It was a sad day when I dropped off the long-term Super Ténéré at Yamaha’s headquarters in Montreal. Though pickup wasn’t until the end of June, we managed to fit the Super Ten with a whole load of Altrider gear, take it up to Labrador and on the CMG Fall Tour, as well lots of quick rides in and around southern New Brunswick.
However, for some reason, be it slackness on replacing worn out knobby tires or unexpected CMG moments in Labrador, we didn’t really get enough time in the dirt. We had hoped to take it on some truly gnarly trails to see how far it would go before calling in the helicopter to airlift the beast back out to civilization. Apologies.
Overall the Ténéré proved itself as being a very competent adventure-touring bike (despite being 32 kg heavier than BMW’s class-leading R1200GS). It has all-day comfort, an excellent riding position (with adjustable seat height, albeit a bit tricky to lock into place), good range and a very usable motor.
Oh, and I think it’s a pretty sweet looking bike to boot.
WHAT MAKES IT WORK
As in the trend (and long may it be so) Yamaha have fitted the bike with two power options – tour and sport. At the start of my term with the Ténéré, I erred on the safe side and kept it in touring mode, which reduces the power and arguably makes it a little drab, but as I got more comfortable I found myself in sport more often than not, which effectively released the hounds.
Likewise I was cautious with the traction control, which can be set to three options, one being anal, the next providing a little slip and the other shutting off altogether.
After starting in anal (hmhh, not sure that came out right) and then erring to having it off (that neither), I found myself settling for the slight slip (that’s better) which would still allow for a little give off road but not the lurid and slightly unnerving fishtailing that was all too easy to evoke with the system off (especially when in combo with sport mode).
I explored this combo to much grinning and adrenaline alike during the Labrador (mis) adventure with its endless gravel, ensuing in continuous fishtails. I’ll admit it was a lot of fun, but some traction control would have likely led to a more orderly advancement and a lot more life for the poor rear Conti TKC80 that was quickly ground down by such abuse.
However, there’s nothing like riding two machines back to back to highlight strengths and weaknesses, and the CMG Fall Tour made me question the lack of a fun factor in the Ténéré’s motor. Very competent for sure with a chunky torque delivery, but after a ride on Guzzi’s Norge with its gorgeous 1200 V-twin motor, the Yamaha felt positively Stephen Harper (as in bland).
Perhaps one of the surprises I found was that the lack of being able to turn off the ABS never became an issue, at least in the conditions that I took the bike into. I was one of the many that bemoaned the lack of an ABS off switch when the Super Ténéré was announced, but in light off road and gravel conditions the system worked well and didn’t seem to come on too early.
Of course, the real test would have been some gnarly, downhill, rock-strewn trail where a locked up rear can be used to help steer and retard the bike a little, as opposed to a wheel that refuses to lock, or worse yet, continues to roll as if there were no rear brake, as is often the case with ABS on dirt.
There are ways to bypass Yamaha’s lack of a switch though, the easiest being to put it on its centre stand, fire it up, put it in 2nd gear and let the rear wheel spin until the ABS light is solid (watch a video of this here). This confuses the system and it defaults to off. AltRider has promised to make a physical switch that does a similar thing but with the handiness of a bar mounted switch, but as far as we know, it’s still a work in progress.
As we’d mentioned in part two of this long-term test, we fitted our bike with a whole load of beefier protective gear courtesy of AltRider. I was impressed with the quality of the items at time of fitting, and was equally impressed with how they worked in the field, though the real test would have been a dumping or two, which oddly we failed to do (are we losing our CMG-ishness?)
Should have had Jim ride it more
Finally, I took some fuel consumption measurements during our fall tour, which showed the Super Ténéré returning an average of 5.68 litres/100 km (that’s 17.6 km/l or 41.8 miles per U.S. gallon).
With its 23-litre tank, that offers a range of 405 km, with about 75 km of very gentle riding before the tank goes dry once the gas gauge starts to flash.
The only real fly in the otherwise creamy comfort ointment was a little buffeting coming off the screen. Like a lot of modern bikes, the screen is mounted way out in front and at a good distance from the rider, which means that there’s plenty of space for the wind to wrap around and become turbulent (and quite noisy too).
We’re not anywhere close to V-Strom turbulence and the screen does keep most of the wind off the rider, but despite trying both screen height settings (adjustable by four screws) I could always feel a little bit of strain on my neck when spending a day at highway speeds.
While I’m nit-picking, I’m also going to mention that despite being spoked and thick-rimmed and tubeless, the wheels are prone to getting some dings as we found out after Labrador. Nothing major, but there were a couple of times when I came out to the garage the next day to find a tire had gone flat overnight which I assume was the result of such dings, as everything else checked out fine.
I should also mention that during our Labrador trip the battery died (of course, while we were on gravel, making bump starts lots of fun)
and needed replacing. Yamaha said that this was likely because the bike had done the show circuit and was constantly turned on and off without running, which is plausible to us.
Oh, and lastly, on any bike — especially one that claims touring pretensions — should come with heated grips as standard. You can buy them aftermarket, but you shouldn’t need to. BMW understand this, why is it so hard for others to grasp?
Like I said at the start of this piece, I was really sorry to see an end to our time with the Super Ténéré. It delivers what it promises — a capable adventure-touring machine — and one geared more toward the dirt than many of its rivals (why would you ever put cast wheels on an adventure tourer?).
In touring mode it will pull 150 km/h in comfort all day long (speed traps allowing) but still allow you to go a little nutty on the back roads with its taut chassis and suspension and excellent brakes.
In fact I’d go so far as to say that it wouldn’t be out of place at a track day. Lots of torque and wide bars to navigate through the twisties — though in that case you might want to go for some road-biased tires.
It seems to be able to take abuse – we were relatively gentle on it, but you could see other journalists had taken a more extreme direction with it, the Ténéré bearing the scars to prove it, but still being mechanically sound.
However, at the end of it all I can’t honestly say that the Super Ténéré is a better bike than the BMW R1200GS. Horsepower is about the same (108) but there’s a distinct lack of character from the motor, though it will do all you ask of it — the Beemer has it and it does make a difference.
It’s also 32 kg heavier than the GS (though the weight disappears once moving) and comes sans heated grips and switchable ABS. But with the air intake located sensibly at seat height, I’d also be much happier taking a water crossing than on the lowly scooped GS.
But then Yamaha know that they’re taking on an undisputed champion and they’ve sensibly priced the Ténéré at $16,499, a substantial $1,350 less than the GS, to which you’d have to add another $465 to get spoked wheels and another $1,900 if you want the ABS and traction control. The Yamaha has all of that stuff standard, though the BMW does have more warranty and roadside assistance.
And that is more than enough to make the Super Ténéré a serious consideration for your next adventure machine. Just be sure to budget $1,500 for some AltRider protective gear and a nice set of aluminum bags.
SECOND VIEWS – QUICK RIDES
The Super Ténéré is a wannabe BMW GS, and it does a decent job of emulating that bike, but it’s missing something in the translation. I like it; it’s got great power, handles nicely and looks fine too, but it just didn’t stir my innards the way the GS does. The GS commands a presence, whereas the Ténéré feels somewhat … ordinary.
It’s ironic, really, because it wasn’t that long ago that one of my biggest beefs with the Beemer was that it lacked character. I don’t think the GS has any more character than it used to, I just feel the Ténéré has less.
One could argue that the Ténéré is a better value than the GS because it costs less and has a few standard features that are extra-cost options on the GS.
However, although I’m a proponent of ABS and traction control, I don’t feel they’re mandatory on my own machine, so I wouldn’t pay for them if I bought a GS anyway. And the GS has heated grips, an extra two years worth of warranty, as well as three-year roadside assistance, which pretty much balances out the playing field as far pricing is concerned.
Nice bike, I like it. I like it in Sport vs Touring mode anyway, when the engine really comes alive. The adjustable seat height is nice, and works easily and well (the CMG test bike’s was reluctant to lock in place, but I had no such trouble with another one I rode briefly).
Even the low setting is a bit high for me at 5-8 and apparently shrinking, but the bike carries its weight low enough that stretching a bit to get the balls of my feet down wasn’t uncomfortable.
It’s good on the highway, with a roomy riding position that should be good forever, plus pretty decent wind protection, although I found it rather sensitive to side gusts. Needs electric grips, though, and the hand guards could be better positioned to keep the wind off your hands. Since I’d never take it off-road, that’s all they’d be good for to me.
As I say, nice bike, I like it. But there’s nothing really outstanding about it, so I don’t love it.