2012 Yamaha XT1200Z Super Ténéré

Coming to America

It's about 7300 miles from that vast Saharan sandbox they call the Ténéré to this picturesque chunk of Central Arizona. When our European Correspondent Roland Brown was having a go at Yamaha's Super Ténéré intro last spring, it seemed like that was as close as we were likely to get to the new transcontinental Oriental uber-tourer. Fast-forward a few months to a perfect Sunday afternoon at Prescott Regional Airport and we're looking at a fleet of the things, gassed and ready to go.

They look much better in person: chunky, muscular and big. Get beyond basic dimensions and visual/mechanical resemblances to more established adventure-touring contenders are few and far between. The Ténéré's 98mm pistons work beside each other, leaning 26 degrees forward in liquid-cooled cylinders. The 270-degree crankshaft pushes power-strokes closer together, helping two big pistons put power down like an enormous single when traction gets sketchy. The engine's dual gear-driven balance shafts cancel enough biggish-bang vibration to let engineers bolt it into the steel chassis as a stressed member. No frame cradle put 8 inches of daylight between the Ténéré's undercarriage and intolerant terrain. Hiding the radiator and its devoted fan on the left of the steel fuel tank lets said engine slide forward, which helps put a tick over half of a fully fuelled specimen's 575 lbs. on the front wheel. A YCCT fly-by-wire throttle cues two 46mm Mikuni throttle bodies, with varying degrees of electronic influence from the two-position Drive Mode system and three-position traction control.

When it's time to saddle up, the Super Ténéré's accommodations are at least as comfortable as its horizontally opposed competition, but it's noticeably heavier with the optional top-loading saddlebags mostly empty and a full 6.1-gallon payload of unleaded. Punch the starter and an enormous catalyst-equipped muffler behind the left bag releases a surprisingly assertive bark, with subtle NASCAR overtones. Engage first in the cooperative, overdrive six-speed and we're off. With traction control set to the TC1/tough-love position and the D-Mode indicator showing "T" for Touring, the twin responds lazily to a quick handful of throttle. Pin it up the on-ramp and the linear, dead-flat response is better suited to some wet winter night than this crisp autumn afternoon. Cuing "S" for Sport (on the fly) and switching traction control to the more permissive TC2 setting (pull over and push the button), power delivery is still "L" for Linear, with enough steam on tap at 70 mph to dispatch sluggish traffic without even thinking about the shifter.

With that deadpan power delivery and almost imperceptible aftershocks from the internal-combustion activity down below, sixth gear makes 85 mph feel more like 65. At least until the digital speedometer or an analog Arizona State Trooper says differently. Wind protection is good with the not-so-easily adjustable screen in its top slot, and the nicely shaped seat is a monkey-butt-free zone for hours. If the cockpit mpg display is even close to right, this one should go 250 miles on a full tank, making it a first-class intercontinental tourer.

It's no slouch when four lanes of straight pavement neck down to two twisted ones. The ever-obliging twin pulls willingly from 2000 rpm, and shifting is strictly optional above 4000. Grab a handful of throttle anywhere from there on up and the Tenere surges forward, and usually faster than you'd think. Especially for a vessel that measures a bit over 7 feet from stem to stern. Lazy steering geometry and a long wheelbase mean changing direction requires more time, energy and real estate than you expect at first. On the flipside, boots and pegs touch down long before the Yamaha-spec Bridgestone Battle Wings run out of grip, and the big guy feels as stable as the Tokaido Bullet Train in fast corners. Integrated brakes are plenty powerful and mostly fade-free. Aside from a twinge of spongy feel up front, they inspire nothing but confidence. Yamaha's new on/off-highway ABS never imposes its digital will unnecessarily on the road.

Trading smooth pavement for a rocky/rutted trail, the Super T feels big and soft enough to trigger my brain's spiral-fracture avoidance system in the first tight corner. Turning the adjusters a few clicks toward "H" for Harder and riding like Betty White for 10 minutes puts things right again. Still, nine out of 10 orthopedic surgeons recommend remembering that this thing weighs 2.2 times as much as a WR450F. They're no substitute for knobbies, but these Battle Wings generate more consistent grip at both ends than the off-the-shelf variety. The suspension worked perfectly for the casual bashing we gave it on this mission.

Closing the throttle feels too much like hitting the kill switch. Otherwise, fueling is excellent. That eccentric crank timing translates to more acceleration than wheelspin on corner exits. And unlike the German and Italian systems we've tried, Yamaha's traction control actually helps. TC1 is a little two invasive once you get a feel for the dirt du jour. But TC2 lets the rear step out a bit before stepping in with electronic intervention that makes sense on actual dirt, not just in the sales brochure. The ABS is a whole lot less effective off-road, mostly because you can't switch it off, which can make scrubbing off a quick 40 mph before that 15-mph switchback harder than necessary.

Big, sneaky-fast, comfortable and surprisingly capable on- and off-road, Yamaha's transcontinental über-tourer has the right stuff to give its most obvious competition something new to worry about. Especially for $13,499. Bolt up a few necessary accessories and it's still a deal. After inhaling a variety pack of Arizona real estate between Prescott and Mormon Lake, the big Yamaha proved it can play this game with the best of 'em. The hardest part of laying down a $500 deposit on one of these things will be waiting all winter for the bike to show up in May. But when it does, you won't be disappointed.

tech SPEC

Europeans know the 1983 XT600 Ténéré begat an improved 1988 version, which inspired the XTZ750 Super Ténéré twin in 1989. This iteration is the first to come to America.

BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada 1200, KTM 990 Adventure, Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Suzuki V-Strom.

Price: $13,900
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1199cc
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 79.5mm
Compression: 11.0:1
Fuel system : Mikuni EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 108 bhp @ 7250 rpm
Claimed torque: 84 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm
Frame: Steel backbone with TK swingarm
Front suspension: 43mm Kayaba fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single YHS shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual ADVICS four-piston calipers, 310mm discs, linked with ABS
Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 282mm disc, linked with ABS
Front tire: 110/80-19 Bridgestone BW501 Battle Wing
Rear tire: 150/70-17 Bridgestone BW502 Battle Wing
Rake/trail: 28.0º/5.0 in.
Seat height: 33.3/34.3 in.
Claimed dry weight: 538 lbs.
Colors: Blue, black
Available: May
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact: Yamaha Motor Corp. USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630

Verdict 4 out of 5 stars
A very crafty opponent for that 30-year-old heavyweight boxer.

Most vital information comes from the LCD to the right of the tach. That button on the far left lets you toggle through traction-control settings, or switch the system off.
That mode selector below the kill switch lets you set the Drive Mode electronics to Sport for more immediate response, or the more laid-back Touring mode. We left it in Sport.
Parking the radiator and fan on the left of the engine instead of in front lets the Ténéré twin sit farther forward in the chassis, shifting road-hugging weight to the front tire.
Yamaha outfitted the bikes we rode with vital defensive measures from its accessory catalog. Don’t leave home without crash bars and a skid plate like this one.
Injection-molded, top-loading side cases add 61 liters of cargo capacity. An aluminum skin adds visual credibility. The Ténéré ignition key unlocks `em.
Firing 98mm pistons at asymmetrical intervals (270º and 450º) gives the rear tire more time to get a grip, while dual balance shafts squelch vibration. Front shaft drives the coolant pump.
The backbone-style steel frame uses the engine as a stressed member. A big-boy version of the WR450F’s aluminum frame would’ve been lighter, sexier … and a lot more expensive to produce.