My current 300L came with Acerbis handguards so I’ve decided to recycle my trusty old Aussie-made Barkbuster Storms (see ebayuk). Looking back, I realise what a great life of adventure they’ve enjoyed! Proper handguards based around a metal frame clamped to the handlebar are a no brainer. A simple fall over can snap a lever or mount. That’s never happened to me since I’ve been busting the bark.
I bought my set in 2008 for my near-new Yamaha XT660Z to research the first edition of my Morocco Overland guidebook. Turned out I needed them too when I look a piste too far up Jebel Saro (right). The 660Z was also the first bike with which I experimented with DIY tubeless tyre spoked rim sealing. I’ve got better at it since. And the XT was my first bike with efi. What a miracle that proved to on a big single; smooth running at low rpm and over 80mpg possible. Where possible, I’d never go back to a carb bike.
Next bike was another near-new CRF250L I bought in Arizona. Over the years right up to my current 300L, I’ve profited from new owners’ selling on bikes with barely four figures on the clock and at a massive depreciation. The L led me on a fabulous 3200-mile clockwise lap of Southwest USA through northern California, across Nevada, into amazing Utah and back down into AZ via the ‘do-it-before-you-die’ White Rim Trail. Road and/or trail, SWUSA like being in your own road movie, a trip every rider needs to tick off.
The BMW XCountry was one of my periodic breaks from reliably reliable Jap machines. I used it in Morocco on my first Fly & Ride tours which have also got a lot better since. It’s a shame BMW ditched these X bikes. This one had a grand’s worth of Hyperpro suspension – on the road you’d not notice much but off road riding was believing. The X-tank too was an ingenious idea since picked up by Camel tank and an easily replicated DIY job.
Soon after they came out I got myself another near-new, low miler; a Honda CB500X. I barked that up along with adding prototype kit from Rally Raid who also saw potential in the twin and went on to produce a popular line of 500X-ccessories. For years my 500X page was the most viewed on this website. I used the X in Morocco on tours and for researching my Morocco 2 book.
I went back to Arizona and this time got a KLX250 – basically like a CRF250L but for some reason never as fashionable and with better suspension out of the box. Unlike Europe, it was a carb model that ran horribly on low octane back-country fuel. I ticked off another memorable tour of the American Southwest, including a dream visit down to Baja and Mike’s Sky Ranch with Al Jesse of bevel luggage fame. Below, barking along on the amazing WRT in Utah again: ‘the best 100 miles of dirt you’ll ever ride‘ as I wrote in Bike magazine.
On that KLX ride I met a chap on a WR250R near Death Valley. I never fully realised that Yamaha’s WR250R was actually a well-spec’d but expensive trail bike, not a dirt racer like the near-identical looking 250F or 250X which put out 40hp or more and so need regular maintenance. Yamaha imported the R for a few years into the UK but they proved an overpriced dud and by 2016 when I was looking, good ones were hard to find. So I bought one off Hyperpro in Holland just before Brexit confounded the whole import process, did it up and and set off for Morocco, the Dig Tree and edition 3 of the guidebook.
A 135-kilo WR-R makes the same power if not a bit more than my current 300L, but it’s located up in the stratosphere beyond 10,000rpm. As a result the bike didn’t work on well the road and left me with a back ache for months after. As a result I decided to suspend my search for the 250 unicorn. Back home I bought a smashed up XSR700 with the creamy CP2 lump. I repaired it, jacked it up a bit and added the usual protection, including my trusty busteros, now on their 7th outing. I still wish Yamaha would make a more serious 19/17 scrambler using their brilliant CP2 motor.
Next, I got some pals together on a supported tour to Algeria where I rode a lot in the 1980s. The tour finally gave me an excuse to buy an XR400, the all-time classic trail bike from the mid-1990s which was always too skimpy of subframe to make a serious travel bike. Sadly mine turned out to be skimpy of piston rings too and began guzzling oil, but was a joy to ride in the sands of the Grand Sud. The old Barks were needed, navigating through the tussocky oueds.
The Himalayan came out and following teething problems it looked like it was worth a punt; a low saddled trail donkey that was perfect in Morocco, if not so much the getting there. We tried to reach the fabled Dig Tree again, but tyre problems saw to that. Still, at least my mate got a nice cover shot of the Bark-clad Him for the current edition of AMH.
For the kind of riding I like to do I’m not a fan of giant ‘adv’ bikes but many are, so I thought I’d take the popular Africa Twin down to Mauritania in search of manageable pistes. ‘Hotel Sahara’ I called that trip, and the outbreak of Covid 19 put an early end to it, close to the Mauritanian border. I raced back north before Morocco locked down, but punctured the engine and had to dump the bike and fly out on the last plane. Corona went on longer than we guessed, and it took me a year and a half to recover the AT from Morocco.
Back in London the Barks were removed for next time just before they pinched my AT. Now I feel they’ve paid for themselves many times over so it’s time to let them go. There’s easily another 15 years of protection left in them. Who ya gonna call? Bark Busters!
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. Good French page on vintage Dakar and all the Teneres and similar bikes.
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. 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. You can read the long version of that trip here.
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. You can read about my 87-88 trip here.
I never owned one, but the classic twin-lamp3AJ 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.
I’ve been a long-time Tenere fan. Before the XT600ZE which is featured on the front of my Desert Travels ebook, I owned the first-generation kickstart model, and like everyone else of a certain age, in the 1980s adapted XT500s in the days when there was nothing better. The British biking press didn’t get it with the new Tenere when it came out in 2008. No surprise there, but owners’ impressions were better than expected so I got one to finish researching my Morocco Overland guidebook. I bought the bike used but not even run in, for £4200. A year or two later the price jumped to an astronomical £7000, but for a Jap overlander it’s still in a class of its own back then.
Early impressions and modifications
After less than 500 miles I found I liked:
• Engine and FI /ECU problems ironed out on the 660X and R models
• Pulls smoothly and feels nippy in town and stable at speed
• Fuel consumption (71.7 mpg/25.4kpl so far = 380-mile/610km tank range)
• Can change speedo/odos between mph and kph (but not as described in ‘TFM’)
• Clear, eye-level dashboard display
• Good-sized 23-litre tank
• Seat seems good by trail bike standards after a 300-mile day
• 9:1 comp ratio: good for crap fuel and long engine life
• Fall over tank protection
• Suspension seems good and firm
• 6000-mile service intervals (on semi-synthetic oil)
• It doesn’t look too bad, either
… Don’t like:
• Screen is too low – buffets my head
• Feels heavy to wheel around – it probably weighs 200kg wet
• Twin front discs seem OTT
• Fuel gauge is way out – the digital bars disappear at around 240 miles with at least 100 miles left (common to many bikes, tbh)
• Little bits of rust already – naturalmente, fatto in Italia!
MODIFICATIONS The great thing with bikes like Ténérés, KTM- and BMW Adventures is that, unlike my previous Honda XRL, they’re pretty much ready to go out of the crate. Assuming you have all the bits at hand (tyres, luggage, etc), the bike can be prepared in a few days for, in my case, a month in Morocco.
Although they’ve long been the adventure pneu de jour I’ve never tried Conti TKCs before, usually settling for more dirt-oriented T63s, MT21s or full-on Deserts. So it’ll be interesting to see how they perform on the ride down and the pistes and how long they last.
So far on the road you can hardly tell the difference from the Metz Tourances which came with the bike, but those tyres would surely be hopeless in the dirt. The Contis seem a good compromise while they last. Mine of course got Slimed and are now tubeless on spoked rims.
The front wheel weighs a ton. I’ve never has such a heavy wheel on a trail bike. I hope it corresponds to a strong wheel too (it didn’t). I do wonder if 48hp really needs two front discs. It wouldn’t be hard to remove one disc and its carrier, stick something in the empty caliper and see if the bike can manage safely with one front disc.
I chose Barkbuster Ego handguards, because everyone else seems to be going for Acerbis which are 30% more expensive and have tedious drilling issues. The Barks went on OK (covering the tank with a towel helps avoid scratches). I had to remove the cross brace and move the brake olive down a bit – and of course remove the bar-end weights which I’m told will expose some vibration. And I had to cut the end of the clutch lever. By chance the Bark mounts lined up with the old cross brace mounts which I had to break off, so although the alignment is far from perfect at the moment, the brace went back on and might stop the bars folding up. Hand protection from the elements isn’t great but it’s easily improved. You’ll notice I’ve made some throttle position markers (pink tape) – an old trick from the twin-carb Tenere days to watch your economy, though at a regular 25kpl (low 70s mpg), with this bike, it won’t be so critical.
I got the German Off The Road rack for 200 quid (no longer made?). It’s similar to many other designs and goes to show how simple and light a strong rack can be – as long as you’re hanging bags off them and not trying to support them. Fitting was a bit tricky – nothing new there then! You may need help lifting the back of the bike to get the front pillion mounts to line up and you’ll have to remove the fuse box and loosen the nearside rear wiring loom and the back rack/plate thing to move the rear light hanger back to get the nuts on for the back mounts.
I’ve always fancied some TT Zega Flex fabric panniers (full review). Compared to the ubiquitous alloy Zegas, I’ve never seen a set of the much smaller Flexes in action. ‘Semi rigid’ means they keep their shape but won’t bite at my shins when I take a dab through a oued. The TT catalog says they can only take 5kgs which must be a misprint. Whatever, I’ve weighed them packed for departure and there’s 9kg in each one, plus 6kg in the Ortleib on the back. The adapter plates supplied didn’t fit my OTR rack (as expected – they’re for TT racks). I managed to get 3 of 4 mounting hooks on; the last mount point needed a coat hook from B&Q. Nice, light bags, abouy 25 litres capacity; a bit expandable, an outside zip pocket and a less useful under pocket too. I don’t expect they’re waterproof so will use bin bags. An Ortlieb bag goes across the back for light/soft stuff. The Zegas are supposed to join together to make a backpack – how often will you use that compared to carrying them into a hotel? So I cut off the backpacking straps and knotted on a pair of holdall-style handles (top right) with the spare strapage left over. Looks messy but much more functional for carrying the bags or getting inside them. I can also tighten a strap across the back seat to join pull up handles and so take the strain off the mounts frame mounts. This makes them ‘assisted-throwovers and on the dirt is bound to help while barely getting in the way. The locking device (left) is pretty flimsy but let’s face it, it’s only there to stop them falliing off. Anyone could get into these with a sharp, hot knife. Once you have the knack, mounting on and off is a breeze. Hopefully the bags will absorb the shock and preserve the mounts when the bike falls over.
There is a small bar above the clocks/display for GPS mounting but space is limited and my bulky Garmin 76 set up (right); it would obscure the clocks and probably shake loose so it’s gone down on the bars; not so line-of-sight but closeat hand to work the buttons. There is a power take-off plug behind the headlight cover I’m told but it’s some odd connection apparently, so until I have a chance to make something neater, I kept it simple and wired an old 12v cig plug from the bars under the tank to the battery with a fuse nearby. It means stuff can be run with the bike electrics turned off
I’ve also got a Touratech Windscreen Spoiler as my first abiding impression of this bike was how noisy it was at speed. The screen is great for sure but at 6′ 1″ (186cm) it’s too low for me – and as far as the ears go is actually worse than nothing. Hopefully this quickly removable gadget will ease the transit across Spain. It may need bending and curving which can be easily done with perspex with something like a hair dryer, commonly found in the sort of hotels I frequent. It’s the sort of thing I would have spent a day making myself badly out of an old bit of aquarium. How times change…
Oh, and Matt welded on the all important side stand foot while I stood by and took a picture.
My impressions of the XT660Z Tenere after riding from London to Morocco and halfway back in November 2008, soon after the new bike came out. I’d only owned it a couple of weeks before setting off and happened to sell it a couple of weeks after I got back.
In Europe Yamaha’s Dakar-inspired Tenere has long been the definitive bike for desert travels. In the mid-1980s I rode the original kickstart XT600 Tenereacross the Sahara to Dakar (right), and a year or two later I rode the electric-start 1VJ model (below) around southern Algeria.
As a comparison, you may like the read a report on an XR650L, a BMW F650GS SE which I used for a similar Morocco trip from 2012, as well as G650 Xcountry I rode in 2014, a CB500X in 2015, a Husky 701 in 2016 and a WR250R in 2017. I make several comparisons with the Tenere.
For my detailed review of the Touratech Zega Flex panniers I used, click this.
For my detailed review of the Airoh TR1 helmet I wore, click this.
To read about my continuing experiment with tubeless tyres, click this.
• Engine and FI /ECU problems from the 660X and R models ironed out • Pulls smoothly and feels nippy in town and stable at speed • Fuel consumption (71.7 mpg/25.4kpl = 380-mile/610km tank range) • Can change speedo/odos between mph and kph (but not as described in ‘TFM’) • Clear, eye-level dashboard display • Good-sized 23-litre tank • Seat seems good by trail bike standards after a 300-mile day • Screen • 9:1 comp ratio: good for poor fuel and long engine life • Fall-over tank protection • Suspension seems good and firm • 6000-mile service intervals (on semi-synthetic oil) • It doesn’t look too bad, either
• High centre of gravity • Heavy for what it is – it weighs over 200kg wet• • Screen too low – buffets my head • Twin front discs are OTT – look at a CB500X • Fuel gauge is way out – the digital bars disappear at around 240 miles with at least 100 miles left (common to many bikes, tbh) • Little bits of rust already – naturalmente, fatto in Italia!
Comfort All things considered I found the seat OK for days of up to 300 miles or more when you simply sit on the thing for hours. On the dirt it’s not so relevant as you stop and move around more. I agree with some that the scoop/two level is a bad thing and a fully flat seat would be better, but it seems the back of the seat has to be raised to get over the cat which is over the back tyre. Because of this scoop you can’t slide back and move around to reduce the aches or crouch down easily behind the screen. I also found that pushed forward like this, my ankles point down too much to use the foot controls. If I could slide back, my feet would be more horizontal and line up with the foot brake, already adjusted as low as it can go. But you get used to it. The foam I think is OK but like many bikes, may have softened after a few thousand rough miles. I like the neat and quick way the seat comes off. I’ve never had a pillion on it long enough to get an opinion on the back’s comfort. Usually, on these sorts of bikes it’s not so good.
I believe some sort of screen is essential for long-range travels and it’s great that the new XTZ came with a good one fitted. Unfortunately for me at 6’ 1”/185cm, it’s still too low and buffets my head worse than if it wasn’t there. A crude, q/d Touratech extension clamped on well enough – a proper taller screen would have been better. On the dirt I found the extension got in the way for good visibility, especially if dirty, but I could quickly clip it on the side of the screen (above left).
Even at my height (or perhaps because of my age) I found the 895mm/35.2″ seat too high to get on and off easily, and too tall on the dirt. Of course this can be fixed by lowering the suspension of which there is more than enough. I do also wonder if the suspension is too firmly damped from stock. I didn’t meddle enough with it other than cranking up the back 2 or 4 clicks to take my luggage. I never weighed my bike myself, but they say it comes in at 206kg wet – a staggering 40kg more than the original 600 Tenere of 1983 which carried 18% more fuel.
I can’t say it was any more vibey than any other big single I’ve had (the Husky 701 was a shocker) and taking the bar end weights off at 500 miles to fit the Barkbusters didn’t make it any worse. As with many big singles, I find some days at some speeds/temperature/load/fuel/whatever it feels harsh – and at other times at the same conditions, it’s smooth. For a modern, water-cooled bike the engine does seem quite noisy. Maybe it’s just a big thumping single.
Economy I never had such variable results from a carb’ bike. it must be an efi thing – but overall it’s very good and was getting better. About time. For overlanding mpg is more important than mph. On previous Teneres I’ve got up to 80+ mpg in ideal conditions (backwind @ 50mph) but generally under 60mpg was normal, as I recall. My near-new XTZ averaged just under 72mpg or 25.5kpl for the last ten fill-ups. The worst figure was an as-expected riding all day into a gale-force dust storm at around 50mph: 52mpg or 18.3kpl. The best was interestingly, a necessarily slow ride over the High Atlas one bend-swinging night resulted in 86mpg or 30kpl. Nice. For my full records, see this.
Low-quality fuel Once or twice I had to resort to low-octane fuel in Morocco (‘essence’) but didn’t notice any difference in performance. I imagine this is a benefit of having a low compression ratio. I’ve also read that after a spell of leaded fuel, the Tenere’s catalytic converter ‘self-cleans’ when running on unleaded again, so technically no need to change the pipe to spare the cat, though you’d think several months on leaded would take some cleaning to return the cat to full low-emission efficiency. I never noticed any pinking or over-heating.
Oil and water consumption; drive chain In 5000 miles no oil was used, apart from a few drips out of the engine crack when it fell over at 2mph. What was interesting was that the semi-synthetic Petronas they put in at the first service still has some good colour in it after 4500 miles; ie: it wasn’t black. Along with the 6000-mile service intervals, this would convert me to semi-synthetic, despite the price. I wonder if efi helps in this regard: clean emissions = clean oil for longer? Water consumption was zero and once or twice the fan came on, but only in conditions you’d expect it too. I tried to keep on top of the chain with oiling but it still needed adjusting 3 or 4 times so it doesn’t seem to be as good as the best DIDs I’ve used in the past. At the end there were still several thousand miles left in it.
Performance It doesn’t feel that much more powerful than previous big singles I’ve had, but on the trip I never felt I needed more. Very rarely do I rev over 4000 rpm. In my opinion a low-tuned, 600 single or twin is just the right size for loaded, all-roads travel so I’m happy to give up KTM levels of power for a long-lasting and fuel-efficient engine. Inevitably I’m sure I’d have got round to tuning it a bit (while also trying to save weight), but only if the great mpg was not compromised.
The front twin discs feel pretty ordinary and surely one good SM-style disc would be adequate and save a lot of sprung weight? Were Brembo doing a 2-for-1 deal? For a trail bike, the front wheel weighs a ton, but it wouldn’t be hard to remove one disc and carrier, put a block in that side’s caliper and see how it stops. Most probably the other caliper is designed to work as one of two small units and may get over-worked so it’d be best replaced with a larger, 4 piston unit. Is it all worth it? Not really unless you’re greatly improving the fork. I have to say the flashy-looking twin bulb front headlight is not that brilliant in terms of spread, compared to less impressive-looking setups I’ve run before.
From first impressions the suspension felt firm front and back which makes a nice change from older Teneres and gave good road manners. When I loaded up with 25kg of baggage I turned the back up by 2 full- or 4 half-clicks. Hard to tell exactly, but neither end never got near bottoming out on the piste. I wish I’d experimented more with backing off both ends on the dirt. The front I left as it was, but one evening after a very rough rocky climb that punctured the front tyre and all the rest, to add to my woes the front forks ‘collapsed’. I could squash them right down. There were no leaks. I’ve never had this before on a bike and though an air or oil damping valve may have ‘burst’ or a spring broken from the hammering – or possibly the fork oil had become aerated. But I wasn’t exactly ripping across corrugations at MX speeds in 40°C. Next day I turned the fork up 5 turns (5 x 360°) to compensate but soon regretted it. The bike became even slower to turn on the dirt and on the road. In fact, the forks self-recovered and I wonder if I was making it all up as the shit had hit the fan at that stage and some of it may have lodged in my brain. Anyway, the fork was back to normal next day. I suspect aeration or hallucination.
Road riding Generally on the road I sit at an indicated 65mph or so – not so fast. At this speed riding is less tiring and safer and economy is good. With the screen extension this could be sustained all day with only the usual discomfort. Many road testers used to brilliant GSXR’s and the like don’t get on with the handling of 21”-wheeled trail bikes and in response many manufacturers chose 19” fronts for their bigger adventure bikes. They have a point: a 21”shod bike never feels planted in the bends and adding a semi-knobbly tyre doesn’t help. Fwiw, I felt the bike handled pretty well on the TKCs. On the highway they didn’t feel any worse than the original Tourances used for running in, though I don’t exactly throw the XT around like a super moto. Loaded up, I found the bike was sometimes hard to turn on tight bends and hairpins, both on or off road, as if the front was raked out too much or the weight was too high (it is). Short of getting your weight over the front end, MX-style, the usual way to tune this out is to soften the front- or jack-up the back. I don’t recall having this impression on previous bikes like this; they’re usually too softly sprung. So I blame the higher than average CoG (centre of gravity) not helped by the cats stuck way high out the back, along with my high luggage set up, and the firm suspension. If I’d kept the bike I’d have experimented with softening the springs and even lowering the bike (and possibly getting rid of the heavy twin cats for a lighter pipe). To be fair, some of the roads and tracks in Morocco are very narrow and tight, with thought-provoking drops. Even some tarmac mountain back roads have strips of gravel down the middle on which any bike would struggle to progress smoothly.
Cross winds One early owner’s impression I read said how great the bike was in high winds. Head winds maybe, but coming back over the edge of the Pyrenees towards Perpignan there were violent gusts coming from the west and I don’t recall ever feeling so unsafe on a bike and being on the verge of crashing. All the other road users were giving me a wide berth as I tried to predict the gusts and control the wildly bucking bike from running over the hard shoulder and off the edge. It may have been the same for all bikes that day, but keeping down to 50mph, a 600cc UJM passed me without any drama. Again I feel my high baggage set up would not have helped, but do wonder if again, this high CoG is to blame. We are talking about exceptionally strong gusts here, but I must have ridden in those sorts of conditions before and survived.
Off-road riding Off-roading in Morocco is mostly on rocky or gravel tracks as above and the TKCs made this much more predictable, easier and safer. The good thing with semi-knobbly road tyres like these is that you can keep the pressure high to avoid rock punctures while still benefiting from the aggressive tread pattern on loose surfaces. The idea of riding the trails on the OE Tourances doesn’t bear thinking about. I’ve never had a Jap trail bike with too firm suspension and I think I was a bit slow to recognise this. Although I take it fairly easy riding alone on the piste, the bike didn’t really respond to off-roading well enough to give confidence to ride it towards the limits – and with all that weight that can’t be that far off. Maybe just as well. Not surprisingly I found the handlebars were too low when standing up off road, causing me to crouch unsustainably. Most bikes are like this at my height and handlebar risers would have easily fixed it. I also found the gearing too high for slow off-roading – again, as expected. I’m not sure what the standard gearing is, but the bike does 8mph at the 1500rpm tickover which is too fast for some steep hairpins or loose descents. With a heavy load, the clutch would have got hot from slipping on the hairpins but the only time this happened – a bit of slack at the lever – was when the front mudguard jammed with mud for a couple of kilometres passing south of Jebel Sirwa.
Loading Along with the economy and low-stressed engine, the seriously strong subframe is one of the best things about the XTZ. It has to be twice as thick and much stiffer than the steel straws which held up the back of my XR650L, or indeed previous Teneres I’ve owned. This is one part of the bike I don’t mind being over weight. Adding the simple, functional and tough Off The Road rack only made this better and is all the metalwork you need to pile it up with the heaviest alu boxes.
Equipment I like the near eye-level dashboard and digi speedo, even if it’s a bit basic. I would have liked an oil or water temp gauge. I didn’t discover till I got back that the Yam handbook and not the bike is at fault wrt changing from mph to kph. Click this for how to make this very useful feature work (as well as all the 660 chat that’s fit to print). I wired up my own 12 volt PTO plug directly from the battery onto the handlebars for the GPS. Everyone complains how way out (pessimistic) the fuel gauge is but at least it’s consistent! Once you get used to this you’ll know that if it re-zeros itself at around say 230 miles, you’re doing a good 70mpg and have at least 100 miles left in the tank. The tank is plastic by the way and notably warm on the leg. Checked against a GPS over 100 miles I found the odometre (distance recorder) to be accurate to within 1%. This means that the mpg readings are also virtually true. The same cannot be said for the speedo which, like all bikes at an indicated 70mph = 64mph true = 8.5% over. According to the speedo then, the bikes feels faster than it is.
Durability If you think about it, it’s asking a lot to take an untried bike just 500 miles old out for a 4500-mile off-road hammering with no preparation to speak of and to expect nothing to break. Nothing did and to this end I feel the Yam is well screwed together. The only things that came loose and fell out were a couple of screws holding on the screen, but this was almost certainly due to the extra leverage put on them by the TTech screen extension. Obviously I could have done with engine bars or a proper bash plate, as would any bike of this kind (they’re available for the XT-Z now, but weren’t then). The tank/radiator protectors are a nice touch and the Barkbusters are a no-brainer to the mods list. So, I still like everything I liked at 500 miles. Not so keen that it’s higher than it needs to be – but it can be easily lowered. Plus it feels heavy for what it is – a tall CoG not helped with my high luggage set up, but that usually comes with the territory.
Bikes like this will always be a compromise but for the Morocco job, when you think of the cost of the machine [in 2008] and the minimal ‘kerbside’ levels of preparation, the 660Z offered an ideal balance of continent-crossing comfort with adequate fully loaded off-road ability. Just like the Tenere always did in fact, only more so.