Day two dawned with the mountain-top shrouded in cloud and an early-ish start meant we headed up over the peaks with similarly foggy heads. With the temperature well down into single figures a shower of hail caused additional misery and precluded anything approaching rapid riding. Visibility was down to a couple of hundred yards. Thankfully once we started our descent the weather changed but the roads didn’t - a blazing sun beat down on fantastic mountain passes.
The gearbox wasn’t one of the original Super Tenere’s finest points, though owners could claim that the clunky changes were part of the bike’s character. There’s no need to make excuses for the new ST as shifting gear is a smooth and precise affair. Just as well really, because show the 1200 some twisty tarmac and you’ll find yourself using the gearbox far more than you’d expect.
Much of the Portuguese leg of the ride was spent on delightfully twisting backroads, flicking the bike through all manner of corners and driving hard down short straights. And, as I mentioned to one fellow journo at the end of the day, I never thought I’d have a litre bike held to the stop so frequently. But this isn’t machismo or bar-room boasting, more a sense of disappointment in the new motor! Exit a corner a gear too low and you’re simply left waiting for the DOHC motor to pick up into its mid-range before anything happens. Apparently the old 750cc ST exhibited a similar attribute but it’s not an endearing character trait in a 1200cc tourer!
And even keeping the motor on the boil it never thrilled. The power is smooth and linear from around 4000rpm up to the 7750rpm redline without the kind of rush which makes a 990 Adventure such a buzz to ride. And lacking the lowdown oomph of BMW’s Boxer means the Super Tenere’s engine really works best on fast sweeping roads where you can keep the tacho needle firmly in the midrange.
If the motor disappointed the handling really surprised. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as nimble, though for such a large bike it responded well to a nudge on the bars, and tipped into corners assuredly. I’d expected to have to wrestle the ST down the narrow singletrack lanes, yet with the weight low it changed direction particularly well and only on the fastest of flick-flacks did it ever need any real effort to change direction. It was just as well really, because I’d have been utterly frazzled otherwise!
After the singletracks of the mountains came the fast and wide A-roads of the foothills offering a chance to really give the ST its head. An uphill climb, a super-smooth surface, and a crawler lane up the inside made for some wide sweeping lines through a wonderful set of curves at speeds approaching three figures. Up ahead the first couple of riders had just passed a Mercedes taxi and, inexplicably, the driver didn’t respond well to being overtaken. He was immediately hard on the gas, flogging the German motor whilst using all of the road to get the big saloon through the corners as fast as possible.
I sat back to watch and wait, not wanting to get too close to a man possessed, whilst all the time wondering just what his fare thought of his Jekyll and Hyde driving style and whether he’d be picking chunks of vomit out of his beaded seat cover..!
Fortuitously, the first couple of bends had been delightfully constant radius, allowing us to maintain a high corner speed. The third was not. As the front wheels of the Merc scrubbed wide on the tightening corner the car momentarily headed for the oncoming traffic, before the driver regained his senses and backed off. I nipped past - the Yamaha was far, far more composed. Although mid-corner bumps could set off a slight wallow in the plush suspension, on such smooth tarmac the bike was resolutely and reassuringly solid. Fantastic.
The roadside carpark of our lunchstop was awash with adrenaline as riders gabbled about the last few miles and its high-speed corners. A couple of minutes later the Merc rolled up to the lights opposite with a decidedly queasy-looking passenger. Was that diced carrot I could see stuck to the rear view mirror..?