Simplicity at its best!

One of the great things about the little Honda CRF250 Rally that I initially purchased for the trip to Mongolia was its simplicity. No fancy electronics, cable controls and a long service interval, just what you need for an overland adventure where there won’t be any dealer support. For me, the most frustrating thing about the Rally was the lack of power.

Having had a long motorcycle career I’ve owned a lot of large CC bikes and have got used to the endless amounts of torque and power that are easily available at the twist of the throttle these days. Having the Rally and a 1000cc Kawasaki Versys at the same time highlighted this over and over again.

My trip to the Pyrenees earlier this year proved that the Rally is a great little trail bike and was a lot of fun on the mountain tracks but, at times the weight over powered the little 250cc engine to the point where it became very frustrating. Covering large distances quickly was pretty much impossible as the slightest head wind would knock 10MPH off the 60MPH cruise speed, making it even more frustrating. I soon came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the bike that I wanted to take on a 25000 mile journey as it would spoil the trip for me and I wasn’t going to let that happen at any cost.

So, once back from the trip I decided to sell the Rally and have a rethink. At the same time I also had a rethink about the Versys. Having put hardly any miles on it over the last year, it was spending most of its life covered up in the garage. With the ever rising costs of insurance and servicing I decided it was time to let it go too. As much as I loved riding the Versys with it’s silky smooth, torquey 4 cylinder engine it was soul destroying to see it just sitting begging to be used.

I put both bikes up for sale within days of each other and could had sold both of them multiple times over, the used bike market really is buoyant at the moment.

So in no time at all both bikes were sold and the garage was empty.

The relatively new Yamaha Tenere 700 is a bike I’ve had my eye on for some time. I took one for a short test ride when they first came out and really liked it and it’s been niggling at the back of my mind ever since.

Having the opportunity to ride one again it soon brought back memories of my old Tenere XT660z. No fancy electronics, simple controls and a bike that you have to actually ride as nothing is going to help you if you over cook things.

The new Tenere 700 is head and shoulders better than the old 660. The suspension is firm, no more diving under braking, handling is superb and the bike is so planted on the road that blasting down the twisties makes you whoop with excitement.

The Cross Plane 2 (CP2) 689cc engine has oodles of torque from the off, pulls like a train in all gears but, at the same time is super smooth. If it didn’t have 700 on the side you could be excused for thinking it was more like a 900cc engine.

With the peak torque delivery being at 6500RPM it’s eager to accelerate no matter what gear you are in, it really is a very enthusiastic little engine. With the KYB suspension that comes as standard the bike handles extremely well on the road, much better than I imagined it would. Of course, I’m yet to ride it off-road as the dealer made it quite clear that they didn’t allow off-road test rides!

Unlike many bikes today (including my Versys 1000) the Tenere 700 doesn’t have a slipper clutch, for me this isn’t a problem as my 660 Tenere didn’t have one either and I have many fond memories of dropping a couple of gears coming up to roundabouts in the rain and the rear end getting a little lively. Personally I prefer traditional clutches, with the CP2 engine having bags of engine braking when rolling off the throttle it’s great to make use of this feature just like we did in the old days of the big single cylinder dirt bikes. The simplicity of this bike is its biggest plus by far. Those of you reading this that weren’t riding back in the 70’s and early 80’s won’t understand this!

Currently there are 3 different colour Tenere 700s available, black, dark blue and white with the latter being the better looking in my opinion.

In the last couple of months Yamaha have released a limited run of Tenere 700 Rally Edition bikes. Painted in their heritage rally colours and with an even higher standard specification they’ve been selling like hot cakes here in the U.K.

With each dealer only getting 3 Rally Edition bikes it’s now almost impossible to get one as most were sold before they even arrived in the U.K. I’ve also been reliably informed by a number of Yamaha dealers that there are no more, once they’re gone they’re gone. This will almost certainly help residuals in the future on the limited production run of the Rally Edition bikes.

If you are lucky, willing to phone around and travel a few miles you may find one still for sale, but be quick as there are many searching for this elusive beast.

So is it the bike for me? Well it’s certainly ticked all the boxes except one, weight. It’s heavier than I was hoping for but, all the other pluses of this bike outweigh this one thing and so it’s the compromise I have to accept. Looks like I’ll be heading to the gym once they open fully!

After much phoning around I found a Tenere 700 Rally Edition that hadn’t arrived in the U.K. yet and hadn’t been sold, needless to say I immediately put a deposit on it and a few days later I took the train down to Woodford Motorcycles in London and collected it.

The Akrapovich pipe sounds wonderful on the Yamaha Tenere 700 Rally Edition

With some crash bars, a pannier frame for my Givi GRT709 soft panniers and a centre stand this bike will be pretty much ready for the trip. Just need to get some miles on her now and get the first service done so that I can open her up a bit and enjoy that exhaust!

Taming the Hooligan!

Yesterday I ventured down the rabbit hole on my quest to find the elusive unicorn that so many of us overlanders are looking for. I know I’m very unlikely to find a unicorn in a rabbit hole but, right now that’s what it feels like.

I’ve come to accept that whatever I find it will be a compromise. It’s either going to be dirt focused and not so good on the road or road focused and not so good on the dirt. Either way it has to be a compromise that I’m happy with, one that I can accept and one that won’t constantly bug me during my trip to Mongolia and general riding at home.

So, as I’ve already written here somewhere, there are a number of bikes on the list, namely the Husqvarna 701LR, KTM 690 Enduro R, KTM 790 Adventure S/R and the Yamaha Tenere 700. These can be grouped into two groups, dirt focused and road focused. You can work out for yourself which fall into which group.

Today I had the opportunity to test ride the KTM 790 Adventure S, not the model I am actually interested in but, the only one available for test ride, more than good enough to give me an idea of what the bike is like and one that falls into the road focused group.

KTM 790 Adventure S

Throwing a leg over the the KTM and planting my pert cheeks on the seat I was immediately made aware how hard the seat is, it’s solid, there’s no give in it whatsoever, it’s like planting your posterior onto a plank of wood.

When you buy a new car it comes with comfy seats, not once in my life have I bought a new car and immediately had to go out and buy new comfy seats so, why is it that new bikes today mostly come with seats that are so uncomfortable you immediately have to dash out and buy a new seat to make your new steed comfortable? A bike costing over £10,000.00 should come with a comfy seat, after all it’s sold as a long distance touring capable bike so why doesn’t it come with a comfy seat?

This annoys me no end as you can probably tell.

Back in the old days the seats on nearly all bikes on the market were super comfy, even luxurious compared to today’s standards. It’s time for manufacturers to stop expecting people to spend another £400 on a comfy seat and provide them as standard.

On a positive note, one good thing is that I can get both feet on the ground on the 790 Adventure S, a rarity for me these days on adventure bikes.

Initial shock over I turned the key and pressed the starter button, this is where shock number two hit me. The engine sounds like a sack of spanners when cold. The top end is so rattly anyone would think the valve clearances needed some serious adjustment. I’d already been warned that mechanically KTMs were noisy but, I never expected it to be so bad. Perhaps it was because it needed a service, which I was constantly reminded about on the dash.

Service!

Heading out onto the road I settled in and made my way to a nice little route I like to use when test riding new bikes. It’s a mix of dual carriageway, country back lane and single carriage way A roads. A good mix of surfaces and speeds.

Heading out of town I immediately noticed how twitchy the throttle is in street mode. For every lump or bump in the road that I hit the speed would increase or decrease due to the slightest throttle movement. Trying to hold the bike at 30mph through the town was almost impossible as the bike would constantly surge up and down. The fuelling at slow speed isn’t the best, mixed with the twitchy throttle it becomes a handful at anything below 3500RPM.

Putting the bike into rain mode removes much of the twitchy feeling and smooths out the whole throttle management considerably, it’s still not perfect by a long way but, it’s considerably better than street mode.

Progressing out onto the dual carriageway and giving it the beans to get up to speed it immediately becomes obvious that the power delivery is brutal, its not refined in the slightest, the power comes in hard and it gets bonkers very quickly, so you’d better be prepared.

Powering on and once over the 4000RPM the engine smooths out nicely and the noise reduces considerably however, don’t get fooled into a false sense of security because at 6500RPM the vibrations come back with a vengeance and the whole bike is consumed by high amplitude vibrations that go right through your body.

From the foot pegs through to the seat, tank, handlebars and just about every other part of the chassis, massive vibrations come in and continue way up into the rev range. I initially found it really disconcerting and couldn’t believe how vibrant the engine was. Shock number 3 had arrived.

Pulled over by the Orwell Bridge to gather my thoughts

Determined not to be deterred I pressed on and headed off the dual carriage way onto the small B roads. Once in the twisties and keeping the revs in the smooth zone I began to appreciate how good the suspension and tyres are on this bike. The handling has no right to be as good as it is. With the huge 21in front wheel it shouldn’t turn in anywhere near as well as it does. The steering damper helps to smooth out the steering transitions from side to side whilst the clever lean sensitive traction control and ABS makes sure the rear end doesn’t get too out of shape. It really is a joy in the twisties and grabbing handfuls of throttle coming out of tight turns in low gears will put a smile on anyones face.

The bike feels well planted even on poor tarmac surfaces and gives the rider plenty of confidence. Feedback is good too, considering the mass of electronics on this bike you don’t feel detached at all. Being progressive through the bends even on inverse cambers you know when you are getting close to the limit but, the well mannered handling keeps surprises at bay.

With the power delivery being so brutal it is far too easy to make the frontend lose contact with the road surface but, the great thing is that at no time does the bike feel like it’s getting out of hand. With all the clever electronics it is extremely well mannered on the road and you can get away with a lot more than you should be able to.

After a good few miles it becomes obvious that the switchgear feels cheap compared to other makes of bike that I’ve owned. The indicator button doesn’t have a positive feel to it at all and the menu selection buttons are the small movement PCB type. With thick gloves on you’d be hard pushed to know if you’d pressed the button or not as there isn’t really any positive feedback. On the other hand the menu system is simple and intuitive which is great as some manufacturers have ridiculously complex menu systems making them almost impossible to use on the move, fortunately the KTM isn’t in this group.

On the bike as it comes out the factory there are 3 riding modes available, Street, Rain and Off-Road. These clearly are labelled wrong and should be “Hooligan”, “Semi sensible” and “Take your life in your own hands”. More modes can be added by the dealer by plugging in a computer and downloading the data to the ECU but, you’ll have to part with a fair amount cash to add them.

The 3 standard riding modes available for free!

The instrument display is clear and easy to use whilst riding but, the fuel gauge only showing the level from half full onwards seems a little bonkers especially as it goes down quicker for the last half than it does on the first half. Once you get used to the bike it’s best to zero the trip meter at every fill up and then watch the miles rather than rely on the fuel gauge.

The brakes are stunningly good, they’re in the super bike class for sure. They’ll bring you to a complete stop from just about any speed in an incredibly short distance. The ABS isn’t intrusive either and it works incredibly well. On the standard bike there isn’t any real adjustment available for the traction control/ABS system apart from preselected changes depending which ride mode you select. If you want to have greater control over the TC/ABS system then you need to purchase the “Rally Pack” at a cost of £174.00.

Although the brakes are great on the road I personally think they’re too much for off-road riding, they lack the finesse and feel you’d normally find on more dirt oriented bikes. This of course is one of the compromises you have to make when choosing your bike for long distance overland adventures, there is no unicorn!

Another thing that is missing is cruise control, since it’s a ride by wire throttle you’d expect it to be available on the standard bike but, once again it’ll cost you!
For a mere £217.00 you can have it “enabled” via a computer link to the ECU. KTM certainly make the most out of squeezing every penny out of you to enable the “extras” on this bike.

The gear box is sweet, the shifter is light and direct and not once did I hit a false neutral, it really is a peach. I did find myself having to shift up and down the gears quite a lot to keep the engine in it’s sweet spot and you definitely don’t want to let the engine lug as it all gets rather clunky and nasty, but shifting up and down all the time is great fun and it keeps the ride alive.

The gearing is quite high and very road oriented, you’d probably want to change the sprockets for off-roading unless you’re looking to absolutely send it all the time.

You can also have the quick shifter enabled for a mere £349.00 if that tickles your fancy.

So the question that needs answering is “Is this my bike of choice?”

Well the hooligan in me is screaming “YES!” and wants all the extras to make it even more fun. At a base price of £9799.00 OTR and about £1000.00 more to “enable” the extras it’s a lot of bike for the money however, the more sensible and wise old man in me is saying there are too many things about the bike that I don’t like and it would end up annoying me, especially on a long trip so, at the moment it’s firmly on the back burner.

In summary, the KTM 790 Adventure S is a great road bike if you are willing to put up with the massive vibrations that will plague you every time you want to wind it on. You also have to be willing to absolutely send it every time you ride the bike and don’t mind the clatter of the engine.

Handling is superb as are the brakes but, you will want to do something about the comfort if you’re planning on riding the bike for any amount of time.

Only time will tell if the switch gear will last the course or not and it’s probably worth spraying a little WD40 behind the buttons every now and then to stop the PCB contacts corroding.

The other thing to keep in mind about this bike is that it will raise the risk of you loosing your licence considerably as it needs to be ridden hard to get the best from it, it really is ready to race!