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yamaha xtz660z

Profile - Yamaha XTZ660Z Tenere - is it a future collectible?

(originally written for MT #355, Sep 2019, updated June 2020)

yamaha XTZ660Z

Desert Sled

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Yamaha’s legendry Tenere name has drifted back to twin-cylinder models – does that make the last of the singles a keeper?

yamaha tenere 700

Yamaha’s recent launch of the Tenere 700 twin (above) creates an interesting little milestone for motorcycle collectors, as it potentially makes its predecessor – the XT660Z - the last of the Tenere big singles (top 2 pics). If that turns out to be true, it’s a significant occasion given the nameplate’s 36-year history.

It took an incredible amount of time for Australians to catch on to the whole adventure bike thing – years longer than our European cousins – but once we did, we made it one of the dominant categories in local sales. Really, you wonder why it took so damn long.

In theory there is no better style of motorcycle for our conditions. Long-travel suspension for often ropey conditions – even when the road is sealed – big-capacity fuel tank for long hauls without stressing over fuel, and an engine package that is all about midrange rather than top speed.

Easy, yes? Well, no. For some time there we had a record for buying machines that were spectacularly unsuitable for actual real world conditions. But they were fast and sexy.

We did however buy BMW GS variants by the crateful, but anything else was an also-ran and only sold in very modest numbers. Among that surprisingly large group, one model name is a stand-out both as a survivor and having some credibility behind it: Tenere.

The genesis of the name really dates back to the 1970s and a clique of French riders spearheaded by Yamaha employee Jean-Claude Olivier. Medium to large capacity off-road bikes were hardly anything new, given scrambles meetings had featured them for decades. What changed the character of the scene however was the emergence of big international rally events that ultimately turned into phenomenon such as the Paris-Dakar raid and its successors.

Olivier led a four-rider team backed by French Yamaha importer Sonauto in the inaugural 1979 Paris-Dakar. They managed a one-two finish (that’s outright, leading the cars!) on modified XT500s with riders Cyril Neveu and Giles Comte doing the honours.


Yamaha remained a force in the event over the coming decade, though it was BMW and Honda which tended to dominate the results. Nevertheless, Yamaha by 1983 had established the Tenere model name, which was said to have a dual meaning as referring to ‘desert’ or ‘solitude’.

xt600 tenere

Back then this was a radical bit of gear (above), with the giant 30 litre fuel tank alone being a talking point. Developed alongside its TT600 enduro cousin, it also boasted the first front disc brake on an off-road Yamaha, Monocross rear suspension and an aluminium swingarm. Power came from the four-valve 600cc single breathing through a unique dual carburetor set-up tagged as then Yamaha Dual Intake System.

It sold okay here, but the local numbers were dwarfed by the European market. A very healthy 61,000 of the first-gen were made, with a third of them being sold in France.

XT660

Since that time, the Tenere singles have been through several generations, including a five-valve 660 in 1991 (above) and a four-valve 660 in 2008. It’s that latter generation we’re interested in.

Given Yamaha’s huge experience with this sector, you’d have to give this bike some credit for having a fair bit of thought behind the design. The basics were a fuel-injected four-valver four-stroke, liquid-cooled and running fuel injection. Matched to a five-speed transmission, it clamed a modest 48 horses (36kW) at 6000rpm, which really suggested tuning that emphasised midrange over top-end.

There were no surprises in the chassis, which was based around a steel frame, with long travel suspension at both ends and adjustment for preload only. You scored twin Brembo discs up front, with another disc on the rear. Stock tyres were Metzeler Tourance, which tended to favour made surfaces.

Fuel carrying capacity had long been a talking point for Teneres, and this one was nothing radical at 23 litres. Given its ability to travel 20km per litre without drama, that still gave it a very respectable range.

It was actually a pretty sexy-looking thing, with a serious attempt at aggressive styling and a minimal fairing which provided a useful windbreak. Also, much of the bodywork was made of hardy material that would tolerate the odd spill.

On the down side, it was heavy, weighing just shy of 210kg wet (near enough to 190 dry) and relatively expensive. Priced at around $14,000, it was near enough to double the ask for Suzuki’s admittedly less sophisticated DR650. That tended to stop a lot of potential buyers in their tracks.

It was tall, and quite sensitive on the throttle at low speed, so early impressions weren’t always positive. In addition, there was talk of some fuelling glitches, where the throttle response isn’t as smooth as it could be. This may have something to do with tuning for Euro 3 emissions and I have seen owner reports suggesting a good aftermarket tuning set-up can work wonders.

The powerplant tends to get vibey beyond 5000rpm, while 100km/h equates to 3800.

Whether you like the suspension will depend heavily on personal taste. The front in particular can feel soft and does a fairly typical big dive under heavy braking. Some aftermarket tuning would be worth investigating on a used model with a few miles under its wheels.

Despite the reservations, this model has actually lasted very well in service and those who could cope with the inevitably tall stance of the bike tended to love it. It’s too big to be taken seriously as a pukka off-road proposition, but is pretty well spot-on as a relatively light outback tourer. It definitely has a fan base out there among the adventure touring set.

There is a reasonable supply of these things in the used market (the model was killed off in 2016) and you’ll see prices ranging around $7-9k, depending on mileage and condition. Really, the advice with this one is buy on condition rather than year model.

As for becoming collectible, I reckon they will always have a specialist audience that ‘gets’ the name and the history behind it. I doubt it will ever rate as an investment, but it would make an interesting talking point in your shed and would be an essential for the Tenere collector - and yes, they exist!. Cyril and his mates would approve…

***

Yamaha 750 super tenere

The Tenere Multis
Yamaha’s new twin-pot Tenere had a predecessor in the form of the XTZ750 Super Tenere 750. Powered by a five-valve parallel twin, it was sold from 1989 to 1995 (1990-91 in Australia) and is highly collectible.

Less well known is Yamaha built a couple of four-cylinder Teneres, strictly for competition. One was the FZT750 Tenere of 1986 (below) and another was the YZE920 Tenere of 1987. They scored 12th and 11th in their respective years in the Paris-Dakar, in the hands of Jean-Claude Olivier – a mighty achievement.

Yamaha FZT750

Yamaha Tenere timeline

XT660Z RATINGS

Good
Great name
Bulletproof mechanicals
Decent all-rounder

Bad
Vibey at higher revs
Tall

Yamaha XTZ660Z tenere

SPECS:
Yamaha XT660Z

ENGINE:

TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, SOHC single
CAPACITY: 660cc

BORE & STROKE: 100 x 84mm

COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.0:1

FUEL SYSTEM: EFI
TRANSMISSION:

TYPE: Five-speed, constant-mesh, 

FINAL DRIVE: Chain
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:

FRAME TYPE: Steel diamond shape 

FRONT SUSPENSION: Telescopic fork, 210mm travel, preload adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock, 200mm travel, preload adjustment 

FRONT BRAKE: 298mm discs with two-piston Brembo calipers

REAR BRAKE: 245mm disc with single-piston Brembo caliper
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:

WET WEIGHT: 209kg

SEAT HEIGHT: 895mm

WHEELBASE: 1500mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 23lt

TYRES:
FRONT: 90/90-21
REAR: 130/80-17

PERFORMANCE:

POWER: 36kW @ 6000rpm

TORQUE: 58Nm @ 5500rpm

OTHER STUFF:
PRICE @ $14,000 when new

 

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