The Yamaha Tenere 660 is a bit of a hybrid. No, no, I don’t mean that it’s powered by a wheezing little engine and stack of torch-batteries, I mean that it’s a bit of a hybrid in its design. Under the skin it’s basically an XTZ660Z, which has been around a while. But that new skin is a hark back to the original Tenere that Yamaha released in the mid 1980s to an unsuspecting public and a bunch of riders who entered - and won - the Paris to Dakar rally. The name, Tenere (and it should be spelt with that little accent mark the French use above the “e”, but I don’t know how to do that on my computer keyboard!), is the name of an area in the middle of the Sahara Desert which was part of the Paris to Dakar rally. So it’s a big trailie with desert-racer looks.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Just standing in the driveway the bike looks like it’s about to head off on the first leg of the Paris to Dakar. The purposeful-looking bodywork and that high blunt headlight / instrument-assembly bit at the front just screams desert-racer. Peek behind the screen and you expect to find one of those big navigational readout things. There isn’t one, of course, but that’s the impression it gives. Quite intentionally, I’m sure! You couldn’t call it pretty, or even sporty, but it does look purposeful! But it’s not just a styling exercise; this machine is intended to go down in the boondocks; ‘cause that’s the side of town it was born in! (Sorry, a song popped into my head then!). That XTZ machine hiding under the rally clothes is a pretty decent bit of all-road kit; and Yamaha have taken it further in that direction. As an example, on the front of the triple-clamp is an alloy loop intended as a tow-hitch; presumably to pull you out of bogs etc. (Or if your Tenere has the misfortune to “fail to proceed” as Rolls Royce puts it!). That says a lot about the bike; about Yamaha’s intention for it. A rescue towing attachment is not the sort of thing you’re going to need cruising down the Hume Highway; but it is the sort of thing you might need negotiating the Birdsville Track in the wet season. As befits the type of bike it is, the Tenere is very tall. Getting on requires swinging your leg up to about shoulder height (well, almost!), and hauling yourself up into the saddle. Once there, it’s a long reach to the ground; something you need to remember when you stop! The seat has a very scalloped shape which keeps you sitting in one place; and you do not move. I’d prefer room to move around, but you don’t get that on the Tenere. I’m not sure that entirely suits its role as a long-distance all-road traveler. Sitting up there, that impression of being about to start the Paris to Dakar continues. As I said, there isn’t one of those navigational do-dahs there, but what there is, is positioned up high – so you can easily check your speed as you round up one of those damned BMWs roostering the dust up ahead! What you get is a fairly standard analogue tacho, red-lined at about 7,500rpm, and a digital speedo. Only the bunch of warning lights up above the speedo look vaguely rally-like. The riding-position is very upright, of course, with plenty of leg room down to the pegs. The bars are very wide; again, that’s a given with this type of bike. But they felt a bit closer than I'd prefer. I suppose that’s a result of trail-bike type positioning; but if you’re tall there’s a feeling of the upper-body almost being pushed back. For this type of bike the riding-position has to work when you’re standing as well as sitting, and this one does. It was easy to ride standing up, whether it was over speed-humps around town or at 80kph along a suburban back-road. Notice I said “speed humps around town” and “suburban back-roads”; I didn’t say “along rough bush-tracks” or “sandy fire-trails.” My ride on the Tenere was on a group-test, of various models, arranged by Yamaha Australia; and it was all on-road. The route was a good one, including as it did some around-town running, suburban back-roads, and open highway. There were rough patchy sections and smooth sections; some tight corners and some mid-speed sweepers. So a good route – for a road-bike! For the Tenere it didn’t allow it to get into the sort of territory where it would really shine. So my comments here are based on how it handled black-top rather than dirt.
OUT ON THE ROAD
All rides begin with starting the bike. So we’ll start (pardon the pun) there. And when we do start it, the big single-cylinder donk feels a bit harsh. It’s a feeling that never really goes away. It smoothes out reasonably well in its mid-range, but if you try to rev it out the rough harsh feeling is back with a vengeance! It’s quite snatchy off the idle too. But there are some interesting crackles and pops out of the exhaust on the over-run to put a bit of fun and character into your progress. Right from take-off it feels high-geared. It isn’t really though, it’s more a characteristic of the engine. It’s quite harsh and vibey down low, so you need a few revs up to make it happy. But get too many revs up and, as I mentioned, the harsh vibes are back again. The useable rev-range is pretty narrow; which makes it a bit unpleasant on the road. In terms of the actual gearing, top gear (of 5) runs at just over 27kph per 1,0000rpm. At 110kph it’s doing 4,000rpm. That’s good road-bike gearing, but the characteristics of the engine let it down. Trail-bikes and off-roaders often don’t handle well on-road, but the Tenere handles quite well; although it’s different to a normal road-bike, of course. You don’t counter-steer, you just kind of lean it into the corner. The lean angles seem greater than you’d expect (mind your head on the telephone poles beside the road!), but it steers accurately and holds its line perfectly. Again unlike some trailies, it’s very stable on-road. Bumps don’t upset it, and it remains solid and stable at highway speeds too. In this, at least, lies promise of it being a capable long-distance all-road tourer. There is a bit of wind-buffeting at highway speeds though. At least there was for the lanky old bloke on this one. As you might expect, given the bike’s design brief and the long-travel suspension, it rides quite well. It felt a bit choppy on the bumpy back-roads, although there was a certain amount of compliance there. I’m assuming the suspension is set up to handle bigger bumps; and I think it’d probably handle those well. (I would’ve liked to have ridden it up and down a few kerbs and gutters to try it out, but at the rider's briefing we’d already been warned about “unsociable behaviour”, so I thought I better not!). A short, albeit quite varied, test like this is never going to do justice to a bike like the Tenere. It really needs to be taken off the black-top to showcase its true capabilities. If the bike reads this report (bikes can read?) it will probably start singing that song I mentioned above: “Down in the boondocks, down in the boondocks, people put me down ‘cause that’s the side of town I was born in....” Criticising its on-road manners without balancing that with its off-road performance is not really fair. For the record, I have read reports that praise its abilities when traveling off the black-top; so I reckon you can safely assume that it does a good job in the kind of riding for which it is really intended. But then, I have also read reports that have said it’s good on-road, but I don’t think so. As a road-bike it never really felt happy. If your main intention is to hit the trails and bush tracks, then the bike would probably handle that exceptionally well, and still do the black-top rides satisfactorily. But if most of your riding is going to be on the bitumen, then buy a TDM; or a V-Strom; I reckon you and the bike will be much happier. Maybe it really does want to be lined up at the start of the Paris – Dakar! SNAPSHOT To me, the Tenere 660 is not so much an “all-roads” bike, but a “dirt roads / off-roads” bike that works commendably well on-road when you need it to. It’s not particularly good on-road, but it’s okay. The big let-down for me is the engine; it just isn’t happy doing road-bike duties. Other big-trailie characteristics come into play too, although in terms of handling, ride and stability, it does well. I reckon it’d be a good thing on the Birdsville Track, and even on the tracks that run off it! But if you aren’t that heavily into off-roading there may be better choices.
Engine: Single-cylinder, 660cc. Power: N/A. Torque: N/A.
Fuel capacity: 23 litres.
Weight: 209kg (With fuel).
Seat height: 895mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 90 X 21, Rear: 130 X 17.
Brakes: Front: Twin 298mm discs, Rear: Single 245mm disc.
Test Bike From: Yamaha Australia.
To see what it's like in its ideal element - off-road - here's a link to a test by Australian Road Rider magazine. Kind of confirms what I wrote here, that off-road is what it was designed for, and what it's best for. It's actually a comparison between the Yammie and its competition from Triumph and BMW; it's an interesting read.
Only the colour has changed. It’s now a rather dowdy looking matt-grey.
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