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Common Tread

2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700 first ride review

Jun 09, 2020

About. Damn. Time.

Yamaha introduced the world to the T7 Concept in 2016. They announced a production Ténéré 700 in 2018. European markets got the bike in early 2019. And here it is June of 2020, and the bike is finally ready for American riders. If I didn’t know better, I’d say maybe Yamaha planned this release perfectly as a small shining light in what is proving to be one hell of a “interesting” year thus far.

At this point you might be thinking, “But Spurg, I’ve already read all of those European reviews, why should I even bother reading further?”

Because, boys and girls, while those Europeans have great wines and cheeses, what they don’t have is 235 pounds of pure American beefcake willing to launch this bike sky high and crash it hard to see how it can live up to our stateside ADV abuse.

So cue up the Allman Brothers Band, because for this launch we’re heading deep into the mountains of northern Georgia to see if the long wait for the Ténéré 700 has been worth it.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The Ténéré 700 is available in three different colors: Ceramic Ice, Matte Black, and Intensity White. Photo by Kevin Wing.

The Yamaha Ténéré 700

At the heart of the Ténéré 700 is Yamaha’s loveable 692 cc cross-plane parallel-twin engine that first showed up in the FZ-07 (later to be redubbed the MT-07 to match with the worldwide naming conventions). I first experienced this engine at the XSR700 press launch and was immediately smitten. I like it even better in this configuration.

For the Ténéré 700 the CP2 engine gets a revised airbox, exhaust, and ECU. While the effect on the overall power output is negligible, the shorter final gearing ratio of 46/15 gives the bike a snappier feel and allows you to lug this thing insanely low. It’s virtually impossible to stall. By comparison, a MT-07 features a 43/16 final gear ratio. While Yamaha America made no claims to overall power output, its European counterpart says to expect 72 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 50 foot-pounds of torque at 6,600 rpm.

Yamaha Tenere 700
The 692 cc parallel-twin engine is friendly enough for beginners while providing plenty of spice for experienced riders. Photo by Kevin Wing.

A quick note on service intervals for the engine: After the first service (mainly oil and filter) at 600 miles, you’ll have very little maintenance to worry about. Change the oil every 6,000 miles, oil filter every 12,000 miles (although for the cost I’d probably just change it every 6,000 miles, as well), and check the valves every 25,000 miles. Now those are just your main considerations. Obviously there are wear items like brake pads, the air filter (conveniently located under the seat), bearings, and the chain and sprocket which will require periodic checks, but overall this is going to be an easy bike to take care of.

Yamaha Tenere 700
Much like the rest of the bike, the Ténéré's dash is void of any unnecessary frills. Photo by Kevin Wing.

There are no electronic aids to hamper that power if you get too heavy handed with your right fist. No throttle-by-wire rider modes, traction control, or lean-angle-sensing IMUs to inhibit your ride. You get two cables off the throttle controlling two throttle bodies and a plane-jane LCD dash that has a tachometer rolling up the outer left side to let you know when you’re approaching the rev-limiter, which kicks in right around 10,000 rpm.

You do get ABS to help you slow things down on the street and a button to turn it off completely when you’re riding off-road. Please note: “turn it off completely.” Unlike other large ADV bikes on the market, there is no “off-road ABS” option to disable ABS at the rear wheel while leaving it active in limited form at the front wheel. Yamaha wanted to offer a completely stripped down ADV bike without the electronic “complications” that take up so much real estate on the dash and controls of other bikes on the market.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
You can raise and lower the front fender to accommodate taller knobby tires and keep it from getting packed with mud. Photo by Kevin Wing.

At the front wheel, the Ténéré 700 is equipped with twin, two-piston, Brembo calipers clamping down on dual, 282 mm rotors. At the rear wheel it’s a single-piston Brembo caliper paired with a 245 mm disc. Rubber brake lines connect the calipers to the controls, at your right hand a five-position adjustable brake lever and at the right foot a height-adjustable, off-road-oriented folding brake pedal.

The suspension is a KYB unit front and rear. The fork diameter is 43 mm with 210 mm (8.27 inches) of travel. There is an adjuster for compression and rebound in each fork leg. The adjuster’s location is flipped from what I’m used to with the rebound adjuster at the top of the fork cap and the compression adjuster at the bottom of each of the fork legs.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The suspension offers an impressively wide range of adjustability. Photo by Kevin Wing.

The rear piggyback shock has 200 mm (7.87 inches) of travel and features a lower linkage mount. It features a remote preload adjuster, as well as adjustment for compression and rebound damping. When we get to the riding section, you'll see I took advantage of the adjustability.

It features off-road-focused 21-inch and 18-inch wheels. The stock tires are tube-type Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR, a 90/90-21 up front and a 150/70-18 at the rear. I would call these a 70/30 tire with the “70” referring to their street bias. That being said, I was impressed with how planted they felt on the street while also offering up a surprising amount of grip off-road.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The Matte Black and HiViz Yellow was my favorite color option. Photo by Kevin Wing.

The entire package comes together with an all new perimeter steel frame. Compared to the MT-07 frame, this new design features lower frame rails for added support and protection for the engine. They are, however, removable to aid in the ease of engine maintenance.

For added rigidity, the steering head is double braced to handle regular off-road use. The rear sub-frame is welded on, thus not removable, but the passenger pegs can be pulled off with just two bolts. Yamaha is claiming a relatively even weight distribution of 48 percent front and 52 percent of the load on the rear. A load that Yamaha is claiming to be 452 pounds when the 4.2-gallon fuel tank is full of gas.

If that number is accurate, it would make the Ténéré 700 one of the lightest ADV bikes on the market. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that would be lighter is the Honda CB500X, which claims a fully fueled weight of 434 pounds.

Yamaha Tenere 700
Yamaha made an impressive effort to make the Ténéré 700 inviting to a wide range of inseams. Photo by Kevin Wing.

It is also one of the most amenable when it comes to accommodating riders of varying inseams. While the stock seat height of 34.6 inches might intimidate shorter riders, Yamaha offers a one-piece factory low seat which reduces the seat height by 18 mm (0.7 inches). If that’s not low enough there is a factory lowering link (if you opt for the lowering link Yamaha recommends lowering the fork tubes 22mm in the tree) for the rear shock that reduces the seat height by an additional 20 mm (0.78 inches) for a total reduction of 38 mm (1.5 inches).

For taller riders like myself at six feet, three inches, the taller rally seat is a must. It raises the overall seat height by 1.6 inches but is, in my opinion, more comfortable and it makes the bike easier to ride off-road as it feels a bit narrower than stock, allowing me to move around more easily.

Now, speaking of riding…

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
Riding the Ténéré 700 on the street. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Riding the Ténéré 700 on the street

We kicked off our ride with an early morning sport-touring jaunt through the mountains that line the Tennessee and Georgia border. From our cabins in the border town of Copperhill, Tennessee we rode south into the Chattahoochee National Forest. When I used to live in Nashville, I made monthly trips to ride in this area as they have some of the best sport roads in the country.

The Ténéré 700 ate these roads up. The little P-twin is grunty and strong down low but will wind up with ease. With its shorter gearing it seems to spin up quicker than what I remember from the XSR700 launch. I preferred running third gear long, keeping the engine spinning right in the heart of the power band, around 6,000 rpm. There was a little vibration in the handlebars and footpegs in the higher end of the rev range but nothing that was distracting enough to wear on you over time.

The bike's weight and neutral handling made turn-in predictable and balanced. Look where you want to go, apply a little nudge to the handle bar, lean in and enjoy the ride. I was surprised by how composed and confidence-inspiring the Pirelli tires were as the pace picked up.

Yamaha Tenere 700 First Ride Review
At six-feet, three-inches, I preferred the taller Rally seat. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The stock seat feels very low compared to other ADV bikes out there. I felt like I was sitting down in the bike as opposed to up on top of it. I would resolve this later in the day by switching to the taller Rally seat option.

The bike itself feels significantly smaller and more compact than other adventure bikes on the market, like an MT-07 touring bike (as one would expect). But I mean that in the best possible way. As a big guy I’m sure there will be at least one comment about how I make this bike look small in the photos (hell, I make my KTM 1090 look small), but I really like smaller middleweights (regardless of how I look on them) and I think this is the perfect size for street touring.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
Making motorcycles look tiny since 2005. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Throttle response was crisp and predictable. I found no flat spots or issues that plague other manufacturers as they try to comply with Euro 5 emissions requirements. I could see myself really wanting cruise control for highway touring as I’ve really come to enjoy this feature, but that would require a throttle by wire system which can sacrifice feel and drive up overall cost.

The brakes have a very progressive feel. I had the lever kicked all the way out to “5,” the furthest setting from the handlebar, and it still nearly came back against my knuckles (two-finger braking) by the time the grip was really kicking in. From what Yamaha reps told us, they were looking to strike a balance between bite on the street and forgiveness off-road, should you grab too much front brake. I found the little Brembos suited this bike just fine on the street once I got used to where they start to bite in relation to the lever throw.

For this first part of the day, the suspension was set to its stock settings. It was comfortable yet sporty. Perhaps a little soft, but overall I found it to be surprisingly compliant as we wound our way through these southern mountains. I was expecting much more fork dive from the long-travel front end. That came as soon as we got off-road.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
Riding the Ténéré 700 in the dirt. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Riding the Ténéré 700 off-road

As the street portion of the ride shifted to gravel roads, which eventually became dirt roads and the dirt roads got rockier, the suspension began to show its limitations, bouncing over rocks and ruts with the skid plate constantly “pinging” as I bottomed the suspension out. I also had trouble getting any feel out of the rear brake and moving around on the bike. I just felt stuck in one position.

At the first stop, Noah, our ride leader (an incredibly fast and friendly rider who knew these bikes inside and out), helped walk me through adjusting the suspension and rear brake pedal. For the front fork, the stock setting for rebound damping was 17 clicks out (measured by turning out from all the way in to the firmest setting) and compression was 11 clicks out. For my weight, 235 pounds with gear, Noah set both compression and rebound at seven clicks out.

The rear shock’s stock settings were 14 clicks of preload, 13 clicks out for rebound damping, and 15 clicks out for compression damping. He bumped me to 20 clicks of preload and again seven clicks out for both compression and rebound damping. We also raised the rear brake pedal and swapped the stock seat to the taller Rally seat.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The combination of low gearing, a snappy engine, and lightweight design makes the Ténéré 700 a woot to ride off-road. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

I was really impressed with the suspension’s transformation. It was like a completely different bike. As we hit a rocky section of water bars, I was chasing Noah, trying to keep up, and we were just launching these bikes over the water bars and wheelying over rocks. I was still able to bottom out the suspension on some of the larger jumps, but even then the damping maintained the bike’s overall stability and balance.

I think folks, especially larger ones, who want to use the Ténéré 700 more aggressively off-road will want to source some suspension upgrades. But I think 90 percent of the riders out there could easily ride this bike all day long with the stock suspension, on-road or off, and be perfectly happy with it.

The taller seat felt narrower than the stock offering and I was more comfortable seated, as well as standing. This was a real game changer and I would recommend it for anyone looking to take this bike off-road (or the one-piece low seat for you shorter riders).

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The Ténéré 700 was wider than I expected, making it a bit more difficult to move around on the bike while riding off-road. Photo by Kevin Wing.

That being said, I still feel that the Ténéré 700 is wider than I was expecting. When riding off-road you spend a lot of time standing and shifting your body position forward and backwards on the bike using the weight of your body as a counterbalance to the weight of the bike. I had a hard time easily shifting forward on the bike because of the width of the tank. And I had a hard time shifting back because of the width of the rear side covers and body structure. Overall, I was expecting it to feel slimmer than it does. The Rally seat helps with this, but doesn’t completely solve it.

I continued to struggle with the rear brake throughout the remainder of the day. I adjusted it a second time, bringing the pedal higher again, but I just found it hard to get a good feel out of the rear brake alone. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything out of it before it locks up, which is fun for sliding the rear end, but not ideal for low-speed control situations.

At the end of the day, I found that using a controlled amount of rear and front brake together yielded the best results. I was able to ride quicker into the corner, get slowed down fast, and then back on the gas. The progressive front brake feel was really ideal in these situations.

Keep in mind that without a sophisticated electronic “off-road” ABS setting, your options for ABS on the Ténéré 700 are either fully on or fully off. With ABS turned off for the dirt, a stronger front brake, with more initial bite, would be easier to lock up in a panic grab, especially for ADV riders new to the off-road thang. And this bike is clearly gunning to introduce some new riders to the ADV market.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The Ténéré 700 felt very comfortable in all of the varying terrain we rode through. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The Ténéré 700’s low weight and varying seat heights make it extremely approachable and much easier to ride off-road than a lot of the other bikes in the ADV segment. It’s very controlled and balanced. I had a few high-speed missteps which, had they happened on larger, heavier ADV bikes, would have had me hugging a tree.

The Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires that impressed me on the street were also better than I was expecting off-road, providing enough bite to have some real fun. For those of you looking to tear up a fire road or an old Jeep trail, they will fare quite well. However, if you're getting into some looser terrain, like mud or the sandy areas of the Pine Barrens where I normally ride, you’ll want more bite than these provide, especially up front.

This is where I tell you I ended up laying the Ténéré 700 down not once, but twice. Both times because I lost the front end, first in a loose sandy section, the second time in a slick, muddy section. In both instances, the only real damage to the bike was the handlebar.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The front tire showed its limitations in the loose terrain and mud. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Much like I’ve experienced before with WR 250 handlebars, these stock bars from Yamaha bend a bit easier than the handlebars I’ve had from other manufacturers. One of the first upgrades I’d make would be a set of beefier Pro Taper handlebars and some handguards that don’t flex up out of the way.

The only other modification I would have really liked were wider, rally-style footpegs. I’m used to the crazy huge KTM Rally pegs on my 1090 and I really want to test those to see if they’d fit on the Ténéré 700. I think it would drastically improve grip and leverage. I’m betting they’d also help to make the bike feel a bit narrower. Something for Yamaha to consider for their accessory catalog.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The aluminum skid plate is standard equipment and handled the day's abuse much better than I thought it would. Photo by Kevin Wing.

The skid plate fared much better than I was expecting. I was smashing it against rocks while landing jumps. I was surprised to find it intact after a few bigger ones. I’m sure given the right amount of time, I can find a way to destroy this one, and when that happens I’d replace it with something a bit beefier, but for the money, the Ténéré 700 is impressively equipped.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
A lot riders are going to enjoy this bike. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Price and Competition

If the Yamaha Ténéré 700 had come out four years ago when it was first teased, this would be a completely different section. With an MSRP of $9,999, 70-ish horsepower, and claimed wet weight under 460 pounds, it would have given the competition a real run for their money.

In 2016, Triumph and BMW were still touting their Tiger 800 and BMW F 800 GS platforms, Honda had just released the Africa Twin, and the KTM 1090 Adventure R (let alone the 790 Adventure R) didn’t exist yet. The Ténéré 700 would have been the bike to beat in this bunch.

But in 2020 we now have the BMW F 850 GS ($13,195 starting), Triumph Tiger 900 Rally ($15,000 starting), KTM 790 Adventure R ($13,699), and a forthcoming Honda Africa Twin 1100 ($14,399 starting). While these all offer a vast array of improvements over their predecessors, they also feature much higher price tags than the Ténéré 700.

Now you could also argue that those bikes completely outgun the Yamaha when it comes to technology, horsepower, and torque, and you’d be right. But the Yamaha is aimed at people who don’t want to spend $15K on an adventure bike and who actually prefer something a bit more basic and stripped down.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
If this bike had been released four years ago, it would have dominated the segment. Photo by Kevin Wing.

In that sense, the Yamaha is probably closer in competition with Honda’s CB500X ($6,999) which was released in 2019. The Ténéré may also be the bike to consider for all of those people asking for an updated, larger displacement version of the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ($5,799). That being said, the Ténéré 700 is so much more powerful and more capable off-road than any of these bikes that in the end they're really not comparable.

In fact, the only bike that comes to mind as a direct competitor would be Suzuki’s V-Strom 650XT ($9,299). But the Yamaha is lighter, has a better suspension, better brakes with switchable ABS, and as a complete package the Ténéré 700 far exceeds the WeeStrom’s off-road chops. If you are looking to stick to the asphalt and want some level of traction control, then the Suzuki might be the better bargain.

At the end of the day, Yamaha provides a lightweight option that is more capable than the cheaper Honda and Kawasaki and less complex and expensive than the BMW, Triumph, KTM and Honda.

Yamaha Tenere 700 Review
The Yamaha Ténéré 700 offers a big bang considering for the number of bucks required. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Conclusion

The Ténéré 700 surprised me. I’ve just come off of building a 790 Adventure R Rally that was everything I could have wanted in an adventure bike. It also cost more than two brand new Yamaha Ténéré 700s.

I think the Ténéré 700 is going to be the solution that a lot of folks have been looking for. A stripped-down, simple, lightweight adventure bike that is fun and sporting to ride on the street, that can be loaded down with luggage for long-distance touring, and is also easily ridden off-road for an average rider (or a more experienced one) to enjoy in the dirt. All for a price that is more attainable to a wider audience.

And if you’ve got some Allman Brothers cued up on your com system to listen to while riding one around the hills of Georgia? Well, there’s not too much in the world better than that.

2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700
Price (MSRP) $9,999
Engine 689 cc liquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke; eight valves
Transmission,
final drive
Six-speed, chain
Claimed horsepower 72 @ 8,000 rpm 
Claimed torque 50 foot-pounds @ 6,600 rpm
Frame Perimeter Steel 
Front suspension KYB 43 mm fork, adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 8.3 inches of travel
Rear suspension KYB shock adjustable for spring preload (w/remote adjuster), compression, and rebound damping; 7.9 inches of travel
Front brake Brembo twin-piston floating calipers, 282 mm dual front discs with switchable ABS
Rear brake Brembo single-piston caliper, 245 mm disc with switchable ABS
Rake, trail 27.0 degrees, 4.1 inches
Wheelbase 62.8 inches
Seat height 34.4 inches
Fuel capacity 4.2 gallons
Tires Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 90/90R21 front, 150/70R18 rear
Claimed weight 452 pounds  
Available Now
Warranty 12 months
More info yamahamotorsports.com