Sabrina’s big ride

There were supposed to be three people on my very first motorcycle road trip this season, but rocky planning knocked that number down to only one: me. If I wanted to ride, I’d be travelling alone. The flexibility to make my own plans and shape my own itinerary was exciting, and navigating unknown roads without the usual navigation tools was daunting. But in my mind, both the good and the bad would shape this trip and make it epic.

I kept the same Quebec destination we’d all first agreed on. I’d avoid most of the major highways by taking the longer way around, so the trip would be longer but the sights would be prettier. I’d ride from Toronto to Mont Tremblant, then down to Montreal and back home to the Big TO. Just to spice things up, I shoved my passport into my bag so I could cross the border on the way home to travel down the American coast of the St. Lawrence river.

I picked up the $17,999 Yamaha Super Ténéré tester bike two days before the scheduled departure time and I’ve got to admit, it was intimidating. I’ve jumped on some pretty monstrous stuff without a second thought, but between the high seat, towering at 845 mm – at the lowest setting – the massive gas tank, and the 584 lbs of wet weight, my first thoughts went to worst-case scenarios. Especially with the aluminum casings that challenged any flexibility I had left every time I jumped on the saddle.

For me, the worst case scenario is dropping the bike, because I know perfectly well that I can’t get it back up. Not on my own. (Sure you can. Ask the Gold Wing owners’ club people to show you the technique at the next motorcycle show. –Ed.) But I hit the road, determined to warm up to the motorcycle I was going to be on for four days, bearing in mind the wise words of a colleague who said that it’s essential to respect the motorcycle you are on; once you’re not afraid of it anymore, he said, that’s when you get cocky and make dumb moves. And I was expecting the hell out of the Super T.

The Yamaha and I ended up getting along really well. For this type of adventure, I had chosen the right vehicle, and that’s said with some nostalgia: the first motorcycle I owned was a 1993 Yamaha XJ600 Seca II, and I hadn’t had a chance to drive a Yamaha since.

Now that’s smart packing – heavy stuff in the saddlebags and just a light pack on the rear rack. If only all riders knew to pack this way.

I left on a cool Thursday morning and the fairing did a good job at protecting me from the wind, letting me dress more lightly than I’d have expected. The only real fault I found in the Super T’s design is the windshield: in the highest position, the turbulence swirling off the top of the shield creates small vibrations in my helmet, enough to be felt in my skull, even long after I removed the helmet. I tried fiddling with it – you can only adjust the height, not the inclination – but never found a setting that smoothed it out for my 5-foot-9 height.

The riding position is straight up, and thanks to a wide but short gas tank design that doesn’t require you to lean all the way in to reach the handlebar, you’re not limited to only one position. I had the option of shifting back and forth in my seat, changing the pressure points, which allowed me to stay comfortable on longer stretches. At the lowest setting, the seat allows me to reach my 34-inch legs all the way to the ground on both sides, which also creates a slight bend in the knees that needed to be stretched out every so often during the trip; I chose stability over comfort. The seat can be adjusted to reach up to 870 mm, ideal for taller riders or those who prefer their legs to be slightly straighter.

Not every road is twisting and winding, but the Thousand Islands region makes up for its straight route with gorgeous scenery.

The  electronic cruise control was a blessing. I never thought I’d be so happy to find this kind of gadget on a motorcycle. Just like I love my manual transmission in a car, I enjoy a purer riding experience, without all the fancy technology. However, after the first few hours on the road, I caved in and let the cruise control do its thing on the straighter stretches and discovered a wonderful world of non-contorted wrist. The heated grips were equally appreciated, especially on the trip back home when I hit the road with a meager 8 °C showing on the display.

The 1,200 cc inline twin-cylinder engine (okay, 1,199 if you’re going to be picky) is versatile and did well both on the highway and on the winding roads. On the second day, I took Hwy. 327 out of Tremblant followed by the 364 in the Laurentians, leading to the picturesque mountain village of Saint-Sauveur. The 364 in particular was a great ride with long stretches and nice bends. Acceleration is not hair raising, but the 86 lb.-ft. of torque is plenty to power through both traffic and steep uphill roads. I even ventured onto the dirt: the Super Ténéré was the ES version, with electronic suspension, and it was easy to set up my preferred level of firmness, from soft to standard to firm; this allowed me to tackle dirt roads with as much confidence as on tarmac.

Dear Americans: This is official proof that 50 km/h does NOT mean 50 Kanadian Miles an Hour.

There was little to no vibration in the grip from the 270-degree crankshaft, which had an engine sound like a really big lawn mower. An angry lawnmower. The most surprising sound, however, came from the radiator fan. If you hear the loud sound of a jet engine, don’t look up: it’s probably coming from the motorcycle. It’s so loud that even the Canadian customs agent looked puzzled when the fan kicked in, after I killed the engine to show my documents.

Fuel economy makes a difference on a 1,500 km tour, and my average hovered around 6 L/100km from the 23-litre tank. I’d marked down gas stations every 100 kilometres or so but filled up half as often as I thought I would. The range on a full tank averaged between 500 and 560 kilometres.

A 1,494.6 km road trip adds some bugs and grime to the bike, but that’s the whole point of it, isn’t it?

In the end, what made the trip so interesting were the people. Park your car at a gas station and nobody cares if you live in the area or have added 1,000 km on the odometer. However, get off a fully-packed motorcycle to buy a coffee in the middle of nowhere, geared from head to toe, and people will be drawn to you.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Strangers ask where you come from, curious to know about your journey and even sharing some of their own life experience as riders; those were the highlights of my trip. A guy even approached when I stopped for lunch in Ogdensburg, New York, to ask about the Super Ténéré –  he was looking to buy a 2013, but was debating whether to opt for the 2014 instead. After a long chat, the 2014 with the available cruise control seemed to be the better option.

And for the first time in almost a decade, I got to ride alongside my dad during my stay in Montreal.

The St.-Saveur ski hill would look more tempting if we had the CRF250 parked beneath it…

If the sights of the changing colours in the Quebec Laurentians and New York countryside helped make this very first trip such a success, meeting all these people was definitely the best part.

And the 2016 Yamaha Super Ténéré? It held strong and made its segment proud by being reliable, versatile and comfortable. It’s expensive, though: the ES version starts at $17,999, while comparable models from other makers will easily start at up to $4,000 less. But if the price tag fits your budget, I doubt you’ll have any regrets betting on the Super T.

America, Land of the Free. Except nothing’s free these days.

2 thoughts on “Sabrina’s big ride”

  1. Great report Sabrina! Like you, I enjoy a purer riding experience. But I suspect that if I tried living with heated gear (including grips) and other luxury features for a while, I’d probably start coming around. Love the photo of Mt. Tremblant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of it from that perspective before. For someone who grew up ski racing and skied Tremblant (in the 80s and early 90s) it brings back some fond memories.

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