It’s been about a month since Yamaha loaned us a brand new 2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700. And, after riding it on the dirt and pavement of Vermont and its surrounding states, it’s time to give you the results from our test. And the news is good. Quite good, actually. In this rider’s opinion, the wait for the bike to arrive in the USA was well worth it.
Ténéré 700 Specs
The Ténéré uses a four-stroke, 689 cc, fuel-injected, liquid-cooled DOHC inline twin engine making a claimed 73.8 hp at 9,000 rpm and producing 50.2 lb-ft of torque.
KYB provides the suspension at both ends. Up front is a 43 mm inverted fork with 210 mm (8.3 in) of travel. At the rear is a single shock with 200 mm (8.3 in) of travel.
Front and rear suspension are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, but there are no high and low-speed compression adjusters. The shock can be adjusted for preload with a knob type adjuster at the rear of the shock. No tool is necessary.
The wheelset is a proper off-road adventure setup. The 2021 Ténéré carries a 21-inch rim up front and an 18-inch rim at the rear. The rims are clad with tube-type Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires with decently sized lateral blocks.
Stopping power is courtesy of Brembo. Twin calipers clamp down on twin 282 mm discs up front, while a single caliper grips a 245 mm disc at the rear.
Standard seat height is a tallish 874 mm (34.4 in). However, Yamaha provides two lowering options. A low seat option reduces seat height by 38 mm (1.5 in) to 836 mm (33 in). For an even lower seat, a 20 mm lower link can bring it down to 816 mm (32 1/8 in). If you use the lowering link, you will want to consider either a purchase of a different sidestand or cutting down the OEM piece. If you want to increase seat height and leg room, Yamaha offers an optional Rally seat. It adds 40 mm (1.6 in) height over the standard bringing your perch to 914 mm (36 in). For comparison, at 5’9″ with a 30″ inseam, I can sit on the machine in standard-seat form with the balls of both feet on the ground.
The Ténéré carries 4.2 gallons (16 liters) of fuel. That’s not a huge amount, but it is enough. More on that later.
Other features include a powerful four-beam projector LED headlight, a decently sized windscreen, a basic skid plate, polymer wrap around handguards, a GPS/accessory mount crossbar, an adjustable-height front fender, a covered 12V outlet, and footpegs with rubber covers that are removable without tools.
Yamaha offers many accessories for the Ténéré 700 in its catalog, where you can find a beefier and larger skid plate, engine guards, a rear luggage rack, a centerstand, heated grips, auxiliary lights, and lots of other accessories.
Ténéré 700 adjustability
During my initial test ride, I was lucky enough to ride with Yamaha’s Marcus Demichele and Noah Fairburn. They brought along three differently outfitted Ténérés. There was one standard Ténéré, one with the 20 mm lowering link and the Rally seat, and one with the low seat. I rode them all.
When all is said in done, riders of pretty much any size can comfortably ride the Ténéré with a few adjustments. If you’re short, add the low seat option and/or the lowering link. If you’re tall, add the Rally seat and your legs will be much less cramped. The Rally seat also has the advantage of helping you get over the front and into a more aggressive riding position more quickly.
Ténéré 700 feel
Once you’re seated, the bike feels much smaller than it looks. It feels more like a large dirt bike than it does a middleweight or heavyweight ADV machine.
The wide, flat handlebar is comfortably placed for my 5’9″ frame whether I’m seated or standing. Very tall riders may want to look for some bar risers to bring the grips closer when standing. The seat is long, flat, and narrow enough to allow you to easily grip the bike with your knees when necessary.
Some fear that the bike may be top-heavy because of where it carries its fuel, but it is not. On the contrary, it feels quite light and nimble—much smaller and lighter than its 450 lb (205 kg) wet weight would suggest. The only time the Ténéré’s weight becomes apparent is during slow-speed off-road situations where a tight turn is necessary.
Ténéré 700 engine
The Ténéré starts immediately when the button is pressed, and settles into a low subdued growl. Twist the throttle a bit and the MT-07-based engine immediately reacts, revealing its revvy nature. It feels very smooth on pulling away from a stop, with almost no vibration reaching the rider. However, at higher revs, you can get a tingle through the right handgrip.
Spin it up and you can quickly and easily get to extra-legal speeds. You can also leave it in 6th and cover long distances without vibration. The engine revs quickly under throttle but is quite happy to lope along in high gear at lower revs. While the Ténéré’s gearbox is not incredibly slick, it is more than up to the job of changing gears quickly in either direction. And with 50 lb-ft of torque available, the engine is quite tractable, especially in the dirt. More on that later.
Ténéré 700 suspension
The Ténéré’s suspension is easily adjustable. All you need is a small flat-blade screwdriver and about three minutes. You can quickly set it for a plush or firm ride or change the suspension for whatever off-road conditions you anticipate.
For pavement, I’ve been setting the suspension on the soft side. Vermont’s roads are twisty and quite bumpy. And with the suspension set at the lower end of the clicker scale, the ride is plush.
When on smooth pavement, even with the suspension set nearly full soft, the bike does not wallow or wander. With the pace turned up significantly, the Ténéré tracks well and goes where you point it. There are excellent twisties in Vermont, and the Ténéré is ready for playtime in the corners.
But as the pavement becomes bumpier, it’s best to firm the suspension up a few clicks. You’ll lose the plush ride, but you will be able to dispense with frost heaves, road cracks, and tar snakes without drama. As the pace heats up, you can quickly get to toe-scraping lean angles with the limiting factor being the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires.
The Ténéré’s Brembo front brakes are easily modulated and provide a solid, progressive feel. On-road, they provide good stopping power. Off-road, even in less-than-ideal conditions, excellent feedback generates confidence in their use.
However, the rear brake is somewhat different. It locks fairly quickly and easily, so you’ll have to pay attention when using it. It’s not that the rear brake is bad. But it does tell you that if you lock it inadvertently or fail to brake enough, it’s all on you, not some electronic gadgetry. And for me, that’s actually quite nice.
Electronic rider aids
If anything, the Ténéré 700 is a refreshingly simple machine. Although the bike does have switchable ABS, that’s the only electronic rider aid. There’s no traction control, lean angle sensors, off-road mode, etc.; it’s just you and the machine.
When you turn the ignition on, the ABS is enabled. To turn it off, simply push the single big button on the dash for a few seconds. The ABS will turn off, and OFF ROAD illuminates on the dash. And, in a nice touch, if you stall the bike, the ABS remains off. It’s only when you turn the ignition off that the bike reverts to ABS mode.
With little in the line of electronic rider aids, there’s less to break and potentially strand you. And, their absence will also let you know whether you are up to the task at hand because it’s not “helpin'”. Simplicity can be very nice; or tragic.
I’ve put over 1,500 miles on the OEM Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires, and they have been decent for both pavement and dirt. They are a bit of a compromise between a full knobby and a smoother touring tire. Although they are sort of a hybrid, it’s nice to find an adventure bike with a semi-knobby tire fitted when you purchase it. You won’t immediately have to drop a few hundred bucks to add some more off-road-oriented rubber. However, if you immediately intend to do some serious off-road riding, you may want to look for something different after you burn the OEMs up.
As to what you can anticipate for mileage, the rear is beginning to show some wear after 1,500 miles. I’ll admit to spinning it up a bit in the dirt, but I estimate that the rear tire will last somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 miles of combined 50/50 pavement and dirt riding.
Riding the Ténéré 700: Pavement
Riding more than a month’s worth of Vermont pavement and dirt provides some pretty good information about the bike’s pavement manners, and the Ténéré 700 is up to the task of spirited riding. Its smooth and torquey engine is the star, making both strafing apexes and long-distance travel easy and fun. It is one of the smoothest and most flexible middle displacement engines I have ever used.
When not attacking apexes, if the occasion calls for some long-distance travel, you can drone along all-day in comfort and solitude. I made one 375-mile backroad trip nearly non-stop and found that the machine did not leave me fatigued.
But I did find that if you intend to ride a long distance in a single day, you might want to modify the stock seat. It’s okay for several hours, but after a full day of mostly seated riding, you may find the comfort factor somewhat limited.
As for the Ténéré’s suspension, it is up to the task. It provides excellent stability and great feedback. Just a gentle push on the long flat handlebar makes left-right transitions easy. The front tracks true, even when encountering small amounts of loose gravel, frost heaves, and road imperfections.
Set it up correctly for your anticipated riding style, and you can be aggressively chasing apexes or gliding along the smooth pavement. Frankly, the Tenere’s suspension is good enough to let it play with similar-sized “sportbikes” in the twisties. Or, with a couple of twists of a flat blade screwdriver, you can quickly have the suspension set for a plush and comfortable ride back to the home base.
One thing that did come through during the long day ride is the lack of clearance between your boot and the right footpeg mount. You may find your right heel and boot come into contact with the stock footpeg. It’s not a huge deal, but it can be annoying on a long ride. You could quickly get rid of the issue by installing some longer footpegs.
The long ride also pointed out how effective the relatively short and narrow windshield is. For its size, I was surprised at how well it provided my 5’9″ body with an excellent pocket of still air. There was minimal buffeting even at highway speeds.
Riding the Ténéré 700: Off-road
While the Ténéré has good on-road manners, the key question is: How well does it handle off-road? In a word, admirably. One of the first things I noticed off-road was how good the feel from the front of the bike is.
Getting your weight forward for aggressive riding instantly provides excellent feel. Get up on the pegs, move forward, and everything the front end is doing is immediately transmitted to your hands. That sort of body/machine communication makes riding the bike so easy and so much fun that you’ll want to spend more time off-road than on.
I’ve ridden the bike extensively off-road, over a mixture of hardpack dirt, crushed rocks, loose sandy conditions, mud, and washouts, and I can say without a doubt that the Ténéré makes the going easier and fun.
Part of that ease comes from the bike’s engine, which has plenty of torque on tap. On the trail, there’s little need to row through the gearbox to make things happen. Leave it in second, and it’s happy to chug along, responding quickly and smoothly to throttle inputs. Kick it up into third, and you will find yourself loping along at speed.
The machine also proved its handling capabilities during my initial test ride in Georgia. Riding on ATV trails, I encountered conditions that were often rocky and sometimes loose, with a smattering of Georgia-clay mud sections. I rode through one of those mud puddles and cross-rutted the two ends of the bike. The bike immediately made a right turn towards the trees (my fault), but the feel through the front was so good that I was quickly able to straighten it and avoid a visit to the hospital.
Now that I am home in Vermont, the Ténéré has been over similar terrain and has performed equally well. Even on public dirt roads, washouts are common here. Deep ruts lined with loose stone are everyday occurrences. So just the act of riding up and down the mountain we live on can make riding interesting. The Ténéré gobbles up the loose terrain effortlessly.
That said, the Ténéré could use a larger and more protective skid plate. When you are riding in loose rocky sections, rocks are bound to be propelled onto and around the plate. And stones were bouncing off the stock skid plate when I was riding in Georgia. Not only did they hit the skid plate, but they also hit the unprotected sidestand switch causing it to fail and the bike to stall. It’s an easy trailside repair to splice the wires together, but it’s a repair that shouldn’t be necessary.
One other area where the Ténéré could use some help is with more suspension damping. I’m not a lightweight rider. When hopping across the tops of water bars at speed, there were times when I could get to the limits of the Ténéré’s suspension. Lighter but more aggressive riders may find the same thing. So if you intend to ride your Ténéré like a motocross bike, you may want to look at firming things up. But for most riders, the Ténéré’s suspension is well up to the task of spirited off-road jaunts.
The GPS mounting crossbar and the LCD dash jiggle quite substantially during spirited off-road riding. It’s not enough to be distracting, but it would be better if both were attached more firmly.
Some have expressed concerns that the Ténéré’s fuel tank is too small for ADV-type missions. The middleweight machine carries 4.2 gallons of fuel, which is less than several other similarly sized bikes.
But there’s no need to be concerned. The Ténéré’s engine is very fuel-efficient. During over 1,500 miles of sometimes very spirited riding, the bike returned average mileage figures of 50 to 58 miles per gallon. Even at the lowest mileage, you’ll be seeing more than 200 miles before running dry. If you’re easy on the throttle, you could see 240 miles between fill-ups.
With fuel efficiency like this, you won’t likely need the extra gallon of fuel that some of the other bikes carry. And you won’t be stuck carrying the extra weight.
Sometimes it’s the little things that show a manufacturer is paying attention to what riders want from their motorcycles. The Ténéré is a case in point. Included with the stock machine are some small but appreciated appointments that many other manufacturers either don’t offer or charge extra for.
Yamaha apparently knows this and includes things like a folding rear brake lever, folding gear shift lever, and an adjustable front fender. The folding levers are not fancy, but Yamaha thought to include them at no extra charge. And if folding helps you avoid a broken lever when out on the trail, that’s an excellent thing.
As for the adjustable front fender, just loosen four small bolts (don’t remove them), and you can slide the front fender up or down 3/10’s of an inch. That’s not a huge amount, but the additional space could be the difference between continued riding and a front tire locked with mud.
Pros and Cons
- A smooth, revvy, and torquey engine.
- Excellent front end feedback—you can always feel what the front end is doing.
- Suspension up to the task for spirited on- and off-road riding.
- Semi-knobby tires are standard.
- A small windscreen that makes a comfortable pocket of quiet air.
- Nice touches like folding brake and shift levers and easily adjustable front fender are standard.
- Needs a more protective skid plate as standard.
- Could use more suspension damping for very technical terrain.
- Tight clearance between the right footpeg and footpeg mount—could use longer footpegs.
- Shaking crossbar and dash.
The Ténéré 700 is far more than the sum of its parts. Yamaha has built a very capable and fun machine to ride both on- and off-road. And have done it at a price that will make you smile.
The Ténéré feels lighter and smaller than its actual size. The feedback through the bike’s handlebar is excellent, and the engine has more than enough power and torque to make cruising pavement or riding off-road an exercise in fun.
The suspension is up to the task for spirited riding on pavement and bouncing off the top of rocks and water bars. And the tank carries more than enough fuel to get you to most places without worry.
Would I buy a Ténéré 700?
I’ve now ridden the Ténéré for more than a month. During that time, I have asked myself, “Would I buy one with my own money?” And the answer to that question is a resounding Yes.
Yamaha has exceeded my expectations with a highly capable machine that is priced at less than $10,000 US. That’s a big deal. With its closest competitors being the KTM 790 Adventure and the KTM 790 Adventure R, the Ténéré’s pricing excels.
At its base price (i.e., without factory options), the KTM 790 Adventure with its non-adjustable front suspension will set you back $2,700 more than the Ténéré. If you want a 790 Adventure R with an adjustable front suspension, you’ll have to fork over $3,700 more than the Ténéré’s MSRP and both of those differences are without adding any of KTM’s options.
For me, the price-to-performance difference makes choosing the Ténéré 700 an easy choice. If you have any interest in a middleweight adventure bike, you owe it to yourself to test ride a Ténéré 700 before making your purchasing decision. It convinced me.