional extras list, which was another surprise to me. ABS that you can’t turn off and traction control that you can. Initially, that made no sense. The Super T is an adventure bike, designed to cope will all kinds of terrain and surfaces. Five of them will be used purely in Africa, so how is non-switchable ABS going to work there? Just fine, it seems. Although I’m sure more experienced off-roaders would prefer to disconnect the ABS, I couldn’t find fault with it. At all. Even the Dakar dude, Helder Rodrigues who was accompanying us on the ride, managed to do some pretty spectacular stuff without turning the safety braking system off. And for the rest of us mere mortals, the technology seemed to work just fine.
Nimble handling and a great linked braking system are two of the Yamaha Super Tenere’s strong points.
Of course, in deep desert sand, the Super Tenere is simply too heavy at 575 pounds to ride the crests of yellow-brown waves, but the GS would struggle in the Sahara too. And at least the Super T appears to be more “crashable” than the shiny, but pricey-to-drop Multistrada. Yamaha has added a linked braking system as well. If you use just the front lever to scrub speed, the ST automatically adds some rear brake pressure and even adjusts that percentage according to how much weight you’re carrying. It’s a totally unobtrusive system that works brilliantly, reducing front end dive and stabilizing the bike under braking. The rear anchors still work independently, so U-turns and slow-speed maneuvers aren’t hampered by a front brake chiming in at the wrong moment.
Although the engine isn’t the liveliest, attacking twisties is actually really good fun, not only because of the superb braking system which allows you to grab a fistful at the last moment, (within reason of course) but the bike also has effortless handling. Again, it’s no GS and it doesn’t have the same pendulous drop into corners as the BMW, but Yamaha has given the Super Tenere a character of its own that works very well indeed. Once you’ve got your head around the dead weight and you’re up and running, slow speed maneuvers are incredibly easy. The steering lock is more than adequate and the bike feels like an extension of you, one that you can put exactly where you want without having to do a feet-down-shuffle. It’s a handy characteristic for off-road adventures, where dribbling along at a snails pace, picking over rocks and deciding on the best route works well with a smooth throttle and manageable ride.
Traction control settings help to adjust for different terrain, but the ABS is not switchable, which might deter some riders.
Rather than the GS’s tractor like chugging, the Super Tenere has a gentler approach which may suit some riders more. At a faster pace, the Super T feels planted and secure. I had an occasional front end wobble with the throttle glued to the stop against the desert’s relentless side winds, but it wasn’t anything to be concerned about. As for protection, it’s okay, but not great. The windscreen as standard does an adequate job and I didn’t have excessive head buffeting until I delved over about 95 mph. The screen is adjustable, but doing so is not exactly a two-minute job. Where the GS just needs you to twist a couple of knobs, the ST requires an allen key, screw driver and the removal of a side panel. It’s just a shame it’s so overcomplicated. And although resetting the trip switch or turning the traction control off isn’t exactly hard, again, it’s a pity you have to reach the bike’s dash to do it rather than flick a switch on the handlebars. It might seem like I’m nit picking, but these are the things that make life easy. Like the panniers. They’re a fair size and they look the part, but the locking mechanism is really poor. Not only is it stiff and awkward, the panniers only open with the ignition key from the rear. Not really a deal breaker I know, but whether you’re an adventure traveller or a commuter, being able to access your goodies without a key is certainly helpful. And because the lock is so fiddly, and you always need to use the key, it has a tendency to bend. Worryingly so. The panniers are standard on the 2010 first edition model, along with a sticker, headlight protector and aluminum skid plate. Next year, they’ll be an optional and avoidable extra.
Back to the positives, the traction control has three settings. For general use, it intervenes early enough to help prevent slides, the second setting is for a hint of dirt and riders who like it loose, and finally there’s off for heavy duty sand etc. All the settings certainly appear to work exactly as they’re supposed to, but the power delivery felt crispest in the Sport mode with the traction control turned off. Apparently turning the traction control off shouldn’t have affected the power delivery, but I’m booking another test ride and a run on a dyno to be sure.
During one late night ride to Fes, the bike’s headlights seemed noticeably faded, hence the optional extra engine guard accessory that holds two (also optional) fog lamps. It’s pricey at about 200 Euros. But it also makes sense given the dim-dipped beam. The 6.1-gallon tank proved it can handle over 200 miles and although the suspension isn’t electronically adjustable, I left it as standard for the entire duration of the six-day trip simply because I had no call to change it, it works that well. You can adjust the rear spring preload manually for two-up riding and it’s straightforward enough. Whether you’d actually be content with the bike’s pulling power is another question entirely. If your mate is Kylie Minogue proportioned, you may be just fine. Which is the perfect way to describe the gear changes. The shaft drive is smooth and it feels as clean as it is practical.
The Super Tenere strikes an attractive pose against the Saharan sands, but our initial ride indicates that this touring machine is more comfortable on the pavement.
So in all, the Super Tenere is an adequate all-rounder. It’s fun, comfortable and easy to ride. But in the UK the biggest stumbling block isn’t its performance but its price. Compared to BMW’s R1200GS, it isn’t any better, it has fewer options and it is more expensive. For the price of a Super Tenere, you could lavish a GS with BMW’s Dynamic package that includes a tyre pressure control, ABS and ASC (traction control) Then you could add a Premium package, which includes a chrome exhaust pipe, heated grips, an onboard computer with oil warning light and LED indicators and still brim the tank and pay for your first night away. For diehard Yamaha fans, maybe that doesn’t matter. For everyone else, I’m not so sure.