Inspired By 1980s Rally Raids, This Enthusiast Rides A 1989 Yamaha XT 600 Z Ténéré In Sicily
Photography by Andrea Casano
If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you’re probably aware of my love for Sicily. Though I have not lived there for some time now, it is the place that molded me, and is the source of my passions and fondest memories. I am certainly not alone in having this attachment, and I am also far from the only motorhead bred in Sicily.
The Targa Florio would be the headlining chapter in a book about the motoring provenance of the region, but there are still stories of speed ongoing, just perhaps on a smaller scale. The love for machines and what they can do is the same though, for it doesn’t require a world audience or fame to think of your motoring dream as a special one.
I always make sure to return to Sicily to visit (AKA overeat and drink with) friends and relatives for our Christmas celebrations, and without getting too wistful of those times when we could all be together happy and healthy, I would like to share a story from last year’s trip about my friend Lorenzo and his Yamaha. It’s a story that’s been a long time in the making, one of a passionate person and a wonderfully fun piece of machinery restored to its former glory—on roads and off them.
I received the call on Christmas Day just after I’d packed in one last slice of a cassata siciliana on top of the dinner I’d already inhaled. I was full indeed, and very attracted by the idea of a nap without an alarm, but as if on queue, my phone rang before I could switch it to silent.
I answered and was immediately met with a question: “Do you have any plans this afternoon?” I said not anymore, figuring the nap could easily be rescheduled into a nice early bedtime, and so soon enough I was out the door and on my way down to the beach with my camera in hand a cup of espresso in my belly for good measure.
It was a beautifully sunny day with a light breeze and the right amount of clouds to form a “sky” without blocking the light, and as I was admiring the natural beauty of the sea and sun and sky I was happily shaken out of the daydream by the sound of a motorcycle and the sight of a white-helmeted Lorenzo atop a blue Yamaha.
The bike is a XT 600 Z Ténéré wearing a livery inspired by the Yamaha YZE 750 Sonauto team that participated in the Paris-Dakar in 1988, and for as long as I can remember my friend Lorenzo has been madly in love with Yamahas like these. I can still recall us as kids, me trying to get him to care about MotoGP as much as I did, when all he really had eyes for were the rugged people and machinery competing on two wheels in the Paris-Dakar. Many years later, his continued passion led him to owning the bike pictured here.
Finding and later owning this Yamaha was the result of years of research, and as Lorenzo says the way—or rather, where—their paths crossed was unusual. Through word of mouth and on to a telephone call, Lorenzo received word from his mechanic friend that of his clients had a Ténéré to sell, and in the livery that Lorenzo was particularly fond of. “I didn’t hesitate for a second, I called the owner and immediately set up a meeting for the next day!”
It turned out that the bike had suffered some issues with the cooling system and could cause an expensive repair or prompt a full restoration, so unfortunately Lorenzo had to pass on what had kept him up awake with anxious excitement the night before.
“That morning I got up in a good mood, the idea of being able to take home that bike made me happy as can be. After this bitter disappointment though, I decided that I couldn’t go on without a Ténéré, so I started looking on the internet immediately and found one in Vittoria that seemed interesting,” Lorenzo recalls.
Everything and anything should be expected when buying used motorcycles, “but I never thought to buy a motorcycle that was living under an orange tree!” Lorenzo tells me. Though the degree of protection from the elements was dubious at best, the four-stroke single-cylinder engine was fully functional, and it did not require a great deal of bodywork despite its unceremonious “storage” under the tree.
Lorenzo loaded his new bike into the van (resisting the urge to try a trial bike maneuver into the cargo area) and returned home with a smile that’s by all accounts reappeared every time he’s laid eyes on the bike since.
For our photoshoot we met up and headed to the wonderful coast of Marsala, a Sicilian town that would make a perfect setting for the Ténéré between the mud, sand, earth, and rock of this seaside location. Compared to today’s motorcycles that evolved from this point, the Ténéré retains a certain amount of charm and spirit, a character that you can identify with instead of a cold machine that you can only hoped to be impressed by. The Ténéré was a purposeful machine, but it doesn’t shed its aesthetics or personality in pursuit of it. Maybe this is just nostalgia for the geometric shapes of the decade talking, but it actually has a visual identity beyond the tangles of exotic alloys and everything else rendered in metallic colors that characterize so many modern performers.
Ténérés are beloved by collectors and riding enthusiasts alike, and Lorenzo falls into both camps. He loves the story of Yamaha off-road, motocross, raid, and trial bikes, and he’s not afraid to put his own through its paces. As he evidenced to me by hauling ass across some decidedly unpaved terrain.
It’s not a lightweight nor particularly small motorcycle, but Lorenzo tells me that it’s easily manageable, and in fact could be managed on a daily basis. Its 600cc single-cylinder engine is able to produce 45hp in good health, and though it’s not a staggering number by current standards, it is an output that keeps the bike in balance, and is, as they say, plenty enough to have fun with.