2013 BMW R1200GS vs. Yamaha Super Tenere - Adventure Bike Comparison

BMW’s all-new water-cooled “big” GS returns to try to reclaim its adventure-bike crown. Will cooler heads prevail?

Static group shot of BMW R1200GS and Yamaha Super Tenere

If you didn't know who your father was, you might have a hard time knowing what you should aspire to be. Forty or so years after the Yamaha DT1 and the later BMW R80GS helped launch the "adventure" movement, their progeny are still at it, delivering the most versatile motorcycles available. Each is a masterful cross between dirtbike and luxury tourer, with plenty of "sport" sprinkled all over.

The BMW R1200GS is 100-percent all-new but with trademark features strikingly similar to the previous rendition's. Yamaha's Ténéré is still riding high since it raised the bar in 2012, but the advantage often goes to the player latest into the game. To find out who's boss, my wife, Heather, and I rode both on a multi-day adventure to and from twisty roads that may or may not take a turn for the worse (or into dirt); no plan, no destination, just riding light and free with a bit of mystery around the next turn. And plenty of timev to argue about the machines. And other things.

The spec sheet shows some differences, but sitting on the bikes for a typical “showroom bounce” reveals little. The seats on both bikes have high and low positions. The Yamaha’s is a little wider and can feel a bit taller to a rider who wants to plant both feet on the ground at the same time. Scale weight says 520 lb. for the GS, and it feels a bit lighter as the Boxer design places engine mass lower in the chassis.

Off-road action on the R1200GS and Super Tenere

More power is the trend in adventure-touring, not that these machines really needed it. But if there’s too much, traction control comes standard on both. All you have to do is learn how it all works, which would take a small book. The settings can change the way each bike runs to the point that outright performance is quite different. When traction control does come into play, the Yamaha has a simpler and better system; it’s like the volume is just being turned down, while the BMW feels like somebody’s intermittently hitting the mute button.

In each machine’s more aggressive setting, or with both in a “regular” setting, the BMW always comes across as having more punch when the throttle is turned and always drinks from a slightly deeper pool of torque. The Ténéré’s power at low revs and at very slow speeds is softer, in comparison, but once moving, it would be malicious to call it anything but right there. In fact, as the bikes spin up, the Yamaha has more of a four-cylinder feel, where the GS always remains distinctly “Twin.” Either way, long, broad torque curves mated to well-spaced six-speed transmissions spread power from here to Tierra del Fuego.

The most amazing thing just may be the progression of the BMW’s powerplant from a torque-laden sleeper into a peppy, responsive powerhouse that not only matches the Yamaha but ups the game in the twin-cylinder adventure market. It picks up better, and gives a hand-to-rear-wheel connectivity that almost makes you forget it is ride-by-wire. Riders of any oil-cooled Boxer, even the latest twin-cam, will not be impressed. They’ll be blown away.

On-road testing the BMW and Yamaha Adventure bikes

The BMW feels lighter all the time. Comparing only the steering sensation through the handlebar, the BMW feels half the weight of the Yamaha. Turning in takes less effort as the chassis reacts quicker to inputs but still maintains excellent stability. On the Ténéré, you have a much more planted feeling with significantly more pronounced stability, and it takes much more effort through the handlebar to make it go where you want—a great thing for the less experienced when off-road, for sure. What’s astonishing is that both bikes feel so much lighter than they are.

In the suspension game, it’s the “classic” screwdriver-style adjustment on the Ténéré versus the pushbutton age on the GS. Yamaha’s setting is straight-up matched for secondary roads as delivered, and aside from giving it a little more compliant ride and a bit quicker steering by adding some rear spring preload, it didn’t need much. The travel (7.5 in.) feels very progressive and does its best to keep the Super T from bottoming when bounced off-road. It transmits a little more of the road than does the BMW when in a soft mode and isn’t as stiff as the BMW in a hard mode: In fact, the Ténéré rides just like the BMW in “ROAD, NORMAL.” The GS will work better if you choose the right setting. At least now the GS’s riding modes work how they’re named, and adding the Dynamic ESA suspension adjustments into the mix means a few thumb swipes can have you in power nirvana combined with bump-compliance heaven. It’s understandable to not want to carry a screwdriver and change some clickers every time you encounter different terrain, but a few button strokes and a pull of the clutch lever leaves you no excuse not to 
set up the bike for whatever you encounter.

2013 BMW R1200GS * The Boxer has a punchy power delivery * Light feel that defies the scale * Pushbutton tunability * Wrong mode, bad ride * Tiny, narrow footpegs * Did you say $19,000?
2013 Yamaha Super Tenere * Four-cylinder performance from a Twin * Comfy, cool * Class-leading TC and ABS * A little on the heavy side * More wind protection, please

Comfort may be more important to some riders than outright performance. The BMW’s easily adjustable windscreen does an amazing job for its compact size, but six-footers might be out in the wind, literally. Same holds true for the Yamaha, even with its windscreen in its tallest position. The cylinders on the GS work wonders for your feet in the cold, but when it’s hot, the Yamaha manages to flow even the warm air from the radiators away from the rider. Vibration is low on either bike, but they both have sweet and sour spots, depending on rpm: 72 mph in sixth was brilliant on the GS and 74 was perfect on the Yamaha. Or was it the other way around? Getting picky, the brakes had a little less feel on the Ténéré and were a little more grabby, yet the ABS is really good and even worked well off-road. The GS has better feel and control on the binders, especially the front, and we preferred to disable the ABS when in the dirt. Luckily, the GS remembers the setting you last had it in and retains it when the key is turned back on. Not so on the Yamaha’s TC settings.

The handlebar on the GS is swept back and low, great for sitting, but it needs some lift if you plan to stand on the pegs for any time at all. The GS’s seat is good but also seems to slant forward just a bit too much for maximum comfort. The Yamaha has a very neutral and natural riding position regardless if you're sitting or standing, and the seat is more comfortable, to boot.

So, which is a better go-anywhere adventure bike? To the hardcore world-traveling adventurer, maybe neither, as the electronic age has pushed these machines into being digitally controlled powerhouses that may be hard to fix in Zourat, Mauritania, without a dealer and his computer. But as everyday motorcycles with limitless potential, they both win, with performance piled upon versatility that was unthinkable just a few years back. All said and done, when all the bad pavement and a little dust had settled, the wife and I could agree on one thing: Though they are brothers from another mother, the BMW GS kicks a little asphalt, and some dust, on the Yamaha Ténéré most of the time. Especially if you push the right buttons.

2013 BMW R1200GS 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere
PRICE $18,985|$14,790
DRY WEIGHT 520 lb.|556 lb.
WHEELBASE 59.4 in.|60.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in.|33.2 in.
FUEL MILEAGE 44 mpg|43 mpg
0-60 MPH 3.0 sec.|3.2 sec.
1/4 MILE 11.18 sec. @ 120.26 mph|11.85 sec. @ 108.54 mph
HORSEPOWER 112.7 @ 7970 rpm|90.8 @ 7230 rpm
TORQUE 82.4 ft.-lb. @ 6500 rpm|73.8 ft.-lb. @ 5660 rpm
TOP SPEED 132 mph|121 mph

View images in photo gallery:

Static shot of the Super Tenere and R1200GS Adventure bikes

Off-road test action shot

On-the-road test action shot #1

On-the-road test action shot #2

Jimmy and Heather Lewis take a break between testing

Off-road action shot - 2013 BMW R1200GS

On-road action shot - 2013 BMW R1200GS

Wheelie shot - 2013 BMW R1200GS

2013 BMW R1200GS - front wheel

2013 BMW R1200GS - nameplate

2013 BMW R1200GS - suspension

2013 BMW R1200GS - exhaust

Off-road action shot - 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere

On-road action shot #1 - 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere

On-road action shot #2 - 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere

2013 Yamaha Super Tenere - nameplate

2013 Yamaha Super Tenere - suspension

2013 Yamaha Super Tenere - exhaust