A big, steady, solid adventure bike

Yamaha joined the big-bore adventure game this year and brought out the mega-sized Super Tenere. This behemoth’s size and weight is matched only by its expectations as the sole Japanese entry to the premier ADV market. The Tenere comes with an abundance of upscale features and proves that Yamaha brought its A-game right out of the gate. After a couple thousand miles of getting acquainted, the big Yamaha definitely impresses us.

The XT1200Z Super Tenere is powered by an 1199cc Parallel Twin engine. The 270-degree crank allows for a piston firing order that is offset but close together. A 98 x 79.5mm bore and stroke churn out smooth, tractable power that lacks any real surge from the eight-valve plant. Two D-mode (drive mode) settings are available: Touring (T-mode) and Sport (S-mode). Touring further tames the already moderate power delivery while Sport packs maximum performance. The Yamaha spun 90.75 horsepower on the dyno in S-Mode at 7300 rpm. The power curve is straight and smooth and stays with the gnarly Ducati until around 5300 rpm. From there it beats the rest of the bikes until peaking out with the earliest rev limiter while all of the others continue to climb. The torque curve generally tops the rest of the machines with exception to the Ducati, and is essentially flat from 3000 to 7000 rpm before tapering off to the 8100 rpm redline. Maximum torque is 71.19 lb-ft. at 5500 revs.

“The Yamaha is really good, just a bit boring,” Maddox explains. “Its long, smooth power delivery is very quiet and vibration free; not fast, but definitely not slow. It feels like a really fast bike pulling a big trailer.”

“The Super Tenere has a very flat power feel that is fast but very subdued at the same time,” says cameraman Dawes. “It has a constant push that feels like you’re propelled by a nuclear generator. You know the power is massive, but it’s disconnected to keep you safe.”

Even though it doesn’t post massive peak numbers, the linear output and ability to stretch each gear allowed it to post the best 0-60 mph time. It was third in the quarter-mile. Its weight is what holds it back. The Yamaha is 63 pounds heavier than the next-closest KTM and is the only bike over 600 pounds (636). Without bags it still weighs 605. Unladen, the Triumph is nearly 100 pounds less, and the Ducati nearly 80 lbs. Part of the culprit is a six-gallon fuel tank, the largest in our shootout. While this adds weight, it also increases the fuel range, which is over 254 miles based on an average 42 miles-per-gallon.

“It has the best low-end and midrange power of the bunch,” Dave says, “but lags behind in acceleration and peak power. There are also times, perhaps due to altitude, where it seems to be down on power. It consistently runs very well at lower elevations.”

Yamaha uses its YCC-T fly-by-wire throttle system to control the twin-bore fuel injection. More nifty electronics come in the form of traction control. The TC isn’t as dramatic as the BMW or Ducati, and switching between two settings or disabling the system is a simple push-button affair (while stationary). Even with the most aggressive mode, the Yamaha still doesn’t cut out as much as the others and it allows enough tire spin to help steer with the rear end, which is very necessary in the dirt.

Off-road handling is the Yamaha’s downfall. It ranks last when the pavement ends primarily due to its heaviness, slow handling and unforgiving ABS. The steel chassis uses the engine as a stressed member, but weight is carried fairly high. This makes getting the Tenere to turn in gravel difficult. The 19-inch front tire does help, as do the fully adjustable suspension components. However, the brute seems to have a mind of its own at times. It will navigate smoothly through one corner and then refuse to change direction in the next. It takes a lot of focus and physical strength to ride off-road regardless of pace. As Dave put it so eloquently, “the barge goes straight.”

“The Yamaha is a capable street bike, and works well in the dirt also,” says the dirt-biased Dawes. “However the higher center of gravity makes it a little more difficult to turn in the dirt while seated. If you stand up and muscle the bike into corners, the results are much better. On the street, body position doesn’t matter at all; it is solid, stable and poised.”

All of our riders praised the Yamaha for its behavior on the street. It refuses to be pushed off-line and it surprised all of us with its ability to carve through twisty sections. It doesn’t flick side-to-side like the others, but it does settle into a sweeper very nicely. Low ground clearance causes early dragging of boots, but the Yamaha can hustle on the street.

“While it isn’t the quickest to change direction, I found myself riding the Yamaha pretty hard through the corners,” confirms Madson. “Where the other bikes would yaw or squirm from road or weather conditions, the big ol’ Super Tenere was rock solid, easily the most stable mount in this test.”

Yamaha joins BMW in offering shaft drive to the rear wheel, but the Tenere’s drivetrain is superior to the German’s. Four out of five testers ranked the Japanese drivetrain first, and the fifth had it a close second. The six-speed transmission allows the engine to lug easily in every gear. An indicated 90 mph on the speedo has the Yamaha loping along at barely over 4000 rpm in sixth gear.

“The tall gearing is well suited to touring,” Bart notes. “It seems the Yamaha is 500 or 1000 revs lower than its rivals at various mph readings.”

Riant was particularly taken with the new offering and expounds further on its benefits: “I’m not surprised the only Japanese bike of the bunch has the best drivetrain. Smooth and positive gear changes, no noticeable drivetrain ‘snatch’ and smooth, silent, carefree shaft drive are a plus for adventure travel. It has a light clutch with good feel for engagement. Though first gear could be lower, the engine’s low-end grunt helps it through slow speed obstacles. The transmission has wide ratios and the longest legs of the bunch.”

With a Unified Braking System (UBS), pulling the front brake lever activates the front and rear brake. Initiating braking with the rear lever overrides the system, and the rider controls front and rear independently. None of our riders made mention of the UBS, which goes to show how unobtrusive it is. What we did notice is that the Yamaha has an aggressive initial bite with the front brake, especially when transitioning off the throttle. This makes the Tenere lurch just a bit, but doesn’t unsettle the chassis.

Yamaha’s accessories are a bit more expensive than some of the others. Our model was strapped up with $2,569.45 worth of gear, but with a $13,900 base price, the Tenere is the most affordable of the open-class bikes (Tiger rang in at $14,689 as tested). Of those accessories, the burly, 3mm-thick aluminum skid plate was one of our favorites as it covers the exposed engine, header pipes and oil filter. Low ground clearance and heavy weight means the Yamaha tends to bull its way through rough terrain. We also loved the grip heaters. Several of our riders claim they are the best they’ve ever tested. Variable heat control lets the rider dial in exactly how much warmth is needed. The high setting is so hot it’ll actually burn riders’ hands. It makes the BMW’s dual-setting heaters feel wimpy.

Wind protection from the taller windscreen and side deflectors was a big part of the reason that the Tenere won the overall comfort category. The side wind deflectors are clear, 4mm-thick polycarbonate and provide massive protection for the rider’s arms and shoulders. We did note that it refracts light and can be annoying in the right sunlight conditions, but overall they are a great addition.

“Nearly zero engine and road vibration, plush suspension, ultra stable chassis, best seat-bar-peg relationship combined with the best rider protection,” says Riant. “Add the least wind noise and buffeting and the Yamaha is my top choice for comfort.”

Thankfully we never put it to the test, but the crash bars look as if they leave some of the bodywork exposed. Also, the top-hinged panniers are great, except for the locking mechanism, which bends the ignition key. Halfway through our trip it was becoming difficult to get the Yamaha ignition to turn. This was noted during the 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere First Ride and was promised to be fixed, but that isn’t the case so far. The inner bags are phenomenal. Expandable canvas/fabric construction with shoulder and hand straps makes it easy to slip everything in and out of the aluminum boxes. These are a bargain at $40 each.

Yamaha is a welcome addition to the AT market, and the Super Tenere is a solid first effort. There was a lot of concern when the ST was first unveiled that it would be too expensive. Yamaha has done the buying public a huge favor by keeping the MSRP low while including so many base-model features such as spoked wheels, ABS, adjustable traction control, fly-by-wire throttle, adjustable suspension and shaft drive. The engine is a rugged performer and the drivetrain is practically flawless. If Yamaha can shave of some of the excess poundage or at least reposition it lower in the chassis, virtually all of its shortcomings will be partially remedied. Off-road handling and braking will be more impressive and a better power-to-weight ratio will make the engine seem more robust as well. This is a lot of bike for the money, and the Super Tenere gives adventure riders another new and excellent option.