Story and photos by Damien Ashenhurst
Yamaha’s Super Tenere XT1200Z was released 13 years ago and it’s hard to reconcile the hype that surrounded the bike in 2010 with the relative indifference it attracts in 2023.
I mean, it’s a 13-year-old bike with few outstanding updates so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. But in 2010, the Super Tenere was touted by some as the bike most likely to dethrone the dominant BMW. It was a really big deal to have a Japanese brand step into the big-bore offroad adventure scene.
As a slight aside, over the years I have heard two high-level marketing managers (neither were from Yamaha), confidently declare that they were coming for BMW’s market share and BMW ended up buying one of those companies.
Yamaha came out swinging, gifting the XT1200Z a full suite of electronics, spoked wheels, shaft drive, adjustable suspension and a brand-new engine. It also completed the rebirth of the Tenere name (the XT660Z preceded the 1200 by four years), which laid the heavy weight of expectation on a bike that was backed by a large global marketing campaign.
The bike was good-looking but not dead sexy; more Drew Barrymore than Sophia Vergara. The lines were rounded and softer and while a bike like the KTM 990 Adventure looked like it could take a punch, the Tenere appeared more like a friendly neighbour who enjoys gardening.
And for many, at around 260 kilograms, it was unforgivably heavy. The excitement around the big Tenere was tempered by criticism from those wanting a more dirt-oriented motorcycle or by road riders underwhelmed by the engine.
In 2014 a Super Tenere variant was launched offering electronically adjustable KYB suspension and a new LCD display, which the standard model also received along with some shared engine updates and a tweak to its own suspension.
From there on Yamaha has largely left the Super Tenere alone.
But the reason it’s still worth talking about is that it’s an absolute pleasure to ride the Super Tenere. It has a comfort zone and if you don’t stray then the bike will serve beautifully, and this is too easily forgotten.
I recently had lunch with a mate who does big rides. And mean mental rides of 3800 kilometres in two days. I believe his biggest single day is 2800. You can follow Wom’s adventures on Instagram and every now and then you’ll need to read the caption twice just to be sure you saw the correct numbers.
Wom knows what it’s like to spend more time on a bike than 98 precent of the riding population and we both agreed that the Super Tenere was one of the most comfortable and capable bikes for long days on open roads.
My last substantial ride on the 1200 was from Newcastle (NSW) to Mount Hotham in Victoria where I spent a few days exploring the trails and hills of the Victorian High Country and then rode home.
I didn’t go feral. I kept the big Ten on the trails that suited it best but didn’t shy away from a few speculative routes where you just need to know what’s around that corner or over that hill.
It was impossible not to love the engine for that kind of ride. It’s so easy to let it chug and maintain traction on a loose trail where you have no real fear of it busting completely loose. And while that low-down power is so easy to manage, it does have enough spark to play with and decent enough suspension balance to allow you to ride semi-aggressively and most certainly enjoy a good flow.
It’s no secret that the traction control and ABS are not great for off-road riding. I installed an ABS bypass switch and had TC turned off at all times when not on the bitumen.
The KYB suspension is the very definition of plush and while it isn’t built for hits at speed, it soaks up everything small with no fuss at all and on a typical dirt road you’ll barely feel a thing pass under the wheels.
This not only provides a comfortable ride but makes it less fatiguing to be on all day and riding all day is what the Super Tenere is all about.
If the route ahead is a mix of bitumen and decent dirt road the Super Tenere offers an underappreciated mix of road and lite offroad capabilities. The adjustable windscreen and excellent seat work together to provide a quiet and comfortable ride that’s sheltered from much of the worst the weather might throw at you.
The choice to use a metal frame instead of aluminium allowed more flex which also aids in the comfort factor.
I found the bike good to stand up and ride when the tracks called for it and while I liked the sitting position, some riders preferred to run bar risers to lift the shoulder angle, which I tried but wasn’t a fan of because it negatively affected sit down cornering (such is the trade-off between high and low bars).
Overall, the Super Tenere is V-Strom level comfortable, which brings us to another point. The Super Tenere was marketed with a lot of desert imagery and the vibe was all about taking it to far-flung and inhospitable places.
If you judge the bike through that vision, its flaws shine through. In fact, the bike is more like a V-Strom in its ability to handle road and dirt roads beautifully and in the Tenere’s case, with a better suspension set-up and chassis compliance when the dirt begins.
YAMAHA KEEPS THE SUPER TENERE ROLLING
Before the term ‘adventure tourer’ took hold the Super Ten’ was thrown in with some heavy offroad hitters but looking at it now, it’s clearly an outstanding adventure tourer – not a desert-conquering adventure bike. All the ingredients are there with the comfort, the decent fuel mileage and genuine reliability.
Its road manners are exemplary so the mid-week commuter can enjoy a decent carve while dreaming about hitting mountain roads and trails on the weekend.
The Super Tenere never shook the BMW dominance, and it likely didn’t trouble anyone at KTM either. But it’s better than it perhaps is remembered or assumed to be in 2023.
The bike’s happy place is as an all-rounder that is best kept away from technical stuff. At $26,990 the 2023 model is a tough sell next to an Africa Twin (which ironically adopted very similar twin headlights) but you can pick up good used deals starting at less than $10,000.
Provided it’s in good condition, it would be hard to find a more dependable 1000cc-plus adventure tourer than the Super Tenere at that price.
It won’t spin your beanie like a Multistrada or an Africa Twin and nor should it after a long gap between updates. Think of the XT1200Z as more of a motorcycle equivalent of a golden retriever, happy to faithfully go wherever you go and never giving you grief.