February 04, 2022
By David Draper
The modern motorcycle market is a crowded one, and the usual suspects offer a range of models in every category, from café racers to adventure-bike workhorses to dual-sport whips. Throw in a few Johnny-come-lately manufacturers and a host of custom builders and it’s enough to spin the heads of experienced riders, let alone new guys searching for a reliable, accessible first ride. That’s where I was earlier this year when I was looking to get back into the saddle after many years away from the moto world.
Not surprisingly, the KLR dominated my research, whether it was discussions with friends in the know, sweaty-fingered flips through moto magazines, or deep dives into the far recesses of online message boards and blogs. But there was also one word that kept popping up in whispered, reverential tones: Ténéré.
Experienced riders know the Ténéré as Yamaha’s mold-breaking entry into the adventure motorcycle category, long before the classic enduro styling got dumbed-down (or maybe gussied up) to its current three-letter acronym: ADV. The name Ténéré—alternatively defined as a Tuareg term for “desert” or “solitude”—was first used by Yamaha in the early 1980s on bikes purpose-built to take on the infamous Dakar Rally. Desert solitude was apropos, considering later versions of Yamaha’s Ténéré series pulled away from the pack on its way from Paris to Dakar to win an impressive number of races in the ’90s, not to mention a host of other adventure rallies over the past 40 years.
In more modern times, anyone in the United States who wanted to experience the Ténéré’s legendary status had to upgrade to Yamaha’s Super Ténéré, which in its recent iteration is a more-than-capable around-the-world ride with a 1200cc parallel twin powerhouse. Undoubtedly, it’s a great bike, but it’s one I deemed a little too big as an entry into the ADV world for a guy who hasn’t ridden in more than decade. Lucky for me, in 2021 Yamaha introduced the Ténéré 700, a new bike to compete in the middleweight division.
Yamaha executives would probably flinch if I used the words “entry level” to describe the Ténéré 700, but that exactly describes my initial impression. But don’t take “entry level” to mean it’s not capable. Indeed, the Ténéré delivers a straightforward ADV-bike design in a size and package that isn’t intimidating to a new rider, but still carries enough of its rally heritage to put smiles behind the faceshields worn by more experienced racers. With requisite panniers in place, it gives off the kind of vibes that make me want to throw a leg over and light out for parts unknown.
And speaking of throwing a leg over, it’s worth noting the Ténéré 700 has a user-adjustable ride height via optional seats. The test bike I mounted had a high seat in place, and it was a bit tall, requiring a tip-toe stance to prevent pinching a nut. Once refitted with the original, standard-height saddle, the Ténéré 700 was a perfect fit for my six-foot frame and 32-inch inseam. A low seat is also available, which reduces the ride height by about 1.5 inches. The windscreen appears diminutive, but offered me adequate protection without buffering. The footpegs are solid and well sized and come with rubber inserts that are easily removed to access the more aggressive metal teeth in slippery riding conditions. An upright LCD screen looks less like a traditional display unit and more like an e-reader, but it delivers just enough info without being confusing.
Firing up the 689cc parallel-twin engine creates a pleasant rumble that reminds you the Ténéré 700 is more than capable of what you need to get out of it in most situations. Riding out of the parking lot and accelerating onto a busy freeway, I goosed it a bit to merge into traffic. The transition through the first three gears was smooth, without an overabundance of torque. Higher up in the gearing, there was still plenty of response at Interstate speeds when passing slower moving vehicles. After spending the spring riding a five-speed bike, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sixth gear that allowed the Ténéré to cruise along nicely with the BMWs, Ducatis, and V-Stroms that carried my riding partners.
My two-day test ride took me through the Black Hills of South Dakota, with the requisite stop to see Mt. Rushmore before heading onto the Needles Highway. Unfortunately, slow-moving traffic kept me from really getting into the lean on the curving roads. The few instances I could get into the groove and attack the turns, the responsive throttle gave me confidence (perhaps unwarranted), while the combination of dual disc brakes, ABS system (which is selectable for off-pavement riding), and Pirelli Scorpion tires kept me upright and out of trouble. Yamaha lists the curb weight at 452 pounds but add a few more pounds with the panniers fitted in place. The bike balanced well, but was not too heavy to control in the curves for this inexperienced rider.
Any ADV bike should shine off-road as well, and by all indications, the Ténéré 700 shouldn’t blink at the twisty, loose gravel spiderwebbing through the Black Hills. Unfortunately, we mostly kept things to the pavement, so I can’t report how the adjustable suspension with inverted front fork and single-shock rear performed under duress.
If there’s any regret I have about the Yamaha Ténéré 700, it’s that my test ride came after I’d already purchase a different, less-capable entry into the motorcycle world. But I can say, like any motorcycle owner, I’ll soon be ready to level up, and this bike is at the top of my short list.