A great, single cylinder trail bike created in the 80’s but which still goes strong today. The bike has all the characteristics it needs and a few more.
Yamaha XT600 Tenere had evolved from the XT500 and it was first produced in 1993.
In 1988, the Tenere fell victim to disastrous styling changes, introduced to counter the hordes of copycat desert raiders jostling for Yamaha’s market share. A windscreen was added, bolted onto a new, blocky tank. Though the tank graphics were slightly improved, the traditional trail bike side panels were replaced by bland plastic rectangles. The addition of twin headlights and a disc break at the rear brought increased maintenance with no benefits. Whilst the windscreen and a conventional front mudguard undoubtedly increased the bike’s road going potential, the other additions brought cost cutting elsewhere. Conventional chrome-plated wheels replaced the gold aluminium of earlier machines, and the kick start was removed. It isn’t possible to bolt the new front mudguard to an earlier machine, as it attaches to brackets on a redesigned fork leg casting. The old mudguard looked better, even if it caused the bike to behave like a hang glider at speed.
The XT600 Tenere had a strong competition coming from Honda’s XR600 R and NX650 Dominator. Suzuki presented some serious competition with its DR650 and Kawasaki Tengai also. But Yamaha produces nice, solid bikes which eventually become loved by its consumers, who consider the bikes unique.
Yamaha XT600 Tenere was a very successful bike with a lot of fans world wide. The bike had such a big success because it is very well built and it represents the classic trail bike with all its characteristics.
This is a bike from the days when big trailers still looked like dirt bikes. A high front mudguard, single headlight and no windscreen are the obvious differences from later models, but a closer look reveals a few more: nice aluminium rims, a drum brake at the back and a kick start all distinguish the older bike. The tank is a rounder, much more pleasant affair and the side panels look great on the XT600.
The XT600 is an update from the old XT500, although the engines are entirely different, the 600 featuring 4-valves on the mighty cylinder, twin carbs and an engine balancer to take out the worst of the vibes that you would naturally encounter on a single cylinder with this capacity. However, it’s fairly obvious from my time with the XT600 that Yamaha have eliminated most of the problems that plagued earlier models: weak pistons and iffy power delivery being the most prominent.
The 595 cc engine has a bore x stroke of 95x84 mm, developing 45 HP at 6500 RPM. It’s an air cooled SOHC unit with four valves, that in the past had a reputation for eating its big piston. The engine is very simple, although it does have a separate oil supply from the top frame rail rather than the usual wet sump.
The back brake is a drum so maintenance is minimal and the shoes last for ever. The front brake is a disc with the usual caliper problems. On the later models, the rear brake was also a disc and it encounters the same problems as the front disc brake.
Engine and Transmission
Capacity: 595 cc
Engine type: Single cylinder
Power: 45 HP ( 34 KW @ 6500 RPM )
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Bore x Stroke: 95 x 84 mm
Valves per cylinder: 4
Fuel control: SOHC
Cooling system: air/oil cooled
Gearbox: 5 speed
Final drive: chain
Weight: 150 kg
Chassis and Dimensions
Front suspension: Telescopic Forks 254 mm wheel travel
Rear suspension: Mono shock swing arm 236 mm wheel travel
Front brakes: Single 267 mm disc
Rear brakes: 150 mm drum
Front tyre: 3.00-21
Rear tyre: 4.60-18
Top speed: 100 mph
Standing ¼ Mile: 14.4 sec
Fuel capacity: 30 Liters
Consumption average: 59 mp/g
Back road thumping on twisty and hilly terrain is really what it’s all about. In these conditions, the Tenere handles exceptionally well. It’s forty horsepower provides more than enough stomp and it has the satisfyingly chunky power delivery which is characteristic to all big singles.
There is enough power to get an easy 90 mph up, with the tone just possible. But the riding position produces a bit of arm and shoulder ache at those kind of speeds. Apart from the seat, it’ll hold between 70 to 80 mph for as long as you need, with only a modicum of engine vibration, more an indication that the engine away that the nasty drumming XT500 which gave out at similar speeds. In almost all respects, perhaps from the sheer brutality of the 500’s looks, the 600 is a better motorcycle.
The engine is very torque, especially between 3000 and 5000 RPM, 4000 equating 70 mph in top gear. This makes for a very relaxing ride but if you go all the way up to the redline the bike will produce intrusive vibration and that means you’ve bought the wrong kind of bike. Big singles are very laid back devices and should be ridden as such.
These are great, reliable, bulletproof motorcycles. They are build exactly the way trail bikes are suppose to be build and they last forever. People who own these motorcycles have the tendency to load them up with headlamp grilles, mudguard braces, alloy handlebars and other fake off road tackle, and many people seem to cover the bikes in Paris Dakar stickers instead of cleaning them. So you should be careful when looking for a second hand XT600 Tenere. Try to find a bike which was properly maintained and with all the original parts. A such bike will cost you well under $2000.
The Tenere is a practical, fun bike and it is simple enough for the home mechanic. With reasonable all round performance, it offers a leisurely alternative to the hysterical high tech road racers. If you like to actually see the countryside as you ride through it, the Tenere is the bike for you.