It is rare that I am spending any significant time on a new car or motorcycle. Even more rare, if it is not German. However, yesterday I got to spend some time with the much-awaited Yamaha Super Tenere adventure bike. Since the Dakar starts today, I thought that a few posts surrounding that theme seem appropriate. The Yamaha Super Tenere (at least the model name) has been around for a while in the rest of the world in various displacements, but it is now coming to the USA in 2011, and is being hyped as a competitor to the BMW GS. Now anytime a Japanese maker launches a new challenge to a segment traditionally owned by someone else, lookout. Toyota and Nissan both made inroads into the once impenetrable US pickup truck market, The Mazda Miata is arguably a “better” small British sports car, Yamaha's Vmax reigned as the premier “muscle bike” for years, etc. It is worth paying attention.
However, the main reason for my interest is that it is categorized as an “Adventure” bike, a category invented by BMW with the GS. Bmw is still the benchmark when you look at 1000cc and above in this segment, and they are also leaders in the lower displacements. Not that there are not already challengers in all of these segments. The KTM 990 even has the model name Adventure, just like the GS variant. The Triumph Tiger, and Ducati Multistrada, are also competitors in the broad sense, along with The Suzuki V-Strom and even the Kawasaki KLR650. However, many of them fill slightly different niches and I think that it can be successfully argued that people choosing to travel around the globe, or tackle the Dakar, or generally romp around in harsh terrain, gravitate in the majority toward the BMW and the KTM brands. But I digest...
Tenere is a region of the south of the Sahara desert inhabited mostly by the Berber tribes. Oceans of sand is a good mental picture. You have to be made of hardy stock to thrive in this environment, a thought not lost on Yamaha when they chose the name some time ago. In the flesh, the bike looks good in Yamaha metallic blue. The front view reminded be of the Tiger and the Vstrom, perhaps because they both come in a similar blue, and have a small windshield. It is not a great looking bike IMHO, but then again I own a GS, so many would immediately disqualify me from any aesthetic commentary. Ergonomics from the waist down felt good, but it seemed like a longish reach to the bars for my 5'11 32" inseam frame. The seat had grippy material on top which I imagine would really help you to stay put. The cockpit controls and displays seem well laid out, and I liked the turn signal indicators to either side of the dash. Speaking of turn signals, the lights themselves were nicely proportioned being small and on short but flexible stalks. The bike certainly looks and feels smaller than the GS, and the numbers bear that out.
The luggage (aluminum panniers) seems sturdy, but they are deep and narrow. The left pannier is “notched” to allow for the exhaust. It helps the bike look more svelte, but the high mileage and touring crowd will probably look to the aftermarket. The windshield seems relatively small with some adjustability. This is one of those things that you just can't judge until you put in some mileage. The same with the mirrors which look good and beefy. The bike also sounds pretty good with a mellow sound at idle and a muted but growing growl as the revs climb. Looking at the front of the engine, the crash plate will be a mandatory add-on. The oil filter is very exposed without it, and although it should make oil changes much easier than on the GS, it would be subject to road debris and the first minor scrape with a rock. A nice feature is the way that Yamaha has used a spoke wheel with a tubeless tire. BMW pushed the spokes to the outside of the lip of the rim, while Yamaha has them laced to a central spine (dual in the front) in the center of the wheel. The bike has comparable weight and power to the GS, is a 1200cc twin (parallel), and has shaft drive, so pretty competitive on that front.
Overall, it seems like a good bike, given that it should be priced cheaper than the GS. I was hard pressed to find something that the bike did “better” than the GS (albeit without riding it), but that is the difficulty with being the challenger, you have to do better, not just match. There are lots of reviews out there on this machine, which suggest that it is not quite the GS-killer that was hyped in some forums. GS fans are legion, and mostly loyal, despite routinely taking their beloved machine to task. KTM fans are fanatics. I don't think that there will be a ton of conquest sales from BMW and KTM for this bike.
That said, I've always believed that competition improves the competitors. I came away from this encounter feeling like there is another competitor aiming at the benchmark GS. I don't personally think that this version will have a significant impact, but Yamaha are not rank amateurs trying to play in a space that is new to them. They have graced the top step of the Dakar Rally podium several times in the past. Everybody in this category had better stay sharp. And that's a good thing.