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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.