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Yamaha Tenere 660 Retrospective Review

With the Yamaha Tenere 700 finally making its way down under, it is interesting to see that the prices of the older XT660Z Tenere are still holding up well. With the bike essentially a cult icon in the adventure riding scene, we decided we'd take one last look at it before the arrival of the new parallel twin XTZ700 Tenere to New Zealand shores.

When it comes to the XT660Z Tenere, you need to know two things before you even look at one in person; First, it is tall, very tall, with a seat height of 895mm if you’re short in the leg you will probably struggle with the big Yammie single.

Secondly, if you’re after a high tech, high performance, thrill a minute ride, you’re looking in the wrong place - with the Tenere you’ve got a bike closer in personality to a tractor than a superbike like the legendary R1 it shares its Yamaha nameplate with.

But the XT660Z is a legend in its own right, with countless global expeditions to its name and a very healthy fanbase which has kept prices very stable even with the imminent arrival of the next generation Tenere.

Named after the Tenere desert in the Sahara, and this rugged desolate part of Africa was well known as a notoriously difficult stage of the old Paris-Dakar rally – the legendary precursor to the modern day Dakar Rally.

Yamaha had strong showings in the early years of the Dakar before KTM moved in – at current count KTM has a streak ranging beyond 18 years – with the early model XT models from Yamaha evolving into the original Tenere.

With such strong rally heritage, with a need for long range in the desert, Yamaha has carried on the theme with a huge 23-litre fuel tank on the Tenere. This gives the XT660Z a potential range of well over 350 real-world km depending on how hard you are on the throttle.

Keeping with the rally raid theme, Yamaha NZ also fitted the optional $264 alloy sump guard as well as hand guards and hand deflectors to the bike we rode.. These would definitely be on my must-have list if I was in the market for the XT660Z.

The engine is a 660cc single cylinder unit with a single overhead cam and 4-valves. It is quite a simple and rugged unit, exactly what you want in an adventure bike. It puts out more than enough power at 33.8 kW and 58.4 Nm, with particularly good low to mid-range torque. While that might not sound like a lot you’ve got to remember this is strapped between the frame of a learner legal machine to boot.

One of the most noticeable features of the Tenere is the how well thought out the 5-speed gearbox is. The first two gears are very short, with 1st gear topping out at 55 km/h, while 2nd tops out at 80. The rest of the gearing is reasonably well spaced, with a noticeable drop of at least 500 rpm per shift. Top gear is very noticeably an overdrive/motorway gear which sits just below 4,000 rpm at 100km/h. You will shift a lot with the Tenere but there always seems to be a gear that the bike is happy in no matter the situation.

The overall styling of the Tenere is classic rally raid, with a short wheelbase with big spoked wheels, these being 21 inch and 17 inch respectively.

Up front is a very upright windscreen in the classic rally style, and while it’s not adjustable I had no complaints over the level of protection from the wind it offered. It’s a proven concept that the more flat a windscreen is the more wind protection it gives the rider, and the Tenere is a perfect example of this put to use.

Apart from being very tall, the seat is in fact very comfortable. Sitting atop the Tenere you feel like a part of the motorcycle. The scalloped seat holds you in, while the bars are at a nice level for cruising along the motorway.

A thought that was constantly going through my mind was just how tall I felt on the Tenere, and that if I felt like it I could probably give passing truck drivers a high-five as I passed them.

Suspension is plush with 210mm of travel available up front and 200mm from the rear, meaning the Tenere has no problems soaking up the bumps on our more gnarly roads.

Yamaha NZ had kindly set the bike up for my 100kg frame and the adjustable suspension soaked up my ham fisted abuse. Even with a few small jumps at the end of the day, not once did my tubby frame bottom out the suspension.

With Knobbly tyres also fitted to the Tenere for my gravel adventure it soon became clear why they are a favourite of off-roaders. The tyres dug into the softer patches of gravel and kept the bike feeling stable, unlike my experiences with road tyres and gravel where the feeling was very much the opposite.

One of the most useful skills learnt upon the old Pro Rider Gravel Riding Course (which sadly seems to no longer run) was counter weighting, the act of placing your body weight in the opposite direction of travel to ensure the best traction. This came in particular handy while cornering uphill on loose gravel, and with the addition of a little clutch slip and a handful of throttle, I was cornering with my tail out and a grin on my face.

On sealed roads the Tenere isn’t quite as stellar as it performs off it. Its short wheelbase of 1500mm combined with that huge 21-inch knobby-clad front wheel, means at higher speeds it isn’t quite as stable as it is off-road, with tank slappers a real possibility if you’re going too fast. That said, with a less off-road focused set of tyres to what I was riding on the on road handling would vastly improve.

At the end of the day the old Tenere is a machine of compromise. Offering the potential to be a hard as nails go-anywhere bike when fitted with knobbly tyres, or strap a set of road tyres on and treat it as a long distance tourer.

If you can't stretch to the $16,999 of the new bike, you can pick up a tidy example of this much-loved Yamaha for roughly half the price. Sure, the mileage will be up there, but with a reputation for solid reliability the XT660Z is still a bike worth putting in your shed if you want a capable adventure steed.


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