Yamaha XT660Z Tenere first ride review

Sick of your job? Boss giving you grief? Wife just won’t shut up? Why not sod it all and explore the world on a Tenere. Or just use it to commute

Click to read: Yamaha XT660Z Tenere owners reviews, Yamaha XT660Z Tenere specs and to see the Yamaha XT660Z Tenere image gallery.

If ever there’s been a bike that reflects the way motorcyclists have changed over the last couple of decades, it’s Yamaha’s Tenere. The original XT600Z Ténéré, launched in 1983, was a direct descendent of the XT500 that had won the first two Paris-Dakar rallies a few years earlier.

That first Ténéré might have had fancy French accents in its name but it was a down-to-earth bike with an aircooled, 43bhp single-pot engine, gigantic 30-litre tank and several yards of suspension travel. It didn’t repeat those Dakar wins but became hugely popular with desert racers. More power and a twin-headlamp fairing kept it successful into the Nineties.

Now the Tenere is back, and you’ve only got to glance at the spec sheet to realise that the new-generation XT660Z is distinctly different. This Tenere’s liquid-cooled motor, borrowed from Yamaha’s XT660R trail bike, is more sophisticated than the original aircooled unit, but has gained just 5bhp in 25 years.

Likewise the new bike’s chassis and bodywork are more refined – but at 183kg dry, the 660Z weighs 45kg more than its predecessor. This Tenere is intended for adventure touring, not desert racing. It’s more rounded, heavier and less aggressive – just like the typical rider it’s aimed at.

This became clear almost before I’d left the launch base hotel at Tiznit in Morocco. At 895mm the Tenere’s seat is high, but not ridiculously so, thanks to gaitered forks that have less travel than the XT660R’s. Rather than requiring an old-fashioned boot, the Yam starts effortlessly on the button, its liquid-cooled motor efficiently silenced by the high-level exhaust. So far, so quiet.

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The four-valve, SOHC motor is mechanically identical to that of the XT660R but its delivery is tweaked with a bigger airbox and new ECU, as well as the pipe. Peak output remains 48bhp at 6,000rpm but Yamaha claims low-rev delivery is improved. Maybe so, and the Tenere pulls cleanly through the midrange, staying smooth thanks to its balancer shaft. It’s exceptionally smooth everywhere.

But if you’re looking for acceleration and wheelie-popping thrills, you’ve got the wrong big single. The Yam rumbles along contentedly enough with 80mph showing on its digital speedo, but didn’t exactly strain my shoulders even when I caned it to the 7,500rpm redline through the five-speed box, generating a touch of high-rev vibration in the process.

Having the aerodynamics of a Bedouin tent doesn’t help its high-speed performance, which tops out at just over the ton. But on the plus side the small fairing is more effective than it looks, managing to divert most of the breeze from my chest. That and the 23-litre tank should give a range of over 150 miles, although the relatively thin dual-seat was starting to get uncomfortable long before that.

Roadgoing handling was good, thanks to the strengthened steel frame, new aluminium swing-arm and suspension which, although basic, is reasonably firm and well-damped by dual-purpose bike standards. Decent grip from the Michelin Sirac rubber helped make the Tenere fun, as did its ample ground clearance. Being able to squeeze twin front discs instead of the XT660R’s one meant I could rely on plenty of stopping power too.

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Best bit of the launch route was the off-road section, which in the spirit of this Tenere was not too demanding — though like most riders I still ended up eating sand on several occasions. The motor was flexible enough to give good drive most of the time. The Ten’s weight and less-than-knobbly rubber made it hard work in the softer stuff, but it always got through in the end.

If it hadn’t done, there’s an aluminium eye below the bottom yoke, designed to tow it out of a tricky situation. Other handy details include the removable footrest rubbers; clever plastic crash-panels, which prevented damage to the bodywork and engine; and the metal bar above the instrument console, for fitting a GPS unit.

There are plenty of accessories, too, most of them intended for off-road touring. The list includes aluminium panniers and top-box (the latter fixing direct to the purpose-designed rear subframe), crash-bars, bash-plate, and street-legal, catalyser-free Akrapovic silencer that will run on leaded fuel.

Bolting on all those won’t be cheap but the Tenere’s price should leave room for a few extras. At £4,899 it’s competitively priced if what you’re looking for is not a lean desert racer but a simple all-rounder that can be ridden for reasonable distances over a variety of terrain. Like many potential owners the Tenere has got heavier and less athletic over the years, but it’s still up for a bit of adventure.


Price: £4,899
Engine: 660cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve single
Power: 48bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 36 lb.ft @ 5500rpm
Front suspension: 43mm telescopic, adjustable preload
Rear suspension: monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: Two 298mm discs, two-piston calipers
Rear brake:  245mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 183kg (claimed)
Seat height: 895mm
Fuel capacity: 23l
Top speed: 105mph (est)
Colours: white/red, khaki, black