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 Heikki & Ténéré

 Ténéré History






When Yamaha introduced their XT 500 in '76 they also created a new era of big multi-purpose bikes. New class of bikes capable for touring on all kind of roads became extremely popular especially in Central and South Europe. 500cc model was followed by XT 550 and furthermore TT/XT 600, that raised the popularity of XT model range around the world. Air-cooled 4-valve mechanics were made for heavy enduro touring and desert rallies making XT/TT a workhorse for globetrotters and private race teams; for example in 80's most entrants preferred Yamaha 600cc as their racer.

XT 600 Z 34L ('83-'85)

At the beginning of 1980's Yamaha wanted to benefit from the popularity of their success in desert rallies by creating Ténéré model range, which had the outlooks of a Paris-Dakar racer. The first Ténéré model (XT 600 Z 34L/55W) was introduced '83 and it was just what the customers were waiting for with its huge 30 l fuel tank and camel-like seat height. Naturally macho-bike had to be waken up manually so there wasn't electric starter, only a kick-start. 595 cc (95,0 X 84,0 mm) single-cylinder engine was straight from XT 600 production line and it produced 44 hp / 6.500 rpm. The frame was also from XT 600 but the suspension components were revised. 

XT 600 Z 1VJ ('86-'88)

Second generation of Ténérés (XT 600 Z 1VJ) was introduced '86 and practically it was a completely new bike. Factory advertised its close connection with the bike that Sonauto's Jacky Olivier rode in '85 Paris-Dakar reaching second position.

The engine had more power (46 hp / 6.500 rpm) and an electric starter. The fuel tank was even bigger in size but smaller in capacity (now 23 l) because inside the tank there was also new 6 l air filter box; original location of the filter came directly from Olivier's race bike. Oil tank (Ténérés have dry sump lubrication) and battery were re-located lower in frame, which (with low pockets of fuel tank) lead to lower centre of gravity. Because of the low shape of fuel tank a vacuum fuel pump was needed to provide enough juice for the dual carburettors. Also frame and suspension components were new. Oil cooler was mounted in front of engine and because also lower fuel tank restricted the available cooling air, 1VJ had in some cases over-heating problems. 


XT 600 Z 3AJ ('88-'91)

Last of the air-cooled "real" Ténérés was XT 600 Z 3AJ ('88 - '91) that had a frame mounted half fairing with dual lights and renewed instruments, lowered front mudguard and re-shaped side panels that imitated saddle tanks of desert rallies. Also rear drum brake was replaced by a disc brake. Cooling problems were solved by adding cooling fin area by one third; also re-positioned front mudguard helped to cool the engine. Other changes concerned improved engine lubrication and 5th gear of transmission that was strengthened. Thriftiness of the factory lead to some downgrading including removing kick-start altogether and changing the fancy gold eloxed alloy wheel rims into chromed ones. All the changes led Ténéré to be directed more and more in touring instead of off-roading. A curiosity was a 3DS model that basically was a 3AJ with a single rectangular light unit.


XTZ 750 Super Ténéré was introduced in '89. Its power plant was a 749 cc, 70 hp liquid-cooled 5-valve twin. Super Ténéré's sheer size (weight with fuel and oil 219 kg) located it into a category of heavy tour enduros including Honda AfricaTwin and BMW R100GS / R1100GS. Last of Super Ténérés were manufactured in '96. 

XTZ 660 Ténéré, that was introduced 1991, was meant to be the superior successor of 600 Ténérés but complicated concept (liquid cooling and 5-valve head; 48 hp / 6.250 rpm), tamed (= lowered) suspension, lengthened wheelbase and diluted looks didn't help in gaining all the old Ténéré customers' favour. XTZ 660 was withdrawn from Yamaha's product range 1999 leaving basic XT 600 E (similar in mechanics with 3AJ Ténéré) the only big-bore multi-purpose enduro model in Yamaha motorcycle range.

There was also a 125 cc Ténéré version available during 1989 - 1994. DT 125 Ténéré was based on a two-stroke DT 125 R model with added cosmetics including bigger fuel tank and half fairing.

So what does the word Ténéré actually mean? In southern Sahara there is a desert of Ténéré through which the traditional Paris-Dakar Rally route went. What would be more appropriate name for a desert rally replica?