By Mathieu Day-Gillett | Photos by iKapture
With every manufacturer seemingly offering bikes laden with technology and displacements approaching 1000cc, Yamaha comes into battle with a true middleweight contender in the Tenere 700.
Displacing just 689cc and tipping the scales at 204 kilos, the Tenere goes against the grain and into territory some dare not venture these days. It’s back to basics motorcycling with no frills, and that is a very refreshing prospect.
The Tenere 700 is kinda late to the party, following a full 6 months behind KTMs technologically intense 790 Adventure models which were also as widely anticipated. But where the KTM leans heavily on electronic aids to charge into the wilderness (with a corresponding price of $23,799 for the top-their R model) the Tenere 700 enters the market as the everyman’s underdog with switchable ABS the only electronic aid in sight. The result is a bike that stings the wallet only marginally more than it’s predecessor – the XT660Z Tenere – at $16,999.
Currently the T7 is in its own little bubble within the market at such a price point, with the rest of the competition either hilariously outdated (think Kawasaki’s ageing KLR650) or priced up to almost unattainable pricing for many wishing to enter the adventure segment like much of the European offerings. It’s a refreshing proposition for a buyer, and while the T7 won’t win a race against the high-spec Europeans, that’s not what it’s been designed to do. I stress it’s all about making adventure accessible in both the financial and ability of both bike and rider senses.
Based around the 689cc DOHC 270-degree CP2 parallel-twin which originated in the MT-07, the Tenere 700 has been built from the ground up for the task. From its 21&18-inch wheels to its set of four LED headlights, the Tenere 700 isn’t a soft-roader by any means.
Despite its quick 3-year development from T7 Concept to production Tenere 700, Yamaha has ensured the new bike can capably take riders into the wilderness with ease, with some of the riding we put the bike through on the launch closer to a trail ride than typical adventure riding conditions.
While we’ve known specs and pricing for some time, New Zealand has had to wait over 6 months more than Europe for the new Tenere, with those in North America having to wait until next year before they will see the bike officially on sale.
Trouble in Paradise
While the Bushfires around NSW were if some concern, from the outset this was going to be a trip for the scrapbook.
It’s on that thought we boarded a couple of planes and set off to the Australasian launch of Yamaha’s latest adventurer. With our destination of New South Wales beset by raging bushfires at nearly every corner, it seemed utterly mad to be embarking on a five-day adventure ride. But with Yamaha Australia and their partners in Adventure, RideADV, assuring us we were in for an incredible ride away from the flames, we donned our gear to put the Tenere 700 to the test.
But Yamaha Motor Australia wasn’t about to let us set off into the Outback to tear it up on the new Tenere without first giving back to the local communities which had lost at least 160 homes in the weeks leading up to the launch. Yamaha Australia’s communications manager, Sean Goldhawk, presented the Mid North Coast Rural Fire Service with an EF3000iSE inverter/generator to help in their efforts, while the Taree Lions Club received a PW50 and full Yamaha/Kincrome tool kit to raffle off towards fire relief.
Our planned route would see us depart Port Macquarie before heading North to Coffs Harbour and then West away from the coast where we would stop off at Deepwater Station, Tamworth and Gloucester before returning to Port Macquarie a full 1550km later.
Most motorcycle launches last a couple of days at most, so a full five-day adventure would really give us the closest idea of what owning and adventuring on the new Tenere would be like.
Saddling Up for Adventure
While all the bikes were outfitted with upgraded Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres over the factory rubber options and radiator guards due to the terrain Ride Leader Greg Yager had planned for us, Yamaha had also seen to it that there was a selection of other accessories available for us to try as well, including adjustable levers, upgraded alloy bash plates, full crash protection and luggage, and Akropovic exhausts.
With 11 bikes to choose from, I picked out a bike in as close to base trim as possible in the popular blue Ceramic Ice colour scheme to start the trip.
The Tenere 700 is offered in three colour schemes, with my personal favourite being the heritage-inspired red/white combo over the black and black/blue options. That said, the blue rims of the black/blue Ceramic Ice scheme were very cool.
From the outset, it felt like Yamaha has put an exceptionally good bike together for its price point. With an 880mm seat height from the factory, it is approachable for many – with options for a lowering seat and lowering linkage to bring it closer to earth for short riders or a much taller Rally seat all available as accessories – combined with an easy reach to the bars the ergonomics are rock solid. Interestingly the seat is quite comfortable while touring despite its dirt bike inspired looks.
Yamaha’s Project Leader for the Tenere 700, Takushiro Shiraishi, told us the overall design of the bike was inspired by both the Dakar Rally bikes and customer feedback on the previous generation Tenere.
That is why the bike looks so drastically different from the XT660Z and, in particular, why the bike's seat is flat like a dirt bike and not stepped like the 660's was - which was a source of many complaints by the more adventurous set of Tenere riders who wanted the flexibility to move around on the bike like a dirt bike.
It’s definitely a much more functional design, and despite the 15.5-litre being mounted in the traditional over engine placement, it is far from a tall top-heavy motorcycle and both manages to squeeze a decent fuel range out of the tank while also keeping the balance of the bike easy to handle.
The only time you notice the bike’s full 204kg is when you're unfortunate enough to need to pick it up... which I will admit to doing more than once I found myself in the challenging trails Ride ADV had found for us.
Setting out from Port Macquarie it was pretty much immediately clear that we weren't going to be spending much time on sealed roads.
The RideADV guys leading the ride didn’t mess about when it came to planning an adventurous route. Within the first 5km, we left the sealed roads of Port Macquarie and hit the gravel and created a roaming dust storm in the process.
Within the first day, we were navigating through tight bush tracks that I personally thought were more the domain of proper enduro bikes. The Tenere took them all in its stride and was incredibly confidence-inspiring, especially as I was still quite stiff as I came to terms with the new Yamaha.
While some of the quicker riders noted that the suspension itself was a little on the soft side for the gnarlier stuff, personally I found it to be quite adequate. While it did bottom out after jumping or smashing into a G-out too fast, it never really felt like the bike was on the verge of going out of control as a result.
Expecting more from the bike is some kind of fantasy anyway. Again, this isn't a premium product costing over $20,000 but a $17,000 bike built to get out get the job done, not get it done at a racer's pace.
It was somewhat of a surprise when the marketing speak rang true as the ride progressed. With challenging sections of single track and tight 4wd tracks mixed into the first day's riding, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end of adventure riding.
Smashing over rocks and sticks, the factory bash plate prooved to be well up to the task of handling the varied terrain, with none of the bikes succumbing to any damage from flung up debris. Some of the bikes Yamaha had on hand included upgraded bash plates made of thicker alloy and covering more of the engine. It's definitely one of the items I'd tick off from the Yamaha factory accessory list, however, as the added width of the upgraded bash plate offers more protection for the sides of the engine which is admittedly vulnerable.
At the end of day one, there was only one small hiccup with one rider spinning his inner tube and requiring a helping hand from the incredible super-sweep rider, Chicken, from RideADV. Sitting in the bar after washing the dust from my beard, the overwhelming feeling was that despite the Tenere 700's lack of fancy tech, it was no less than an incredibly well-suited bike for the task.
Day Two saw us riding from Coffs Harbour away from the coast (and bushfires) towards the outback with Deepwater Station, a working farm, our destination for the day. When it comes to picking a favourite day aboard the Tenere 700, this is right up there. With the bushfires preventing much of the off-road riding that was planned, we managed some lengthy breaks in the action on sealed roads, with some incredibly fun twisting corners up mountains thrown in for good measure.
It was here that the Tenere 700's ability as a true all-rounder shone through. While it may have the appearance of a hard as nails dirt bike, the reality couldn't be further from the truth, with the ergonomics well suited for long-distance travel.
The rally-inspired screen creates a large bubble or wind protection around the rider with minimal buffetting felt in my peaked Scorpion ADX-1 helmet, while the factory seat didn't have me screaming for a break after an hour in the saddle.
The only thing I would change on the bike ergonomically would be the levers. In factory form, the Tenere 700 features an adjustable brake lever but oddly the same can't be said for the clutch. This could be seen as one of the places Yamaha saved their money to keep the bike's price in check, but thankfully the decent accessories catalogue features a set of very nice adjustable levers which I would say would be a must-have along with a set of Barkbusters handguards.
Arriving at Deepwater Station we were greeted by authentic outback farming conditions with much of the surrounding area stricken by drought. Even the Deepwater river which we had been promised a swim in was completely dry upon arrival. These Aussie battlers really are doing it tough out there and it seems stupid to call our rustic farmhand style accommodation hard going in comparison.
Day Three dawned in Deepwater early, with many riders eager to get out of their rustic living quarters and back on the bikes. Again, this was far different from the norm, where most nights on a bike launch we're put up in a decent hotel. This just seemed like another way that Yamaha was keen to give us a real-life experience aboard the Tenere 700.
After a brilliant feed of bacon and eggs courtesy of the RideADV support truck drivers, we jumped on our bikes and set off on the biggest day of the trip. With nearly 500km of riding planned before we would arrive in Gloucester, I nabbed some medical tape for my hands, which by now were becoming badly blistered.
This was perhaps my favourite day in the saddle despite the marathon length of the ride. Escaping the fire areas we finally embarked on the full ride planned by RideADV, and importantly, we escaped the smoke. With a monster near-500km to travel, it was a blessing that I finally found my groove when it came to riding the Tenere 700 in the loose pea-gravel of the outback roads. While I’d managed just fine the previous two days, I was stiff on the bike and having trouble letting the bike just get on with things. Day three saw me finally loosen up, and as a result, the fun factor aboard the Tenere 700 was dialled you to 11!
The overall fun you can have with the Tenere really is a testament to how good a job Yamaha’s engineers did with the original design for the CP2 engine. Even for a rider who doesn’t rate their off-road riding that highly, the engine is so torquey and easily controlled that once you feel confident to do so you can absolutely let it rip in each and every corner with the resulting drifts putting a huge smile on your face.
For me, part of this newfound confidence came from my now taped up hands, which allowed me to hold the grips with minimal discomfort from the blisters which had formed. But it also came from the accessory levers the bike I was riding in day 3 was fitted with. Fully adjustable and offering a sculpted feel, the alloy levers are right up top if my list of must-have mods for the Tenere 700.
Interestingly this bike was also fitted with the Akropovic exhaust offered by Yamaha. Featuring carbon fibre and a nice note at idle, the Euro5 legal Akro increases power by “roughly 1hp” while it is about 1kg lighter than factory. It looks mint, but for the eye-watering price of $1404.91 it isn’t worth going out of your way to get in my opinion. The factory exhaust sounds almost the same at the end of the day and the performance benefits aren’t noticeable.
After the enjoyment of day three and it’s long gravel roads, the roving dust storm that was the Tenere 700 launch group rolled into Tamworth and a well-earned swim in the pool of the hotel pool.
They say that day four is always a killer and that rang true for me. While the ride route was only around 300km, the terrain was as spectacular as it was challenging. Switching between dusty gravel, wet rainforest trails and a landscape that often looked like it had been transplanted from Mars, day four offered the most varied riding by far.
My bike for the day had been decked out by Yamaha Motor Australia with a host of touring amenities. With aluminium panniers, beefed up skid plate and a full set of crash bars on top of the basic fit out this was the bike to be riding if you had any intention of falling off. Not that I did mind you, but when all 204kg of Tenere came crashing down when I ran out of talent I was glad for the extra protection for the bike.
The trickiest segment of the whole day involved a rutted hill climb into the rainforest and resulted in the Tenere meeting terra firma on two occasions within 10 minutes. With the area receiving thunderstorms the previous two nights, this was the first time we encountered waterlogged trails the entire trip.
Cresting to the top of the hill climb I was surprised to drop into a muddy 4WD rut and even more so to quickly find myself on the ground. The damage was limited to a slightly bent clutch lever and broken plastic handguard, and a few bruises to both my body and ego.
Needless to say, once we cleared the breakout section I was glad to be back on the pea gravel and out of the woods.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, and with the RideADV team swapping out the broken handguards for a set of Barkbuster they'd been saving for the occasion someone managed to find the limits of the factory units, the black beast looked no worse for wear considering the absolute thrashing it had suffered on day four.
The Final Leg
As day five dawned in Gloucester, there was a sense of sadness amongst the group of riders. Not only was today the shortest day of our whole ride, but we were also a mere handful of hours from jumping off the Tenere 700 for the last time.
After a full four days of riding, we had learnt much about the Tenere 700 and whether or not it is worth consideration for those wishing to get out and live the adventure lifestyle. While the short answer is a hard "yes" there is more to be said about the Tenere 700s credentials.
For its price in the market, the Tenere 700 sits alone. It is the only modern Japanese contender with the real-world ability for adventuring on more than just gravel backroads. That means a 21-inch front wheel and suspension that can handle some of the rough stuff. While it's no enduro bike in terms of the suspension - which will bottom out if you push it hard - for the average rider the Tenere 700 offers a ride that is both responsive and predictable handling characteristics matched to an easily modulated engine.
The engine itself is the crowning jewel for the Tenere 700. It's hard to believe that it wasn't Yamaha's express intention for the 689cc CP2 was always an adventure engine from the outset. It sounds great, even with the stock exhaust and its delivery of power is sublime. No wonder there isn't any traction control to get in the way, the Tenere 700 doesn't need it.
And that really sums the Tenere 700 up in a nutshell. It is so well considered and well put together that it doesn't need every electronic aid imaginable to provide an exceptional ride for novice and experienced riders alike.
Riding back into Port Macquarie for the last time, everyone jumping off the Tenere 700 had enjoyed their time with the bike. While we won't be trading in our CRF250L Rally any time soon, the Tenere 700 is currently the natural successor to our much-loved little adventure bike and the perfect step into the mid-capacity adventure segment for any rider.
No matter whether we were travelling on hard-packed gravel roads or rugged single trail through the rainforest, the Tenere 700 proved the point that you don’t need the cutting edge electronics and bling from Europe to make for a wonderfully capable and easy to use adventure motorcycle.
In fact, after five days and nearly 1600km aboard the Tenere 700, I came away with only two complaints regarding the bike itself. From the factory floor, the bike comes with an adjustable brake lever but not a clutch lever, which was taxing. Surely it wouldn't have broken the bank too much to add an adjustable clutch as well? The other complaint was that the LCD dash wiggles a little on rough surfaces due to its soft mounting. But in the scheme of things both are rather minor complaints compared to some other bikes out there.
Yamaha truly seems to have achieved the near-impossible with the new Tenere. Not only has Yamaha come to market with a simpler take on the middleweight adventure class than the competition, but also a bike that can actually achieve the design brief of confidently inspiring riders both old and new to set out on an adventure.
YAMAHA TENERE 700 PROS AND CONS
ENGINE: 689cc DOHC Parallel-Twin
POWER: 54kW @ 9000rpm / 68Nm @ 6500rpm
PROS: Uncomplicated, easily controlled, great engine, durable design, accessible pricing
CONS: Lacks tech of European competition