Review: off-roading on the 2014 Yamaha Super Ténéré

Visordown tries the Yamaha Ténéré Experience in Wales on the new Super Ten

THERE comes a time in some road riders’ lives when they wake up one morning feeling unfulfilled. They’ve done the track day thing, done the long hauls into Europe, ridden most of the roads everyone says you should ride, and done them on every type of road bike. Sportsbike, naked, tourer... they’ve even tried an adventure sport (but only for touring). Well into their forties, something is missing. They need a new direction; a new challenge. Some buy a bike from their youth, start restoring it, disappear into a shed and never reappear. A few go racing or turn pro track day rider. Some give up altogether.

And some get into off road.

Which is where outfits like the Yamaha Ténéré Experience come in. Based, like several other off-road ‘schools’, in Wales – where there’s more space for trail riding without tripping over restrictions – the Experience is run by the Jones family; dad Geraint raced enduros for Yamaha in the 1990s, and started the school on his farm in Powys. Since then it’s run pretty much as it does now, managed by Geraint’s son Dylan. It caters for all types of rider: off-road newcomers, handy green-laners, expert trail riders or enduro racers.

This morning I’ve turned up at the school very much a confirmed road rider and novice off-roader. I mucked about on wasteland on a Suzuki TS50ER when I was 16, but my next bike was a road bike and I spent 30 years learning and loving the ways of tarmac. I viewed off-road riding warily. It seemed like an alternate reality; impressive, but I never felt to urge to go back to school and learn how to ride a bike all over again. Because that’s what I thought it would be like. And the various disciplines were confusing: trials, trails, enduro, motocross, desert rallying... the distinctions between them was unclear. And most of the people I knew who dabbled usually ended up with broken wrists, twisted knees or sprained ankles. I’d spent half a lifetime learning the importance of staying upright. The idea of falling off was unappealing.

But bit by bit, as a bike journalist, I got exposed. Every few years I’d find myself on a trail somewhere, usually on something inappropriate and out of my depth. I rode a Moto Morini Granpasso in the Derbyshire Peaks. I rode a V-Strom there too. I remember sitting out the chance to spend a summer afternoon blasting a Yamaha WR450F 2-Trac about on a beach like something from the closing sequence of On Any Sunday. I think, in a 22-year career as a bike journalist, that was the biggest wasted opportunity. Although I had chronic toothache, as I recall.

Anyway, no time like the present to start, and having been on Yamaha’s recent 2014 Super Ténéré launch, I was invited to spend a day on the Yamaha Ténéré Experience.

The day begins, very much like your first track day, with a full English – or Welsh – breakfast at a hospitable local hotel in Llanidloes. After a short hop to the school’s farmyard base, I’m introduced to the Yamaha fleet of XT660Z Ténérés, WR250Rs and the big XTZ1200 Super Ténéré amid a chorus of moos and baas. I haven’t got the right kit, really – road textiles mixed with light motocross boots – but for what we’re doing it’s not a problem. If you need the right kit, the school has it all for hire.

Today I’ll mostly be riding the Super Ten, but the school usually involves all the bikes – or just your preferred choice, or even your own bike; it’s that kind of day. This isn’t a school in the sense a man stands and lectures you on the finer points of off-road control – although Dylan is happy to do that. It’s more whatever you want it to be. If you just want to go blasting about in the vast tracts of Welsh hills, valleys and forests, that’s fine. Dylan knows where to go; they have exclusive access to some stunning Forestry Commission fire trails where you simply stand on the pegs and hammer away for miles without encountering anything more challenging than a few big stones.

Or, if you want more of a sweat, the school will take you down a few streams and through some bogs. If you want even more of a work-out, they’ll throw harder gradients at you. And some trees. Dylan and his crew understand it’s about having fun, not being intimidated or overwhelmed. 

So the worst I get is a couple of bogs, some big puddles, a few ruts over mountain trails and the aforementioned forest fire trail. It’s novice terrain. We take our time, it’s not very intense, but it’s brilliant fun and does what the school sets out to do: it makes me want to come back and do it again.

In fact it makes we want to buy my own enduro bike, and I hit eBay as soon as I get home. Unfortunately, it’s not to buy a Yamaha (although the WR250 is very tempting). I go for Honda CRF450X instead (gulp).

But the Ténéré Experience has worked in another sense too: I’ve gained a new appreciation of the Super Ténéré. I still think it’s not the ultimate flagship model that its rivals are – it’s no GS, Adventure or Explorer in terms of off-road ability or on-road refinement. But at least now I know it can do a spot of very light off-roading if asked and, to tell the truth, I think the 140bhp KTM Adventure would’ve overwhelmed me. The GS would’ve got its flat twin cylinder heads stuck in a few ruts, and the Explorer would’ve been a bit too tall and toppled over a few times. The Super Ténéré, with a docile 112bhp, narrow profile and low centre of gravity, did none of these things.

But whatever bike you use for the day; Yamaha’s or your own; I can’t imagine a better, more fun, more enjoyable introduction to riding off-road than the Ténéré Experience. Thoroughly recommended.

Right. When can I do it again?

Yamaha Super Ténéré Experience: The Facts

Where: Llanidloes, Powys

Who: Geraint Jones, Dylan Jones, Rowan Jones, Wyn Hughes, John Begley

When: all year

How much:
• One-day tour with training and local trails: £250 (everything supplied), £100 (own bike)
• One-day ‘skills school’ focused on training: £250 (everything supplied), £100 (own bike)
• Two-day tour with training and longer trails: £450 (everything supplied), £180 (own bike)
• Alternate two-day tour with training and longer distance trails: £450 (everything supplied), £180 (own bike)

More info