2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700: New Standard for Adventure

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Brian Nelson, Ray Gauger

Research and development for a new motorcycle takes several years. OEMs usually give us a few months’, maybe even a year’s heads-up about a new model. Yamaha went against the grain and announced the Ténéré 700, or T7, four years ago, right around the same time when they decided to build it! Needless to say, we’ve been anxiously awaiting this sought-after motorcycle that fits perfectly in a gap in the current offering of adventure bikes—a simple, lightweight machine that skews more off-road than on-road.

In addition to the initial test ride, I’ve racked up 2,500 miles on the T7 so far, mainly on North Carolina and West Virginia dirt and gravel roads. It’s impossible not to compare it to KTM’s 790 Adventure, mainly because we currently have both in the garage. We’ll publish a thorough comparison test in a later issue. For now, I’ll note that at 6 feet and 2 inches, with a 34-inch inseam, the T7 fits me perfectly, especially standing up, whereas the 790 Adventure’s ergonomics aren’t as ideal for somebody my size.

Let’s start with the most refreshing observation about the new Yamaha. It’s a wonderfully simple machine. The engine is derived from the MT-07 with a redesigned exhaust, cooling system, airbox, ECU settings, and a final gear ratio of 15/46. The 689cc cross-plane two-cylinder mill is torquey, extremely smooth and forgiving, and it passes very little vibration on to the rider. Yamaha calls it the CP2 engine.

Valve clearance checks are a lengthy 24,000 miles apart. The 270-degree crankshaft moves the firing pulses closer together, resulting in a smoother transmission of power to the rear tire and a V-twin-like exhaust note. This 270-degree design debuted in Yamaha’s 1996 TRX850, a model not exported to the U.S., and nearly every new parallel-twin engine from every manufacturer uses this configuration. History and specs aside, the bottom line is that the engine is a smooth operator. Its power output is predictable and the reason the T7 doesn’t suffer from its lack of electronic rider aids.

What? No Fancy Ride Modes? 

The fun begins simply with a push of the starter button. I almost forgot what it’s like not to spend a minute selecting my traction control, ABS, and throttle response settings before I let the clutch out. How refreshing!

Many motorcycles truly benefit from these rider aids for safety reasons, but it makes me wonder—why make motorcycles so powerful only to rein them in again? The T7 comes standard with ABS and a button on the dashboard can turn it off completely when riding off-road. You have to be stopped to turn it off and repeat the action every time you hit the kill switch. The engine serves as a natural traction control. On the loose stuff, you can rip around corners in a lower gear, easily and predictably letting the rear step out, but you can also shift up and let the torque motor you through without wheelspin.

The brakes are sufficient, but the rear leaves more to be desired. It lacks a serious bite. The ability to lock up the rear is a crucial tool when riding off-road, but it’s difficult to accomplish this on the T7. Yamaha says this is to make the motorcycle appealing to all skill levels, and that much is true. Riders who choose this mount for their first foray into dirt or less aggressive riders will appreciate it. 

Yamaha also went a different route with the dash. Instead of a colorful, horizontal TFT display, the T7 uses a simple vertical LCD display. Everything is easy to see, and the gear indicator on the top right is well placed. The design fits with the slim and narrow rally theme. On the other side of the dash is the headlight nacelle, housing four bright LEDs to illuminate the path ahead. The T7’s light shines much brighter than the competitions’.

Chassis and Suspension

The bike’s steel frame features removable lower frame rails for engine maintenance, a lightweight aluminum swingarm, and a double-braced steering head. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank is top mounted, which gives it a taller appearance and helps retain the narrow body shape.

During testing, we encountered a particularly rutted road as deep as half the motorcycle. The slim design allowed the T7 to ride through effortlessly, while the KTM 790 Adventure’s low and wide gas tank acted like a plow. Both made it through, but the T7 did so with less effort. The T7’s chassis gives it responsive off-road handling characteristics. Taking sharp turns on single tracks and jumping over whoops highlight the T7’s off-road prowess.

Like with most Yamahas, the suspension components come from KYB. A pair of 43mm forks with 210mm travel, adjustable compression, and rebound damping suspends the front wheel, and a piggyback shock with 200mm travel and adjustable compression, rebound damping, and preload keeps the rear tire on the ground. The T7 comes with the comfort suspension setting as default, but I highly recommend the off-road setting. As soon as you put a little more weight on the bike, especially if you’re hauling luggage, the front end gets very light. The stiffer setting also provides a much better experience when riding along trails, up berms, and over rocks. 

True to its intended use, the T7 employs a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear with tube-type tires. I was surprised by the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR M+S tires supplied as the OEM choice. They don’t look like aggressive tires, yet they provide superb grip both on gravel and in mud. The front fender is adjustable by 8mm to accommodate knobby tires or if you’re rolling through muddy terrain.

Flo’s Lowdown

For $ 10,000, with the Ténéré 700 you get a brand-new bike that’s ready for any adventure ahead. As it’s built for the trail, it’s not the best choice for two-up travel. It’s easy to mistakenly put the readouts in km when trying to reset the trip meter.

The tall and narrow body, combined with the roomy ergonomics, make it a winner off-road, while the windscreen offers plenty of protection for highway stints.