200-mile motorway testride on a cold, wet and windy November day

Had events been different, I would have ridden to Calais on a warm and sunny June or September day on my R. Alas, it had to be done yesterday on the Ten. Average temperature 6 degrees, a sprinkling of sunshine but mostly cloudy, rain for 30 minutes. And very windy all the way.

I had crossed every possible parts of my body the two days before, hoping the constant downpour would stop, just for me. I was almost successful: when I woke up at 5.30 the sky looked sympathetic to my cause.

I wrapped up warm: leg baselayer, BMW denim trousers without the very cumbersome and chaffing knee protections for the bottom, tee-shirt, long-sleeve jumper and pullover, then my Triumph leather jacket and a rainproof on top. My Stylmartin leather boots down below. And Held winter gloves. Plus a scarf under my balaclava.

Given the positive signals sent by the late night sky, I kept my rainproof overtrousers in the topbox.

It was the first time I gave the Ten a go at ‘touring’ and motorways proper. Not that it matters much since where I’m going motorways are still a few decades away and I’ll probably be lucky if I once reach 50 mph, but then again an adventure bike should be able to tackle anything that comes its way. Including dreadful rides on a motorway. So here are my impressions.

It did alright. The handguards did what seemed to me a pretty good job: my fingers were pretty cold when I got to the Eurotunnel terminal, but there was no need for an amputation, so I though that was a success.

Wind protection was mixed: head and chest-wise, I felt less disturbed by turbulences than on the R with the BMW touring screen. Even at 100 mph. Having said that, I still had to stop after 50 miles to squeeze my earplugs in, as my left ear was starting to crackle and wheeze.

Where it was less good than the BM, though, is for the feet and legs. No surprise there: the German bike kept my feet nice and warm behind the flat twin and, the tank being wider, my legs were also more sheltered. But it was not unbearable at all.

I pushed the engine a little bit. 80, then 90, then 100mph. And it didn’t complain. Opening the throttle was never a test of my grip, but the lag was not ridiculously long either. Of course, I didn’t feel like quick overtakes were on the cards, and in that sense the Ten does offer a different riding experience.

Strangely, I felt less ill-at-ease doing 100mph on the Yamaha than on the BMW. Not sure why. Not in terms of comfort, but of general feeling.

People often complain about the five-gear-only gearbox. Yeah, you notice it. Once or twice I found myself looking for another gear. But then you learn that there just isn’t any other and move on. Where I noticed it more is in downshifting. On the R, I used to play with the gears a lot, and every time I needed an injection of speed I’d go down a gear and wring the throttle. On the Tenere, at first I was reluctant to do the same: because the 5th gear is so long I thought a downshift would bring the 4th right into the redline zone, especially past 80mph. Towards the end of the round trip, I downshifted at 70, and actually the 4th was just about 700rpm higher than the 5th.

The specs you find on the Internet say that the Ten maxes out at 120mph. I haven’t tested that. But at 95 mph I was at 5.500 rpm, and 6.000 rpm at 100mph. Since the bike redlines at 8.000, there’s still a bit of elbow room. Whether it suffices to take it past 120 mph, I don’t know, and probably never will. Max speed is not my cup of ristretto. On the German autobahns, I pushed the BMW – fully loaded with topbox, panniers and tankbag – to 140 mph, and it could have gone still. But the front had become VERY light, and the fuel gauge was burrowing its head ever deeper underground, so I gave up and returned to slightly friendlier speeds.

On my way to France on the train, I was the only biker in sight. And on the way back, same thing. Wonder why…

The weather in Calais was proper awful: sunny five minutes, then gale force winds and downpours lasting half hours. My dealings with the French administration – reason why I went – were equally bad. My application for a new driving licence is now in the hands of the gods, or someone in a prĂ©fecture‘s office, which is probably much worse. Que sera sera.

The return trip from Folkestone to London was hellish. Dark, very blustery, very cold, busy and partly rainy. I could have done without it: I got home pretty tense, completely exhausted and extremely cold.

What it told me mostly is that the BMW’s traction control and ABS gave me great peace of mind. Yob or not, I was being very conservative in the cold and wet and dark and windy evening, loitering quite far behind cars, reducing my overall speed and negotiating my changes of direction very gingerly.

Part of me thinks TC and ABS are for pussies. The part that likes life to be its true tough self. That likes people to tell things to my face and not in my back. You know, the part of Dennis Hopper, of Ted Simon, the part of the real men.

But part of me thinks TC and ABS are a goddam good addition. It doesn’t smell of testosterone and armpits, but fuck that, it gives enjoyment a greater arm span. Yeah yeah a computer steps in to compensate for your mess-ups, but if that’s a problem, stop flying, stop driving a car and give up on trains, washing machines and all the jazz. Go back to collecting wood and sticking your dirty hands on a cave wall.

If/when I get out of Laos alive and well enough to buy a new bike, it’ll be one with TC, ABS and whatever else safety aid I can get then. I’ll still have a willy and smelly armpits.

What about the Leo Vince then? Well, without my earplugs I could hear a nice machine gun every time I opened the throttle, even past 90 mph. That was nice. And drivers heard me alright, no doubting it. In the debate, I think that loud is better than not in terms of safety. I’d rather pedestrians and drivers heard me than not.

With the earplugs on, I didn’t hear much of the engine.

Would I throw my leg over the Ten as easily as I had done on the R for a 5.000 mile trip around Eastern Europe? Stupid question, insofar as I bought the Yamaha for bad road Laos. Clearly, I would never ever have got it had I stayed in the UK, Europe, or anywhere else with BMW dealerships and decent tarmac.

Oh there’s no doubt the Ten can do that sort of trip, but it wouldn’t be remotely as enjoyable as on the R. The thump of the engine becomes quite noticeable after a wee while. Not that it vibrates too much, but it does, and if you don’t feel it exceedingly in the hands, it’s in the bum, or in the general feel of the bike.

So yes – revelation -, a twin is smoother than a single.

I know I said the yob-side of the Ten (with the LV pipes on) makes it quite neat in town, and it’s true. But still, one can be a yob with a much nicer bike.

Frankly, it is beyond me why non-off-road riders would buy, let alone enjoy, the Ten. It is not meant as an insult, but I really fail to see what the bike has that other non-single trailies don’t, even the less than exciting Transalp. OK, it’s cheap to insure, and that’s good enough a reason, but then don’t say it’s the best bike you will ever have. It isn’t. It’s so crude my uncle appears poetic in comparison, it sounds bombastically terrible with the original pipes on, it’s not good-looking, it’s not especially comfy.

I mean, I’m still hoping it’ll do a great job in the dirt in Laos and that it won’t break down, leaving me marooned in some mosquito-infested jungle, or worse in the midst of stupid and drunk backpackers, but there’s no way I would have bought the Ten had any other sensible option been available.

A few days before yesterday’s ride, I entertained the romantic notion that I might take the Ten on our post-Laos posting. It would have proven so great in South-East Asia that I couldn’t sell it on. Denis, you’re having a fucking laugh! Cut the crap and face the facts: it takes a very unusual alignment of the planets to make the XTZ desirable, and hopefully such alignment will not be seen again as long as I can ride.

No single man, me am.


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