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By: Michael Allen
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people who follow and read Keefer Inc.’s content are moto or off-road enthusiasts and I put myself in that category as well. That being said, after riding the 2021 Tenere 700 my eyes have been opened to an all new type of riding that gave me the same exciting feeling as doing motos or riding gnarly trails. When Kris asked me if I wanted to take part in the Tenere 700 intro I said “sure, what is it?” then after looking it up it I started to get curious about what this intro would entail and how “off-road” this bike could really be. I ordered up some Fly off-road/adventure gear and next thing I knew I was on my way to Glen Helen, which is where our all day ride would start from.
The name Tenere is a reference to a desert in northern Africa that has seen many rugged off-road races in the past. This same area is where Yamaha has won large off-road races including the Dakar Rally many times throughout the 1990’s. After Yamaha introduced the Tenere 1200 a few years ago they wanted to focus on a more dirt specific version that could really hold its own against the more hardcore off-road adventure bike market. They started with their CP2 inline twin engine because of its compact design, smooth power delivery, and large amounts of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed transmission and the power is fed though a chain to the 18” spoked rear wheel. The fact that the wheels are 18” and 21” as well as being spoked and having tubes really shows that Yamaha is going after the off-road marked. The low style front fender can even be slightly adjusted up for a bigger tire or to add more clearance if the muddy terrain is packing up. The frame is made of steel and uses a perimeter design with removable down tubes to help with maintenance. The head tube is double braced and the swing arm is made out of aluminum. Yamaha did their best in trying to keep the feel of the bike slim to help with a nimble character. The Tenere holds 4.1 gallons of fuel and has a claimed range of over 200 miles per tank. The 43mm KYB forks have 210mm of travel, are open bath and are also adjustable for both compression and rebound. The rear suspension uses a KYB piggyback shock, linkage, is adjustable for both compression and rebound and has an easy to use preload adjuster for quick adjustments when going from street to trail. Although seeming out of character, Yamaha uses Brembo brake’s both front and rear; with the rear being a single rotor and the front having dual rotors. Being that this is a street bike as well, Yamaha had to have ABS, but they give you the option to turn the whole system off when you’re in the dirt with the push of a button.
The wrap around style handguards come standard but they are fairly minimal. Keeping in line with being off-road, the Tenere comes with an aluminum skid plate standard. There is a small windscreen that provided protection from gusts while protecting the digital readout. The display is fully digital and gives you the ability to scroll through a small menu with the use of a button on the handlebars. The menu is somewhat limited, but it does give you fuel mileage (average and current), engine temperature, ambient temperature, multiple trip settings, and total mileage. Two other features that the Tenere has up front is the 12v outlet and the top bar for mounting accessories. Ready to ride the Tenere come in at 452 pounds and with the stock seat, the height is 34.6” (there are two additional seat options).
With all of that information floating around my head I was really looking forward to what the day would consist of as we left the gates of Glen Helen to start our 100 mile, day long ride. Being that I’m an off-road guy I couldn’t bring myself to go full adventure guy and wear a helmet with a flip down shield and over the boot pants. Wearing a moto helmet on the highway has a downside, which is that the visor acts like a kite when cruising at high rates of speed. Although the Tenere has a windscreen, it wasn’t quite tall enough to keep my visor out of the wind, I needed another 4” (story of my life) and I would have been in a nice quiet wind pocket. (editors note: maybe just take the visor off the moto helmet Mike?) The engine on the 700 is unbelievably smooth all the way through the RPM range. Off the bottom the engine has linear pulling power and so much torque that it can be ridden from a dead stop in third gear without abusing the clutch. The first part of our ride took us on a frontage road that led us up the Cajon Pass just north of Glen Helen Raceway. Being that I’m not a street guy I don’t have a whole lot to compare the Tenere to in terms of performance, but with that being said I thought the suspension was very comfortable on the street without feeling like a marshmallow. On asphalt the Tenere was very stable while still feeling nimble, taking only minimal input to get the bike to lean into the twisty corners on the way to Lake Arrowhead California. Since street riding is rare for me, it was a foreign feeling to trust that my tires would stick to the road. With that in mind, I’m sure my lean angle was about as impressive as a D class rider thinking he perfected the Bubba Scrub. Throughout our 40-ish miles on the street, I never felt like the fact that the Tenere is a “dirt bike” ever held me back in terms of performance or comfortability.
After about an hour of street riding I was itching to hit the dirt. A few windy roads later the leader turned off the highway onto a gravel road with some water breaks (yes, I tried to seat bounce them) and I couldn’t wait to see what this thing was all about. Before fully hitting the dirt we stopped to lower the tire pressure in the Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires as well as making some suspension adjustments that consisted of adding compression, adding rebound as well as adding preload to the rear shock. The forks on the Tenere are open bath style and the way it was explained to me was that in order to keep costs down, they didn’t use the latest and greatest KYB components. The forks are based off of early 2000’s forks that would have come on the YZ’s at the time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the suspension front and rear work really well considering how heavy the bike is as well as the range of rider and terrain that it’s meant to handle. One downside that I did notice is that the linkage seems to hang down fairly far (I know this isn’t an extreme enduro bike) and could hang up on some obstacles. As we set out on the trail I was pretty hesitant and didn’t trust the tires when changing lines or just turning in general. After a few miles I started to get a feel for the street-ish tires and found that the only situation I couldn’t trust them in was in silt/sand. Whenever the ground was loose on top, making quick direction changes was ill advised as I didn’t quite have that confident stick-to-the-ground feel. One thing that seemed to help the front end in loose terrain was leaning back and staying on the throttle while not making sudden direction changes. As soon as the throttle is chopped or the front brake is applied, the front end dives and it’s anyone’s guess as to where the front end is going to go.
Another off-road handling trait of the Tenere 700 (and from what I hear all ADV bikes) is that it must be ridden standing up as soon as you leave the pavement unless you’re traveling down a straight dirt road. To get the Tenere to corner in off-road conditions, you need to stand up and weight the pegs in the direction you want to go. The fact that you can also turn off the ABS makes it nice because with the ABS off you can slide the rear end around to pivot the bike. As with any big bike, when the bike is heavy it’s also stable and hard to get knocked off line. There were many times that I thought the rocks that I am about to hit will knock me off my line, but to my surprise the bike kept driving forward. That being said, if you push it a little too far it can bite you quick. When you really push your luck and the Tenere gets out of line, you can really feel the weight of it when trying to straighten the bike back out. In addition to fire roads, we found ourselves on some skinnier trails with steep inclines and switchbacks, which at first had me a bit concerned. After a few miles of figuring out what gear the Tenere liked to be in (I found that third was the magic number), it seemed that I could do no wrong. If I left the bike lug a little in third and didn’t touch the clutch it was mucho traction. No matter how low the RPM got, the bike kept humming along and never shuttered or stalled.
The last section of our ride was on faster two track jeep trails, where I could ride next to another rider and it was confidence inspiring. There were multiple times I looked down and found us doing over 50mph, even when riding through loose rocks. The final downhill before hitting the pavement back to Glen Helen was littered with large loose rocks, which although the Tenere handled nicely, I was still scared that I would get caught off guard and be the second bike of the ride to take a spill (the first bike to crash was from another magazine outlet that will remain nameless). There were only a couple times that the front end got bounced off line and made me really put my weight into the bike to get things straightened out. Although the suspension was made stiffer for off-road riding it still felt a bit springy and empty. What I mean my springy is that once near bottoming out, it had a somewhat fast rebound (I should have messed with the clickers) that would sometimes give me that top out feel. What I mean by empty is once the suspension was past half way into the stroke it didn’t feel as though it had much damping force against the 450 pound Tenere. Although I think the valving could be fine-tuned, I’m sure the slightly limited travel could be a factor as well. I only noticed a few things that were small nuisances when riding; one being that because I have such big feet, when I would ride on my toes I noticed that the heel of my boot would contact the passenger foot peg bracket. Another thing that I noticed was that when standing and hugging the bike with my legs, my right calf would contact the clutch arm actuator cover. This wasn’t really a problem, but something that felt unnatural when riding. In stock form there isn’t any place to store anything, although there is a small open area under the rear of the seat, but it’s not closed off and you’d be lucky to fit a crumpled up windbreaker in there. My final complaint is that in stock trim there is no center stand. If I wanted to work on my bike it looks like I will have to get scissor lift to do some maintenance. No one wants to lift a 450 pound bike on a moto stand. Although the stock seat is just fine, Yamaha brought the short seat (I didn’t try it) and the taller more moto style seat. I really liked the taller seat because it puts your body in a more familiar position if you’re a moto guy.
After spending six hours and riding over 100 miles on the 2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 I have to admit that I was impressed with what Yamaha had created. Before I rode the Tenere I would have told you that there was no way this bike would have been capable of going the places we took it. But after the test ride, I now realize how capable this category of bike is and can’t wait to get my hands on one for more testing (hell, maybe I’ll even race one to prove how good it is). Like I said I don’t have much to compare it to, but I can’t imagine a bike in this category handling ten fold better than the Tenere. The Tenere is $9,999 and considering that any other bike in this category will cost you at least $4,000 more than the Yamaha, I think they have hit a home run when balancing on/off-road performance and pricing. From what I hear, dealers are buying these as fast as they can get them and that is good not only for Yamaha, but good for our industry as a whole. The more people we get out riding the better, no matter what they’re riding. If you have any questions about the 2021 Yamaha Tenere feel free to reach out to me at Michael@keeferinctesting.com.