2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré

Story by Lawrence Hacking, Clinton Smout and Uwe Wachtendorf// Photos by RHM
August 1 2011

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Yamaha’s new Super-T earns its wings in the hands of Mojo’s off-road nutters.

Last fall, Editor Roberts and I had an opportunity to go for a test ride on two European-spec Yamaha Super Ténérés. The motorcycle was scheduled to be an early-release 2012 model, and we decided to hold off performing a full test of the big adventure-tourer until the Canadian production units had arrived in June. Then everything changed. In March, a natural disaster of incomprehensible magnitude struck Japan, the combination of earthquake and tsunami literally wiping entire cities off the map. An aftermath of the tragedy was the postponement of the Canadian production run by a month.

Without any hope of seeing a Super Ténéré until late July, Yamaha scrambled and retrofitted one of the European models to Canadian specs, which was good enough for us. To sweeten the deal, we also had the keys for the only other Ténéré in Canada. With Yamaha’s blessing and no warning from them to play nice – they undoubtedly had no idea what we had planned for their bikes – we fitted the silver, Euro-spec model with knobby tires and gave both bikes to a pair of certified off-road nutters.

If there was one thing I learned last year from my brief off-road stint on the Super Ténéré down a muddy trail with stock tires, it was that I wasn’t the man to discover the machine’s true potential. A Johnny-come-lately off-roader, I knew enough to hand the keys over to the experts, Mojo columnist Clinton Smout, a world-class off-road instructor, and Lawrence Hacking, a world-class enduro racer and the first Canadian ever to complete the gruelling 10,000 km Paris-Dakar Rally.

We split the test day fifty-fifty between pure off-road conditions that consisted of everything from single-track trails to a motocross track, and a street ride that combined highways with rural byways. Although Smout had already spent substantial time riding the Ténéré, it was Hacking’s first crack at the bike, not that you would have known that from the way he immediately began to scold the machine in the deep sand at our assembly point.

Relegated to chauffeuring our photographer Hugh McLean around in a side-by-side ATV, I was tempted to try and keep pace with the boys on their Ténérés, but between McLean mumbling in my ear about how easy it was to tip a side-by-side over and the narrowness of the trail we were on, it was never in the cards.

Smout and Hacking would be too modest to tell you, but their ability to wrangle a near 600-pound motorcycle off-road and fire it through terrain I would have difficulty navigating on foot is something to behold. I expected fireworks and wasn’t disappointed. Like a pair of adolescents on BMX bikes, they let it all hang out on the motocross track, with Smout in particular shouting like a schoolgirl as he flew over every berm.

The following test has a couple of caveats: Yamaha doesn’t officially condone the use of knobby tires or the disabling of its ABS. But we did both, because we know there are those of you out there who would do the exact same thing.

2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré – Spec Chart


MODEL 2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré
List Price $16,499
Warranty 1 year
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, parallel-twin
Displacement 1199 cc
Power (claimed) 81 kW (108 hp) at 7250 rpm
Torque (claimed) 114 N-m (84 ft-lb) at 6000 rpm
Bore and Stroke 98 x 79.5 mm
Compression Ratio 11:1
Fuel Delivery Fuel injected (one 46 mm Mikuni throttle body)
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Type Shaft
Front Suspension 43 mm inverted fork with adjustable compression, rebound and preload
Rear Suspension Single linked shock with adjustable rebound damping and preload
Wheel Travel Front: 190 mm (7.5 in.)Rear: 190 mm (7.5 in.)
Brakes Front: Two 310 mm floating discs with monoblock four-piston calipersRear: One 282 mm disc with one-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1,540 mm (60.6 in.)
Rake and Trail 28 degrees/126 mm
Tires 110/80-19 front; 150/70-17 rear
Weight (wet) 261 kg (574.2 lb.)
Seat Height Low: 845 mm (33.3 in.) High: 870 mm (34.3 in.)
Fuel Capacity 23 L
Fuel Economy (observed) 6.1 L/100 km (46.3 mpg)
Fuel Range (estimated) 377 km

I have a long history with big adventure-touring bikes, especially Yamaha’s smaller Super Ténéré, as I spent thousands of memorable kilometres on the original Yamaha XTZ750 in the early ’90s. So when the call came to test the new Super Ténéré, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I have an emotional connection with the new Yamaha, but I also liked the many avant-garde features the bike is festooned with.

If you aren’t familiar with the Ténéré – pronounced “tay-nay-ray” – its name comes from a North African desert that the Paris-Dakar Rally passed through for many years when it was still being run on that continent. Yamaha has marketed their XT600 and XT660 Ténérés and the first Super Ténéré on its Dakar racing efforts, and the bikes have traditionally sold well in Europe. North America was another story. When Yamaha Canada imported a small number of XTZ750s in the ’90s, sales stagnated, and most of the bikes were sent back to Europe. Even though the bike was an excellent all-around workhorse, well-suited to life in Canada, the Dakar image wasn’t strong enough to generate interest in the bike. However, that was then; now, adventure-tourers are a hot commodity and almost every manufacturer has one in their model range or is scrambling to put one there.

To my eye, the Super Ténéré bristles with design elements that range from steampunk to industrial. I really like the style, and fortunately that look seems to be gaining popularity. Also nice is that Yamaha chose to pay homage to the first Super Ténéré by using its iconic black-and-white checkered racing stripe as a fuel-tank graphic.

The riding position is well protected by a manually adjustable windshield, flared body panels and large plastic hand guards. Although the handlebar is tall, my hands landed naturally on the grips, which was good, considering that I needed them to keep shoving myself back onto the seat, which can be quickly adjusted between two positions. In its lower setting, it was easy for me to reach the ground (I’m of average height); however, its slight forward camber caused me to constantly slide forward and push against the bars to get back to the soft part of the saddle. Since I was often sitting too far forward, the foot pegs felt like they were too far back; a truly comfortable seating position for me would take a bit of experimentation with the positioning of the handlebar.

Riding the Super Ténéré while standing felt natural, and it allowed me to move my weight around the bike easily without any encumbrances. It also felt narrow between the knees, which provided a confident feeling while riding off pavement. It has a tight turning radius due to its ample steering lock, which helped me get the behemoth adventure bike through some really difficult sections, the kind you might encounter on an adventure ride, which is what these bikes are meant to do, after all.

The engine is compact for a big parallel twin, and is fuelled through a dual-bore, 46 mm Mikuni throttle body. It’s mounted in a downdraft position above the engine, which has been tipped forward 26 degrees to increase ground clearance and lower the bike’s centre of gravity. Even though the bike has decent ground clearance, Super Ténéré buyers who plan to venture off-road would be wise to opt for Yamaha’s optional skid plate.

After riding the Super Ténéré for a while, it was difficult not to compare it to BMW’s R1200GS, another bike that I’ve spent time on and which I consider to be the benchmark for adventure bikes. Yamaha’s engineers obviously agree, and it’s my guess that part of their design criteria was to exceed the GS’s capabilities. Fundamentally, I think the new Yamaha has met that goal. The main and most appreciable difference between the two bikes is simple: they pursue different engine-design philosophies, which ultimately has a profound effect on a motorcycle’s handling. I found Yamaha’s parallel-twin design to be smooth, powerful and vibration-free, yet it still had a slightly raspy character. Not only does the Super Ténéré hold an advantage over the GS because of its tighter waistline, especially around the foot pegs, but also because it has better low-speed habits. Its crankshaft spins in the direction the bike is going, which is an important aid when balancing the machine at low speed; the BMW’s horizontally opposed engine lacks that inherent gyroscopic advantage.

A quick comparison of performance specs shows that the Yamaha claims their 1199 cc engine produces a maximum of 81 kW (108 hp) and 114 N-m (84 ft-lb) of torque. Although the GS’s boxer has a near-identical power rating, it edges out the Yamaha on torque by 6 N-m (5 ft-lb). Interestingly, both bikes reach their maximum torque at 6000 rpm. With a wet weight of 261 kg (574 lb.), the Yamaha is the heavier of the two; the additional weight is due in part to its larger 23 L fuel tank, and also to the use of liquid cooling, something the BMW doesn’t have.

The bike’s long, cast-aluminum swingarm houses the shaft drive and worked so well with the rear suspension that I would have sworn the bike used a chain drive; any adverse effect from its shaft drive certainly remained undetectable. Both the front and rear suspensions are fully adjustable and provide an ample 190 mm (7.5 in.) of wheel travel, which was something we only ran out of on a couple of occasions after landing from big air. The Super Ténéré’s frame is a steel backbone unit that uses the engine as a stressed member; its removable aluminum rear sub-frame is minimalist in design, but is said to be able to handle the stresses of off-road riding while carrying a heavy load.

I have mixed feelings about the new Yamaha’s reliance on electronics. If I rode a Super Ténéré around the world, which is exactly what I would want to do with one, I’d be very concerned if it needed troubleshooting in some remote spot, like, say, Siberia. However, the electronic features are also a definite asset. For example, the D-Mode variable throttle-control system allows riders to change the engine’s performance characteristics between two modes. Controlled by a button on the handlebar, you can either use the T (touring) option, which softens throttle response and effectively increases fuel economy, or S (sport) mode, which provides a more immediate throttle response. For general riding I preferred the touring setting, but appreciated the ability to liven up the engine’s response during hard riding.

Another electronic goodie is the three-setting traction control, which uses components of the bike’s ABS to monitor relative front and rear wheel speed. On wet or varying road surfaces, I left the TC in full control; it somewhat alleviated the fatigue from having to be constantly on top of your game when riding quickly over unfamiliar ground. The middle setting was less intrusive, and allowed more wheel spin, but for pure off-road riding, I preferred to shut it off completely and allow full power to reach the ground, even if it meant the rear wheel was free to spin wildly.

The brakes worked well in hauling down the Super Ténéré from speed, and features Yamaha’s Unified Braking System, which applies variable rear braking force when only the front brake is used. The system can be temporarily deactivated by quickly stabbing the rear brake pedal before grabbing the front brake lever. After taking some time to get used to the system’s operation, I added it to that checklist of valuable assets. The ABS (see sidebar) worked well and instilled a feeling of security everywhere, especially on some of the slicker trails. Regardless of your skill level, you would be hard-pressed to outperform ABS, regardless of the conditions.

Another innovative feature that I particularly liked was the gel-filled rubber inserts on the foot pegs. They isolated the soles of my boots from vibration when seated; however, they compressed to allow my boots to contact the serrated edge of the pegs when standing. It’s a simple yet effective solution that made riding the bike a more positive experience.

The stock Bridgestone Battle Wing tires, which are mounted on specially spoked wheels that allow the use of tubeless tires, worked well on paved roads. In the dirt, they performed as well as could be expected, offering enough traction to tackle firmly packed trails. However, our second test bike, fitted with a set of more off-road friendly Continental Twinduro TKC80 tires, inspired far more confidence. With the Continentals, the Yamaha tracked straighter and felt more planted on slippery surfaces. The 19-inch front wheel proved a satisfactory compromise between good road handling and dealing with the obstacles we encountered when off-road.

As with most new motorcycles, there are many accessories available for the Super Ténéré. We had a chance to try out Yamaha’s optional hard luggage system, and found it was nicely executed and looked the part, but $1,719 for a set of panniers and a top case seems a bit pricey when you add it to the machine’s $16,499 sticker price.

When comparing the Super Ténéré to other adventure-touring bikes, I would say it’s one of the best in the class. Only time and high-mileage riders will be able to answer every question regarding its reliability, but so far, the word has been positive from Europe, where it was introduced last fall. In terms of pure functionality, the Super Ténéré is ready for any length of ride – whether it’s across town or around the world. It has big lungs, can be ridden over all types of terrain, in all kinds of conditions, and handles Canada’s many straight stretches of boring, bumpy roads with aplomb. Comfortable, fun to ride and different, whether you’re the type of rider who just wants to buy into the GS image, or if you have a serious yearning for riding well past the end of the road, the 2012 Super Ténéré should be near the top of your dance card.

Yamaha ads show the Super T power-sliding in gravel with stock tires – yeah, that’s great, but what if you wanted to stop it really quickly? More and more modern motorcycles are coming equipped with lots of electronic goodies. The Super T, as an example, has a traction control system, selectable engine modes and combined brakes, which of course feature ABS.

Have you ridden a bike with ABS brakes? Many moto-journalists profess to be able to stop in shorter distances without ABS. While I agree that an expert rider on dry pavement might be able to stop more quickly in a controlled test when he is mentally and physically ready for it, most of us are not that rider and don’t ride in emergency braking mode at all times. When you’re lollygagging along in the rain thinking about other things and a deer suddenly darts out in front of you, ABS will always be the better system. A rider with little experience can grab a handful of lever and stomp on the rear brake pedal without fear of losing traction. Riders who preach otherwise are the types who fought power steering in cars and the use of electric starters in bikes.

When I took the BMW instructor’s training course, we were told to always disarm the ABS whenever riding the R1200GS off-road, something I thought any bike equipped with ABS should be able to do. And while you can shut off the Super T’s traction control system for off-road riding, there’s no such provision for its ABS. Apparently, Yamaha’s lawyers were more than concerned with what would happen if you forgot to turn it on again.

Even though I’m a proponent of ABS, I presumed that I would hate the Super T off-road. In deeper gravel or sand, ABS will not stop you as quickly as conventional brakes; sometimes the ability to lock up the rear wheel, especially when going down a steep gravel hill, is an advantage. Having said that, there are also times when conventional brakes will get you into trouble, like when the rear wheel – or, more dangerous, the front wheel – is sliding uncontrollably. Surprisingly, we discovered that with the Super T, it was neat to be able to grab the front brake while turning through loose surfaces. Normally, doing so would land us on our heads as the front wheel quickly loses traction and the bike drops to the ground. Instead, the Super T just scrubbed off speed and allowed us to maintain control by not allowing the wheel to lock. Heavy rear braking off-road kept the bike straight and still slowed us down, albeit not as quickly as with conventional brakes.

Between you and me, there is a way to disable the ABS on the Super T, but whatever you do, don’t tell Yamaha’s lawyers. Simply put the bike on its centre stand and let it run in second gear for about twenty seconds; the ABS system will automatically shut down. The downside is that it will reset itself whenever you shut the bike off.

Fitted with off-road friendly tires, I would take the Super T where most sane riders wouldn’t go, and I love the idea of a dual-sport that I can use to explore trails far from home without needing a trailer to get my bike there. Not being able to turn off the ABS on the fly is a negative for me; let’s hope Yamaha’s legal department has a change of heart for the 2013 version of the bike.


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