Yamaha XTZ 1200 Super Ténére review

Yamaha XTZ 1200 Super Ténéré

At Overland we believe that a bike review should be a realistic test. Riding around for a couple of hours or a long weekend is not the same as living with a machine everyday and experiencing it on various terrain, in a loaded state.

So we headed to North America where Yamaha Canada kindly leant us a 2012 model XTZ 1200 Super Ténéré for a 4,000-mile fortnight on mixed surfaces, circumnavigating the Great Lakes. Predominantly a tarmac route, it none-the-less included some gravel roads, sandy logging tracks and far more snow than anyone expected.

Yamaha reintroduced the Super Ténéré name with this model in 2010. It’s a name used throughout the 1990s on its 750 ‘adventure’, but no part of this 1199cc parallel twin is common to its older namesake. It is certainly emotive nomenclature, but north Africa’s Ténéré desert is not somewhere I’d head on this machine, as hitting the sandy tracks of northern Michigan highlighted one thing: weight.

Yamaha certainly have the heritage to use the Saharan name, as their machinery has won the Dakar rally more than anyone else, but I just couldn’t relax in the soft rutted sand and with the panniers loaded and tank-bag on, it was tough, slow work. The thought of picking the thing up on my own helped me concentrate on the route ahead, to try and identify when the reasonably stable surface turned into a big child’s play pit. If I stayed alert I could scrub off some speed just in time. If not I tried not to fight with the flapping handlebars and turn the whole experience into a literal crash course in sand riding.

As a machine to manhandle in a car park, or the few times it just sank on an unstable surface, I wished that it had been on a diet and wasn’t 261 kilos (before luggage), but like all motorcycles, it sheds most of that excessive weight almost as soon as it’s moving. The design brief, as most surely are, was to keep the weight low for easy balance, but shoving it around, you experience every kilo.

Out on the tarmac, it is stable and supremely comfortable. I only did a couple of over 500-mile days, but the seat and riding ergonomics are simply perfect. No part of me ached even mildly as I got used to the seating position and the rubber foot-peg implants provide excellent isolation from any vibration.

On the move, the Super Ten is a motorcycling Cadillac, simply wafting along as the 43mm upside down front forks and rear monoshock suspension absorbs undulations and irregularities with aplomb. I’m not one for obsessively fiddling with suspension settings, so can tell you little about the minor differences that may be achieved. I found the factory settings plush enough for comfort and taut enough for undercarriage abuse on the twisties. I can’t help thinking that the array of adjustments available front and rear for compression and rebound damping and spring preload are a complicated hangover from the sport bike sector and reflect what the Yamaha factory feel customers, or perhaps journalists, feel are important.

If this is a machine most people will use to commute, or enjoy on a weekend, then I’m sure the adjustments could come into their own, but laden with luggage for a few months away, surely just winding up the preload to suit the size of your wardrobe would be ample?

Back in the comfortable standard saddle (manually adjusted for 845 or 870mm) the dashboard layout offers an interesting mix of digital and analogue. The rev counter needle sweeps conventionally, while the speed registers with huge, easy to read figures, which, if the sat nav is to be believed, over-read by the industry acceptable 9%. Beside the speedo is a vertical bar fuel gauge, clock and then options for engine or atmospheric temperature, fuel efficiency (measured in various ways), two trip meters and mode settings for power and traction control.

Most of the readout options are available through the use of two dash-mounted buttons, easily used with winter gloves, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out how to alter the severity of the Traction Control System which told me it was on setting ‘One’ the whole time. Yes, I know that I could have read the handbook, but I’m a man damn it, so if it isn’t obvious it must mean it isn’t an intuitive system. Bound to be Yamaha’s fault… Well, that and the fact that I didn’t actually have a handbook to refer to.

The engine management settings, (displayed as S – sport and T – touring) are accessed from the right hand switchgear and can be altered on the move. Touring provides a softer and supposedly more economical power delivery, but I preferred the livelier S setting, still averaging 54mpg. The maths after one tank fill showed I’d averaged only 39mpg and given that I hadn’t been ‘playing’ for more than a hundred miles, means economy must have plummeted to KTM territory.

I initially considered the overall economy poor as the blocks on the fuel gauge vanished and the flashing lights began, until I realised it was because the seat was sooo comfortable and I’d been sitting down for so long. It’s a 23 litre tank, so, at the best economy I managed, that would be 270 miles to fumes. Remember, I was laden at all times, but I can’t actually tell you the greatest distance I achieved between fillups.

The trip counter counts, as it ought to do, but at a certain point, linked to the flashing fuel light, it goes back to zero, accompanied by the letter F and starts counting again. It was one of the most infuriating things that could only come to light by spending so much time with the bike. Petty I know, but if I wasn’t watching exactly when it did it, there was no way I could then add the two numbers together to get my total range. What I should have done was use the main odometer, a pen and a piece of paper to write down my mileage, then do the same again at the next forecourt visit and work my grey matter through some simple arithmetic. What annoyed me so, was that the onboard computer functions were supposed to be capable of so much, why couldn’t the trip counter just count until I reset it? Handbook again? Well maybe, but I went through every variation on every other part of functionality and that seemed to me like it should have been straightforward.
It meant that by 200 miles I was looking to pull over, because even a strong headwind could upset the economy and in Canada, there can be some pretty big distances between fuel stops. This is one beast I simply wouldn’t have been able to push.

Luckily the Ten comes with a main stand which is a doddle to use and means more fuel can be squeezed in if you take your time to let the air come out past the safety system designed to ensure you don’t use all 23 litres and leave some room for expansion. Riding in almost freezing conditions most of the time, fuel expansion wasn’t my greatest worry. Making sure I got to the next hot cup of tea was.

The standard equipment hand guards were a godsend, but there were no heated grips on the bike I rode. Instead, the options bin had been raided for the PIAA spotlights, mounted on the crashbars that I thankfully never used. They were undoubtedly good, but so was the standard projector beam twin headlight and on tour, are you really going to ride at night? I was warned many times that I shouldn’t, as moose are much bigger than a man on a motorcycle and should we collide, it may be a very long time before anyone would arrive on scene. It’s not a phone signal kind of place.

The screen was a much taller Yamaha option too and even though it created buffeting and noise for someone of my 5’ 10” height, the extra cold it deflected off my chest was well worth it. Even the mildly flaired tank shape and body panels meant that my knees were afforded some protection too.

The mirrors, unsurprisingly, didn’t contribute to warmth, but were perfect for letting me see behind. No vibration, a good shape and positioned so that I wasn’t just looking at my jacket.

I’m glad they were so well made, because the bike did sometimes emit quite harsh vibrations, especially under even the slightest throttle load. It was all so profound because everything was generally so smooth, but it felt like it was coming from the final drive, not the engine and wasn’t absolutely consistent. This could have been specific to the bike I used, but otherwise the shaft system couldn’t be faulted. There was no twisting of the bike and no back end, torque reaction, uplift. Encased in a very smart cast alloy swinging arm it was like a chain but without the mess. Should it go wrong though, you won’t fix it like a chain and if, as I’ve seen with some BMW alloy shaft casings, you smash it on a rock well, the forced lay-up will probably mean you make new friends.

The main frame is made of steel, so should you need to, it’ll be easy to weld.

Vibs under load aside, the grunt of the parallel twin is beautiful. There’s always something available, no matter what part of the rev range you are in, and at 4 grand in sixth, the top gear, the speedo is reading 125kph or just shy of 80mph. Perfect for roll on overtakes, or hours of cruising.

My Canadian model had 81kW (108hp) and oodles of grunt, peak torque of 114Nm (84 lb/ft) happening at 6,000rpm. It’s an over square engine so will rev if you want it to and the Mikuni injection system is seamless, working with the ECU to measure throttle openings 1000 times a second and alter fuel, air and spark delivery to suit. As managed as it all is, there was still a characteristic gruffness combined with a pleasing induction sound, which tapped into the psychological petrol head ‘x’ factor that makes motorcycling so much fun.

The 6 speed gearbox was slick on upshifts if you want to enjoy those revs and emotive sound, but I found downshifts clunky, especially if stationary, say perhaps at traffic lights.

The tyres fitted stock are Metzeler Tourance EXPs and although grip on the road is great, they are not dirt tyres, so apart from my lack of off-road skill, they really didn’t help on even gravel roads, never mind the sand and snow I encountered. With the traction control set on level 1, it was possible to just crack open the throttle and hope that everything would be sorted out automatically, but believing that you can go into bends the same way, will end in tears. There was a certain amount of wheel spin, but mostly a crack crack sound as the TCS cut in to limit the power feed. It’s all very technologically advanced, linked as it is to the ABS but I can’t help wondering what a damaged sensor miles from home would result in.

The wheels by comparison are spoked, rebuild-able and things of beauty. The black, lipped rims enable the fitment of tubeless tyres; 110/80 x 19 up front and 150/70 x 17 at the rear

I must say that the wavy brakes are superb on tarmac and the Metzeler’s really bite into the road, but having the rear pedal banging against the sole of my foot was annoying as the rear ABS seemed to cut in very early.

If you are an off road demon you will be wanting to switch off the ABS to regain some control on the loose and even though Yamaha very sadly doesn’t fit an off switch for fear of litigation, if you listen very carefully, I will say this only once: start engine, put bike on centre stand, engage second gear, let out the clutch and sing a little song for about 30 seconds. The electronics will get confused, the ABS will shut down and remain off until you next switch on the ignition. But you didn’t read that here.

The rear EXP was completely finished by 6,000 miles, but the front was still going strong at 9,000 when I gave the bike back. Surely the excessive weight of the Super Ténéré is an aggravating factor, but a tyre every 6000 miles would be something of a chore on a global trip. Maybe that’s why Nick Sanders switched to Continentals?

Apart from the tyre, the only other problems I encountered were an intermittent tail light and a clutch cut-out switch which couldn’t decide whether to work or not so sometimes to start the engine I had to ensure neutral was selected whether the clutch was in or not.

The ignition barrel and luggage locks required two major doses of WD40 in the two weeks I had the Super Ten. The ignition barrel simply refused to relinquish the key without it. The luggage was Yamaha’s own plastic boxes. Rather quaintly they have a thin sheet of aluminium stuck on the outside, which does at least provide a nice background for stickers of countries traversed, if that’s your thing. The lids hinge on the narrow edge toward the front of the bike and the aperture is full size, but you’ll want to use inner bags for ease of use. The boxes are easy to physically remove from their mounts, but without a top handle, you need two hands to carry each box and if they’re dirty, all that filth will be rubbed on your clothes.

The portside box has a large internal cutaway that really compromises the available luggage space and is there to accommodate the not inconsiderably sized exhaust can.

Weight aside, I really grew to like this big Yam. The finish on frame and engine is very good. The tank/ fairing silhouette already gives the bike a ‘big chest’ look and the crash-bar/ bash-plate factory options accentuate the Super Ten’s butch appearance. The metallic blue paint really suits and I feel it’s better than the black or silver options, but luckily we are all individuals… and I just love the Yamaha ‘speed block’ graphic that harks back to the racing heritage of the 1970s and 80s.

Finally, I found that the Super Ténéré had the all important aesthetic draw that saw me giving it that final glance as I walked away from it. So often the adventure sector is populated by bikes where function is apparently more important than form, but if you are spending over ten grand it doesn’t hurt to like the look the thing every morning.

Based in Britain, if I wanted a bike to ride every day and had that budget, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute. Even two-up, I’d enjoy European long weekends away, but if I was going global, riding tough tracks in tropical heat, then I’m afraid it’s just too heavy and complicated. My money would buy the baby, 660 Ténéré instead and the change would sort out all my shipping fees.

Paddy Tyson

Yamaha XTZ 1200 Super Ténére Specifications

UK list price £11,999 on the road

Engine type W/C 4 stroke, 8 valve, DOHC parallel twin, 11 : 1 compression ratio
Size 1199cc, 98×79.5mm (bore, stroke)
Power 81 kW
Torque 114Nm
Carburetion Mikuni electronic fuel injection, 46mm throttle body
Fuel tank 23 litres
Frame Steel tube backbone
Transmission 6 speed
Clutch Manual
Final Drive ‘shaft
Front suspension 43mm upside down telescopic forks. Adj compression, rebound and preload 190mm travel
Rear suspension Single shock. Preload and rebound damping adjustable. 190mm travel
Front brake 2 x 310mm wavy discs, 2 piston caliper
Rear brake 282mm single disc, 1 piston caliper
Tyres F 110/80×19, R 150/70×17
Seat height 845- 870mm
Overall weight 261kgs
Ground clearance 205mm