With the raise in importance of the Paris-Dakar race, parking a "Tenere" (the so-called 'race replica' version with its 7.5 gallon gas tank) in front of a bar or coffee shop in Paris was a proven method to get the chicks, especially if you wore a color-matched off-road jacket lightly spotted with mud stains. Just how big an impact the XT series had at the time can be judged from the fact that for quite a few years, the XT600 used to top European sales hit parades. Gee, how times have changed.
Green parties, angry environmentalists and all the rest of the good-willed gang, have limited access to off-road playing grounds drastically. Much like current SUVs, today's crop of DPs are far more functional objects that offer a comfy and erect riding position, perfect for relaxed touring and light exploring rather than being proper off-road tackle. So Yamaha's first redo of the long-running XT series in more than a decade has to deal with a very different world, and it shows.
The tall and lean off-road stance is all there, ditto for the longish suspenders (that any XT500 owner would have sold his sister for), but any serious dirt person would spot the low-slung exhaust pipes, the huge silencers and the almost overly designed body work that shout style above function. It's hard to blame Yamaha alone on this softening of image. Have a look at current DPs -- like Suzuki's V-Strom 650 or BMW's F650 -- and the shift towards road-only work and worldly comforts is evident. Seen in that light, the new XT660R emerges, at least initially, as the (still) more off-road oriented of the current DP crop. Yes, today's real macho men ride KTM Adventures or XR650Rs, but these are full-on desert racers with very little disposition for everyday road work.
Technically speaking the XT660R is a mixture of mainly new and a bit of old. If the number 660 sounds familiar to some then its because in the 90's Yamaha offered a "Super XT" in the shape of the Europe-only, five-valve, water-cooled XTZ660 which also had a full Paris-Dakar style body work with an integral fairing for comfy 100mph flying over dry lakes. Surprisingly, the new 660s top end is all new and the engine reverts to four valves while still being water cooled. Another big change is the new electronic fuel injection system that together with the twin catalytic converters allows the XT to survive in the green third millennium.
I said "old and new" and the reason is that as new as the top end is, I wouldn't be surprised if the XT's engine cases mounting bosses would fit straight into an 80's XT frame. Case side covers have a suitable new design, but it's hard not to spot the all-too-familiar crankcases sandwiched between them. Claimed horsepower for this mill is 48 horsies, about even with an F650. After decades of closed loop frames in the XT family, the new model gets an open cradle job with the engine cases serving as a stressed member, another sign that the XT isn't really conceived to handle 20 foot drop-offs. A 43mm Paioli right-way-up fork handles front suspension chores while at the back a standard looking rectangular section swingarm is connected to the shock via a progressive link.
PAGE 2 Brakes are Brembos, thus revealing a true Italian connection behind the XT -- whose production is handled by Yamaha's site in near Monza. The Italian influence shows also in the rather daring shapes of the new XT660.
With so little bodywork to play with, it's not easy to come up today with a fresh flavor in off-road tools but Yamaha's designers managed to find some really nice new curves for the XT. The small front mask, front lamp and fork covers left a good impression. As per current trends, The XT is sculpted with sharp cuts and decisive strokes and there are some nice touches in terms of textures and materials combinations. Swing a leg over the XT and things couldn't be more familiar. Tallish, a 35" seat height falls midway between a professional enduro and a fully road oriented V-Strom, plush but not overly soft, bars put your upper body in true homo erectus stance and there is some good distance to the footpegs. The initial feelings might be 80's XT but there's no kick start to step on and the EFI makes sure that the big jug down there settles into a steady idle immediately. The character of the power delivery though is quite different than the one I remember from those old XT's or XR600's for that matter. Pull is nice but just like in many current big singles, good old down low oomph is a bit lacking.
Gear shifting and clutch operation are soft and the fork starts to show typical, tall DP nose diving when the strong front Brembo is applied with conviction. With such a heritage, it was only natural to go photo shooting in an off-road setting but this turned into a, well, not entirely convincing experience. As soon as the terrain became sandy, the 90% road oriented tires made keeping the thing tracking straight quite hard, font wheel washing out everywhere. With a considerable dry weight of 380 lbs, controlling the XT in low traction conditions became quite a chore. Having not ridden much off-road in the last few years, I might be a little out of shape myself, but soon enough it become evident that I'd better stick to the hard pack. What about some twisties then? Off to some curvy tarmac and the XT660R feels at home. Keep the engine singing happily on the upper half of the rev range and it covers ground rapidly. Good brakes let you approach bends briskly, wide bars let you pitch it in quick and when powering out, you just roll the throttle on without much worries. Nice. Just do not get too carried away. The soft front fork robs the XT of some tracking accuracy so you end up riding canyons in foot-loose style. Good fun if you actually like getting out of shape a bit while leaned over and the tighter the curves, the better it gets.
If anything, the road riding part of my test left me thinking about the new XT660R's brother, the XT660X. Same bike but fitted with 17" rims and shortened and stiffened suspension, a mild supermoto. Gotta try one of these soon. After a coffee stop I decide that in honor of the XT's heritage as an off-roader and in light of the dubious performance in the sand, we are both in need of a curative experience. I head off-road again, now into mountain hard-pack trails, some even quite rocky and things are much, much better. The softish suspension swallows small to medium woop-de-doos quite well and the tires do find surprising traction. All goes well, but riding up a higher-than-usual rocky step I hear a strong thump from down low. Well, I've just hit the low slung pipes. Why couldn't the XT get proper high levels is beyond me and judging from the tight fit of the frame tubes, I don't see there much chance of fitting an after market system or a bash plate either. I notch it down a bit and at reasonable speeds the XT660R does deliver its share of fun off-road. Just to give some proportion to the XT off-road prowess, I wouldn't even dream of taking up on these trails a V-Strom while on the other hand, the XT raises a white flag at points where an XR650 wouldn't even blink. When treated more as an exploring tool rather than a serious play bike, you can actually envision yourself embarking on a long and comfy mild off-road tour on one (after fitting some knobbies that is).
After a few more hours of dual pporting, at times standing on the pegs on the trail then back on-road for some curve carving, the do-it-all nature of the 660 is greatly appreciated. Thing is that this category, single lunger DP's, seems to have gotten stuck in a rut terms of performance somewhere in the 90's. Can't think of anything that this new XT660R does better than a 98' F650 GS. Well, it actually undercuts the Beemer's price by a nice 12% margin in Europe and looks much more purposeful and up to date in my eyes but that's about it. Considering how well the F650 has done for BMW, it seems like there are still quite a lot of folks who could be interested in this type of mix. Filling a nice middle ground between the aforementioned no compromise full-on enduros and softies like the V-Strom, the XT660R has its place under the sun. Just don't go and stain your enduro jacket with fake mud spots to impress the ladies. It would look totally out of place on this new XT660R.
|** SPECS PROVIDED BY YAMAHA **|
|Engine Type:||Liquid cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC 4 valves|
|Bore and Stroke:||100 x 84 mm|
|Max. Power:||35.3 kW (48 HP) @ 6,000 rpm|
|Max. Torque||58.4 Nm (5.95 kg-m) @ 5,250 rpm|
|Fuel supply:||Fuel injection, 44 mm throttle body|
|Clutch type:||Wet, multiple disc|
|Transmission:||Constant mesh, 5 speed|
|Gear ratio:||1) 2.500|
|Primary reduction ratio:||2.083|
|Secondary reduction ratio:||3.000|
|Chassis Frame:||Steel tubular diamond frame with dual tank rails|
|Front suspension:||Telescopic fork, Ø 43 mm|
|Rear suspension:||Monocross with linkage|
|Front wheel travel:||200 mm Rear wheel travel 191 mm|
|Caster angle:||28° Trail 90.2 mm|
|Front brake||Single floating disc, Ø 320 mm|
|Rear brake:||Single disc, Ø 245 mm|
|Rim size front:||17 x MT 3.50|
|Rim size rear:||17 x MT 4.25|
|Dimensions Overall length:||2,131 mm|
|Overall width:||860 mm|
|Overall height:||1,349 mm|
|Seat height:||875 mm|
|Min. ground clearance:||200 mm|
|Dry weight:||173 kg|
|Fuel tank capacity:||15 litres (reserve 3.5 litres)|
|Oil (tank) capacity:||2.9 litres|