With AMH8 (right) sent in, I have a week and a bit to get the Africa Twin in shape for some Morocco tours and Mauritania road tripping. It doesn’t sound a lot of time but I’ve done this loads of times so know exactly what needs doing.
Or so I thought.
As I write early on in AMH: Beware and even anticipate a last-minute cock-up (‘LMCU’). While undertaking some wiring, my LBS noticed the left radiator was bent and fan jammed. I thought I’d smelt the whiff of coolant on the last couple of rides. It was clear from the damaged fairing the ex-Honda Off-Road Centre bike had fallen on the left at least once before they removed the crash bar, stitched up the fairing and sold it on. Looks like those crashes may have been heavier than they looked and my bargain AT wouldn’t be such a bargain after all. Oh well.
Honda parts prices? Don’t ask. Ebay to the rescue. Because there are so many ATs around I snagged a used radiator-fan assembly (left) and dropped it off at the shop. With that fixed, it now transpired the used OEM crash bar I’d bought a while back (probably also from the HO-RC) had missing brackets and my ferry was leaving next day. Luckily, the pressure was off as Storm Ciara (below) put paid to that ferry crossing and with the next one too late to get to Marrakech in time, I was left to van the bike to Malaga (£420) and pick it up after my tours. I hope that’s all the LMCUs out of the way. I really don’t want to leave our descent to Mauritania any later than it already is.
The fixed stock screen is famously ineffective. I settled on a Palmer screen, as on the CB500X a few years ago. It consists of a taller screen mounted on a pressed steel frame with three heights and three angles (left). That should surely deliver a cruising sweet spot. All up, it adds a kilo over stock; let’s hope the mounts can handle that extra mass on rough tracks.
Riding the bike (right), I found with the setting left, I could ride up to 70 with no goggles wearing a Bell Moto 3 which is as good as it gets.
While fitting the Palmer frame (start with all mounts loose and work from there) one of the lower rubber grommet mounts fell into the abyss. Universe 1; Me 0. It seems commonly done but Rugged Roads sell similar ‘top-hat’ grommets that will work and ebay is even cheaper. One thing to know: these lower screen mounts slide up into place so don’t need completely unscrewing at all. Once you’ve undone the less lose-able top mounts, just slide the lower mounts down and out.
The stock plastic ‘handguards’ are rubbish and not surprisingly, the clutch lever was bent. I was hoping my 2008 Barkbusters might get their nth outing on an AMH Project Bike, but it was not to be. The threaded ends of the Honda bars need a specific insert. Reluctantly I coughed up 90 quid for some Barks to fit an AT with, for once, no bodging required. I’ve had a good run with those old Barks and at least the scuffed black plastic covers fitted right on – the Bark bar design has not changed in all that time!
I was also hoping to re-use my Rox Risers to lessen the stoop while standing, but the Rox’s bike-mount ends are for thin bars only. You can pay crazy prices for CNC milled risers (or much less from Asia) but Adv Spec’s Risers (left) are a more normal 40 quid and come with a selection of nicely knurled shim stacks adding up to a 40-mm lift with three lengths of hex-head bolts to suit. I found about 30mm was the limit on the AT’s cables.
WTF’s the battery? It’s not under the seat. What would we do without the internet – RTFM I suppose. Turns out it’s jammed in above the gearbox (right) but behind a ‘toolbox’ that can only be opened/removed with the 5mm key clipped under the seat (where my actual tools were located). With the empty toolbox off, I wired in a plug (right) to run the tyre pump, but the added wiring and fusebox foulled the snug-fitting toolbox. Luckily, you can pull the box apart at the hinge (above) and just mount the front to cover the battery.
The wiring of the GPS and a USB port I left to my LBS. Here’s a good link on the fiddly job or removing the cowling, including snappy how-to vids. I don’t want to be doing what’s demonstrated below by the kerbside with tiny fittings disappearing into gutters full of rotting mid-winter leaf mush.
Though obviously very handy, there are some rambly, ill-thought-out how-do vids on ebay; some old dope droning on for 20 minutes for a <1-minute video on how to access the battery while reminiscing about his dad’s old tractor. The non-lingual vid below shows how it should be done.
Michelin sent me some Anakee Adventures but the front looked a bit too roady compared to last year’s Anakee Wilds on the Himalayan. The AT may only be 60 kilos heavier, but has over three times the power which may chew through tyres fast.
On this trip of several thousand kilometres I’ve decided to try the ‘gnarly front – roady rear’ tyre strategy I write about. The rationale is: prioritise secure loose-terrain steering on the slower-wearing front while, on a powerful, heavy bike you need longevity from faster-wearing rears where sliding in the dirt is less problematic as you won’t be cornering this tank like a 125 MX. Anything too knobbly on the rear risks an unnerving ride, fast wear and ripped off knobs on the road.
I fitted a Motoz Tractionator Adventure (left) to replace the front Karoo which isn’t the sort of tyre I’d choose for teaching off-roading in muddy Wales on a quarter-ton AT. On dry tracks it’s less critical but the Karoo only had 5mm left (same as the rear Karoo).
The bike is front-heavy but with a centre stand and a trolley jack, once fully deflated, the Karoo just squeezed out between the twin calipers. But getting the wider, stiff and new Motoz in – no chance. I tried to undo one of the calipers but they’re torqued off the scale and the loose forks make it hard to get tension (better done with the wheel on). Instead, I loosened one fork stanchion and shoved the wheel in.
I was just about to remove the rear when I remembered I had a nearly finished DIY tubeless wheel upstairs. All it needed was taping up and a Michelin Anakee Adventure (left) slipped on with some proper tyre soap. Inflating a newly mounted tubeless can be tricky as the tyre needs to catch a seal to accumulate pressure and get pushed over the lips into place. I know from 4x4s and my old XT660Z this can be hard to do, but the uninflated Anakee ‘pre-sealed’ well enough and, with the valve core removed to speed up the airflow, eased over the rim’s lips with a pair of loud pops. A cold day a week-and-a-half later and it’s down 8-10 psi so will need watching, though I recall early pressure loss is not unusual, even on proprietary tubeless spoke sealings.
Hopefully, it may settle down but I now have a v2 Michelin TPMS to keep an eye on things and may have to get some Slime in. I’ve stuck one activating magnetic dish to the fairing at a readable angle (right) and will keep another spare in the tank bag when off-road in case the display shakes off (a common complaint according to amazon reviews).
From the state of my fairing and radiator, the OEM crash bars which came on the HO-RC bikes (and are now selling used online), don’t really do the job. But what would you expect from 250 kilos of bike hitting the ground?
I specifically want them to mount my ex-Himalayan Lomos which I hope will act as sacrificial impact-absorbing airbags. Better the bags’ soft contents get mashed than what seem to be vulnerable radiators.
The stock bash plate is at least made of metal, but it doesn’t come up around the sides of the engine which look vulnerable. On the rocky trails of the Adrar plateau I’ll have to tread carefully and have some epoxy putty at hand.
CRF1000 USD forks are leak-prone – one of mine was leaking before I even bought the bike at 1800 miles (fixed on warranty). Repairing a seal in the field sounds too tricky to do well so I’m hoping some Kriega fork seal covers (right) will keep the seals from getting worn. They’re easy to fit and remove if needed. The full-sock tubes like I had on my XCountry are better and cost the same, but require removing the forks from the bike to slip over the top.
And that’s about it. It would have been fun to ride the Honda across Spain, but this is the first time doing that crossing over many winters that the weather has caught me out.
It would have been even more useful to get the feel for the AT doing my regular tour circuits in Morocco. That too is not to be so I’ll be renting a ragged Sertao for the duration and will just have to learn to manage the AT on the fly down in Mauritania. More news and impressions on the road in March.
I’ve been rewriting loads about conversing spoked rims to tubeless.
There are several updated pages from here on what, why and how.
If ever a bike wanted tubeless wheels it’s the AT (and T7 for that matter). These bikes run 21-inch fronts and were initially pitched at a low price to get them moving. Choppers aside, cast wheels are unknown in 21-inch, while OE spoked tubeless wheels (as on many European 21-inch advs) are expensive. The new 2020 1100 AT Adventure Sport finally has a tubeless 18/21 set up.
MT or WM?
I’ve investigated various proprietary methods and, after 12 years and a lot more theoretical and second-hand knowledge, decided to give DIY sealing another go – but carefully this time and only on the back wheel (above, top) where it’s fairly easy to do. Like nearly all 21s, the AT’s front rim lacks the ‘MT’ safety lip or ridge which is important if planning to run tubeless tyres. Without it, a TL tyre seals less well on a regular WM rim (above, bottom) and may leak. And in the event of a flat, it will slip into the rim just like a tubed tyre with the usual undesirable results.
The only way around that it to get the rare, lipped, 2.15 x 21-inch Giant rim from CWC for £111. Add anodising, spokes, wheel building, their Airtight™ vulcanised sealing band (similar to DIY mastic) plus post and that’ll be nearly 400 quid. I could seal it myself and save £120, but 21-inch wells are narrow and curved and so are less suited to taping. So while CWC make my wheel, I may as well cough up for the Airtight and be done with it.
The high cost of a new wheel build is why DIY is so attractive, providing your rim is MT with the requisite safety lips. Most rear wheels, tubed or tubeless, have been like this for decades (they will be stamped ‘MT’ on the side, as opposed to ‘WM’). And the AT’s rear well is also nice and flat and 55mm wide which makes it easier to seal well.
Things you will need
- The wheel resting on a spindle
- Solvent (Brake cleaner, Toluene, MEK, Acetone, etc)
- Microfibre rag (lint-free) and Q-tips
- Runny adhesive – from Superglue to Seal-All
- Thicker sealant – like Goop or Bostik 1782
- Sealant tape such as 3M 4411N (not the 2mm thick 4412N). From £18 on ebay
- Or some etching primer and mastic sealant like Puraflex about £6 for 300mm
- A tubeless valve
Rim sealing procedure
If you’ll be in a wet environment, consider also sealing the spoke nipples from the outside.
The mastic sealant method is probably better. The tape adhesive might lift if it gets very hot; a black tyre and rim sat in the hot sun. But then, pressure building up in a hot tyre will tend to push the tape down.
Mounting and inflating the tyre
Mounting is easy as there’s no tube to worry about. Soapy beads help reduce the effort needed and tubeless tyres are actually quite flexible – or that’s how the Michelin felt. I know from cars and the Tenere years ago that home mounting tubeless tyres can be tricky. It took me most of the day to get the TKCs on to the Tenere, and that was with a pokey 2.5cfm 4×4 compressor. Because there is no inner tube pushing the tyre on to the rim, you need both edges of the loose tyre to at least make a partial seal with the rim and allow pressure to build up. When that happens, the seal improves, leakage stops and you’re on your way. Using a small car compressor and with the valve core removed to allow faster filling, nothing happened for a bit and then pressure slowly built up as input outpaced leakage. At around 35-40psi there were a couple of loud bangs as the last segment of bead slipped over the safety rim and into place.
I am fairly confident my gluing alone has made a good seal. The tape is probably redundant. Overnight there was no drastic pressure drop. If there is in the next week and I can’t fix it, I’ll swap back to the tubed wheel and will anyway take a spare tube. This time I’m not using Slime sealant, though I’m told it doesn’t affect the 3M tape’s adhesion.
I’ll be monitoring it with TPMS but a few days in it was about 8 psi down and the same again when I picked the bike up in Spain in March. So it seems to depressurised down the mid 20s psi. I seem to recall this was normal in the early days and so gave the back a shot of Slime in Spain. No more leakage.
In the UK, July’s ABR show was the only chance to road-test Yamaha’s much-awaited XT700 Tenere before it reached dealers.
As a Tenere rider from the very start, and a fan of Yamaha’s proven CP2 engine from my XSR 700 (below right), I’ve been looking forward to trying the XT7. The show’s timing also allowed a fortnight before a ~3.5% pre-order discount expired, bringing the cost down to £8400.
In a line:
With the irresistible CP2 motor and legendary branding, the new XT700 Tenere will be a hit.
Modern bikes from established manufacturers are now predictably brilliant, and recent launch reviews raved about the XT700. No great surprise there; Yamaha took their time getting the new Tenere just right while keeping the price down. We’ve all read or experienced what happens when that doesn’t happen. And like Honda’s Africa Twin of a few years ago, Yamaha chose to dodge a ‘because-we-can’ horsepower and tech-war with the KTM790 Adventure with which the XT7 is being inevitably compared.
The new Tenere shares the same CP2 motor with the MT-07, Tracer tourer and XSR retro. Everything else is new or different. Since being introduced in 2014, all three have combined to make one of the most successful model ranges for Yamaha. By now over 100,000 units have been sold worldwide and the XT700 will add to that figure just a fast as they can bang them out.
They may have saved time by ignoring electronic aids but, crucially, Yamaha didn’t cut corners on the suspension, which often defines budget Jap bikes these days. And the XT includes one of my favourite gadgets: a 26-click hydraulic pre-load adjustment knob (PLA; left) on the piggyback shock. It means you don’t have to faff about with C-spanners, or more often, hammers and chisels, to alter preload. It may be right under the mudguard collecting crap off the tyre rather than to one side, but this sort of real-world prioritising speaks to riders like me whose eyesight is now too poor to be dazzled by colourful TFT screens, quick-shifters, cornering ABS, traction- and cruise control plus ESA and over a dozen engine modes. Years of hard-won experience have taught us to simply ride appropriately for the conditions and location, be that negotiating a rainy winter’s rush hour, or off-roading alone in the middle of nowhere (left).
Hook up a throttle cable to a CP2 motor and that’s all the traction control you need.
Indeed – just like the old Tenere singles, many commenters (and they are legion) are citing the XT700’s very simplicity including lack of riding aids, as integral to its appeal. It’s kept costs down, doesn’t radically affect the bike’s day-to-day usability, and is one less thing to light up the dash should the electronics play up.
That leaves ABS, which is now mandatory on all new bikes in the EU. Unlike the list above, it’s a safety feature I welcome, and at a standstill, can be disabled for the dirt. (On loose surfaces ABS can cut in too soon and extend braking distances. You don’t want that, though I’ve found at normal dirt speeds ABS on bikes is rarely a problem.)
What they say [source; includes typos]
When you’re riding the new Ténéré 700, your future can be whatever you want it to be. Because this a go-anywhere motorcycle that enables you to live life without limits and experience a new feeling of total freedom.
Driven by a high-torque, 689cc, 2-cylinder engine, equipped with a special optimised transmission that gives you the ideal balance of power and control, this rally-bred long distance adventure bike is built to master a wide range of riding conditions on the dirt of asphalt.
The compact tubular chassis and slim bodywork offer maximum agility during stand up or sit down riding – and long travel suspension and spoke wheels give you the ability to get to anywhere you want. Just fill up and go! The Next Horizon is Yours.
• Engine character and response – it’s perfect
• Fully adjustable, plush suspension
• Pre-load adjustment knob
• Weighs 205kg (unverified). Same as my 660Z and less than my CB500X RR
• Flat but grippy textured seat
• Brakes feel good, road or dirt
• Brisk and agile on the road
• A display scroll button now on right bar
• 25,000-mile valve-clearance intervals
• Well set up cockpit
• Centre stand – at least an available option
• OMG – no beak!
• Is it such a bargain? Over £2k more than an MT-07
• At 16-litres, the tank could use a couple more
• Top-heavy at a standstill
• Non-adjustable screen
• Handguards are plastic
• Screw-in filler cap
• At 34.5″ (875mm), the stock seat is high (but there are lowering options).
• Tall riders will need bar risers to stand comfortably
Compared to the original T7 concept from a bike show back in 2016 (left), the production bike looks as good, but not dazzling. According to a tape measure, it has nearly the same dimensions as an Africa Twin (right); in fact it’s two-inches longer but it sure looks less bulky. (There were loads of ATs at this show. Great to see how popular they’ve become alongside the You Know Whats).
With a 32-inch inseam and workboots, on the standard 875mm-high (34.5″) seat I was able to get my feet flat on the ground, but with little knee-bend to spare. There’s a lowering kit (£228) which includes a link and, combined with a 20-mm fork drop, lowers the seat height substantially to 837mm (32.9″). Plus there’s a higher, rally seat. I noted coming back to the Yamaha stand one normal-sized bloke struggling to manoeuvre his T7 into place; one foot in the air, the other on tiptoe.
I’d definitely consider the lowering kit, even if the seat will probably lose padding and lowering links (‘dogbones’) alter factory-designed suspension geometry. At least the Tenere’s suspension can be easily retuned, should you notice a difference. I also see on this YT video there’s also a two-part seat option (right), and the rear section can be swapped for a rack.
Although the CP2 motor is a slim unit, they’ve maintained that overall impression with a narrow seat and screen. Even the LCD display is in portrait format to suggest lack of width. This is not a wide-arsed GS12 or XT1200Z, and because of that feels less intimidating and more fun to ride on and off road.
The plain LCD digital dash is a rectangular version of the round unit off my XSR: switchable Imperial/metric speed, gear, fuel and time readouts, plus the same range of seven other metrics in various formats, but with only room to display one at a time. On the MT-07/XSR you reached over and scrolled with a button on the dash. The XT700 has a Select button on the right bar (below) which does the same and so makes it much easier to change the display on the move. Cycling the button seven times hits them all. Neat and simple.
• Ambient temperature (C or F)
• Engine temp
• Average mpg (or other formats)
• Current mpg (ditto)
• Another trip?
Up here you also have a power outlet plus a place for another one, and a bar above the display for mounting a navigation aid or even a roadbook at near eye level.
The CP2 (left) may be narrow, but it’s a tall wet sump motor which makes it less suited to trail bikes in need of ground clearance without getting too top-heavy; there’s a lot of mass above those piston crowns and a fuel tank too. This is partly why four-stroke trail and dirt bikes are traditionally dry sump, with a pump and an oil reservoir fitted somewhere.
While repairing my XSR I remember wondering if I could have realistically reduced the 3-inch depth of the protruding sump, even though it was fairly well surrounded by the silencer box and header pipes. Some oil volume would have been lost.
On the XT7, under the skimpy 2mm alloy bashplate, it’s the same deep sump, so the longer suspension makes the whole bike top-heavy at parking speeds. It’s nothing new with such bikes, but I did have an … oh shit! moment, lowering the bike onto the stand on an off-camber path to remove dry grass from the hot pipes. It’s a long old way to fall, even at zero mph.
The narrow but steeply raked screen looked like it should do the job. Housed in the rally-style fairing, you’d also hope that, with four-LEDs plus two smaller day-lights, the headlight set-up (left) will do more than just look good once the sun goes down. Sat on the bike, I liked the high, wide but slim feel and, apart from the saddle height and weight, felt right at home on the XT7.
For a bike carrying the Tenere name of the legendary ‘desert within a desert’, only the modest fuel tank capacity spoils the picture. You imagine a sub-205-kg wet weight by any means possible was locked into the design brief, and the easiest way to play with that is tank volume. It’s only 2 litres bigger than my XSR, but if the XT700 averages the same consumption, that will still add up to a range of 420 km (260 miles), or between 330 and 510 km. Right on target for a travel bike.
One easy way of unobtrusively supplementing fuel range on the XT would be to attach flat fuel containers low down to the accessory engine crash bars (right; another 200 quid). Fyi, the bike I rode had recorded an average of 58mpg / 20.5kpl since the tank had been refilled. Not spectacular.
The 45-minute test ride – part of the Tenere Tour doing Europe at the moment – was an escorted run. This meant little chance to grab good photos. About eight German-registered XT7s were available, all with a few light scrapes from previous test rides. My bike showed 3800 miles on the clock.
You had to book a time allocation. I arrived before the show gates opened and even then, got on the second or third slot that day. I overheard that by the end of Friday the whole weekend had been booked out.
Initially, the route followed a marked grassy trail around the spacious grounds of Ragley Hall, before taking off on a blast around Warwickshire’s lush, midsummer backroads. I was told all these pre-production bikes were all destined for the crusher (a common practice). No chance of getting an ex-test bike cheap. Sad face.
On the trail
Pulling away, who can resist the instantaneous grunt of that CP2 engine, characterised by its 270-° crank timing, (left; more here). In the modern era 270 was first used on Yamaha’s TDM900 but has now become almost ubiquitous on big parallel twins. It’s one of my all-time favourite motors, harking back to my XS650 or of course, your favourite 90-° V-twin, whose firing pulse is replicated by a 270-° P-twin crank, but in a much more compact engine. Thanks to revised injection mapping and a new pipe and air box, the XT7’s added low-down torque was noticeable right away and might even have been described as snatchy. The radiator is a little different, too.
According to Yamaha specs, the XT700’s 72hp at 9000 rpm is 5% less than the three CP2-engined road bikes, but it has the same 68Nm of torque at 6500rpm. I imagine the XT’s long, rally-style pipe (left) helps deliver that low-down torque, compared to the stumpy XSR/MT-07 silencers (inset).
The way my clutch was adjusted, initially, the unfamiliar bike was a bit of a handful in the slower sections – or maybe it was just a little snatchy at low rpm. This wasn’t helped by the tall first gear and shallow-blocked Pirelli Scorpion Rally do-it-all tyres on the flattened dry grass with all the grip of old lino.
Tubeless spoked rims (as found on the XT1200Z) would have blown the XT700 budget, but I have a hope that the rear rim has safety beads, which make sealing with Airtight or BARTubeless a possibility. On the front that’s less likely, but safety-beaded 21s are available. As it is, a tubeless rear is more useful, as on the road that’s where most flats occur.
Riding along in first hand off the throttle at the 1400rpm tickover, the bike fuelled cleanly but the speedo registered 7mph. As with so many bikes in this category, that’s normal but too fast for trickling uphill round gnarly hairpins without slipping the clutch, though I recall the XSR managing that surprisingly well in Morocco. Problems may occur doing that for too long in hot conditions, but let’s be realistic: this is a 200-kilo bike. Despite the exuberant promo images (left), the elephant in the adventure-motorcycling room is the belief that bikes two or three times the weight of their pilots are manageable on anything more than smooth gravel tracks. For most, they make fun road bikes with a cool, adventuresome image.
Compared to the MT-07 (and probably XSR), I read here that they’ve added three teeth on the rear sprocket but taken one off the front, ending up with 15/46. That adds up to an identical 0.33 final-drive ratio unless I am very much mistaken, so it may have more to do with chain/swingarm clearance for the longer-travel suspension. It’s actually the taller 18-inch wheel with a 150/70-R18 tyre which increases the overall diameter to raise the gearing. Unless they’ve taken the trouble to modify the internal gear ratios, any mention of ‘… special optimised transmission…’ (as above) is presumably just marketing flannel.
Sat upright, grappling the wide ‘bars, at least the big trail bike’s commanding seating position makes you feel both in control and nimble; ready to respond with confidence to whatever’s ahead. It’s not a new idea, but squidgy rubber inserts in the footrests (right) also mean you get the benefits of comfort and isolation sitting down, with boot soles compressing the rubber and biting the serrated metal edges when standing up.
Doing this, as expected, I found the fatbars an inch or two too low to stand comfortably (me: 6 foot 1). That can be fixed with Yamaha risers or similar, but I did notice that to get the stock bars up, the rubber-mounted bar mounts (left) are even higher than they were on my XSR. Add some risers and that’s getting on for six inches of leverage on the triple clamp mounts when hammering over rough terrain or when the bike falls over (my XSR ones were bent in the write-off crash).
This may be a red herring and only relevant to taller riders who expect to need to stand, but it’s a problem I’ve encountered on projects when trying to convert what’s essentially a road bike into an all-road travel bike – particularly when attempting to Tenerise a TDM (right) a few years back. You can’t just fit some apehangers and hope for the best. At the front, the XT700 is still a low-headstock, MT-07/XSR road chassis (more below).
Who knows what the settings were, but the suspension coped fine on the trail at our modest speeds. It soaked up what few bumps I could find and had it not, there’s preload as well as rebound and compression damping to meddle with. It was hard to make a worthwhile evaluation in our 10 to 15 minutes on the grassy trails, but it’s unlikely the Tenere’s suspension will urgently need the same Rally-Raid treatment which their CB500Xs benefit from. A great motor and good, adjustable suspension is half the battle won.
The brakes too had enough feel plus ABS back-up to inspire confidence and stop you embarrassing yourself. I never knowingly actuated the ABS.
It might be an off-road clearance issue, but I‘d have prefered a powerful single rotor on the front; it saves weight and worked fine on an NC750X I tried later. The XT660Z single (right) which this bike effectively replaces was unnecessarily lumbered with twin front discs. The front wheel on that thing weighed a ton.
On the road
Truly, there’s nothing more I need from a motorbike engine apart from 100mpg: smooth, ambrosia-like power delivery right off the throttle, but with that sweet, characterful lumpiness of warm rice pudding and which can never be called harshness or vibration. Just as it was on my XSR. I bet the manual Africa Twin and some Triumph twins are similar – a KTM790 I rode wasn’t, and it’s what’s missing from Honda’s bland CB500X. Done up with a Rally Raid kit (as mine was), I’d call the CB a contender alongside the T7, especially with the 2019 model’s 19-inch front wheel.
Once on the highway, the escort riders didn’t dawdle unnecessarily and the XT700 took it all in its stride. Potholes and drain covers didn’t faze the springing, the brakes handled sudden bunch-ups well, and the moto just pulled through it all as fast as you wanted to go. I could have kept going all day.
You’re sitting on 200mm or 8 inches of fully adjustable and compliant suspension with USD forks and the PLA on the back. As it’s so easy, I cranked the knob all the way in to 26: the ride was much firmer – ready for some heavy throwovers and a dusty trail. Back at the normal mid-setting, the feel is of being able to hit irregularities with less wincing while – if you know what you’re doing – tuning the damping in both directions as well as easily setting the sag; the vital metric which is more or less 30% of total travel).
Where 60 to 70mph was possible, the blast from the slim screen hit me at nose level but still gave useful protection. I could crouch and get out of the wind, but wearing a Moto III didn’t help the aerodynamics. You’re riding a motorbike; don’t expect a turbulence-free cocoon. Just as since time immemorial, the mirrors shared the rear view with my arms but were blur-free.
After a while I noticed that the plastic clutch plate and arm cover (right; not present on earlier CP2 bikes) pressed into my right shin – and this was without knee-high boots. Maybe I have fat calves but it was never an issue on the XSR7 and at least two other reviews have mentioned it. I’m not sure what it does – stop boot rubbing? It could be easily removed.
The stock bashplate (left) is skimpy, but it’s a start. For 200 quid Yamaha do an optional version (right) which better covers the vulnerable water-pump and inlet pipes. These components were good and mashed following a low-side on the written-off XSR I bought. The engine bars pictured far below will work with the standard bashplate.
The potential of lively owners grabbing big air required a heavily revised frame on the T7.Among other things, on the XSR700 etc, the top of the laid-over shock attaches to a lug on the top of the gearbox casing (above right); an expensive repair if that sheers off during a Great Escape (left). The XT700 has a different linkage for a vertically positioned shock which mounts to a chassis cross-member which is better able to contain shock loads.
They call it double cradle, but you can clearly see above left, it’s not a closed loop. The new (red) downtubes meet the footrest mounts because, using the same rationale as the shock, a bashplate is better mounted to a chassis than a crankcase.
I didn’t get a chance to remove the seat and panels to eye up the rear subframe, but again, from the image top left you can see the triangulation is much greater, partly because the silencer needs to hang off it. Round the headstock they’ve added additional bracing.
Is that an alloy sidestand? If so I presume it’s solid cast and will be up to supporting the weight of the lent-over loaded bike when oiling the chain or removing the wheel. They do offer an optional centre stand which, having had one for the first time in years on the Himalayan, is a worthwhile redundancy on a travel bike.
The first batch of XT700s are being assembled in France right now from parts made in Japan. This must mean the MBK Industrie plant in Saint Quentin, south of Lille. A few early-adopters got their pre-orders in July 2019; the rest got them from September onwards when production resumed after the August factory break.
North America gets bikes shipped directly from Japan some time in late 2020 (as will Australiasia and maybe RSA, following late-2019 deliveries from Europe). The official explanation claims it’s: “Due to differing government regulatory standards and factory production line schedules.”
Either way, the wait of a year ought to help eliminate any teething problems, unlikely though they are with the established CP2 engine, at least. And a Japanese-built XT700 might be something to boast about. After all, from 2020 KTM’s similar 790 is said to switch assembly to… O M G.. China!
The XT700 is a hard bike to dislike. It lacks the weight of the 850GS and the added bulk of an Africa Twin, the harshness, blingy complexity and cost of the KTM790R, and the relative blandness and cheap suspension of the CB500X as well as, dare I add, an NC750X. Like the CB-X, it’s a modern-day UJAM, not extreme in any way, be it suspension travel, power delivery, appearance, electronic sophistication or price.
You see reviewers mention ‘only 72hp’ for a 689-cc-engine and you really have to chuckle. It actually makes nearly 15% more power per litre than the 790, if that matters at all, but either way it’ll do 120, cruise comfortably at 80mph, and overtake swiftly uphill and into the wind when needed. How often do you ride much faster, while still being able to hit the trails with confidence?
I came to this test ride fully expecting to love the new Tenere – a bike I tried to emulate two years ago with my XSR Scrambler (left), and which, along with the Himalayan, was one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had in years.
I was even considering buying one after the test, with all the risks of delayed delivery, teething problems and depreciation. For the price and the weight, nothing else new in the table below comes close once you factor in its genuine off-road ability for its class. But I’ve not bought a new bike in the UK for nearly 40 years; to me it’s just too extravagant with so much good nearly as good used stuff out there. In a way, knowing that it all turned out well for the XT700 is good enough for me. For the sort of riding I still aspire to, I’d be more comfortable with something a bit lower and lighter.
If not an XT700 then…
The man from Honda hinted an 1100 was in the AT pipeline, but right now CRF1000L Africa Twins with about 10,000 miles are going for under £7k. I know, I bought one later. That’s a similarly grunty 270-degree twin (with a DCT option), but in a bigger bike with a lot more weight. BMWs hold their value annoyingly well; used year-old 850GSs with KTM-like tech, tubeless wheels but an AT’s weight currently start at £9k. Meanwhile, there are Rally Raid CB500Xs going from £4300, plain, old-model high-milers from under three grand and 2019 CB-Xs with the desirable 19-inch fronts from just £5200.
The XT700’s profile and price is pitched midway between the ultra-accessible CB500X and ageing V-Strom, the bulkier Africa Twin and the 790 Adventures and BMs. Even if dynamically you’d assume the 790s must be better out of the crate for hard off-roading (I did try one; not for me), realistically any 200+kg bike can only be exploited by a skilled and fit rider. With talk of a bigger AT, people are wondering if a 7-850cc Africa Twin might spin off from that. Until (or if) that ever happens, the XT700 will have a well-deserved market niche all to itself.
I well remember the day in 1983 when I first clocked Yamaha’s original XT600Z Ténéré outside Maxim Motorcycles in Parramatta, west Sydney.
I crouched down for a good look at the machine which appeared to have addressed just about all the deficiencies of my 1982 XT500 desert bike: front disc brake, huge 28-litre tank, monoshock back-end, 12-volt electrics, folding lever trips, oil cooler and a thrifty ‘twin-carb’ set up. And all at around 140 kilos dry.
The 34L XT600Z Ténéré, named after the most gruelling Saharan stage of the Paris-Dakar Rally (see below), was desert-ready right off the showroom floor.
‘Tenere’ – What’s that then?
Tenere – or as the French write it: Ténéré – is one of the many Tuareg words for ’emptiness’ or ‘desert’. The more familiar Arabic Sahra [Sahara] means the same thing, but like the Inuit and their snow, the nomads of the Sahara distinguish between many types of desert and regions. The Tenere is a particularly desolate and waterless flat expanse which fills the northeast corner of Niger (left).
In the Dakar Rally’s 1980s heyday, the crossing of the Tenere from Algeria to Agadez in Niger via the dunes of the Bilma Erg, typically decimated the field and helped establish the Tenere’s already notorious reputation of the ‘desert within a desert’.
In 2003 we rode to the famous Arbre Perdu or ‘Lost Tree’ in the northern Tenere (below) where Dakar founder Thierry Sabine had his ashes scattered following his death during the ’86 rally.
I bought my first Ténéré in London in 1985 to tackle my own London–Dakar adventure. This was the slightly modified 55W version of the original 1983 34L, produced for just one year. The changes were small: front disc brake cover, stronger DID rims, revised chain adjuster, longer, all-red or blue seat and most easily spotted: sloping speed blocks on the tank.
Modifications to my 55W amounted to nothing more than adding thicker seat foam and some Metzeler ‘Sahara’ tyres – a rubbish choice for the actual Sahara, even back then. Using no rack was another mistake which nearly cost me the bike when my baggage caught fire.
In fact, there was so little to do that I went to the bother of moving the oil cooler from next to the carbs up out into the breeze over the bars. And I painted it black because I was still hadn’t shaken off my juvenile Mad Max phase. With my £5 ex-army panniers slung over the back, in December ’85 I set off for Marseille, bound for Dakar via Algeria, Niger and Mali.
This was my first overland trip which succeeded in actually crossing a few African borders – and it proved to be as eventful as my first Sahara ride on the XT500 (and the Benele quickie which followed). On the way I learned many must-do-next-times as well as several more never-do-agains, all useful material for my Desert Biking guide published a few years later and which evolved into the current AM Handbook.
I met Helmut in Tamanrasset and we set off across the Sahara together. Sadly he crashed and burned, never to reach the Niger border. I also had a smaller fire a day or two later, but was thrilled to have finally crossed the Sahara into West Africa.
As I wrote later, reaching sub-Saharan Africa was like switching a TV from black and white to colour. There are a few photos at the bottom of the page, or you can read the long version of that trip in Desert Travels.
A few weeks later, with many more adventures and worthwhile lessons under my belt, I shipped my charred Tenere out of Dakar and flew on to Spain to catch up with it.
Yamaha’s original 34L 55W Ténéré was the first proper well-equipped lightweight travel bikes, created on the back of Yamaha’s success in the Dakar Rally which I encountered on a few occasions out there. That bike was a game changer, with the brakes, range, suspension, economy, power and lack of weight which ticked all the boxes. In Europe they absolutely loved them; over a decade the French alone bought 20,000 Teneres; over 30% of all production. They were never officially imported into North America. From 1987 the only-recently discontinued KLR650 filled the same niche and had the same loyal following. In Europe the KLR was largely ignored.
A good early-Tenere page.
The next Tenere was the 1VJ model (left and above) with kick and electric start, firmer suspension and the air filter positioned, rally-style, under the back of the tank. But costs were cut elsewhere, it supposedly had over-heating problems and it just didn’t seem as durable as the original kickers. Mine sounded pretty clapped-out by the time I returned from a 3000-mile Sahara trip.
I never owned one, but the classic twin-lamp 3AJ Teneres (above and left), was said to be a better machine, even if it had by now gained some 25kg. There was said to be a 5th gear problem common to other 600 Teneres, but only if you rode them very hard and lugged the motor.
The 5-valve XTZ660 Tenere from the 1990s (left) still looked great but by now had gained even more weight and lost some cred. On top of that, poor electrics and other flaws managed to lose the Ténéré mojo in the face of KTM’s dirt-focussed 640 Adventure (right).
After the 5-valve was dropped, for nearly ten lean years in the Noughties there were no Teneres in production. BMW’s 650 Dakar became popular big single travel bike; Teneres were seen as an 80s throwback.
Then, in 2008 Yamaha’s legendary desert bike returned as the XT660Z. Based on the injected XT660R and X produced from 2004, the fuelling was much improved and again, it ticked many boxes, even if it now weighed over 200 kilos and, at times, felt it. Fuel consumption varied widely but averaged 25 kpl, giving a range of about 570km/360 miles from the 23-litre plastic tank.
I bought a barely used one soon after they came out, did the usual kerbside makeover and set off for Morocco to research the first edition of Morocco Overland. Read about that bike here.
By 2016 ever-tightening emissions regs killed off the hefty 660Z Ténéré. Meanwhile, travel bikers round the world have pinned their hopes on 2019’s XT700 Ténéré, based on the brilliant twin-cylinder CP2 motor, as in my XSR700. The T7 is not much heavier than the 660Z and looks like it’ll be another desert-ready hit right out of the crate. Read my impressions here.