JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.
The Yamaha XT1200ZE fits the Adventure bike bill just about right: it follows a historical racing timeline, it has credentials as a mile-eater, as a trail bike, it has huge presence on the road, it looks like you could go anywhere on it. Aren’t they the important things for an Adventure bike to possess?
Here’s the thing: there are very few bad motorcycles in the world any more. There used to be, and some of the old bikes people get nostalgic about these retro-infused days are certainly still as crap as they were in 1975/1984/1993. People just get soppy about them and ignore howling problems.
But today? Not unless you’re buying a Chinese 125 cruiser thing (in which case you’re bringing it upon yourself) are you going to find too many things to complain about. Unless you’re fussing about small things. I’m not fussy about small things unless they hinder the performance of a bike or make life uncomfortable/dangerous. Which is a roundabout and negative way of laying some groundwork before I tell you more about the 2014 Yamaha Super Ténéré. Why do I feel the need? Because the Super Ten needs defending from criticism.
That historical thread for a start shows Yamaha has the depth to its Ténéré: it was created way back in the early 1980 when the Japanese company, with its rich record in the then Paris Dakar Rally, decided to build a race replica. That in any language is credibility.
“The Super Ténéré has a reputation for being the boring one of the bunch.”
At the time no such thing as an ‘Adventure bike’ existed but with the Dakar at probably its height in popularity with big money being banded about by cigarette companies, someone, somewhere within Yamaha, suggested a replica of the Rally bike, complete with 30litre tank, mono-suspension and a disc brake! (That was rare for an off-road in those days). I have vague memory of my dad bringing one home for a test and it took up far too much space in the garage that, to my mind at the time, needed only trials bikes and BMXs in it.
30ish years later and here we are with a bike so incredibly advanced by comparison I can’t comprehend, and me still with a giant bike filling my garage.
The Super Ténéré has a reputation for being the boring one of the bunch. Alongside the rivals in the Adventure bike market it has a bit of an unofficial label as the dull one, not very exciting. This may well just be the motorcycle press waffling of course, something I’m as guilty of as anyone, but after 1800-odd miles on this bike in all weather on every sort of road the UK can throw at a person, the Super Ten strikes me as being perfectly comfortable with that fact. Yes, it’s not as exciting as some, not as capable off-road as a couple and not as powerful as others but is that a bad thing? Does it need a mark down because of that or should we just say it just is there, in the Adventure bike line-up, not outstanding but every bit the part.
“Yes, it’s not as exciting as some, not as capable off-road as a couple and not as powerful as others but is that a bad thing?”
Some criticism of the previous model was fair comment. Clearly Yamaha felt the same and did something about it with the 2014 XT1200ZE which now has electronic suspension and a gadget-filled digital dashboard. Is that all it takes to make us happy? 1800 miles later from North Norfolk to Fort William via Cheddar Gorge and frankly, yes that is all it took to bring this bike into line with its rivals.
You have to take a broad view of a bike and broadly speaking I couldn’t fault it. It didn’t excite me as much as some Adventure bikes do but I’ll balance that by saying it does absolutely nothing to offend me – which surely must have been Yamaha’s aim.
This bike is a flagship motorcycle. The Adventure bike mark being the biggest selling one (of any note) at this point in time then this is Yamaha’s prized possession. Where once I would have been writing the same about the YZF-R1 sportsbike, these days the world is a different place.
No question the fundamental ‘feel’ of the XTZE hasn’t altered, this is still a Ténéré as anyone who’s ridden one will be familiar with. In that sense you’ll also perhaps not feel the need to upgrade just yet if you have a two or three-year-old Super Ten, the £12,799 price tag is good but the bike perhaps isn’t enough of a jump for existing owners to get too excited. But for everyone else and certainly anyone looking to jump up to their first Adventure bike the Ténéré has enough altered, enough character and enough function to mix it with its rivals rather than lag behind them like it arguably did before.
Not least that’s down to the electronically adjustable suspension. The system smacks slightly of an after-thought, inasmuch as it hasn’t been designed along with the bike at drawing board stage – it’s a solution brought in after the event and it looks that way.
Scrolling though and changing what are effectively electronic screwdrivers in the KYB forks and KYB shock though is very easy following the dashboard display (Preload at standstill, damping on the move anytime). The character of the bike can be changed dramatically by altering the settings with soft and standard modes very soft and comfortable but not so accurate and positive with feedback if you want push on a bit.
“It’s hard to come to any real reasoning behind it having a mode button at all, other than to think it had to have one for marketing reasons”
Soft or standard is fine while you’re wafting up the M6 for hours but I must admit it wasn’t my preference. It puts too much weight on the back and made the forks soft, removing a lot of the confidence I prefer to have in the front tyre. A quick bit of button pushing though and the emphasis changes dramatically. For the cracking stretches of road in the Scottish Highlands I took to Fort William, Tarbet to Crianlarich for example, I loved the feedback and support from the chassis as I accelerated and braked between the moss-covered trees at the side of Loch Lomond’s upper reaches. Even if I did have to lie to the bike and tell it I had a pillion and loads of luggage. The seat height is adjustable too by the way.
The parallel twin, 270° staggered firing order motor is a throaty one, and that’s a good thing. It has a reassuring rumble to it, a healthy thrust and a satisfying pop or two on the over-run into corners – all of which are a joy, albeit easy to live with. The vibey feeling the older motor had has gone, partly because of the rubber mounts on the bars but re-profiled pistons, skinnier piston rings, re-shaped intake and exhaust port, and fuelling tweaks contribute to a smoother and slightly more powerful unit.
I don’t have access to dyno-tested figures to back up the facts but in my view the 111bhp engine is not as impressive as some of its rivals. The Ténéré lacks the punch of a full power BMW 1200GS and the KTM1190 Adventure, which have 15 or more bhp under the rocker covers. If you want that kind of excitement you might be slightly under-whelmed. But, again, I’m not sure everyone wants that and Yamaha don’t design bikes they way they do by accident.
As for the easily adjusted power modes (there are two: T for twittering and S for slinging it along – this might not be strictly the definition Yamaha would give it). It’s hard to come to any real reasoning behind it having a mode button at all, other than to think it had to have one for marketing reasons. I’m being a bit cynical there but T-mode softens the low down power delivery but maintains the same peaks and while there’s arguably a point to that it’s not as if the ‘full power’ mode is particularly arm-wrenching.
“I loved the feedback and support from the chassis as I accelerated and braked between the moss-covered trees”
I’m not saying it isn’t powerful and capable of launching out a corner with enough welly to need an electronic aid controlling the wheel spin. Which it has, the TCS or Traction Control. But even if you try your hardest to act like an idiot with the throttle it would take some sort of extra special idiocy on the scale of idiot of the year to get yourself in too much trouble on the road. Don’t be an idiot and the standard setting ‘full power’ 111bhp (86lb-ft torque) Yamaha engine is a simple and lovely one which rumbles away under you, produces a nice burst of power when you need to whip past a lorry on the A10 and purrs inoffensively all the way from Glasgow to Carlisle with good fuel economy.
To prove the point to myself about the two modes though I rode the entire journey home from Fort William to Norfolk in T-mode. Which is 500 miles give or take. I can’t say I missed the extra BHP if I’m honest – at times I forgot all about it because when you’re sitting on the A1 from Scotch Corner to Newark, those few hours at 70-80mph it doesn’t matter a jot. Along the more interesting parts of the journey I did want for a bit more but didn’t miss it high up in the gears, wafting along in the early summer sun. Which is why I’m saying it doesn’t really need to be there, but for gimmick reasons.
What it does well, whatever the setting, is produce some decent fuel figures. I don’t care about MPG numbers personally, partly because I am hopeless to the point of child-like with my maths, but also because I don’t give a damn, frankly. What matters to me is getting through the 200 mile mark on a tank. I can just about cope with that sort of distance before the aches of sitting still for that amount of time begin to take a toll. So bust the 200 mile mark and you’re busting my arse and that’s all I ask for, maybe not the arse bit.
All that sits alongside comparable features like the clever enough ABS system (which can’t be turned off sadly if you’re going off road), adjustable screen (which is just a bit too fiddly for my liking), adjustable seat position, strong spoked wheels, shaft-drive, nice broad footrests and a whole host of optional extras. In short it does all the right things and it must be said for a decent price. It’s very, very easy to spend a lot of money on an Adventure bike and to get the Yamaha’s spec on a BMW for example you’d have to spend a lot more than the £12,799 price tag of the XTZE.
That said it is two grand more than the standard V-Strom so you can easily find an argument to support your cause in this regard.
In summary the Super Ténéré sits right bang in the middle of the Adventure bike market. The price is very good for the spec you get but it’s not as cheap as some. It fits the bill precisely in an inoffensive manner, which might not seem like a compliment but it is meant as one. Does it have the character of the BMW, the agility of the KTM, the engine of the Ducati or Honda? No but it is a very valid member of the line-up because it doesn’t try for those goals. I’m not copping out with this statement but it is a perfectly capable horse for the same course. It just won’t win the Derby for you.
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