Into the Southern Appalachians on Yamaha’s midsize adventure motorcycle

I am ascending into a low cloud bank outside Hiawassee, Georgia, and visibility is limited to about 30 yards in front of me. I’m on GA 75, a twisting, curvy state road winding its way across the mountains, and rain has been pelting me since pulling out of town. My pace is slowed, both the windshield and Transitions face shield on my Bell Qualifier helmet are covered in dancing water droplets, and I’m intently peering through the fog, throttling this 2022 Yamaha Ténéré 700 cautiously across the soaked road surface.

“This is what Ted would call ‘Type II Fun’,” I mumble to myself.

The rain and dense fog envelopes me on/off for about 25 miles up and down the mountains, amidst the periodic tight curved sections one encounters when riding at elevation, forcing me to ride defensively and moderately in the rain and low visibility. Finally breaking out of the low cloud cover, the showers also begin to subside, and after about an hour of intense attention I feel I can finally begin to relax some myself.

Out of the cloud bank and most of the rain, finally.

Through it all, the Yamaha tracked true, felt solid and planted even across wet, grimy surfaces, and its Pirelli shoes never slipped or slid in the adverse conditions. All without advanced multi-level traction control settings, no ride modes, no electronic suspension adjustments, no slipper clutch or quickshifter, only an on/off ABS option.

The Yamaha Ténéré 700 is a true no-frills adventure touring motorcycle, where the rider once again becomes the traction control, the ride mode, and the throttle modulation.

We’ve had this Ténéré 700 for a couple of months now, and Yamaha kitted it out for us with multiple accessories from their OEM parts bin- engine guards on both sides, a larger skid plate underneath, a full hard-mounted luggage rack and those superb Yamaha metal hard panniers we’ve raved about in previous stories. So we knew at some point before we had to return the bike, we’d have to road trip it.

A pause that refreshes.

I would be the road trip wrist, so I carved out a few days in early June to ride around the Southern Smokies with the mid-size ADV. A childhood chum named Ken invited me to join his family for an evening up at their mountain lake home in Marble Hill, Georgia, so I lit out from our home in NE Atlanta on a circuitous route up through the foothills.  A sunny and warm Sunday afternoon left me feeling no rush to arrive, so I meandered northward avoiding trafficked state and interstate highways, opting for the “roads less traveled” to my friend’s house.

The Yamaha Ténéré 700, even without all the electronic rider aids we get so accustomed to these days, is easy and enjoyable to just ride. It shifts smooth and effortless with a light clutch pull through each gear, brakes strongly as needed yet not grabby, and handles great on road or in dirt. I believe this simplicity is its attraction and charm.

Riding a section of the infamous Trail of Tears.

The route to my friend Ken’s house took me along a stretch of the infamous “Trail of Tears” where in the early to mid-1800s approximately 60,000 native Americans were forcibly moved over thousands of miles from the Southeastern United States to reservations west of the Mississippi River. Over 13,000 died in the forced marches. A somber reminder of the often overlooked darker side of American history.

The further north of metropolitan Atlanta I ride, the less traffic and congestion I encounter, and the more comfortable on the bike I become. In stop/go traffic, I am a bit awkward on the Ténéré 700 due to its tall, non-adjustable 34.4” seat height and my short 5’8” stature. I’m on my toes at every stop, trying not to tip over. There is a lower seat offered in the Yamaha catalogue, and I’d be curious to try it and see if I can plant my feet more solidly. As I’ve commented in the “First Impressions” review, riders taller than 5’9” shouldn’t have any problems with the ride height.

OMG, these are divine.

After an enjoyable overnight with my childhood chum and his family, I roll out headed northwest toward North Georgia’s apple country by way of GA 53 through Tate, Jasper, and Talking Rock. Definite Southern towns, with names like those. Picking up State 76, the Appalachian Foothills climb in elevation and traffic dwindles, as I throttle the Ténéré 700 up and down hills and side to side along a growing number of delightful sweepers. I stop in Ellijay for lunch at Penland’s Apple House, a must-stop for their incredible orchard-picked honey crisp apples, killer turnovers and fritters. Geez, I could eat my weight in these things.

The Southern Smokies are magical, mythic some say, to ride through in the morning and early afternoons, as soft blankets of fog and low clouds are draped across the slopes and valleys of these ancient green hills. While the Rockies, the Cascades, the Badlands, etc. are staggering and breathtaking to behold, the Appalachians are soothing, comforting to gaze upon, and my ride north into them slows my breathing, calms my nerves, and settles my heart and blood pressure. Those who’ve ridden here know the effect this gently rolling mountain range has on them.

Downtown Historic Blairsville.

Entering Blairsville, I stop up on the square next to the Union County Historic Courthouse for a coffee at Cabin Coffee Co., a favorite every time I ride up here. I didn’t this trip, but if you ride to/through this charming Southern town, be sure to also sit down for some fantastic home cooking at the Hole In The Wall, a personal fave of mine as well. And a photo op with the Courthouse is a must.

Continuing northeast along State 76/2/515, the beautiful ride through the old mountains winds its way through Young Harris, named for a Georgia judge and philanthropist in the 1800s who was an early benefactor of the college there that also bears his name. Ascending in elevation as I ride “further up and further in”, my route takes me alongside the waters of Lake Chatuge, a large reservoir that spans 132 miles of shoreline across the top of Georgia and into North Carolina. The mountain town of Hiawassee is nestled along the lake’s southeastern shores, and is my destination for the next few days.

Hiawassee sits at a lakeside elevation of nearly 2000 feet, and with gorgeous vistas out across the waters with the mountains all around, is a favorite for vacationers and outdoor adventurers. Its name is derived from the Cherokee or Creek word “Ayuhwasi” meaning “meadow” and the verdant valley the town resides in, reveals it is aptly named.

Note the small sign. Bigfoot Museum. Might have to pay this a visit.

My GPS takes me up a side road off the main thoroughfare through town, and I find myself on a twisting, narrowing, increasingly graveled trek uphill to my friend Jimmy’s cabin. By the time I reach his place, I miss the driveway and immediately find myself on a single track, dirt/gravel path past the cabin. Riding a bit further, looking for a safe spot to turn around but finding none, I come to a dead end, facing a metal gate with a “No Trespassing” sign. And I’m still on an uphill grade. Trying to carefully walk the Ténéré 700 back/forth to turn around, I drop the bike over on the left side, angled downhill. Unable to get the fully-laden, top-heavy bike back upright, I’m rescued by a kindly old mountain gent who must have heard me struggling through the trees and came to my aid in his old Chevy pickup. “Looks like you could use a hand, young man!” he drawled in his thick Southern accent. Yes sir, you are a godsend.

The Yamaha incurred only minor damage, with scuffing on the left handlebar end grip and scrapes-dents on the left hard box, which actually saved the bike further damage, thankfully. Rider incurred only minor damage as well, with bruised knees and sore wrists. And a bruised ego. Bike firing back up immediately, I ride back to the cabin, not missing the turn-in this time. I need a drink and a chill moment on the front porch.

A much-needed front porch rock, at the end of a long, eventful ride day.

The morning brings rain across the north Georgia mountains, but I decide to throttle out amidst the showers anyway, in and around Hiawassee, Young Harris and Blairsville. I’m skeptical of semi-knobby tires holding solid traction on wet pavement as well as straight street tires do, yet these Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR boots feel planted in wet corners and winding sweepers, everywhere I ride today. Without traction control, I’m taking it a bit easier as well, not willing to get too froggy in wet conditions with a bike I just dropped the night before. I am impressed with how steady the Ténéré 700 feels out in these less-than-ideal conditions. But really, couldn’t it be considered ideal for a bike like this?

As I ride the Yamaha Ténéré 700, it occurs to me that this bike reminds me of another simple basic adventure bike I’ve ridden before- the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Also a no-frills, elemental ADV machine without all kinds of rider aid electronics, the Ténéré 700 feels to me like a larger version of that fantastic 411cc single thumper from India. Sporting a 689cc parallel twin with only switchable ABS as a rider aid, the Ténéré 700 nonetheless does everything asked of it, in an attractive, Dakar Rally-looking package. What’s not to love?

The “intrepid adventurer” pose, on the shores of Lake Chatuge.

The following morning is time to pack up, saddle up and roll south toward home. It is here, crossing back up over the Southern Appalachians to the rolling hill country of my domicile northeast of Atlanta, that I ride into the clouds. South of the mountains, the rain and the fog, I settle into a nice road rhythm, riding GA 75 down through the Alpine-styled town of Helen then through Cleveland. From Clermont I veer onto smaller country roads through Lula, Gillsville and Maysville. This helps me again avoid metro Atlanta’s notoriously trafficked state and interstate highways, as I meander down through quiet countryside. I stop in one of my favorite towns south of the mountains, Jefferson, for a soda and some photos.

The Southern charm of Jefferson, Georgia. The old whistling jingle of “The Andy Griffith Show” comes to mind.

Pulling back into my driveway, our “little cabin in the woods” is a most welcome sight. Lisa awaits on the front porch, our dogs rush to greet me, and I step off and stretch as the Ténéré 700 ticks away its engine heat. Despite my one mishap, this has been a wonderful trip with a fantastic motorcycle. I’ve logged close to 500 miles of winding North Georgia byways, in multiple conditions and on multiple surfaces. The Yamaha Ténéré 700 is a solid performer, and a sweet dance partner up in the hills.

My only negative with the Ténéré 700 is of course the ride height. The Yamaha accessory lower seat should solve that to some degree. Yet for more dirt-oriented riders like my friend Mark Albertson of Cycle World of Athens (did the Scull Shoals ride with him and Barry), the Rally seat might suit better for those who prefer feeling “up on top of the bike rather than sitting in it” as Mark puts it. Being primarily a street rider, my preference is lower.

My friend Mark on his Ténéré 700 during the Scull Shoals ride we participated in. Different livery, Rally seat, better off-road rider.

We’ve enjoyed this simple, capable mid-size adventure motorcycle from Yamaha. Its little wonder they are on back order for riders waiting to purchase one. So if you are inclined to buy one, get your name and deposit on the list at your local Yamaha dealer. As one reader quipped after our “Dual Sport & ADV” story, “It was so worth the wait!”


Check out more deets on the Yamaha Ténéré 700 here:

2022 Yamaha Ténéré 700

Rider Gear:
Helmet: Bell Qualifier
Jacket: Sedici Marco Mesh Jacket
Pants: Diamond Gusset Defender

Gloves: BILT Spirit 2 gloves

Boots: BILT Pro Tourer Boots

Check out our ride video here, without ever leaving this page:

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