I love adventure bikes. They’re big, practical and spacious and can take you (almost) anywhere. So when Yamaha announced that they were taking on BMW at their own game with a 1,200cc Super Ténéré late last year, CMG was the first to request one for a long termer.
Then they decided to not bring it to North America and we all started to scratch our heads. But bad decisions are only bad if they don’t get fixed, and Yamaha fixed the tear in the fabric of North American adventure motorcycling by announcing that the Super Ténéré would be available after all, as an early release 2012 model.
Though there’s been a bit of a delay getting them here due to the tsunami disaster that struck Japan earlier in the year, Yamaha Canada were able to get us one of their euro-import test units that had already been thoroughly abused by the rest of the hungry journos.
Though that didn’t happen until the end of June, the summer was starting to look pretty good.
BUT FIRST, A QUICK DNA CHECK
With an early release in Europe and then a whole load of coverage in North America when the first test units were released to the press last fall, you may already know all about the Super Ténéré details, but for those who don’t, or who want a refresher, here are the bits that make it interesting.
The Super Ténéré is powered by an 1,199cc parallel twin, using a 270-degree crank arrangement which makes for a lumpy power delivery but is kept relatively vibe-free by the addition of twin balance shafts.
The motor is also a dry-sump design (oil kept in a tank under one of the side covers), which enables it to be mounted lower in the frame to keep the C of G down. The radiator is mounted under the other side cover, just as Honda did with their VTR1000.
As seems to be the norm these days, thanks to electronic control of fuel and ignition delivery, the Super Ténéré comes with two power options: T for Touring, which takes the peaky bits out of the power delivery, and S for Sport, which lets you have it all.
Add to that traction control and ABS. The traction control can be set in two modes (one allows a little slip) or you can turn it off altogether if you want to slip and slide about in the dirt. The ABS, curiously, can’t be turned off. Odd, because if you’re in the dirt it is usually a hindrance and lengthens stopping distance considerably. Yamaha reckons that their ABS is so clever that it also works well in the dirt, but we’ll see about that.
Braking is linked, with the front activating the rear too, although if you hit the rear brake first it is temporarily given priority, again to enable for more control in the dirt where a braked front wheel may cause the front to slide out.
Front suspension is provided by a fully adjustable inverted fork, and in the rear is a damping and preload adjustable (by a nice knob) single shock. Final drive is by shaft. To keep up with the BMWs, wire wheels use trick spoke attachment to enable tubeless tires.
Total weight is 261 kg wet (574 lbs), which includes gas in the 23-litre tank. Oh, and seat height is adjustable to 845 or 870 mm, or you can buy a shorter seat to lower that by 35 mm.
But enough technical info, what’s she like to ride? Well just for you we’ve taken the time to ride the machine on long haul highways and in some trails. Here are my initial thoughts …
A (LONG) DAY ON THE HIGHWAY
One thing I quite like about living on the east coast is that whenever I pick up a bike from Montreal or Toronto I have a two day ride through the gorgeous north-eastern States to get it home. That is, if I have two days.
Alas, to get the Super Ténéré back from Montreal after being away for over a week for the Mad Bastard Rally meant that it had to be done in a day, and that meant the less-than-interesting Trans Can through Quebec and then down into southern New Brunswick.
It’s a 1,000 km, mainly soulless highway haul from central Montreal to Middle Sackville and, though lacking in joy, makes for a pretty good highway test of any bike.
The first thing that I found with the Super Ténéré was just how fast it liked to cruise along. I find all bikes have a preferred cruising speed — where they just seem to be at home — and for the ST that’s about 130 km/h. I tried to keep it to 110 but by the time I passed Quebec City the traffic had all but disappeared and the needle just crept upwards.
It’s also very comfortable – especially for a six-plus-footer like myself. A firm but forgiving seat, spacious ergonomics, upright position, ample legroom (I adjusted the seat to its higher position) and a decent screen that keeps most of the wind away. There is some buffeting around your head, and though it’s minor, it adds to overall noise and gives a slightly stiff neck – especially after a full day in the saddle.
The motor is smooth and powerful – particularly in Sport mode that unleashes the peakier end of the power spectrum. On the highway Touring mode is fine, but on the twisty side roads, the option to go nutty is quite the unexpected treat.
For some reason there were quite a few times after setting off from a start that I was purring along at 130 and realized that I was still only in fourth. Sixth gear is an overdrive and although more relaxed, fourth didn’t exactly feel stressed.
I arrived in Sackville some 11 and half hours later feeling a little stiff and tired, but none the worse for wear. Now I’ve ridden a lot of motorcycles, and there aren’t many that would I can say that for, especially when considering my height.
A DAY IN THE DIRT
Remove rubber inserts from footpegs, check. Deflate tires to 20 PSI (having Continental TKC80s helps), check. Turn off traction control, check. Okay, she’s ready.
I had been warned by the Yamaha rep that although the Super Ténéré is capable of going off pavement it is still a 574 lb bike. But I’ve done things with the big GSs that most wouldn’t, and inevitably, after the first hour of restraint and careful consideration, I opened her up and the schoolgirl giggles soon followed.
It was also about the time that I put her into S mode and the giggles become a scream. There’s just something so enjoyable about getting a big powerful machine to disconnect from the limitations of the ground and skim around somewhere between riding and flying.
To do this you need skill and power . I’ll freely admit I lack some of the former but with the Super Ténéré you have masses of the latter. Even in T-mode it’s easy to light her up and get the rear wheel spinning faster than the front. But S mode adds another dimension, though with it comes higher risk, and too much throttle will have the bike swinging around like a drunken Scotsman in a brawl.
The effect, when perfected, is somewhat akin to skiing fresh powder… I think. I think because I can’t really ski but my girlfriend does and our takes on both disciplines seem to line up pretty well— except that with a motorcycle you can do it both down and uphill.
But having fun with the Super Ténéré on gravel roads is nothing unexpected, what did surprise me was how well it worked its way down the smaller trails.
I didn’t try anything too tight (trying to wrestle that weight through obviously inappropriate stuff wasn’t on the menu for the day) but un-rutted ATV trails seemed to pose no problem, and, as with the big GS, power is your friend – you simply skim over the roughness.
I’m looking forward to testing it out in some more challenging dirt, though I’ll have to replace the nearly bald rear TKC80. Great tires but a few thousand highway kilometres will take their toll!
NEXT UPDATE – accessorizing the Super Ténéré. We get a whole load of gear from AltRider to get her ready for our grand Labrador Adventure.