They say: "Want to go all the way? This is where to start." We say: "Too bad that start
Yamaha's Tenere (named after the Tuareg word for desert) first appeared in 1983, inspired by the modified XT500 singles that won the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies. The big-tanked single was an immediate success, and several revamps kept it selling well for more than a decade before the model was finally dropped. This year the Tenere returns with fresh styling, a new chassis and a liquid-cooled powerplant shared with the XT660R. Don't let the rally-ready looks fool you, however; Yamaha's latest big single isn't a hardcore desert racer but an accessible all-rounder made for tarmac touring and occasional undemanding off-road explorations.
The familiar 660cc, SOHC four-valve single is XT660R-spec, save for a new high-level exhaust system that improves ground clearance. Cooling is enhanced with a larger radiator and a repositioned, more efficient fan. The fuel-injected engine pulls cleanly through the midrange and a balance shaft keeps vibration to tolerable levels below 6000 rpm-though it's buzzy enough to blur the mirrors near the 7500-rpm redline.
The Tenere's chassis and bodywork are all-new and designed with long-distance travel in mind. The fairing is near vertical and surrounds a distinctively shaped headlight, while very effective, frame-mounted plastic crash panels protect the obligatory oversize (6.1-gallon) fuel tank.
The frame is a reinforced, single-downtube steel diamond that incorporates the oil tank above the engine. The 43mm fork is adjustable for spring preload only, but doesn't dive too badly, even when provoked by the twin-disc front brakes. The piggyback shock works via a rising-rate mechanism, levered by a new aluminum swingarm.
Setting off from Tiznit in Morocco, first impressions were positive. The Tenere felt as roomy as a dromedary and a fair bit more comfortable, thanks to generous suspension travel. Despite its height, the XT660Z was maneuverable and easy to ride with a wide, high-leverage handlebar and plenty of steering lock for dodging Tiznit's many taxis. Despite being small and forward set, the fairing blocked enough wind without excessive turbulence.
If the Tenere scored high for efficiency, though, it failed to serve up much excitement-not surprising given just 48 bhp and a hefty dry weight of 403 pounds. Even in the lower gears the Tenere accelerated without enthusiasm and couldn't get close to lifting its front wheel without the clutch. Having the aerodynamics of a Bedouin tent can't have helped at higher speeds, either.
Off-road, the Michelin Sirac tires found some grip on gravel and hard sand, though the road-biased rubber struggled in soft sections. The basic suspension did a surprisingly good job of taking the punishment, however. Desert racers, trans-global explorers and other serious types would be well advised to invest in more serious alternatives, but for commuters, daydreamers and those planning an occasional adventure, this latest in the Tenere line will do the job just fine.
All that remains now is to launch the letter-writing campaign to bring the XT660Z stateside. Hey, it worked a few years ago with the Europe-only FJR