Weighing in at 636lbs (wet), the 2014 Yamaha Super Tenere ES is the heaviest adventure motorcycle on the market. But, it's also one of the best, this is why.
What's It Supposed To Do? The SuperTen is a big Adventure bike, you know, the kind you're supposed to be able to hop on and ride around the world in stock form.
With so much weight to carry, it obviously pushes its touring abilities first and foremost, but thanks to a clever mechanical layout, this is one ADV bike that can actually perform off-road.
Peel back Yamaha's shapeless plastics and you'll see something that resembles a scaled-up dirt bike. The upright, parallel-twin engine is pushed as close as possible to the front wheel, a relationship made possible by shifting the radiator to the engine's left side. That puts as much weight as possible over the front wheel and makes for a very long swingarm. Considering the amount of weight in question, that leads to a very planted front end and excellent traction.
Otherwise, the big Yamaha adheres to class convention. It's a big, comfortable, rugged do-it-all bike that can also go off-road, but works best at covering big distances.
How's It Supposed To Do It? New for 2014 is the addition of electronically adjustable suspension, minor modifications to the motor and power delivery, as well as some tweaks to the ergonomics and weather protection.
That electronically adjustable suspension controls both rebound and compression damping, as well as preload in the fully adjustable forks and shock. To operate it, you first choose between four levels of preload, optimized for a solo rider up to rider and passenger, plus luggage. You then select hard, standard or soft damping settings, tweaking each parameter three clicks up or down. That's 84 total variations of suspension adjustment to choose from.
Now featuring Ti-82 graphics!
Operated through the handlebar switches, the system is functional, if clunky and obtuse. It's not just Yamaha that desperately needs to start considering UX in its products; the SuperTen's is as bad as any other bike on the market.
In action, it ends up being the two passengers, plus luggage preload setting, plus the firmest possible damping that works best on the road. The ride becomes hard, but controlled in that setting, putting more weight on the front end and eliminating the bike's tendency to run wide in corners while also noticeably sharpening steering response.
Inside the 1,199cc, parallel-twin motor, the intake has been made straighter, the exhaust port has changed from D-shaped to round, new piston rings reduce friction and valve spring pressure has been reduced 30 percent. In addition to the removal of the connector between the exhaust headers, this adds 2bhp and 1.5lb-ft of torque while supposedly making the engine freer revving. More significantly, the throttle response in "Sport" has been sharpened, while "Touring" has been backed off even more. The difference between the two is now very pronounced, almost calling for a happy medium.
Handguards are now standard and the adjustable screen and its lower wind deflector have been re-shaped, eliminating the buffeting that plagued the previous model.
All that make the total package more versatile. Few owners ever bother adjusting their suspension, but this electronic arrangement makes doing so very easy and will hopefully allow buyers to achieve more personalized performance.
How Does It Perform? During this test, we took the SuperTen down a few, fairly mild fire roads on its stock Bridgestone Battlewing tires. But, we have extensive previous experience with the bike, logging five days of solid off-roading on the much more dirt capable Continental TKC80s and have lived with the bike for a period of months.
A couple side notes on tires. All the jumping and sliding and general dirt-ability you see in ads for big ADV bikes like this one are achieved using Contintenal TKC80s. Look closely in any of those photos or videos and you'll see their distinctively huge tread blocks. What's that tell you? If you want to take this or a GS or an 1190 Adventure or whatever off road, start with those tires. The SuperTen is also fitted with spoked (strong), but tubeless (convenient) wheels. Thank you Yamaha, that makes fixing punctures so much easier than if you have to pull the damn tube out.
On the road, the SuperTen now makes an excellent tourer thanks to reduced vibes and fixed wind protection. Its height-adjustable seat is big, flat and comfortable and being able to say the same about the rear makes it one of the best passenger bikes around. A big bike, it's a little too hefty to bust traffic with real gusto, but its planted nature and strong low-end torque do make easy work of low speed obstacles and stoplight drag races, while its high quality damping and long travel suspension work great on shitty roads.
Off road, the enormous bike is initially intimidating due to its extreme weight. But, the more you push it, the better it responds; that weight-forward design really does keep the front wheel doing what you want. The long swingarm combines very well with the tractor-like torque and spaced-out, V-like 270-degree firing order, finding a surprising amount of traction even in sand and over loose surfaces or steep climbs.
Traction control is switchable between two levels of intervention and there's no ABS off switch. While Yamaha's TC lacks the huge number of modes or near-infinite user programmability of some rivals, it's damn effective. TC modulates power through both the ignition timing and throttle butterflies, creating a smooth, seamless operation that's scarcely detectable, except in the lack of crashing. Other journalists will complain that the ABS isn't easily de-activated, but honestly, on a bike this big, you're dealing with a ton of momentum, so its helping hand is very welcome. You're already aiming to slow down smoothly and progressively rather than jam the thing into corners and the ABS helps with that immensely, while allowing a degree of wheel lock suitable to achieving effective deceleration on very loose surfaces.
You'll note that the bike I'm riding in these photos is fitted with accessory crash bars and a sump guard. Consider both essential, the SuperTen's low sump has cracked during several magazine tests. This guard wears a "Yamaha" badge, but is actually a thick, durable SW-Motech item capable of actual protection. Rolling it in as an official accessory means you can add its cost to your finance payment; you probably won't see its impact on your monthly bottom line. Also tick the box for the excellent panniers. They're narrower than the handlebars, so lane splitting remains possible, while being strong, rugged, waterproof and opening with the ignition key.
At 43mpg, the SuperTen can travel up to 260 miles on a single 6.1-gallon tank of gas.
Yamaha also deserves to be commended for this bike's ergonomics. At 6' 2", I'm not terribly tall, but find most ADV bikes too short to stand comfortably on as stock. On the SuperTen, I can get as comfortable standing up as I can sitting down, without adjusting a thing. Again, great for covering distance, even off-road.
How Does It Compare To Rivals? The closest competitor is obviously the new liquid-cooled BMW R1200GS. Both bikes are roughly comparable off-road, but the GS is both significantly faster and a much better handler on-road. The Yamaha's advantage comes in its price. With electronically adjustable suspension, spoke wheels, cruise control, heated grips and handguards, its price totals $16,190 while a similarly equipped BMW goes for $18,250.
The $16,499 KTM 1190 Adventure and $16,799 Adventure R are so much more sport-oriented on-road and off that the two bikes feel like they belong to different classes. Buy the KTM if you want to go fast and the Yamaha if you want to go far.
The SuperTen is more off-road capable than the new, $12,699 Suzuki V-Strom 1000, but that bike again has it beat in outright speed and handling and, at just 502lbs (wet) is considerably lighter and more agile than the Yamaha. The SuperTen will do better with a passenger and luggage, but not $3,500 better. If you're carrying passengers and luggage off-road regularly, we'd pay that premium. Otherwise, we'd opt for the slimmer, lighter, faster V-Strom.
Adventure Ready? Surprisingly so. The new Yamaha Super Tenere definitely sits on the two-up touring end of the ADV spectrum, but retains enough honest off-road capability that it'd be a great choice for tackling an epic trip like the Trans-Labrador or Dalton Highways, particularly if you want to take someone with you. And you could fund those trips with the money you save over a BMW. Improvements for 2014 are worthwhile, if far from radical, making an already good bike more user-configurable.
Helmet: AGV AX-8 Dual Evo Tour ($450. Great helmet, but very fit-dependent. Try before buying)
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($967+. Best thing ever, just buy one)
Boots: Aerostich Combat Touring ($387. Lifetime quality)
Gloves: Alpinestars 365 ($195. Waterproof without insulation)
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.