Stolen

As most of you may have already seen in the Stroming The World Facebook page, not a week had gone by after I came back from my holidays than my new motorbike was stolen.

I had had it for three months, and at least I got to enjoy it throughly over the summer – a four-day trip across the Pyrenees to write the review that I posted recently, a trip to visit my old V-Strom and do some offroading and some research for a future article I’m writing and a wonderful trip to Normandy to explore the D-day beaches. It was a fast, fun, comfortable and reliable travel companion, and in the course of these trips it was proving to be a worthy successor to my beloved V-Strom.

I am now waiting to see how events unfold, and hoping the police may find her. In any case, she was insured against theft, even though I have little faith in the insurance company paying a decent amount for her.

Last weekend I went to retrieve my faithful V-Strom and put her back in service. She is back as my daily ride, but having lost the Yamaha has put a hold on my plans for future big trips, it will be some time before I can tell you stories about riding to distant locations.

In the meantime, life goes on, and I have just put the finishing touches on the story of my trip to Normandy and I will publish it shortly, I hope you enjoy it.

Please visit the Stroming The World Facebook page and share the description of the Yamaha.

Thanks!

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Review – 2010 Yamaha XT 1200 Z Super Ténéré

I took delivery of my Super Ténéré and for the next week, other than a short blast into the hills with my gunner which did not allow me to fully explore the bike’s capabilities, I only had the chance to ride it as a commuter bike. 10 miles to work, 10 miles back, out of the city, into the city. Not the ideal conditions to get a proper taste of what the bike was like, just factual analysis:

The hydraulic clutch action is very smooth and requires less effort than the cable-operated one in my V-Storm. The brakes are far, far better, with four-pot callipers at the front and combined braking, which means that you only need to press the hand lever and it also applies pressure to the back brake. For more stopping power, or if you prefer to distribute the braking power yourself, pressing the brake pedal disconnects the system and each wheel can be braked separately. The system goes back into combined braking mode once pressure is released from both controls. The handlebars are high and wide, making the riding position very relaxed and clearing car’s mirrors easily when filtering. The seat is wide and very comfortable, and adjusting the height is a very simple procedure which requires no tools – lift the seat, change the position of the seat support a bit backward, put the seat back in position and voilà, the seat height drops from 870 to 845 mm. The dashboard is clear, easy to read and offers decent information, but I find it very annoying that they have decided to include an instant fuel consumption indicator and not a gear indicator… What use is an instant fuel consumption reading on a bike? It is just a way to keep your eyes off the road unnecessarily and have an accident. A gear indicator would have been much more practical. And since we are at it, having a fuel level and an instant consumption reading, it was only a matter of adding a few lines of programming to have a range indicator. When the bike goes into reserve a special odometer comes on, counting from zero from that moment, but it is up to the rider to estimate how far you can go. The OEM panniers and top case that came with the bike are nice looking and very convenient, locked and removed with the contact key, eliminating the many keys I was carrying with the old bike – although this might be a problem if I decide to sell them on. All objective and boring stuff.

So when the classes were over and I had five days for Sant Joan before starting the summer course, I took a friend of mine who has a 660 Ténéré and wanted to do some offroading and we both headed to the Pyrenees to see what the bikes were capable of. We headed for Banyuls, a wine-making village on the coast of France just past the border. It was a good point to start with our plan – to ride the Catalan Pyrenees from east to west.

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A short stint on the motorway revealed a few things – on the negative side, while the wide tank and radiator fairings provide great protection for the legs, the OEM screen is far from adequate. At 6 feet, I felt buffeting on the helmet and on the shoulders, and could not ride with the visor open, which was not a problem on the V-Strom with a tall Givi screen. There is a supplementary set of holes on the mounting brackets, but unlike the V-Strom they are just holes, there are no threads for the screws that support the screen, so it cannot be moved to a higher position. In any case, doing so would leave a gap between the screen and the instrument panel, which might let air in anyway. On the positive side, the bike feels planted at high speeds, and can maintain a good cruise without effort and with plenty of power in reserve, which is exactly what I was looking for now that I travel with a passenger.

Once we reached Banyuls we turned inland looking for a small mountain pass called Col de Banyuls that goes back into Catalan territory. The road up the pass is little more than a paved country lane, and there is a section at the bottom of the pass on the French side that is unpaved (or was paved a long time ago, but it is not anymore). It is perfectly passable on a car as long as you drive carefully, and I attacked it fast on the bike. This revealed what I had been expecting and would be confirmed over the next few days – the suspension on this bike was way better than on the V-Strom. More about that later.

We reached the town of Espolla and from there, instead of heading south to meet the main motorway going to the border, we tried to find a route I had tried to do and failed when I did my trans Pyrenees trip the previous year – a dirt track connecting through some military training fields to Campany. This time we had downloaded terrain maps and were confident we could find it.

The bike came with a set road-biased Metzelers, and when my friend suggested doing some offroad, seeing that I was not familiar with it and it was considerably heavy than the Suzuki, I swapped them for a set of 50/50 Mitas. I was so glad to have done so when we attacked the first part of the track… it was a fine layer of sand over rock, and the bike behaved impeccably on the Mitas, very confidence inspiring, it hid its weight really well even though it was carrying the full set of luggage.

Things got a bit complicated further on, the track deteriorating with some deep ruts in a steep section, and here was when the bike showed me its full capability – this was worse terrain than anything I had done on the V-Strom, and even though I had very, very limited experience on the bike, standing on the footpegs and with a healthy dose of throttle it climbed the gradient without any problems, the suspension soaking up the ruts and loose rocks.

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Unfortunately, we had to give up shortly afterwards. After another steep climb, we came to a point where the road descended abruptly, and neither of us felt confident enough to take such heavily loaded bikes down there, so we had to turn around and head back to Espolla and the main road. The Albera mountains had defeated me once more. On the positive side, I can confidently say that I ran out of talent long before the bike did, it is a very capable offroad machine if you know what you are doing, but my skills are definitely not up to the bike’s full capability.

It was time to try some corners, and the GI-501 and 505 provided the perfect road. It starts in the village of Agullana and it does not really lead anywhere, it ends at the border with France next to a memorial to president Lluis Companys, meaning that there was very little traffic. Even on semi-offroad tires and loaded with luggage, the bike was great fun on a winding mountain road, you can lean confidently, the front end is positive and communicative, with 117 Nm the engine has more than enough torque to pull strongly and smoothly from very low revs, and past 4,000 it makes a delicious sound. I know some people find the bike a bit boring, but it suits my riding perfectly, I prefer to have torque than power at the top end of the rev range.

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At the top, the road does continue down to the French side, but it is only a gravel road. It was in quite good condition, and it descended – sometimes steeply – down to the village of Las Illas. Here I had several opportunities to test – both intentionally and accidentally – the ABS system. I have read a lot of complaints about it not being a switchable system, and how this limits the bike as an offroad machine. To that criticism I can only say two things. One – the system is incredibly well-judged, and I applaud Yamaha for having taken this approach. BMW chose to simply fit a switch and turn it off, Yamaha went to the trouble of designing a system that works really well offroad. I braked hard intentionally several times, and had to brake hard a couple of times when a car appeared the other way out of a corner, and at no point did I lose braking power. It only took a couple of bumps or a bit of gravel to leave my V-Strom without brakes. Two – if you are an offroad master (which I am definitely not) and really feel the need to switch the ABS off, then 55€ buy you a kit with a switch, the necessary wiring and a fuse, and I am sure you can make one yourself for less, so I do not think that the non-switchable ABS system is such a big deal.

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Over the next two days we spent half the time on and half the time off road. On the road the Super Ténéré behaved impeccably and never missed a beat, and offroad it was a revelation. I had changed the springs on my V-Strom to stiffer ones to cope with the weight and be able to do some offroading without bottoming out, but it was a harsh ride on tracks – the front end bounced around and I had to fight it to keep it going in the right direction, and the back kept losing traction for the same reason. I had never ridden anything other offroad, and I just thought this was the way you were supposed to do things… This bike opened my eyes – longer suspension travel and more sophisticated damping meant that it just soaked up the bumps, keeping the back wheel firmly on the ground most of the time, and the 270º crank engine behaves like a big single, sending the power to the back wheel in pulses to keep traction. It climbed through dirt track tight hairpins in the heart of the Pyrenees practically at idle without any problems, I would definitely not have been able to do that in a Tiger 800. That said, sixth gear is tall enough to cruise the motorway relaxedly, good combination. The seat that was so comfortable on the road is quite narrow at the front end, and with the bars quite high, the position when standing on the pegs is almost perfect. I say almost because being on the tall side, I would prefer it a bit higher, but this is easily solved with a set of risers, which I will definitely be fitting in the future.

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So all in all, a very positive impression of the bike. Fit and finish is very good, it might not look as good as a BMW, but when you look closer you see that Yamaha has spent the money where it counts, making a tough, functional bike for actually riding, not posing. Everything has been cleverly design, and it seems to be very user friendly if you want to do your own maintenance. The shaft drive does not bear such strong loads as in a GS, as there is an arm on the other side to distribute forces, meaning that it is very likely to be a lot more reliable, and coming from a chain driven motorbike, I did not notice any strange reactions when accelerating nor braking, making the Paralever system look unnecessarily overdesigned and failure-prone. It sure looks nice, but I want something I can ride with total peace of mind.

Summer holidays are coming, and there are at least two trips planned for the bike, which means that it will be due for a service when it comes back. I plan to do it myself, so I will let you know how easy or difficult it is.

The good:

  • Power delivery – plenty of grunt down low and still able to deliver a good kick at higher revs.
  • Very comfortable riding position and seat, still good to ride standing.
  • Good offroad behaviour.
  • Long service intervals, seems easy to service (to be confirmed).
  • Good gearing – sixth gear is good for the motorway, first gear is low enough for offroading, torque helps, and when it is not low enough, having a wet clutch works better for slipping than BMW’s dry one.

The bad:

  • Poor wind protection from the stock windshield – buffeting in the helmet and shoulders. I need a taller screen.
  • Abrupt off-throttle action – the bike is a bit jerky when completely closing the throttle. Not a big issue, but it can get annoying in start-stop traffic.
  • No gear indicator

 

Edited: a few months later, back from the Normandy summer trip, this motorbike was stolen right from my front door.

New baby

Ever since I finished the original Stroming the World trip I had been saying that I needed to change my motorbike. I bought my V-Strom second hand, thinking that it was my first big bike and it was going to get heavy use as my daily commute and sleep on the street, so it was a good idea to buy something cheap and reliable. It had about 40,000 km and at that time I had no idea that it was going to take me to so many places. By the time the trip was over the bike soon passed the 100.000 km mark back on her daily role as commuter bike and I was taking it everywhere – out on weekend trips, holidays in Corsica, pretty much everywhere in Spain… and I kept thinking that I needed to start considering a new one, for the old trusty V was already piling on too many kilometres.

What do you replace a V-Strom with? Usually the answer is “another one”. Nothing is as cheap, reliable and versatile as these bikes. Nothing. But I was now doing most of my trips two up, and I wanted something more powerful. For months and months I spent hours reading tests and reviews, trying to figure out what the best replacement was. I wanted something a bit more powerful, comfortable, just as reliable and with the off road ability that the V lacked, that is, better suspension and a bit more ground clearance.

I first looked at the same manufacturer – I had a very good relationship with my Suzuki dealer in Barcelona and I trusted the brand, after all my V had proven to be 100% reliable. I took a look at the 1000cc V-Strom, but a few things put me back. It was a new model, so there were still no second hand deals, which meant that it was just out of my budget, and it was quite road-biased – cast alloy wheels, not much ground clearance and not enough suspension travel increase over the 650. And not the prettiest girl in town, either.

The GS was another obvious answer to many, but the asking prices for second hand ones were just ridiculous, and the ones within my budget has astronomical mileage. And despite all their round-the-world, Long Way Round fame, a GS just did not inspire as much confidence as my V when it comes to reliability. Too many reports of final drive failures, electronic gremlins and lower general quality than my V. I kept reading a lot about “quality components” on the specialised press, but when I looked at how the plastics aged on a GS that had spent its life on the street compared to the ones on my V, I just did not perceive that famous quality. My bike is a workhorse, not a garage queen that is only ridden on sunny Sunday mornings, and I need it to live up to that task.

The 800 GS was interesting – much better suited to off-road duties, more power than my V for two-up riding, not as heavy, cheaper to buy and with a huge range of aftermarket extras. However, it suffered from three main problems. One – same patchy reliability record as her big sister. Two – ugly as hell; I did not fall in love with her, and you have to love your bike, it cannot be something you look at and think “it’s OK”. And three – the Porsche Boxter phenomenon. No matter how good it is, it still looks as if you couldn’t afford the real thing, a 911. This is the same, it’s just not a 1200 GS.

If I wanted more power, more off road ability and more fun, orange seemed the way to go. I had had a taste of Ilya’s 990 Adventure in Moscow and fallen in love with it. Second hand prices were very good too, at least in Spain, and it is definitely the queen when it comes to rough terrain. The problem is that Katies are 100% adrenaline 100% of the time. Great for adventure trips or attacking twisty roads at the weekend, not so great for everyday traffic, and while relatively cheap to buy second hand, they are frighteningly expensive to run. Fuel consumption can be ridiculous in heavy traffic (I have to commute in and out of Barcelona every day), and a valve check is due every 12.000 km, which means taking half the bike apart every few months. No thank you.

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The 1200 Triumph Tiger Explorer was also out of the question, too expensive, as was the Moto Guzzi Stelvio, not only too expensive to buy new (very rare and therefore difficult to find one second hand) but with abysmal depreciation if I wanted to sell it on later.

That left two candidates that looked good on paper – the Triumph Tiger 800XC and the Yamaha Super Ténéré 1200. Both had wire wheels, good suspension travel and ground clearance, enough power for two people plus luggage and were easily available on the second hand market. The problem with the Yamaha was that it was still out of my budget, and the few units that I could afford were over 50,000 km – not such a high mileage as the GS, but still more than I wanted, and I was also worried about weight. The bloody thing weighs just over 260kg wet!

So, Triumph Tiger it was. I went to the dealer where I had found my second hand V and asked if they had any for sale. It turns out they did – an ex demonstrator, practically new, in black, very good deal. I was almost convinced that I had found my future bike, but then I took it for a test ride.

What a disappointment. I really liked the bike, it looked great, had good suspension, very good brakes compared to my old one and the legendary triple engine was smooth as butter. What did not live to the legend was the low-end torque. Everybody said that this engine was the best of both worlds – low end grunt like a twin, exciting at high revs like an inline four. Well, it wasn’t. Despite having 27 more horsepower it only had 16 more nm torque, and I kept stalling it in start-stop traffic in Barcelona. Some people argue that you just have to adjust to the clutch and the power delivery, and to be fair, when I was back in the city after a ride in the hills I did not stall it so much, but it still required more work and attention to ride in traffic than my V, and I just did not see myself using that bike daily, let alone negotiating difficult terrain. My feeling was that Triumph had designed a very good trail bike and then completely ruined it by fitting it with a road bike engine.

Back to square one, then… I kept riding my beloved V and started considering just replacing it with another one when it got too old, until I was invited to a wedding.

I once read some statistics somewhere about how many people find their future partners at weddings, and seems to be true. During lunch we were sat at the table with a friend of mine who has a 660 Ténéré and is good friends with one of the mechanics at the dealer he bought it from. We were talking bikes and he mentioned that they had a Super Ténéré for sale there. Only two things had put me off that bike before – price and weight. Other than that, it was the perfect one – Japanese reliability, powerful, very torquey, shaft drive (no more chain maintenance) and relatively economical to run. He told me the bike had been bought and serviced there and they knew it had a good history, it only had 13,000 km and they were asking the same as for the ones I had seen with over 50,000 km, so I went to see it the following weekend.

It turned out that the previous owner was a dentist and had bought the bike on a whim and only used it to go between his two clinics and once a year for a holiday in Mallorca. It was in mint condition and had all the accessories that came with the First Edition – aluminium engine guard, headlight guard, hand guards, heated grips and three original Yamaha cases, which unlike the Tiger, it meant that I had to spend nothing getting it ready to travel. The guy had decide that it was too much bike for that task and put it up for sale. So far, so good. Only one thing to do – test it. I needed to see how the engine delivered its power, if it vibrated much and how it handled its considerable weight.

I took it for a ride in the Collserola hills and fell in love with it within minutes. This was it. My new bike.

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I paid a deposit, and a few days later picked up the new baby. A week later I went for a 4-day ride in the Pyrenees that combined roads and tracks to see what she was capable off and I was very impressed, but that is a story I will tell on a later post, together with a full review.

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So now, what about this blog’s name? It is based on the V-Strom name, after all… And what about the old bike? Well, the old bike is not retired yet… more to come soon.