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Blog: Kerrang's Luke Wilkins on bikes part 3

By Luke Wilkins -

General news

 16 April 2009 17:10

Motorbike: Yamaha XT660Z Tenere
Engine: 660cc
Miles: 200 over all terrain!
Price: £4900 OTR
Propensity to shout "To Infinity & Beyond" while getting on bike: Uber
 
Okay, I'm not going to lie, when the time came to take back last weeks bike the Yamaha FZ-1 and to pick up my new steed from the lovely people at Streetbike, my ego felt a little bit crushed going from a raw, mean looking, racing pedigree, Streetfighter machine........to well...something you expect Ewan Macgregor to turn up on at your house having just successfully circumnavigated the North Circular......I mean North Pole.  
Now I love all types of bikes, but if I'm honest, I have never before felt the urge to jump on the back of an enduro machine and hit the road looking like an extra from the Paris Dakar Rally! It wasn't helped by the news that the Tenere is powered by a single cylinder 660 cc engine......yes that's right one cylinder........after the power of the 4 cylinder 1000cc FZ-1 it seemed like I was going to have an inauspicious week of chugging around on the back of a the biking equivalent of a Brighton beach donkey.
 
So imagine my surprise when I finally shook off my preconceptions, climbed aboard the back of this beast, which in itself is no easy task because of the height of the bike (luckily when you actually get on it, it settles down into a really comfy position!) and set off into the horizon only to find myself shouting at the top of my voice "To infinity and Beyond!".
No, I hadn't gone back to my imaginary world where I sometimes live, in which I am Buzz Lightyear, but instead I had suddenly realised what this bike is all about. It's for people that like to live there lives without limit, adventurers, you know, like the razor dodging superstars Ewan Macgregor and Charlie Boring.........I mean Bormann. In fact after riding it for only one day, I was surprised that Sir Ranulph Fiennes hasn't tried climbing Everest on the back of one of these beauties.
It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, for a start the riding position is so high, you are actually above most cars, which is a strange sensation when I am normally used to having my knees around my ears while being about two inches off the ground. The only way I can describe it as being the 4x4 of the biking world, as you feel like some sort of a tank commander riding so high up, and it's actually incredibly liberating.
 
The next thing to take me by surprise was just how perky the single cylinder engine was. This is the bullet proof plant that Yamaha use in a number of moto-x and enduro bikes, and I was taken aback by how much grunt it can actually provide, sure your not going to be touching 100mph in first gear like on some bigger racer bikes, and you have to really work the gears, but if you keep the revs between 2,000-6,000 you'll find that it actually rewards you for winding it up with a pleasant thumping acceleration.
I have had the pleasure of not only doing my normal daily commute on the bike, but also doing some longish journeys on the motorway travelling to some TV shoots, and I don't think I have ever been on the back of anything so comfy......well if you don't include that week I spent riding Jo Brand around like a horse. Seriously, its not the breakneck, take your life in your hands style of biking I love so much, but it was so nice to be riding along the M6, holding my own speed wise, whilst being able to actually relax and enjoy the view and the Times Crossword puzzle.
She is no mean commuter either, I thought the narrower cross country tyres I had on would stop me from leaning her into corners and nipping through traffic, but quite the contrary, due the amazing forks and narrow size of the bike, and of course the elevated riding position, I not only could nip through the smallest gaps in cars, but I actually felt like I had a commanding presence on the road too. The only thing I had to stop myself from doing, was getting the front wheel up on the back of the car in front and just going straight over it, as you get the feeling that this bike wouldn't even break a sweat scaling the cargo net in Gladiators
 
The torque from the grunty power plant is relentless and while it may not snap your head off with the acceleration, I got the impression that if Armageddon was to happen tomorrow, the only things left unscathed on this planet would be cockroaches and this bike. It just feels indestructible, which it has proven to be for to all the people that do take this kind of bike on their around the world jollies. It's very different from that refined highly tuned feeling you get on the back of a superbike, but I ended up really liking this raw uncouth style, mostly because it appealed to something very base within me, something to do with hunter/gathering and making fire.
The noise is pretty awesome too, you have probably all been passed at some point by a savagely loud Quad or Moto-x bike and thought the sky was falling in, well this is a bit more subtle, but just as testosterone pumping.
The suspension is amazing, and while I had mine fitted with tyres that could go off road as well as on the tarmac, the ride was not affected and it must be said going over potholes that would rearrange my spine and make me speak 4 octaves higher on the R6, actually became a lot of fun. In fact I was having so much fun on the back of the bike, I was tempted to ride it onto building sites, straight off the motorway into a particularly muddy field, and actually into the offices and studios at work.
No I haven't gone mad, but this is what the Tenere is all about, freedom. Sure you can use it as a nice comfy, economical commute, but the true joy of having one of these is that if there is traffic jam on the way to work, there is nothing to stop you nipping off the main road, taking a detour through a forest, circumnavigating the North Pole and still arriving in time!
It has all the nice touches for a modern bike, digital fuel gauge, all the usual warning lights, nicely laid out handlebars etc, but it does it all without feeling cluttered and making you feel all pampered. Once again there is a feeling almost of something raw about this bike which again appeals to me in an "I'm a Caveman who wants to know what's over that hill type way", I mean, it doesn't do anything too fancy, but it's a piece of incredibly good and practical engineering.
Seriously, if your thinking of ever doing any adventuring, and that doesn't mean you have to ride the length and breadth of Africa, but maybe just fancy touring round the UK without having to limit yourself to the roads, or just fancy a comfy, economical bullet proof bike to get around on and feel a bit like a rugged manly and butch 1920's explorer ....this is the bike for you, and I cant put into words how much the Tenere, or Tammy as she is now known, has changed my opinion of this genre of bikes completely, it all makes sense to me now.
You see people driving around in Range Rovers that will never see anything apart from the school run, let alone off roading activities, as they are safe, practical and make you feel king of the world. Well that's what Tammy does, but without destroying the environment as she goes, and making you look like a WAG!
 
I started the week looking at the Tenere thinking, oh well there goes whatever semblance of "Street Cred" I had left, and ended it thinking... "Roads?? Where we're going......we don't need roads!!"