Yamaha Tenere XTZ660 ~ 5000-mile review

These are my impressions of the XT660Z Tenere after riding from London to Morocco and halfway back in November 2008. I’d only owned the bike a couple of weeks before I set off and happened to sell it a couple of weeks after I got back.

As a comparison, you may like the read a report on a BMW F650GS SE which I used for a similar Morocco trip from 2012. I make several comparisons with the XTZ.

For my detailed review of the Touratech Zega Flex panniers I used, click this.
For my detailed review of the Airoh TR1 helmet I wore, click this.
To read about my continuing experiment with tubeless tyres, click this.

 

Comfort
5k-comfAll things considered I found the seat OK for days of up to 300 miles or more when you simply sit on the thing for hours. On the dirt it’s not so relevant as you stop and move around more. I agree with some that the scoop/two level is a bad thing and a fully flat seat would be better, but it seems the back of the seat has to be raised to get over the cat which is over the back tyre. Because of this scoop you can’t slide back and move around to reduce the aches or crouch down easily behind the screen. I also found that pushed forward like this, my ankles point down too much to use the foot controls. If I could slide back, my feet would be more horizontal and line up with the foot brake, already adjusted as low as it can go. But you get used to it.
The foam I think is OK buy may have softened by now. I like the neat and quick way the seat comes off. I’ve never had a pillion on it long enough to get an opinion on the back’s comfort. Usually on these sorts of bikes it’s not so good.

I believe some sort of screen is essential for long range travels and it’s great that the new XTZ came with a good one fitted. Unfortunately for me at 6’ 1”/185cm, it’s still too low and buffets my head worse than if it wasn’t there. A q/d Touratech extension fixed that well enough. On the dirt I found it got in the way for good visibility, especially if a bit dirty, but I could quickly clip it on the side of the screen.

Even at my height (or perhaps because of my age…) I found the bike too high. Too high to get on and off easily, and too tall on the dirt. Of course this can be fixed by lowering the suspension of which there is more than enough. I do also wonder if the suspension is too firm from stock. I didn’t meddle enough with that, other than cranking up the back 2 or 4 clicks to take my luggage.

I can’t say it was any more vibey than any other big single I’ve had, and taking the bar end weights off at 500 miles to fit the Barkbusters didn’t make it any worse. As with all singles, I find some days at some speeds/temperature/load/fuel/whatever it vibrates a bit – and at other times at the same conditions it’s smooth. Is that called ‘character’? For a modern, water-cooled bike the engine does seem quite noisy. Maybe it’s just a big thumping single.

Economy
afriquiaI’ve never had such a variable results from a bike, but overall it’s very good and was getting better all the time – and about time too. For overlanding mpg is more important than mph. On previous Teneres I’ve once got up to 80+ mpg in ideal conditions (backwind @ 50mph) but generally under 60mpg was normal as I recall. My new XTZ has been averaging just under 72mpg or 25kpl for the last 10 fill ups.
The worst figure was an as-expected riding all day into a gale force dust storm headwind at around 50mph, result: 52mpg or 18.3kpl. The best was interestingly, a necessarily slow ride over the Atlas mountains one bend-swinging night which resulted in 86mpg or 30kpl: nice. For my full records, released under the Freedom of Fuel Consumption Information Act, see this.

Low quality fuel
fuellersOnce of twice I had to resort to leaded, low-octane fuel in Morocco (‘essence’) but didn’t notice any difference in performance. I imagine this is a benefit of having a low compression ratio. I’ve also read that after a spell of leaded fuel, the Tenere’s catalytic converter ‘self-cleans’ when running on unleaded again so technically no need to change the pipe to spare the cat, though you’d think several months on leaded would take some cleaning to return the cat to full low-emission efficiency. I never noticed any pinking or over-heating.

Oil and water consumption; drive chain
scrubIn 5000 miles no oil was used, apart from a few drips out of the engine crack when it fell over at 2mph. What was interesting was that the semi-synthetic Petronas they put in at the first service still has some good colour in it after 4500 miles; ie: it wasn’t black. Along with the 6000-mile service intervals, this would convert me to semi-synthetic, despite the price. I wonder if efi helps in this regard: clean emissions = clean oil for longer. Water consumption was zero and once or twice the fan came on, but only in conditions you’d expect it too.
I tried to keep on top of the chain with oiling but it still needed adjusting 3 or 4 times so it doesn’t seem to be as good as the best DIDs I’ve used in the past. There were still several 1000 miles left in it.

Performance
5k-rmeridIt doesn’t feel that much more powerful than previous big singles I’ve had, but on the trip I never felt I needed more. 35 58 Very rarely do I rev it over 4000 rpm. In my opinion a low-tuned, 600 single or twin is just the right size for loaded, all-roads travel and I’m happy to give up KTM levels of power for a long-lasting and fuel-efficient engine.

Inevitably I’m sure I’d have got round to tuning it a bit (while also trying to save weight), but only if the great mpg was not compromised.

The front brakes feel pretty ordinary to me and surely one good SM-style disc up here would be adequate and save a lot of sprung weight. Were Brembo doing a 2-for-1 deal? For a trail bike, the front wheel weighs a ton but it wouldn’t be hard to remove one disc screenerand carrier, put a block in that side’s caliper and see how it stops on one brake. Most probably the other caliper is designed to work as one of two small units and may get over-worked so it’d be best replaced with a larger, 4 piston unit. Is it worth it? Not really.
I have to say the flashy-looking twin bulb front headlight is not that brilliant in terms of spread, compared to less impressive-looking set ups on what I’ve run before.

From first impressions the suspension felt firm front and back which makes a nice change from older Teneres and would give good road manners. When I loaded up with 25kg of baggage I turned the the back up 2 full- or 4 half-clicks. Hard to tell exactly, but neither end never got near bottoming out on the piste. I wish I’d experimented more with backing off both ends on the dirt.
The front I left as it was, but one evening after a very rough rocky climb that punctured the front tyre and all the rest, to add to my woes the front forks collapsed. I could squash them right down. There were no leaks. I’ve never had this before on a bike and though an air or oil damping valve may have burst or a spring broken from the hammering – or possibly the fork oil had become aerated. But I wasn’t exactly ripping across corrugations at MX speeds in 35°C.
Next day I turned the fork up 5 turns (5 x 360°) to compensate but soon regretted it. The bike got even slower to turn on the dirt and on the road. In fact the forks self recovered and I wonder if I was making it all up as the shit had hit the fan at that stage and some of it may have lodged in my brain. Anyway, fork was back to normal next day. i suspect aeration or hallucination.

Road riding
Generally on the road I sit at an indicated 60mph or so – not so fast. At this speed riding is less tiring and unsafe, and economy is good. With the screen extension this could be sustained all day with only the usual discomfort.
Many road testers used to brilliant GSXR’s and the like don’t get on with the handling of 21”-wheeled trail bikes and in response many manufacturers chose 19” fronts for their bigger adventure bikes. They have a point: a 21”shod bike never feels stable in the bends and adding a semi-knobbly tyre doesn’t help matters. FWIW, I felt the bike handled pretty well on the TKCs I ran. On the highway they didn’t feel any worse than the original Tourance’s used for running in, though I don’t exactly throw the XT around like a super moto.
Loaded up, I found the bike was sometimes hard to turn on tight bends and hairpins, both on or off road, as if the front was raked out too much or the weight was too high. Short of getting your weight over the front end, MX-style, the usual way to tune this out is to soften the front- or jack up the back end. I don’t recall having this impression on previous bikes like this; they’re usually too softly sprung. So it may be the higher than average CoG (centre of gravity) not helped by the cats stuck way high out the back, along with my high luggage set up, and the firm suspension. If I’d kept the bike I’d have experimented with softening the springs and even lowering the bike (and possibly getting rid of the heavy twin cats for a lighter pipe).
To be fair, some of the roads and tracks in Morocco are very narrow and very tight, with thought-provoking drops. Even some tarmac mountain back roads have strips of gravel down the middle from uncleared landslides where any bike would struggle to progress smoothly.

Cross winds
One early owner’s impression I read said how great the bike was in high winds. Head winds maybe, but coming back over the edge of the Pyrenees from Barcelona towards Perpignan there were very violent gusts coming from the west and I don’t recall ever feeling so unsafe on a bike and being on the verge of crashing. All the other road users were giving me a wide berth as I tried to predict the gusts and control the wildly bucking bike from running over the hard shoulder and off the edge.
It may have been the same for all bikes that day, but keeping down to 50mph, a 600cc UJM passed me without too much drama. Again I feel my high baggage set up would not have helped, but do wonder if the a high CoG is partly to blame. We are talking about exceptionally strong gusts here but I must have ridden in those sorts of conditions before and not noticed.

Off road riding
Off roading in Morocco is mostly on rocky or gravel tracks and of course the TKCs made this much more predictable and therefore easier and safer. The good thing with semi-knobbly road tyres like these is that you can keep the pressure high to avoid rock punctures while still benefiting from the aggressive tread pattern on loose surfaces. The idea of riding the trails on the OE Tourances doesn’t bear thinking about.
I’ve never had a Jap trail bike with too firm suspension and I think I was a bit slow to recognise this. Although I take it fairly easy riding alone on the piste, the bike didn’t really respond to off-roading well enough to give confidence to ride it towards the limits – and with all that weight that can’t be that far off. Maybe just as well.
Not surprisingly I found the handlebars were too low when standing up off road, causing me to crouch unsustainably. Most bikes are like this at my height and handlebar raisers would have easily fixed it.
I also found the gearing too high for slow off-roading – again, as expected. I’m not sure what the standard gearing is, but the bike does 8mph at the 1500rpm tick over speed which was too fast for some steep hairpins or loose descents. With a heavy load, the clutch would have got hot from slipping on the hairpins but the only time this happened – a bit of slack at the lever – was when the front mudguard jammed with mud for a couple of kilometres passing south of Jebel Sirwa.

Loading
5k-wideAlong with the economy and low-stressed engine, the seriously strong subframe is one of the best things about the XTZ. It has to be twice as thick and much stiffer than the steel straws which held up the back of my XR650L or indeed previous Teneres I’ve owned. This is one part of the bike I don’t mind being over weight.

Adding the simple, functional and tough Off The Road rack only made this better and is all the metalwork you need to pile it up with the heaviest alu boxes.

Equipment
5k-dashbarsI like the near eye-level dashboard and digi speedo, even if it is a bit basic. I would have liked an oil or water temp gauge. I didn’t discover till I got back that the Yam handbook and not the bike is at fault about changing from mph to kph. Click this for how to make this very useful feature work (as well as all the 660 chat that’s fit to print). I wired up my own 12 volt PTO plug directly from the battery onto the handlebars for the GPS, etc.
Everyone complains how way out (pessimistic) the fuel gauge is but at least it’s consistent! Once you get used to this you’ll know that if it re-zeros itself at around say 230 miles, you’re doing a good 70mpg and have at least 100 miles left in the tank. The tank is plastic by the way and so notably warm on the leg.
Checked against a GPS over 100 miles I found the odometre (distance recorder) to be accurate to within 1%. This means that the mpg readings are also virtually true.
The same cannot be said for the speedo which, at an indicated 70mph = 64mph true = 8.5% over. According to the speedo then, the bikes feels faster than it is.

Durability
5k-palmIf you think about it, it’s asking a lot to take an untried bike just 500 miles old out for a 4500-mile off-road hammering with no preparation to speak of and to expect nothing to break. Nothing did and to this end I feel the Yam is well screwed together. The only things that came loose and fell out were a couple of screws holding on the screen, but this was almost certainly due to the extra leverage put on them by the TTech screen extension.
Obviously I could have done with engine bars or a proper bash plate, as would any bike of this kind (they’re available for the XTZ now, but weren’t then in a hurry). The tank/radiator protectors are a nice touch and of course the barkbusters are a no-brainer to the mods list.

So, I still like everything I liked at 500 miles. Not so keen that it’s higher than it needs to be – but it can be easily lowered. Plus it feels heavy for what it is – a CoG not helped with my high luggage set up, but that usually comes with the territory.

Bikes like this will always be a compromise but for the Morocco job, when you think of the cost of the machine and the minimal ‘front garden’ levels of preparation required, the XTZ offers an ideal balance of continent-crossing comfort with adequate fully loaded off-road ability. Just like it always did in fact, only more so.

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28 Responses to Yamaha Tenere XTZ660 ~ 5000-mile review

  1. Prof. Vagabond says:

    Chris, Thanks for the informative review.

    I’m looking for your opinion of a bike that will fit a 5’7″ person with all the favorable characteristics you seek in a dual sport bike.

    Thanks
    Pro_Vagabond

    • Chris S says:

      I think that bike could be an F650GS twin (or the new 700).
      Very nice all round machine that was, and the (terrible) seat was notably low. Aside from light weight, lowness (or getting feat down) is the key to off road manageability and confidence, in my opinion.
      I’ve yet to have a spin on a Honda CB500X, but that could also be a contender if the seat is in the ballpark.
      C

  2. Thanx for making me sure and firm for the XT660Z as compared to the KLR. Currently am doing rides around India on my modified Enfield Lightning535, rugged and decent performance.

  3. Oscar says:

    Thanks for brilliant info !!
    We were 4 on KLR’s touring from Cape Town to Uganda and back during 2012/13 – up the West coast and down East (15,500km’s over 41 days). Was a magic bike giving from 18.5km/l to 31km/l – latter was through Ruanda where limit is mostly 80km/h with lots of speed cameras. Avi was about 24km/l.

    Open Road touring was not comfortable over 115km/h fully loaded – to be expected I guess. Your reviews is in agreement with others that the Tenere can comfortably tour at higher speeds. I might make a change at some point.

    Just enjoy the KLR’s simplicity and fact that they are so well known throughout Africa.

    Happy travelling !!!!

    Oscar

  4. John says:

    Great write-up, and comments etc..Love my black 2011 XTZ660..Agree with everything you said. Hoping to ride East a few thousand miles and this article has strengthened my resolve. Just hoping the back injury won’t flare up. Sleeping in small tent etc.
    Quickly sold my 2008 KLR for the more pricey Yamaha. Well worth it. A much better bike that is built to last. I usually fit a second/extra brake light (LED) on all my bikes, for added safety. This is easily done and reassures me that i remain visible from behind, even if rear luggage partly obscures stock tail-light. (Wolfman duffel bag on rear rack).
    Thanks again for your high standard review.
    Greetings from John, Margaret River, also in WA, Australia.

  5. Sebastian says:

    There’s something wrong with your mpg / kpl conversions. For instance 72 mpg is 30 kpl, not 25 as you state. Just saying.

  6. todd pike says:

    chris,

    great review. unfortunately, for some reason, the middle weight Tene is not available in my neck of the woods (read: USA) but am looking at coming to Europa next year and this bike is on my short list as well. thanks for all the info. Right now I’m riding the “Mini Tenere” (WR250R) which has exceeded my expectations. Obviously a smaller dually but has handled me (170lbs and my gear (Giant Loop with ~30lbs) easily over all types of terrain from tarmac to dirt to ridiculously rocky.

    Used to own a KLR…would like to know what your thoughts are on how the Tene compares to that fine machine, which always seemed just slightly underpowered to me at 49hp.

    Thanks again for the review. Would love to hear from you on the above comparison.
    Cheers,
    TP

    • Chris S says:

      Hi Todd, my only experience with a KLR was riding one around for a couple of weeks in 2001 – a lot of mud and sweat following tracks up in BC and Yukon until they gave out. The KLR is to North America what the Tenere is in Europe – a well loved travel bike, and from that era I can’t really separate them. The new XTZ is efi of course – you do wonder if it’s ever going to happen to the KLR/DR/XRL? Efi on a big single is a great step forward, in my opinion. All the rest: comfort, screen, suspension, equipment levels is either OK or easily improved. and if you can lose some weight on the 660 (like the pipes) then so much the better.

  7. Bob McC says:

    Enjoyed your review. I’ve owned a 2011 one for a year now, useful quick mods…… 14T front sprocket (puts the speedo out a bit), lowering kit (I’m 6′ but this bike’s top heavy off road), higher bars for improved standing/riding, decent Ali sump guard and a taller screen. I’m running T60 scouts for first time they are great tyres and suit the Tenere.

    It does feel a bit top heavy even for someone used to this kind of bike but after a lifetime of DT, XT, KL, KLR’s and BMW GS, (and few crossers) I have to say I like the Tenere, it’s what this kind of bike’s about.

  8. Wy'east says:

    Considering picking one of these up. Enjoyed the review and BTW thanks for making my review of AMH6 the first one in the list – “prescient guy”… Ha!

  9. roland says:

    great review I agree about the seat and will get mine chopped by my local guy ,also the exhaust I would like a single but like the quiet..

  10. Mike says:

    Congratulations on a great review. Makes for very good reading and a fair appraisal. Just a thought as regards height; I’m 6’3″ and on previous bikes I have tended to feel somewhat exposed and perched on top of the machines with a slight sense that my bike belongs to someone else. The height of the XTZ does feel much more homely to ride for me. I don’t know whether this is a matter of personal preference or the couple of inches extra height makes a difference. None-the-less, its worth trying the bike as standard before making the lowering mod, particularly if your tall. Also, I have heard talk that lowering can adversly effect handling.

  11. densten says:

    My impressions re. the Ten vary quite a bit, even though I’m sticking with it. Reluctantly.

  12. al says:

    thanks for a very informative article. i’m 6’2” and about 19stone, so am needing some motive power to get me around, comfortable, even local trips. this bike certainly is going onto the shortlist…

  13. Stewart Kilmartin says:

    Hi there, I brought the 2011 tenere in london last year. I rode through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and northern India up in the mountains at 5600 metres and loved the bike.
    It handled the rough tracks in India which were very very rocky,
    Would have been good for some longer legs for travelling 6000km across Iran though. The best km I got was 550 per tank.

    Regards Stewart WA Australia

  14. Chris Scott says:

    Chris. I enjoyed reading this travel account and bike review. I rode a 2010 XT660Z Ten in Crete in August 2012 and was very pleasantly surprised after ignoring it for 4 years or so in favour of alternatives – GS 800, KTM 990 Adv and Triumph 800 XC. Just shows how misleading peak performance ratings can be! My intended use is mainly road but I grew up with a Honda XL250 in the late 70′s/ early 80′s and this style of machine will always be my choice, whatever the surface is going to be. I’ll watch out for more from you. Regards. Chris Scott (no kidding!)

    • Chris S says:

      Hi Chris, I’m from your era too – we had some great bikes then, or at least we knew no better. Like you say it’s not about power, it’s about what you can use – certainly for overlanding rather than rec biking.

      Ch

    • Tim says:

      Hi Chris, I’m weighing up a Tenere or Tiger 800xc. What do you see as the advantages of the Tenere over the Tiger?

      • Chris S says:

        Hi Tim, besides deciding which one you think looks best and the price, to me the main difference comes down to weight and fuel consumption. On a long ride including dirt roads, it makes a difference; the differnce between ‘shall I or shan’t I [take that dirt fork]. The Triumphs have a fantastic engine but they’re not tuned for economy and many Triumphs seem to be top heavy. If you’re tall and burly that may not matter so much, and like so many of these adventure bikes, the XC makes a great road bike in a way a Tenere could never be. But in the real world of overland travel, loaded down with baggage and a long ride ahead on a crap road or track, lighter is always better. Tyres of course make all the difference, but an XC will shred something like a TKC in short order.

  15. Simon Barnes says:

    Just found your article – Very interesting. I test rode one of these last w/e – will look to buy one later this year. Best regards, Simon Barnes (Desert Rider 2008).

  16. denis says:

    Hi,

    I’m moving to Laos in a few months’ time: bad bad roads, dusty or muddy, no official dealer, just road-side mechanics.

    And I was thinking of the Tenere. Any idea why not?

    Denis

    • Chris S says:

      I’ve never been to Laos but from what I know of the country I would have thought you would be better off buying what the locals ride and what local shops support – probably a Chinese 125 or 250? Less tiring to handle on the rough tracks I imagine. Goggle plenty of ideas there.

      A Tenere is rather a tall, heavy and powerful bike for just getting round Laos, unless of course you are riding it all the way there.

    • Jack says:

      HI. for mud dy road tennere is to heavy, think better obout something lighter or proper off road bike

  17. Joe van Wyk says:

    Thanks Chris. A great introduction to what I can expect for my 2015 London to Cape Town trip. Drew, I really enjoy my Tenere. A bike well worth considering if you want to do transcontinental trips.

  18. Drew McPike says:

    Hello I am seriously considering this bike …Great test Thanks Drew Perth Australia

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