Yamaha Super Ténéré XT1200ZE

XT100ZE Feature image

Electronic suspension, cruise control and a few extra horsepower. But is it enough to push Yamaha’s big adventure bike to the front of the pack?

The Super Ténéré was launched back in 2010. Critically it was well-received but commercially never seemed to ignite any real flames, not like we, and Yamaha, probably thought and hoped it would.

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the bike, and from everything we can gather owners of the S10 are delighted with it, reporting no major issues or complaints.

What the bike possibly did lack, in this age of increased bike technology and electronics, was a little showroom appeal.

Whilst the likes of the GS, the new KTM 1190 and the Aprilia Caponord all had trick electronic suspension and other electronic gadgetry (even the Honda Crosstourer had DCT to give it a lift), the big Yamaha lacked that final depth of technology that seems to be increasingly expected and demanded in the big adventure bike sector these days.

To rectify that, Yamaha has updated the Super Ten for 2014, giving a refresh to the existing bike.

As a result, even the base model Z now comes with cruise control and revisions to the instruments, whilst the top-spec ZE benefits from heated grips, main stand, hand protectors, suede-look seat covering and electronic suspension, offering an incredible 84 variables, through control of preload and damping.

The engine too sees a 2bhp lift, up from 108bhp to 110bhp, with there also minor cosmetic revisions and new colour schemes and graphics.

Nothing major then, nothing revolutionary, but perhaps enough to give the S10 the push it needed to offer a serious challenge to other bikes in the market.

To test it, we initially rode the bike on the launch in Italy, then had it for a week here in the UK, where we also took it on the Yamaha Off-Road Experience in Wales.

At the end of the review, we also hear from an owner of the outgoing model to see what he thinks…

Ténéré in detail

The devil is in the detail with this new Ténéré, as to look at from a distance you’d be hard pushed to tell it apart from the old one.

There are revisions to the headlights and to the colour schemes, with the blue a shade or two darker than before, with the white perhaps our pick of the two colours available.

The easiest way of telling the two bikes apart is to look for the missing connecting pipe from between the two headers.

Yamaha has done away with this to give the bike – in their words – more ‘character’, and improve low down response and power delivery. It’s a question of nuances, so we might have to take their word on that one.

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Sidestand now aluminium with a handy tab on it. Mixed feelings as difficult to weld if snaps mid-adventure

The instrument cluster has seen more significant change, with a boxy, almost eighties design (taken from the FJR) replacing the original.

To the left of the screen are the buttons to alter the three modes of traction control and the ABS.

The bike now comes with a gear selector indicator, which oddly has been programmed to read as blank whenever the clutch is pulled in.

This almost defeats the purpose, as to roll into a roundabout or to a junction with the clutch pulled in it’s sometimes handy to be able to look down and see what gear you’re in before letting the clutch out (which most gear indicators allow you to do), but on the Ténéré it only shows the ratio once you’ve disengaged the clutch.

There’ll be some technical reason for it being like that, but we couldn’t see it.

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Left thumb cluster with three rocker switches. Left does lights, right operates cruise control, top one cycles through the menu screen

The cruise control is easy to use, however. A button on the left cluster switches on the system (an orange icon on the illuminates to indicate this), then, with its own rocker switch for operation, you press the top half to set it at your current speed, then the same rocker to increase or decrease speed by holding it down.

To deactivate it you can either touch the brakes, the clutch or if you roll the throttle closed and over a slight notch of resistance, that deactivates it too.

Pressing the lower switch on the rocker resumes your previous speed. It’s the same system as on the FJR1300 so is well proven and well tested.

The electronic suspension is also the same as that used on the FJR. It boasts 84 different variables and can prove quite fiddly to get to grips with at first; certainly not as instantly user friendly as on the GS.

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Removal of connecting pipe between the two headers – just above the top of engine guard – a clear sign of which generation you’re on

The system – once the bike is stationary – gives you four choices of preload; solo rider, solo rider with luggage, two-up, and two-up with luggage. You have to be stationary to adjust these. On top of that you also have the choice of damper settings; soft, normal and hard, which you can adjust on the move.

You are also able to fine-tune these three settings, with increments of +1. +2 and +3, and also -1, -2 and -3. So ‘normal’ +3 is almost the same as it being on hard.

It’s designed to reduce the step between the settings, and like the preload, can only be adjusted whilst stationary. Only the settings; soft, normal and hard can be changed on the move.

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New instruments a big improvement, though a touch retro

To make the changes you have to select the suspension option on the menu screen on the instrument cluster.

You scroll through the options using the trigger button that usually operates the full-beam flash on most other bikes (to flash on the new Ténéré you now press the lower button on the light switch rocker).

There is then a third rocker switch to operate the sub-menus.

It sounds complicated, and it is at first, especially when you want to flash someone out of a junction and end up putting the heated grips on instead.

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Right thumb operating rider modes; Sport or Touring

The worst time is at night, when you’re new to the bike, finding it difficult to distinguish between the three rocker switches and there’s no light to illuminate them so it all gets a little clumsy. Is the left-hand control unit too cluttered? Perhaps.

On the right-hand control switch is the usual engine start and hazard warning buttons. There is also the riding mode selector, the choice between Touring and Sport.

This was a feature on the old model, but the settings have been revised for the new one, with mixed results.

Touring mode has been softened to such an extent that there’s barely any throttle response in the initial twist.

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Electronic suspension motors control have forced handlebars towards you by 10mm

It’s like pulling the engine through treacle and takes some getting used to as the instant power delivery just isn’t there.

Conversely, Sport has been made sharper; great for when you’re on it, but too snatchy or abrupt when riding at five-tenths.

It needed a happy medium, somewhere in the middle, or just one good standard settings, as the V-Strom and KTM prove is more than possible.

Other changes include revisions to the screen adjustment mechanism, which isn’t the one-handed operation you find on the GS, but instead requires the slackening of two lock nuts, and the edging up of the screen to give it more lift, before re-tightening the nuts. Takes a bit of practice.

Sadly, what hasn’t been updated are the panniers. Visually they still look good and really suit the style of the bike.

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Flawed old panniers remain

Perhaps the best looking (or at least most discreet) factory option panniers on the market, but the locking system is atrocious, turning the key one way to open the lid, and the other to release the panniers from the frame.

The barrel action isn’t smooth and puts far too much strain on the key, which already feels quite flimsy.

We’ve noticed this a lot on recent bike tests; flimsy keys, the same on the Honda NC750X and to a lesser extent the new V-Strom.

It’s not good enough really, and my concern with these panniers on the Ténéré is that they could easily leave you stranded after snapping the key off in the lock.

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Screen adjustment offers good scope for lift

Whilst on the negatives, it seems there had been complaints of the spokes corroding on the original model, and the same seems true of this one too.

They’re stainless steel, but already on our 1,200-mile press bike, the spokes had tarnished and pitted.

The official reasoning is that it’s down to the way you look after and treat the bike, but a 1,200-mile bike, new this year; not good enough.

Technology and cosmetics aside, it’s how the bike rides that really matters…

Ténéré on-road

The new Ténéré initially underwhelmed on the press launch in Italy.

It just lacked fizz and energy. You get on the KTM 1190 and you’re immediately hooked by the power.

Get on the GSA and you’re immediately impressed by its presence.

But get on the Ténéré and it just feels a touch bland to be fair. The engine doesn’t sound as good, or deliver as much punch as the others.

The steering feels slightly doughy and numb. The brakes too aren’t as sharp as what we’re used to.

They really take a bit of pressure to get them to bite. Initial impressions of the electronic suspension is that it’s a bit too fiddly, and the less said about the two riding modes the better, switching endlessly between the two to find the right compromise.

Lukewarm, to say the least. But over the course of the day in Italy, the bike began to grown on us, it blessed with a healthy dose of unassuming solidarity; the quiet type in the corner perhaps, who takes a bit to get going.


This picture was taken on the SS163, the road running along the Amalfi coast, just to the southeast of Sorrento, Italy.
We flew into nearby Naples, with your best bet just to rent a scooter from somewhere in the city, as the roads around there are gridlocked as they run through the towns, and a scooter would be ideal.
Alternatively, either ride down there on your own bike, or if you don’t fancy that, consider freighting your bike down to Nice with FlyBikeFly, and riding down the Italian coast and back up, taking in this road as you go.
Perfect for a week’s getaway. Campsites were dotted along this route. And plenty of hotels.

The SS163 along the Amalfi coast. Sublime

Take it to the shops, commute on it, and ride across to Wales for the off-road section. It was here that the deeper depths of the bike’s ability were discovered.Thankfully, spending a week with the bike here in the UK was exactly what we needed. It allowed us to live with the Ténéré.

The Ténéré is comfortable over distance (just a bit of numbness in the right thumb), the engine – whilst a touch agricultural – is perfect for wafting and the seat height is such that you never feel intimidated by the bike’s size.

At 5’10” I could easily get my feet down, and with the light clutch and wide bars, manoeuvring the bike at low speeds is easy, despite the rather hefty 265kgs wet weight.

It is then a very manageable, easy to live with adventure bike, with a very neutral manner about the way it handles, rolling into corners with minimal effort (probably helped by the narrow rear wheel dimension), riding a touch too soft in the ‘solo rider’ preload option, but giving good range from its 23-litre tank and overall a general impression that this is a solid, well-built bike, that quietly gets on with the job in hand.

No wonder Nick Sanders chose it as the bike to ride from Alaska to Argentina and back.

With no massive thrills and frills, it just does what it says on the tin and we like it for that. But how does it fair off-road?

Ténéré off-road

It was part of our own frustrations that we ended up at the Yamaha Off-Road Experience in Wales.

Being invited to the press launch in Italy is pleasant, and the food is great, but it doesn’t give you much chance to ride the bike, especially not off-road, and so having heard that the Off-Road Experience was getting its own fleet of new Ténéré for the Ténéré Experience we inquired as to whether we could go down and give one a proper shot in muddy conditions.

And thankfully Yamaha was able to arrange it.

Rather than one of their own bikes, however, the instructions were to ride over on the standard press bike I’d already been given, where upon arrival it would be fitted with knobbly Continental TKC80s (though sadly no crash bars), and away we’d go.

Much as on the road, first impressions of the Ténéré in these conditions were not overly positive.

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This is the standard Ténéré, without the electronic suspension. My choice.

It felt as though you were stood up on the pegs of a touring bike, with it lacking any finesse or precise manoeuvrability. From the outset, it’s clear to see that this isn’t as competent as a standard GS in these conditions.

That BMW, despite what some might think, really does have true off-road potential – a real crispness about the way it handles in the dirt, and you’re almost able to ride it like a scrambler after a bit of practice.

But this Ténéré is different.

It feels heavy and vague, the steering not as direct or athletic. It certainly puts a lot of pressure on you to get the most out of it.

Things weren’t helped by the touring screen fitted to the white press bike.

Again, it felt like you were taking a touring bike off-road, the screen right up in your face, even when standing.

There was also the nuisance of the exhaust cowling sitting a shade too far forward, meaning that it pressed against your left calf and took you out of your natural riding position.

Again, the issues of that riding mode came in to play; questions of whether you have it in Touring or Sport mode.

Traction control, for the time being, was left on full setting, with the option to turn it off completely, or to a halfway house, allowing a little more slip.

The conditions were a mixture of farmland tracks, with grass strips along the middle, and then more technical sections, with steeper loose shale slopes and moorland ravines, much like you can see in these pictures.

Needed knobblies in these conditions
Needed knobblies in these conditions. Looks good in them too.

One things certain; the views, and the riding facilities up here in Mid-Wales are stunning.

Mike Beddows tackles some of the trails in this issue’s Green Laning section and it’d be well worth checking them out, whether you come out on the Ténéré Experience or not. In truth, I probably wouldn’t recommend the Ténéré Experience for the novice.

The bike, in these conditions, is too intimidating and you can soon lose your nerve if you feel too far out of your depths. A better option would be the regular Yamaha Off-Road Experience, done on WR250Fs.

Back to the Ténéré and there was a chance mid-way through the day to swap bikes with another journalist, as he’d been riding the standard Z model (without the electronic suspension) and wanted to give the ZE a go.

The difference was night and day.

His bike had been set up by the school and so had the standard screen, and the bars had been rolled forward to give a much better posture for being up on the pegs.

The suspension also felt much more suited to the conditions; firmer, more controlled and direct.

I later realised (when back on the ZE) that the settings for the preload are too soft, and that upping the preload to ‘solo rider with luggage’ does wonders for the bike’s characteristics, both on-road and off.

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You can ride this bike, on this trail, on the official Yamaha Ténéré Experience

On this bike (the blue Z), set up the way it was, the Ténéré really started to ease me into the flow. It still isn’t as sharp as a GS, but certainly, on the forest trails it was composed and agile, the traction control really subtle and non-intrusive.

The Ténéré doesn’t give you the option to turn ABS off, but I would probably have left it on anyway.

Probably the best bit about the Ténéré off-road is that low seat height and that low centre of gravity. It really keeps you balanced and it’s easy to just dab a foot if you need to.

I shouldn’t tempt fate, but it seemed like a difficult bike to crash and to drop (though one journalist did manage to crash two bikes), thanks largely to that low seat and you being able to get both feet firmly on the ground. It’s a good thing and inspires confidence.

Worth mentioning are the tyres. The white ZE was running TKCs, the blue Z was running Metzeler Karoo 3.

It was hard to tell the difference in the dirt, but on the road the Metzeler’s were far more pleasant, riding more like a regular road tyre, whereas the TKCs would rumble and vibrate at low speeds (though the KTM 1190 fitted with the same tyres didn’t suffer the same symptoms).

It would be the Karoo 3 for me. In conclusion, the Ténéré off-road is best suited to fire trails and the lighter stuff, however, it can do the harder stuff too, and like riding it on the road, the bike gradually gets under your skin, and at the end of the day, you’re actually quite fond of it.

Different to the R1200 GS. Very different to the KTM, but still its own boss, and again, that sense of toughness and reliability shines through.

Thanks to everyone at the Yamaha Off-Road Experience. For more information on the courses they offer, visit; www.yamaha-offroad-experience.co.uk

Ténéré new vs old

New vs Old

Rob Kelly owns a 2011 Super Ténéré with a few accessories from the Worldcrosser catalogue.

He’s done 24,000 miles on it, riding it for two and a half years to France and Belgium and is about to do the Pyrenees.

Rob has also done 540 miles in SA on a Ténéré, from Swaziland to Johannesburg and back, including 250 miles off-road.

We invited him over to have a ride of the latest bike; to see what he thought… “The power delivery is smoother low down, with less snatch than there was before.

Braking still needs to be done with a fair bit of pressure, it still taking a lot of effort to stop quickly. Overall the bike feels smoother, possibly because of the rubber-mounted bars.

Off idle touring mode feels more responsive, but down low there’s still a bit of lag, maybe even a bit more than before.

Rob on his 2011 Ténéré
Rob on his 2011 Ténéré

Sport mode feels good and very responsive, almost catching me out on one occasion. In Sport mode, it’s almost like my bike rides when I run it on 98 RON.

Touring is much better though, and capable of chopping in and out of traffic.

I spent ninety percent of the time in touring mode. The new wing mirrors I don’t like so much. Rear visibility is reduced. The new cruise control however is brilliant and works really well.

The suspension in normal setting was too soft (preload was set at single passenger, with Rob weighing 15 stone 8lbs) making the bike wallow quite a bit.

I imagine most riders would ride it in hard setting. I like the new clocks, the additional information including the fuel range is handy.

The heated grip operation is also a huge improvement over the old model, as on my bike you operate with an unsightly dial on the handlebars. Overall the bike is a big improvement over mine.

Even the traction control and ABS seem to work better, and the whole bike just feels smoother and a little more refined. I’m hoping to upgrade at the end of the year. Another blue one I think.”

Last issue we stated that in this issue we’d be bringing a full report on the new Honley 250cc; an adventure bike brought in from China and badged up by a dealership in Huddersfield (Minsk are also importing the bike, and Lex Moto are looking into it as well).

We made the 130-mile journey up to Huddersfield to ride the bike, finding it to be a decent looking piece of kit that hopefully would prove to be something different, especially at the £3,500 asking price. Sadly, the bike only managed ten miles before we had to turn back.

Fuel was leaking from the injector and flooding the engine, the symptoms progressively getting worse until it was almost impossible to get it off the line. From the response given when returning the bike, it sounds like it wasn’t the first time it had happened.

Those ten miles allowed a brief assessment of the rest of the package. The seat is hard, and the riding position – despite the styling – is more akin to a standard commuter bike, rather than a fully-fledged adventure bike.

The rev counter was also misleading, pointing at 5,000rpm even at tick over, and barely moving as you revved it through the range. It was disappointing really, as the bike showed a lot of promise, and hopefully with a bit more tinkering, still will.

In the meantime, a second hand DRZ is arguably a much better proposition.For more information on the Honley see; www.earnshaws.net