The tides of war have rolled in from the east and are now upon us. A new globe trotter has washed up on American shores to challenge BMW’s 1200 GS, and perhaps stir it from its comfortable position as uncontested leader of the big displacement adventure bike category. It’s all good news for riders though. If you’re looking for a comfortable touring machine that can put oodles of paved highway miles underfoot, then blast through dirt roads with relative agility, Yamaha’s 2012 Super Ténéré is a viable option. That’s the impression I had after riding Big Blue’s new beast for two days and more than 265 miles through the desert surrounding Sodona, Arizona. Although MD tested the Super Ténéré at the European launch earlier this year, we wanted a new perspective on American soil of the bike eagerly anticipated by many U.S. consumers.
After a short flight from Los Angeles to Prescott Valley, Arizona, a squeaky clean Ténéré was waiting for me in the airport parking lot. It wouldn’t stay that way for long though. The other seven riders and I lit up the engines, and got right down to it, the dirt that is. The first thing that struck me once the pavement ended was how at home the motorcycle felt on firmly packed dirt. Standing on the pegs, swinging the handlebars from side to side and counterbalancing this beast felt surprisingly natural. In no time at all we were flying at 55 mph, raising a storm of fine, red Arizona dust behind us, and taking on broadly sweeping dirt corners with confidence as we made our way to Sedona.
The rumors are true. The Ténéré has an exceptionally low center of gravity, good weight distribution, and a confidence inspiring, agile feel in the dirt. Its 575 pounds of wet weight are very well situated, thanks to some unique engineering choices: the radiator has been placed under the left fairing, and the battery and electronics under the right, so that the inline, two-cylinder engine could be placed further forward, allowing for a shorter wheelbase. That engine also sports a dry sump, doing away with a large oil pan, and allowing for the engine to be mounted lower in the chassis. Also, the 6.1 gallon gas tank looks wide up top, but is actually quite shallow at its upper regions; most of the fuel is kept down low. All this translates into a bike that feels easy to balance—a great asset on the dirt— and has an almost neutral weight distribution, with 50.5 percent of the bike’s poundage carried ahead of the midway point between the two axles, and 49.5 percent behind it.
The bike’s suspension handled the rough stuff very well, adding to the motorcycle’s off-highway mettle. The road we stormed through that first day was riddled with embedded rocks, and the front forks ate up those sharp two to three inch jagged edges in stride, without transmitting any sudden jolts through the bars. The front end felt very stable, the traditional forks very predictable, and not overly stiff as is the case with some other adventure type bikes. This kept the ride comfortable, and the front wheel nicely planted.
With 7.5 inches of travel up front, and the same amount out back, the suspension offers plenty of movement to take on your average rocky, dirt roads. I never once bottomed out. Now, if you have your heart set on battling more gruesome rocks—like the ones I’ll tell you about later—a little more suspension would be nice, though the bike’s weight precludes riders from engaging in such behavior for too long anyway.
The inverted 43 mm front forks are adjustable for compression, rebound, and pre-load. Another surprising benefit is that adjusting the compression on the front forks actually yielded noticeable and beneficial results. The rear shock, with adjustable rebound damping and preload, also had great feel in the dirt—not overly stiff, and not overly soft. Also, preload for the rear shock can be adjusted quickly, and without tools, via a handy-dandy knob, so accommodating heavy loads or passengers is simple.
Perhaps the bike’s biggest drawback on the dirt happens to be one of its strongest assets on the street: the standard ABS system that cannot be switched off. On the road, the system proved to be remarkable and operated rather invisibly. Grabbing a heavier dollop than usual of front brake would grind the Ténéré to a halt in no time, and without any pulsating sensation at the lever. Those dual 310 mm floating rotors and 4 piston calipers work well. The linked braking system, which automatically applies rear brake when the rider squeezes the front brake, operated rather undetectably as well. In fact, I didn’t notice it at all. That system can be overridden by pushing the rear brake first, in which case both brakes operate independently.
When I crunched down on the rear brake, only a very slight pulsating sensation was noticeable as the ABS prevented the single piston caliper from locking the rear wheel. On the pavement, these brakes will surely save lives, and will give confidence to riders like me who get a little queasy when clamping down hard on the right lever.
On the dirt, having ABS out front is great too, and will surely save many from the occasional wash out, but not being able to lock up the rear does lengthen braking distances. As someone who learned to ride in the dirt, for me locking the rear tire is standard protocol, and something that just plain feels right when stopping is of the essence. A switch that allows riders to disconnect ABS to the rear wheel only would be a good addition to the Ténéré. Overall though, the system worked well enough on the dirt.
The 2012 version of the Ténéré was totally reengineered from the ground up, and though this one wasn’t designed to win the Paris Dakar, as its older brethren have done 6 times in the past, Yamaha still went heavy on the performance side.
The engine is completely new. It’s an 1199 cc, liquid-cooled, parallel 2-cylinder power house with two spark plugs and four valves per cylinder. It sports double- overhead camshafts and a 270 degree crank with an uneven firing sequence. The motor delivers a thumper-type feel with a bit of an edge, and a nice exhaust note. Twin axis balancers keep vibration down, yet allow for the charming pulse of the engine to come through.
The engine is very strong, but in no way wild, and delivers lots of usable power throughout its rev range. The European versions we tested cranked out 108 horses at 7,250 rpm, and 84 ft/lbs of torque at 6,000 rpm. The American versions will be equipped with a USFS approved spark arrestor, so those figures may end up a little lower for us.
What’s really notable is its outstanding torque, robust bottom end, and unique personality. When you pin down the throttle it gets going pretty quickly, but the acceleration isn’t mouth-watering, so those looking for a sportier bike may want to look elsewhere. Overall, all the riders in our group were pleased with the engine; it does its job well.
The bike’s smooth, wide ratio, six- speed transmission compliments the engine perfectly. On the dirt, it hardly matters what gear you’re in. Just apply a little throttle, and the torquey engine is more than happy to grant your request and chug you through that low speed turn. Out on the highway, shifting is mostly optional as well, and by the way, this thing flies down the road. With the motorcycle in sixth gear— a true over-drive— the Ténéré cruises comfortably at 90 miles per hour, with the analog tachometer indicating a meager 4,500 rpm. The bike is also very stable at speed, so cruising at supra-legal velocities is not a problem, and passing vehicles on two lane highways is a cinch. Jamming through the twisties is a blast too, as the same features that give it great off road agility also pay off on those fun mountain roads—leaning the Ténéré almost until the side bags touch is great fun.
The Ténéré also comes standard with Yamaha’s fly-by-wire chip controlled throttle technology, as well as Yamaha’s switchable “D-Mode” engine mapping, which allows riders to select from two different engine settings: T-Mode, which would be useful under wet conditions, or when you’re just mentally exhausted at the tail end of a 600 mile day, and S-Mode, which gives you throttle response that is a little zestier. These engine settings can be switched on the fly by releasing the throttle and hitting a thumb switch located on the right handle bar control pod. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a very noticeable difference between the two settings, and I ended up using S-Mode about 85 percent of the time.
On the second day, we set off to the east of Sedona, the towering sandstone plateaus in the distance still glowing a fiery orange in the morning sun. We soon found ourselves at the mouth of another inviting dirt road. With a roll of the throttle the rear tire bit in. With another quick twist of the grip it loosened up, slid a bit from side to side, spewing dirt and dust, then settled in behind me to bring me up to speed.
Though we’re all gluttons for spinning that rear tire, the traction control, which comes standard on the Ténéré, is a one of the bike’s strongest assets. It has 3 different modes: TCS 1, TCS 2, and off, which the rider must select via a button on the instrument cluster while the bike is in neutral. The system utilizes sensors that measure front and rear wheel speeds, then, when the ECU detects any differential in those speeds, it cuts back fuel injection and slows ignition timing to keep your contact patches on the ground.
TCS1 offers full blown traction control which is good for street use, where sliding around just isn’t very fun. I didn’t have the guts to lay on the gas mid corner, at full tilt a la Moto GP, but nevertheless, the rear tire always stayed planted through the twisties. TCS 1 is also the only traction control setting any rider should use when carrying fragile or squeamish cargo—aka, the girlfriend or wife. This setting does not allow the rear tire to lose traction at all, nor does it allow the front end to become airborne for more than a fraction of a second before it cuts power.
TCS 2 gives the rider a little freedom, just enough really. It lets you bring the rear tire out a little when cornering on dirt roads, and lighten the front end momentarily when hitting obstacles; a good setting to use on adventures when help or spare parts aren’t exactly around the corner.
Turning the traction control off lets you tap into that powerful 1199 cc engine and get a little squirrely in the dirt if you so desire—after acclimating myself to the Ténéré on the first day, turning off traction control entirely yielded a fun, yet manageable ride.
At the end of the second day of riding, while waiting for a busload of college kids to finish poking at some rocks that lay directly in front our last photo stop, I putted off down a nasty little dirt road off to the side. It was downright menacing, with a surface texture resembling an English muffin made of granite. The Ténéré behaved itself well for the nearly 600 pound machine that it is, but with the front wheel continually bouncing off jagged rocks, the Tenere was a handful. Then again, that just isn’t what this bike was built for, it was built for dirt roads and getting you down long stretches of pavement in comfort, not jeep trails.
Out on the highway is where the bike’s ergonomics really shine. The seat is very comfortable, making long stretches without breaks easy on the body. Also, the bike is a lot narrower than it looks in photos, which allows for a natural, relaxed seating position, and good wind protection, as the rider’s legs tuck in well behind the tank and fairing. This narrowness should also come in handy for shorter riders because it makes reaching the ground easier. The height of the seat can also be adjusted, sans tools, to either 33.27” or 34.25”. At five foot ten, I’m not the tallest rider, but even with the seat in the highest position I could rest both feet firmly on the ground. All in all, the riding position is quite gentlemanly, if you will. With your back straight, arms extended forward, and knees bent lightly, a long series of 300 to 400 mile days should be a breeze.
The windshield offers decent wind protection, and has a few different settings, though a screwdriver is required to adjust it. At its highest position, about an inch and a half higher than the base position, it gives the rider a pocket of calm air to sit in, with only a little bit of wind hitting the top of the helmet. Buffeting was a non-issue for me, but for total protection, a taller rider may want a larger shield.
The optional side bags look great, are lockable, can be removed quickly, and provide ample storage space—61 liters worth, perfect for long journeys. They are made of aluminum and injection molded nylon so as to be weather resistant, and optional liners that make toting your gear an easy task are available. A 30 liter top case, which can accommodate a full face helmet, can also be procured for a little extra dough. On whole, the Ténéré feels like it could pack a huge load easily, and the flat top side bags are perfect for balancing a large duffel bag over the rear seat. My only gripe with the bags is that the locking mechanisms aren’t spectacular, so opening up locked bags can take a little fiddling around.
Many other extras are available for the Ténéré as well, like heated grips, an engine guard, skid plate, taller windscreen, and lower seat that really complete the package. Overall, this new Yamaha seems to be a great bike that satisfies all the necessary “adventure bike” requirements. With the market for large displacement adventure bikes growing fairly quickly in the US, it’s refreshing to see a new challenger on the scene, as there are very few choices out there at the moment. Dethroning the GS will be an incredibly difficult proposition, if not impossible, but with a price under $14K, relatively inexpensive service costs, and great Japanese reliability, the Ténéré will surely seduce some serious adventurers.
The 2012 Super Ténéré will come in Impact Blue and Raven. It must be ordered through Yamaha’s Priority Delivery Program by no later than March 31st 2011. Visit Yamaha’s web site for additional details.
Motorcycle Daily attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.