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2021 Yamaha Tenere 700: Is It Everything We’d Hoped For?

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2021 Yamaha Tenere 700

Ever since the T7 was first introduced as a concept in 2016, it became one of the most highly-desired bikes among adventure riders. This was at a time when adventure bikes kept getting bigger, heavier and more complex every year. Yet tastes had changed in the segment and many ADV enthusiasts were looking for something smaller, lighter, simpler, and more off-road oriented. The T7 concept, with its aggressive rally styling and compact design, looked like it could be that unicorn bike many had been yearning for. 

When Yamaha revealed the Tenere 700 production model about a year later, it was toned down a bit with a lower suspension and some of its bling removed, but it still followed the same basic mold of the T7 concept more or less. After several years of teasers, the bike finally  became available for sale last year as a 2020 model in Europe and here in the states we had to wait an additional year to get it. So was it worth the wait? Read on for a full rundown on this new machine after several days of testing on some of our local riding areas in Southern California. 

What You Get At A Glance 

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 Ice Blue

The 2021 Tenere 700 is powered by a 689cc parallel-twin engine that was pulled straight out of Yamaha’s MT-07 naked bike, with a few minor tweaks to the ECU. This proven powerplant produces roughly 73 horsepower and 50 lb.-ft. of torque. Its long-stroke design is optimized for low-end grunt, giving it lots of traction in the dirt. In addition, the Yamaha’s 270° ‘Cross-Plane crank’ makes a sweet sound that soothes the soul, even with the stock exhaust can.

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 exhaust2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 engineYamaha’s torque-tuned 689cc parallel twin with a 270° Cross-Plane crank makes a sweet sound when you crack the throttle.
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As far as the chassis, Yamaha relied on its Rally Racing heritage to develop a narrow, lightweight perimeter steel frame with a rearward weight balance (48% front / 52% rear) that makes it easier to lift the front wheel. Additional bracing ensures it can handle punishment from more-aggressive off-road riding and removable lower frame rails make pulling the engine an easier job. While its subframe is designed for carrying luggage, it’s welded on rather than bolted.

Suspending the bike is a 43mm KYB fork with 8.3 inches (210mm) of travel and a rear KYB shock with 7.9 inches (200mm) of travel. Both front and rear suspension are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and the shock has a hand crank for adjusting preload. There is no preload adjustment on the fork, nor does the shock have high- and low-speed compression settings.

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 handlebar mounts
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2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 front fender.The low front fender is adjustable by 8mm to help with muddy terrain.

Yamaha’s new mid-size adventure bike rides on proper off-road wire-spoke wheels sized 21” up front and 18” in the rear, shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR adventure tires. Getting things stopped are Brembo Brake calipers clamping down on twin 282mm discs up front, and a single 245mm disc in the rear. Standard seat h is 34.4”, with a low seat (-1.5”) and tall ‘Rally’ seat (+1.6”) option.

The Tenere 700 comes well-equipped from the factory for adventure featuring a 4.2-gallon fuel tank that Yamaha claims is good for up to 200 miles with an easy throttle hand. Plus it has a decent-sized windscreen, a powerful quad LED headlight setup, GPS mount crossbar, 12V outlet to charge electronics, wide serrated footpegs with removable (without tools) rubber covers, a basic skid plate, wrap-around hand guards, and an adjustable-h front fender (for mud rides) – all as standard equipment. About the only thing missing is a rear luggage rack and maybe a center stand, which are available as factory accessories, along with engine guards, heated grips, a beefier skid plate, auxiliary lights, and more.

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 LED headlight
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As for the electronics, Yamaha went back to basics with an old-school LCD screen and simple on/off ABS system. There is no traction control, touch screen, rider modes, IMU or any of that advanced tech that many riders fear will fail on them out riding in the middle of nowhere. Keeping things simple also helped reduce the weight with the Tenere 700 coming in at 452 pounds fully fueled. And it comes with a lightweight price tag of $9,999 USD for any of the color options (Ceramic Ice, Intensity White or Matte Black ).

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 color optionsThe U.S. gets all three color options – Ceramic Ice, Matte Black and Intensity White.

First Impressions 

Sitting on the Tenere 700, it is small and light for an adventure bike – feeling similar in size to a rally-kitted KTM 690 Enduro. Ergos are excellent for standing up with a handlebar mounted in a dirtbike-h position. Although, the seated position is another story. It seems Yamaha may have been trying to get their seat h to look lower on the  spec sheets, and in doing so, the standard seat feels awkwardly low in relation to the bars. For taller riders like myself (6 foot 2 inch), the seated position felt a bit cramped in the legs as well. 

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 testing in the dirt2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 stock seatThe stock saddle offers a seat h of 34.4 inches but feels too low in relation to the high handlebar position.

Luckily, I got a chance to try out the optional Rally Seat that is 1.6 inches taller. This significantly improved ergonomics with a flatter seat-to-tank transition that allows you to scooch forward on the tank in order to weight the front end in turns. It lets you ride on top of the bike rather than in it. Plus the extra cushion makes the seat significantly more comfortable for a long day in the saddle. If you can handle the 36-inch seat h, the Rally saddle is highly recommended. 

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 LCD DisplayYamaha Tenere 700 handlebar controllerA basic LCD screen can be adjusted by menu buttons on the display or a handlebar thumb controller, and a simple dash button disables ABS.

Getting familiar with the display was pretty easy to do with the basic LCD screen that is in stark contrast to the sophisticated color-TFT screens found on most adventure bikes these days. It has all the standard information you need though like a fuel gauge, trip meters, fuel consumption, outside temperature, and more, which is controllable by menu buttons on the display or a handlebar thumb control. Hold the ABS button down for 5 seconds and it turns ABS off for both the front and rear wheel. ABS resets every time you use the kill switch or turn the key off. 

Street Test 

2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 street riding

Cruising around town on the Tenere 700, its fuel injection feels refined and smooth in the lower RPMs. There is plenty of good torque there and enough acceleration but it comes on with a mild surge that is a bit underwhelming compared to some of the bigger middleweight twins. This is a sub-700cc engine after all. Getting it to wheelie takes a fair amount of revs and clutch in first gear. Yet there is ample power there to merge into traffic, pass cars or do anything else you might ask it to do. Passing without a downshift usually isn’t a problem either. 

On the highway, the Tenere’s motor is dead smooth with no significant vibration or tingling in the bars or pegs that might cause concern. Even dropping it down to 5th gear at 75, it was still smooth, 4th as well!  To match that smoothness is a smallish windshield that blocks a lot more wind than you’d expect. It pushed the wind nearly over my head (at 6 foot 2 inch) and around my shoulders, for a nice clean pocket of air to ride in. And with the cushy Rally Seat, it’s a bike I wouldn’t dread riding for several hours on the highway enroute to the trails. 

Yamaha Tenere 700 windshieldYamaha Tenere 700 highway cruisingWind protection was surprisingly good and the motor is dead smooth on the highway.

Heading into twisty asphalt roads in the mountains, I thought the tall Tenere might feel like a fish out of water but it was actually a well-balanced and nimble machine. There is a fair amount of dive and squat entering and coming out of corners but not enough to upset the bike. The Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires held on tight during sporty riding and only rarely did the rear kick out without a Traction Control safety net. For the experienced hand, Traction Control is really not a requirement with the smooth, predictable power of the Tenere 700. And the motor gets livelier in the upper revs, making it fun to wind out, but acceleration is still pretty much the same no matter what the RPM. 

Yamaha Tenere 700 cornering

Once you start pushing it in the corners, toes begin to scrape. You’ll also notice the Brembos don’t have a lot of bite and can feel a bit mushy for aggressive street riding. Nonetheless, it’s still an incredibly fun bike on a twisty road that’s more than capable of chasing down a sport bike in the tight stuff. 

Off-Road Test 

In the dirt, the Tenere’s ABS system feels unrefined compared to the more advanced off-road ABS offerings on the market. It’s really a street-tuned system that should be turned off as soon as you hit the dirt. The less than stellar braking performance on the street was not really an issue in the dirt though. The only time I did have problems with braking was with the rear wheel on steep declines. Going down hills at a hot pace, it was hard to be smooth on the rear brake. Without a lot of feel or a slipper clutch, the rear wheel would start to chatter and loose grip, forcing me to rely more on the front brake. 

Yamaha Tenere 700 suspensionThe Tenere’s stand-up ergos are excellent for off-road riding.

What really shines in the dirt, is the motor with its smooth fueling and predictable torque throughout the powerband. You wouldn’t expect a small-displacement twin to offer this much torque. You can bog the motor up hills and it doesn’t protest. The beefy low-end, makes it easy to forget to downshift. Sometimes I’d look down and realize I was doing 10 mph in 3rd gear on the trail. There isn’t a lot of ‘pop’ though if you need to get over obstacles. 

Rear tire grip is good under power even without Traction Control, until you get into the softer stuff. But that is really more about the tires. Riding with the stock Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires, I found it easy to break traction in sand or loose dirt. Yet power slides were always easy to control and predictable. The front tire also had a tendency to surprise you with a no-warning tuck riding over patches of sand. However, I got a chance to test the Tenere 700 with a set of Shinko 216 MX knobbies and the feeling was significantly improved. The rear tire grabbed excellent traction and the bike floated through deep sand like it was on rails. The 21”/18” wheel combo and longish 62.8-inch wheelbase gives it excellent stability as well. The differences in sand was a reminder of how much tire choice can have a big impact on handling. But the Pirelli’s are still a step up compared to the smooth 80/20 (street/dirt) tires many manufacturers typically mount on new adventure bikes. 

Yamaha Tenere 700 tractionYamaha Tenere 700 singletrackHandling feels light and quick on tight doubletrack trails, and it’s easy to adjust your line mid turn.

Handling feels light and quick, almost dirtbike-like when going through windy doubletrack. It goes where you point it and you can switch lines fairly easily. Although the front end begins to push in tighter turns, and the Tenere starts feeling less agile at slower speeds. One reason is its fuel tank design carries the weight up high. But that isn’t all bad… The high CG contributes to its quick handling as the weight falls into turns. Since the bike is fairly light, it’s easy to control that weight while you are moving at faster speeds. But at slower speeds, that weight gets harder to control. You notice it most when trying to do a U-turn on the trail. The bike suddenly starts to tip and can catch you off guard if you don’t have a solid footing yet. 

Yamaha Tenere 700 rocky terrainThe suspension is supple on smaller bumps but as speeds increase and the rocks get bigger, the Tenere’s suspension does start to lose some of its composure.

Probably the biggest disappointment with the new Tenere 700 was with the suspension’s bump absorption. It definitely feels nice and plush over smaller rocks and chop with good damping and supple springs. As you get into mid-sized rocks though, it gets bouncy and a little overwhelmed. And if you hit a sharp-edged or a flat-faced rock at speed, the front fork lets out a loud clunk to warn you ‘don’t do that!’. 

Although, a bigger problem is when you get both wheels off the ground. The first time I caught a small amount of air, it was a bit unnerving when the Tenere 700 completely bottomed out both the front and rear suspension. At 215 pounds I’m a big guy, so it’s no surprise that I might bottom out occasionally while riding aggressively. But this was a casual jump at a casual speed.

Yamaha Tenere 700 catch airDuring our testing, the Tenere averaged 37.7 MPG with a heavy throttle hand, which translates into about 160 miles between fill ups on the smallish 4.2-gallon tank.

Adding both compression and rebound damping, along with preload on the rear, did improve things for the Tenere’s bump absorption. Yet these improvements came at the expense of plushness and still didn’t fully fix the problem. I think Yamaha missed the mark here in the suspension department trying to make the Tenere 700 more approachable to a broader audience, or perhaps this was a cost-cutting decision. The suspension is much softer than you’d expect from a rally-inspired bike that is targeted toward off-road riders. It definitely suffers in this category compared to its competition, which have continually improved their off-road suspensions in recent years. 

The Bottom Line 

Yamaha Tenere 700 water crossing

The Tenere 700 isn’t without a few flaws like its soft suspension and lackluster brakes. A lack of traction control or other rider aids, which can improve your ability to ride faster safely, might turn away some potential buyers. But its minimal electronics are just as likely to be the bike’s biggest draw. It’s a simple, low-tech machine, built in a Japanese factory with a 24,000-mile valve adjustment interval. A bike you can take to the far corners of the earth and feel confident it will get you home after giving it a good flogging. 

Yet that is not to say the Tenere 700 is only for riders looking for a dependable adventure motorcycle. With its nimble chassis, it’s still a very capable machine that can run circles around most big-bore adventure bikes in the dirt. I think there is a lot more potential in the bike waiting to be unleashed at your local suspension shop too. If you are the type of rider that typically gets a custom suspension anyway, Yamaha has left some money on the table for upgrades. With an extra inch or so of travel and higher-spec internals in the fork and shock, this bike could be a top contender in the dirt.

Yamaha Tenere 700 river crossing

As far as how it matches up currently in the market, the Tenere’s closest competition would have to be the KTM 790 Adventure (Standard not the R), which is $2,500 more. That bike has a lot more power and premium bells and whistles, but it is closest in size and capability. Stepping up to a Tiger 900 Rally or BMW F850GS would cost $5,000 more, and those bikes just feel like they are in a different size and weight class. Those serious about off-road riding might also consider a KTM 690 or Husqvarna 701. But those are about $2,000 more than the Tenere and you could spend thousands more adding mods trying to make it as versatile for all-around adventure travel. 

What Yamaha has created is a bike with broad appeal for new and seasoned adventure riders alike, with a price tag that leaves you extra dough to customize it into what you want it to be. For a lot of riders though, it will be everything they need right out of the box. When you factor in its light weight (for the category), torquey motor, quick handling, all the standard equipment, and versatility both on and off the trail, the Tenere 700 is a pretty impressive package for $9,999. 

We’re looking forward to getting it out on more adventures to continue exploring its capabilities. Stay tuned for more!

Yamaha Tenere 700 Specs

engine 689cc liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke; 8 valves
Bore x stroke 80.0mm x 68.6mm
fuel delivery Fuel Injection
transmission 6-speed; wet multiplate clutch
final drive Chain
Compression ratio 11.5:1
front suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully-adjustable; 8.3-in travel
rear suspension Single shock, adjustable preload (w/remote adjuster) and rebound damping; 7.9-in travel
front brakes Dual 282mm hydraulic disc; selectable ABS
rear brakes 245mm hydraulic disc; selectable ABS
FRONT TIRES 90/90R21 Pirelli® Scorpion® Rally STR
REAR TIRES 150/70R18 Pirelli® Scorpion® Rally STR
SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in
WHEELBASE 62.6 in
ground clearance 9.5 in
fuel capacity 4.2 gal
wet weight 452 lbs

Gear We Used

Photos by Stephen Gregory and Joseph Agustin

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Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

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