We ride: Yamaha XT1200 Super Tenere
Yamaha has a solid pedigree in adventure bikes; it built one of the first big Japanese four-stroke beetle-crushers (a Dutch couple, Rolf and Astrid Dols, rode from Scheveningen, near the Hague, to Cape Town on a pair of XT500's as long ago as 1983) and for a number of years the Triple Tuning Fork dominated the Dakar Rally, first with the 600 Tenere single and later with the fire-breathing 750cc V-Twin Super Tenere.
Now the name is back - but on a big-inch adventure tourer, rather than an off-road racer. Today's XT1200Z Super Tenere is an astonishingly sophisticated (read complicated), supremely competent and addictively comfortable reason to Get Out of Town anytime the opportunity presents itself.
Comparisons with BMW's R1200 GS are inevitable and, truth to tell, the Yamaha has even more electrotech than the GelandeScooter that has dominated this category for three decades but, for the week that I had it, I tried to ride the Yamaha for what it is, both good and bad.
And what it is, is complicated; it's built around a 1199cc DOHC parallel twin with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. The crankpins are set at 270 degrees, rather than 360 degrees as per classic British twins or 180 as on Japanese and European examples.
Yamaha says this evens out the torque pulses and makes traction easier to find on loose gravel (debatable) but it also induces some very nasty secondary vibration which is taken care of by two balancer shafts, one of which doubles as a jackshaft for the waterpump.
Two 98mm pistons are fed by 46mm Mikuni throttle bodies, modulated by chip-controlled, fly-by-wire butterflies. In other words, you roll on how much throttle you want but the computer decides how much you get, after consulting the wheel-rotation and yaw sensors of the (standard) traction control and anti-lock braking systems.
In practice it all works very smoothly; there's very little snatch at small throttle openings and the bike can be ridden almost down to walking pace without any jerkiness, but throttle response is crisp and practically instantaneous anywhere above 2500rpm.
The engine pulls strongly, without any disconcerting steps in the power delivery, all the way to the power peak at 7250rpm, although some vibration does intrude as the urge becomes more urgent above 5000rpm, as if to remind you that 80kW is not to be played with.
But we're not finished yet; a handlebar-mounted button lets the rider choose between Sport and Touring mappings. But don't let the name fool you, all that happens in Touring mode is that the engine becomes sluggish and reluctant to respond. I kept the Super Tenere in Sport mode all the time except in the rain.
For the record, it was in Sport mode that the bike topped out at a true 208km/h with 218 showing on the digital speedometer and a needle's width more than 7000 on the analogue rev counter. Fuel consumption averaged out at 6.1 litres/100km, including performance testing.
The big all-rounder is rock steady flat out in a straight line, but has a slight headshake on long, fast sweepers. It's also nicely balanced at very low speeds, making it possible to commute on what is admittedly a very large motorcycle.
The clutch is light and predictable, if a little remote, but the test bike's gearbox was very notchy, especially in Touring mode. There also seemed to be some clutch drag, as the 'box went into first with a thump that was felt as well as heard, every time, hot or cold.
The shaft final drive, by contrast, is very smooth and civilised, with no lash whatsoever, and no clonk on taking up power.
The fully-adjustable suspension (43mm upside-downies in front and a rear monoshock that's adjustable “on the fly”) is superb. The front in particular is supple without sogginess, providing remarkably agile and accurate steering for a quarter-ton motorcycle, while the unified braking system resists nose-dive under heavy braking.
It works like this: if you grab a handful of front brakes it will gently apply the rear brake a split second before the front, to steady the bike and bring the tail down, then apply both brakes as hard as possible without locking either wheel.
If, however, you stomp on the rear brake, supermoto style, it will apply only the rear brake, even allowing a bit of rear-wheel steering before intervening. On the tar, you never feel it working; the bike is simply reassuringly stable under braking. And in the dirt, you can use the front brake quite hard (usually a recipe for disaster) anywhere except in thick sand without losing the front end.
Then you turn the power on, perhaps a little too much too soon and, where any other big beetle-crusher would simply spin out from under you, this one merely bogs down a little and then pulls you gently out of trouble. The engine doesn't suddenly lose power, rather it feels as if the clutch is slipping a little, making the bike just that much more controllable.
The traction control is adjustable through three settings. TC1 keeps everything rigorously in line, TC2 allows a little wheelspin for off-road work and OFF is just that, allowing huge rooster-tails and glorious misbehaviour - for experts only. The Super Tenere weighs 261kg with a full tank and the laws of physics are immutable.
But all this electrotech means that even an amateur-level dirt rider (such as yours truly) can take this industrial-strength adventurebike off the tar and expect to come back in one piece. Gravel roads and jeep tracks hold no terrors; if you can go there on a mountain bike, you can go there on an XT1200Z.
Nevertheless, the Super Tenere is intended primarily as a tourer, which is why it has a super-plush saddle (adjustable from 845-870mm off the deck), a 23-litre fuel tank, built-in pannier mounts and a neat little screen.
Generally speaking, it all works; the ergonomics are great, the relationship between seat, 'pegs and grips near-perfect (and adjustable when it’s not) and the ride is plush without being soggy, handling taut without being twitchy.
Unfortunately, however, the screen is mounted a long, long way from the rider, as is the instrument pod. I have difficulty reaching the mode buttons on the instrument panel while riding and I can't reach the screen from the saddle at all - and I'm 1.78m tall.
The screen is adjustable to either of two positions but it's a finicky job requiring a Phillips screwdriver; while there's no buffeting in either position, wind roar is excessive, enough to give me a nasty headache after a day in the saddle. Yamaha offers a taller screen as an aftermarket accessory; if you're planning a trip to the next time zone, check it out first, especially if you're more than about 1.75m tall.
As an off-roader the Super Tenere is awe-inspiring; as a tourer it is superb, compromised only by poor aerodynamics for high-speed cruising. Its electronic systems work perfectly together to make riding this huge bike effortless - but for that reason I would hesitate to tackle a round-the-world ride on one.
If anything goes wrong with any of those systems in the wilds of Outer Baluchistan, you are going to be stuck with a bike that either won't run or, if it does, is unrideable. But if your idea of a weekend getaway involves gravel roads and a GPS, it's difficult to imagine a more comfortable mount for the road less travelled.
Engine: 1199cc liquid-cooled parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 98 x 79.5mm.
Compression ratio: 11.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 80.9kW at 7250rpm.
Torque: 114.1Nm at 6000rpm.
Induction: Chip-controlled fly-by-wire throttle with multipoint electronic fuel-injection via two 46mm Mikuni throttle bodies.
Ignition: TCI GT9B-4 digital electronic with two spark plugs per cylinder.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by shaft.
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 310mm petal discs with Sumitomo four-pot opposed-piston callipers and ABS/unified braking.
Rear brake: 282mm petal disc with single-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 110/80 - 19 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 150/70 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 845-870mm.
Kerb weight: 261kg.
Fuel tank: 23 litres.
Top speed (measured): 208km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.1 litres/100km
Price: R129 999.
Bike from: Droomers Yamaha, Cape Town.