Destination Yamaha – bespoke riding adventures from the tuning fork guys

Destination Yamaha – bespoke riding adventures from the tuning fork guys

We try one of Yamaha’s adventure tours riding an MT-07 Tracer, Super Ténéré 1200, Ténéré 660 and WR250R

By Alan Dowds

UNLESS you've been living under a particularly big rock for the past decade or so, you'll be well aware of how big adventure riding has become. Blame Ewan and Charlie, blame a post-millennial sense of ennui, blame 200bhp sports bikes and speed cameras. But whatever the cause, folk just can't get enough of sitting on tall dirt-style bikes and heading off – sometimes into the wide blue yonder, sometimes just to the other side of the county.

And, of course, where the punter wants to go, the companies follow on. Plenty of bike firms have set up their own branded adventures, with BMW leading the pack via its certified adventure travels and off-road riding experiences. And now, Yamaha's joined in, with a broad platform of adventure tours, set up under the 'Destination Yamaha' brand. Essentially, Yamaha's European HQ has brought together all its existing global partners in this area – current touring, off-road and adventure operators who have commercial tie-ins with Yamaha – and is providing a common worldwide portal online. Check into, and you can pick from an off-the-shelf tour or riding experience, or even build your own bespoke event, from a wide range of options all round the world.

You can go for some really exotic options – but we've not come too far from home for this European launch of the Destination Yamaha operation. We're in Mid-Wales actually, where two of Yamaha's longest-running partners are based – the Geraint Jones Yamaha Off Road Experience, and Nick Sanders Expeditions. Both those names are proper legends in the field: Geraint has been running his off-road schools for nearly 25 years now, and Nick Sanders is a true pioneer in global adventure riding, having probably circumnavigated the globe more times than I've lapped the M25 – including on a variety of Yamaha R1s…

The plan is for us to get a couple of days, er, 'experiencing' the Destination Yamaha experience, as it were. So we spend the first day with Geraint riding off-road, then day two is spent riding on the amazing roads round the Cambrian Mountains with Nick Sanders. Yamaha's given us all MT-07 Tracers for the road riding, and we'll use Geraint's Super Ténéré 1200s, Ténéré 660s and WR250Rs for the off-road elements. After a fabulous dinner at the Nick Sanders' Expedition HQ, we're up bright and early at the Lake Vrynwy hotel, for the off-road day.

The roads round here are amazing, albeit on the narrow and fiddly side sometimes, so it takes us about an hour to get to Geraint Jones's base at Llanidloes. It's a working farm, surrounded by properly awesome landscape – mountains, forests, valleys. Coming from Scotland, I'm sometimes a bit immune to big scenery thrills. But even I'm impressed with the scope and majesty of the surroundings.

Geraint, and his son Dylan are looking after us today, and we’re getting a (slightly abbreviated) version of their Ténéré Experience. As the name suggests, this is an off-road day based on the Yamaha Ténéré and Super Ténéré bikes – so it would make a great learning day if you were looking to build skills before going on a bigger adventure ride. We start off with kit allocation – I've come with all the off-road kit needed, but the School can supply a full setup. Dylan then introduces the bikes we're using today – the slightly older Ténéré 660, and the later 1200 Super Ténéré, plus one WR250R. I grab one of the special low-seat 660s, as better suited to my stumpy frame and stumpy skillz, and we're off.

The Joneses have a lot of Wales at their disposal. Their farm is extensive enough, plus they lease a seven-square-mile area of forest, and there's also a WRC rally car testing ground next door which they have access to. That's on top of the massive network of public byways and dirt tracks round here. So for the next few hours, we have a ball, seeing some incredible scenery in the Cambrian hills on one of the hottest, sunniest days you'll get in this part of the world. Dylan is leading us round, and he's patient, knowledgeable, and keen to help – just what's needed if you're a bit wobbly off-road like me.

There's not lots of time for tuition today – on a normal day the guys reckon they do much more training routines, tailored to your individual skill level. But I pick up a few useful tips on water crossings, riding on bigger, harder rocks, and some other basic skills. I also learn to take great care when riding through deep 4x4 ruts, after I catch my foot on the edge of one, giving my ankle a nasty tweak. Luckily my Alpinestars Tech 8 boots kept my lower leg in one piece, but it was a tough lesson well learned…

I'm enjoying the 660 Ténéré too. It's nothing very special of course – it's an old model now, and an update is probably overdue. But as with any sort of two-wheeled learning process, the bike is less important than what you're doing with it. The truth is, I probably don't need a fancier off-road bike to be better at riding off-road… But the 660 is super-manageable in terms of weight and power, and all the basics are right there. I spend a bit of time on the 1200 Super Ténéré after lunch, and it's good too – you don't feel as much weight difference as you'd maybe think, and the more modern suspension and brakes cancels out some of the mass downside. The throttle is a little sharp though, and on balance, I was happier on the 660. Of course, after the two Ténérés, the little WR250 feels more like a mountain bike than a proper motorbike…

At the end of the off-road day, I'm well chuffed. The Joneses have been great hosts, I've learned a bit more in terms of off-road skills, and I've managed not to snap any limbs, despite my best efforts. A few beers, a lovely dinner, and I'm out like a light in no time.

Just as well, because it's another big day coming up. Breakfast, packing, checkout, and then we set out with Nick Sanders for a Welsh mini adventure, before the big ride home to London. Sanders is one of biking's great characters, and there's never a dull minute in his company. But he knows all there is to know about adventure riding, and he's got a cool, funny or just plain mental story about any subject. The Sanders Expeditions firm specialises in small group, bespoke expedition-type jaunts, the more exotic the better. If you're looking to ride the length of Chile, spend a month in Morocco, or get intimate with Alaska, he can make it happen for you. Working out of his fantastic eco-friendly wooden expeditions HQ, him and his team can work out as much, or as little, as you need. And when he's not doing that, he's organising the local Mach II music and biking festival in Machynlleth, which is on this weekend as it happens…

But we're not hitting the festival today. We've got some brand-new Tracer 700s, and Sanders is going to show us the sights. The little Tracer is spot-on for this kind of work: we start out on normal twisty backroads, then it all gradually gets smaller and narrower, then we start to hit the cattle grids and the sheep gates. We stay on Tarmac all the way, but we're definitely off the grid a bit, heading straight west through the hills towards the coast at Aberystwyth. Sanders stops regularly to point out the sights, and although we're a long way from Mongolia or Tierra del Fuego, I get a bit of an insight into what a long trip with Nick would be like. Plenty of adventure and fun, with a bit of an edge, but also an experienced pair of hands standing by.

So – the new Destination Yamaha website offers a new way for fans to access the firm's adventures in one place. And with its radical new T7 Ténéré upgrade coming for 2018, it seems that the firm is getting a bit more serious about its entire adventure riding operation.