Julian Challis is on a mission to make his Yamaha XT660Z Ténéré the best adventure bike he’s owned. This issue he addresses comfort and braking.
So, it’s the third instalment of Project Ténéré and although there has been a good selection of upgrades, you’ll notice a distinctly urban feel to the images this month. And that’s quite deliberate as the riding on the Yamaha since last issue of ABR has been far more tarmac based than off-road. So, what’s the reason for this?
As you may recall, the last venture off-road had been on the trails of Devon, where the Ténéré was tackling the same terrain as the trail and enduro bikes of the Bristol TRF. While the bike had acquitted itself well, pushing the limits of what an adventure bike could, and indeed should do, inevitably finds a tipping point.
Although the Ténéré may be seen as a midsized adventure bike, in reality the bike is almost unreasonably bulky for a 660cc machine. On the blacktop, you don’t really notice the weight except when moving the bike around, and on soft trails much the same is true. But once things get technical, then every kilo of that 206kg fully fuelled comes into play – get it wrong and it will bite back.
And that’s what happened – a soft drop when struggling the bike up a rock step, followed by a heavy fall when reaching for the ground that was actually 18 inches below the track, left me with a separated shoulder and quite a deal of discomfort. Not good.
For the intervening time, while the tendons heal and repair, I’ve kept the riding on the Ténéré to the tarmac to avoid repeating and exacerbating the injury.
But that hasn’t stopped the fettling, as garage time is still firmly on the agenda. And for the first addition this month I’ve reached for the Motohaus catalogue once more to address the serious omission from this, and indeed many adventure bikes, a centre stand.
For just about any mechanics, particularly changing tyres or even just adjusting the chain, having a side stand is totally inadequate for the job. Yes, you can use a paddock stand, but I don’t know about you, I rarely take one of these out on a ride…
The bike has mounts for a centre stand and we could have gone for a genuine accessory from the Yamaha catalogue, but if Yamaha didn’t fit one as stock I wasn’t going to give the manufacturer the satisfaction of an aftermarket purchase, so Motohaus came up with the goods and I purchased an SW Motech Centrestand for €189.95 (approximately £170).
Once up on the paddock stand, fitting could hardly be easier with just a smear of grease on the shouldered sleeves and a dab of thread lock on the bolts, the new stand was in place. The only tricky bit could have been with fitting the spring, but as both my two-strokes use exhaust springs, I had a suitable homemade puller in the toolbox, and with a swift pull the job was done.
The stand is well designed and the bike rolls easily on to leave the rear wheel about two and a half inches off the ground. Perfect.
With the bike far easier to work on, it was time to fit the new custom brake lines from British company Venhill. I’ve used their hoses on plenty of my bikes and have a lot of faith in just how well-made they are and how much better proper braided hoses are than the stock rubber ones provided by the penny-pinching department at Yamaha.
I’d already sent over the required dimensions to the technical team at Venhill and a few days later a padded bag arrived with everything I’d need to complete the job. Fitting is relatively easy, but you have to be careful when removing the old hoses to ensure that you don’t end up with hydraulic fluid all over the place.
OK, so it’s not quite as unpleasant now as the evil paint stripping liquid that DOT 4 used to be, but it’s still not a product you want all over your garage and particularly your hands. Either wear gloves or be careful…
With the old ones off and consigned to the rapidly growing pile of replaced parts, the new brake lines were installed quickly thanks to the quality Venhill fittings. Because the fluid was probably the same as when the Ténéré left the factory, I flushed through the entire front and rear systems with fresh fluid before completing the bleeding process.
Out on the road, the results were just what I wanted, the Venhill hoses delivering a really precise and positive feel that is very noticeably better than stock. If you are looking to improve your bike, uprating the brake lines is one of the top things that should be on your list.
Next up was another mod that is more road based than of any particular help out on the trails. The front area of the Ténéré is quite large and, although the stock screen is adequate, there is a fair bit of buffeting on fast roads for riders anything above 5’7”.
That said, if you aren’t that height you wouldn’t even reach the ground on a Ténéré, even with the lowering link in place – this sucker is tall! So, to upgrade the screen I again reached for a British company – always a good idea if you have an option.
The folks at Skidmarx have been making motorcycle accessories since 1990 at their base down in sunny Weymouth, and a swift trawl through the company’s website revealed a couple of extended screen options for the Ténéré. I went for the smoke-tinted extended version, which took a couple of days to arrive, but was fitted in a matter of seconds, picking up on the same mounts as stock with the original Allen bolts.
The screen is about two inches higher than the OEM version and, on the road, reduces the wind blast considerably – it even makes my LS2 helmet a bit quieter! On the trails, there’s a bit of a trade-off when sat down as you are looking through the Perspex, and in low light conditions, the smoke effect is maybe not the best choice. There’s an easy answer, Challis. Stand up more.
Coming back to the trails, you may recall that we fitted a full enduro front tyre last month, which had made the front pin sharp on the dirt. I say that but, to qualify, it’s pin sharp when at the correct pressure – run it at road pressures and it’s too hard to grip properly.
On the flip side, if you run the bike on the road then trail pressures are not the ideal situation on a heavy bike. But even at the correct pressure then, enduro tyres, high speeds and adventure bikes are not a great combination. Yes, the bike will handle it, but the tiny contact area on those tall knobbles deliver a decidedly nervous feel at anything above 50mph and cornering is at times a bowel-loosening experience.
While the Mitas E09 tyres were nowhere near as good on the dirt, their road manners were far better, highlighting the inevitable compromise of tyre choice and, in reality, the whole adventure bike sector. The idea that bikes or indeed their tyres can be fantastic at both on and off-road riding is simply wrong – they can be competent at both, for sure, but as for excelling at both – that’s impossible.
For the Ténéré , I’m going to have to take a step back from the full enduro Maxxis tyres and look for something between these and the Mitas that will return some confidence on the roads but give enough grip on the trails. Research time…
The final part in this month’s fettling was returning to an issue that we should have addressed far earlier. The addition of the aforementioned lowering link to the Ténéré had clearly reduced the height of the bike as intended, but the follow-on effect of this lowering was to mean that the angle of the side stand was now altered.
It was now too long, meaning that unless the bike was carefully parked, it was always precariously balanced and on the cusp of falling over should a fly pass by and create a slight draft. It had to be sorted.
I’d called in to my brother’s house and by useful coincidence he was chopping and welding things on a Suzuki-engined drag bike he’d just swapped for a 1998 Honda Fireblade he’s had in the garage for a few years – normal stuff for the Challis family.
Tearing him away from the world of standing quarters for a second, he obligingly chopped 12mm from the stand and rewelded the base plate back on within a number of seconds. I wouldn’t say it was his finest work for an aerospace-trained engineer, but with a bit of tidying it was back on the bike and – fanfare please – the bike now leans over properly without the constant threat of toppling over.
So that’s it for this month. The bike is almost where I want it to be, which is a good job as me and the bike are entered into the Hard Alpi Tour in Northern Italy. The event is a rally with three classes – Extreme, Discovery and Classic, and for reasons I can’t quite recall, I’m entered in the Extreme class that starts at 11 pm on Friday 7 September and finishes 5 pm Sunday 10 September.
It takes in a challenging 500 miles of mainly off-road going and I’m teamed up with a couple of Brits that have ridden the event before, but that doesn’t make the idea much less worrying! Before I set off, the bike needs new chain and sprockets, new brake pads, new tyres and maybe most importantly, some seriously upgraded lighting for the two nights of riding through the Italian Alps. Jeez… what was I thinking…