2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere Review - Motorcycle.com

Tor Sagen
by Tor Sagen

Tenere or Ténéré is Tuareg (nomadic people) language for desert. The place Ténéré is a desert area in Niger and Chad in the southern Sahara. Sahara also means desert directly translated from Arabic. So before we start, I’m telling you that this is all about riding in the desert!

To drag the 2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere all the way to the actual Ténéré area would have been a step too far on a launch event. Instead, Yamaha decided to make the international launch a rendezvous with Morocco. In 1983 Yamaha launched the original XT600Z Tenere right here in Morocco.

If my Dakar rally history serves me right, Stephane Peterhansel won a total of 7 Paris-Dakar victories on the competition version of the Tenere. Nothing can speak up a desert rally off-road motorcycle more than that! In the years after Peterhansel, BMW and KTM have shared the victories in the premium class. I wonder whether Yamaha could persuade Peterhansel to give up his cars and do another rally on the Tenere for them...

'The 2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere has literally risen up from the desert like a mirage'

The 2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere has literally risen up from the desert like a mirage. I was delighted to see it in Paris for the first time in 2007. The design, technical specifications and name have got desert rally written all over it. Yamaha really are serious about this and the company calls the Tenere the original adventure tourer. The Tenere touches the whole concept about desert rallies, to be nomadic and to be free.

After a long and extremely tough week of riding from Europe I could finally see the desert. My tongue had become one with the rest of my mouth now and I hadn’t seen water in days. I was overjoyed with an incredible pleasure inside when I could see the tops of palms that signalled an oasis just around the corner. I dropped the bike onto its side and started running towards the palms half mad from exhaustion and dehydration.

Finally, I was to be greeted once again by the sweet taste of water. I could almost feel the sweet taste in my mouth already when I woke up as my comfy Royal Air Maroc flight landed in Agadir. I sent a text to my girlfriend to signal my arrival in Morocco saying: “Play it again Sam”.

I had an extremely busy schedule arriving into Agadir airport late at night before the riding started in the morning. I certainly found myself in the middle of a nomadic week. From the hotel in Tiznit just at the foot of the southern Atlas Mountains in Morocco I started the ride.

Passing old Mercedes taxis from the 1970s working hard as the modern day camel transport, we headed towards the mountains and the outskirts of the greatest desert in the world. I felt excited to be on the Tenere in a different way. There’s nothing special about how the Tenere rides that should excite me more than a standard XT660R. No, it’s something else - the adventure of it all - being in a remote area of the world, then travelling even more remotely into that area on two wheels. Being on the Tenere, right here, right now, is the essence of motorcycle adventure.

To tell you the truth, certain places that I pass in the desert look just like Southern California. That is until you enter the town or stop at one of the many security check points. We’re in Morocco alright, no doubt about that.

Passing lorries doing 10mph up the mountain passes is a breeze on the 50 horsepower XT660Z. Despite the fact that the new Yamaha Tenere looks so well designed with such a high level of finish that it should compete for BMW F800GS sales, it can’t really compete with 80 horsepower on the roads. For the adventure itself though, the XT660Z Tenere might even be better.

The Tenere benefits from a large 5.8-gallon fuel tank that withstood about 200 miles of very hard riding where about half was fuel gulping off-road riding and the rest fairly high speed A and B roads speaks for itself. I didn’t feel very comfortable with the fuel warning light being lit for as long as it was. I noticed it from around 165 miles of riding and I was alone on my way back to Tiznit with nothing but Euros in my pocket. I decided to trust in the big tank and reached the hotel with no problems.

The windshield is a tall Dakar style affair with a very distinctive dragged out headlight where the bottom part looks like David Coulthards jaw. Also, if Transformers did motorcycles the Tenere would be the first choice. Good one for Lego too I reckon and I could go on and on. The exteriors all round the bike look extremely well designed. Behind the windshield, however, the soft covers that protect the headlight bulbs kept vibrating loose whilst riding. Not a big deal as long as you’re aware of it but if they keep loosening and you’re doing lots of mileage in dusty conditions it might be a long-term problem.

In the hot desert it was such a relief to be able to stand up and ride comfortably for miles at a time if I wished too. I could cool down properly and the Tenere have been designed with a comfortable stand-up riding position in mind. The foot pegs on my bike had rubber on them for comfort, but they did get in the way on the off-road part. They can be removed easily though I wasn’t aware at the time. The Metzeler Tourance tires (90/90-21 and 130/80-17) were perfect for the varied road conditions.

Off-road I hooked my Alpinestars Tech 10’s into the gear lever a few times either putting the gear box into neutral or a gear up. That was a bit annoying whilst I tried to look cool for the photographers. The gear lever is foldable to avoid it breaking in the middle of nowhere. I spent around half of my time on the Tenere off-road (not half of the mileage) and though the riding wasn’t too complicated it was fairly fast so concentration levels had to be kept up. Suddenly there’d be a big stone in the middle of my path or a soft stretch of sand would appear. I also tried my first dune, which only was a tiny one really. On the Metzeler Tourance tires I didn’t like it much to be honest and got stuck to get the obligatory spinning in the sand picture.

There were a lot of stones in Morocco and the extra engine protection was really needed as I could hear big ones hit hard all the time. The thing about Adventure touring bikes is that they don’t necessarily need to be very light. As a matter of fact it’s very difficult to make them flyweight due to the big fuel tanks, sturdy frames and engine protection. Then add solid aluminium panniers and luggage and you’re easily 550 pounds without rider or passenger. The Tenere weighs a claimed 403 pounds dry, but it never felt too heavy even off-road.

The easy to use single cylinder engine helps with traction all the time. Yamaha based the XT660Z on the XT660R engine, but improved the throttle response and adjusted for a very smooth torque curve. A motorcycle such as the Tenere needs some serious cooling components and the radiator is bigger than the items found on the XT660R and MT-03. Apart from these changes this 660cc thumper is as proven and reliable as you could possibly wish for. With reliability in mind, 48.4 horsepower is as much as Yamaha is willing to give you. Much more than that and there will be different issues. The new 6.8 liter air box is one of the clues to the fine throttle response. The unique design also features an easy to remove and clean paper air filter

The new exhaust has also been made with the Tenere especially in mind. The header pipes are routed high up on the side for good ground clearance. The under seat slim mufflers have been designed with luggage options in mind and Yamaha has also taken the necessary steps to reduce heat radiation for better passenger comfort.

Within the new steel frame chassis Yamaha has integrated the oil reservoir. You’ll find it just behind the headstock and a dipstick is used to check the oil level. The swing arm is a very high tech gravity-cast aluminium item. The mono shock attached to the swing arm is adjustable for spring pre load only and the same goes for adjustability on the rubber guarded 43mm front fork. To make sure the Tenere can stop efficiently even when loaded heavy Yamaha added double disc brakes at the front with two pot Brembo callipers. Though powerful enough, I found them good off-road too as they are not too sharp.

The 35.2-inch seat height didn’t actually feel as high as it looks on paper. A desert rally bike, made for touring or not, really needs good ground clearance and that’s why these bikes are taller than most other bikes. For sand you need lots and lots of clearance and suspension travel. The tall windscreen is very clever here as it actually helps a lot against all type of weather, even if you are sitting high up with an off-road helmet.

Should you get lost in the middle of the desert Yamaha designed the cockpit area so that a GPS can be easily mounted in the right height just above the instruments.

Yamaha is launching the XT660Z Tenere with a big accessories catalogue that should cover all touring needs. Three colour options are available for 2008: The classic competition white reflecting back on the original ’83 Tenere, Desert Khaki and Midnight black.


I am frankly quite impressed by the effort Yamaha put into this motorcycle. With some serious competition from KTM and BMW in the Adventure segment, I guess Yamaha had to. With the 2008 incarnation of the XT660Z Tenere Yamaha is firmly back in the Adventure touring game. It is very good off-road and seriously comfortable on the roads too due to the tall windscreen and decent seat. The Tenere is one motorcycle that feels at home anywhere, from the city to the Sahara desert - a true all-rounder.

Highs: Sighs:
The 2008 Tenere is not just a Dakar copycat, it works right there en route to Dakar! Huge fuel capacity and no mods to take low octane fuel Not often does such a functional motorcycle hit me exactly on the spot! Loose light bulb covers It’s a thumper, it vibrates

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2008 Yamaha WR250R & WR250X Review
2005 Yamaha XT660R

Tor Sagen
Tor Sagen

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