Yamaha XT660R Review

Welcome to the Adventure Motorcycle Traveller Reviews. Here’s Mad or Nomad’s 60,000-mile review of the Yamaha XT660R.  

Adventure Motorcycle Travel in Mongolia blue skies

Contents

By Andy Davidson

By Andy Davidson

Mad or Nomad

Quick info

  • Bike: 2009 Yamaha XT660R  
  • Purchased for: £4,000 
  • Miles covered: 60,000+
  • Years owned: Since 2009  
  • Engine: Single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 659cc, FI
  • Power: 47 bhp
  • Torque: 44 ft-lbs
  • Kerb weight: 181kg
  • Seat height: 875mm
  • Tank capacity: 15 litres 
  • Tyres: 21 and 17
  • Front suspension: Telescopic forks 43mm, no adjustment
  • Rear suspension: Monoshock, preload adjustable only

Prep

Why this bike?

I bought the Yamaha XT660R brand new in 2009 to ride to Syria from the UK. I had just finished a bunch of other trips around Europe including a ride from the UK to Albania on a Kawasaki ZX-9R and it turns out I’m not good at off-roading sportsbikes. There was a deal on the XT so I bit the bullet and went for it. Single-cylinder, simple, rugged, tried, tested and proven engine – perfect. 

I didn’t quite make it to Syria with the XT, we got to the border at the same time the civil war was kicking off and it just didn’t feel very smart. So, I crossed the border into Kurdistan, northern Iraq instead, but that’s a story for another time….

How to adventure proof your motorcycle

Modifications

I swapped out the twin exhausts for a Metal Mule 2 into 1 system. That lasted okay on the first trip, but now on our current round-the-world trip it has been a nightmare and we’ve since changed it back to the original two exhausts while we were in Cambodia (lucky we kept them!)

The bike came in a garish bright red and white. All the fairings were swapped for plain black and all decals were removed. 

The bike was beefed up with crash bars, sump guard, hand guards, collapsible mirrors and gear lever, casing guards, gaiters and a few other bits like hose pipe protectors on the coolant pipes. I also fitted a SW Motech centre stand, Renthal handlebars, grips, new foot pegs, new seat, Scottoiler… 

Actually, there’s a huge list of modifications and we have a dedicated article that you can check out here:

Luggage

For the Iraq trip I used a 40L roll bag, a small homemade pannier on one side and two Rotopax on the other. 

For our round-the-world trip, Alissa and I were riding two-up from the UK to Japan and planned to have two bikes thereafter. So, for the two-up stretch we used two 40L duffels, Rotopax for fuel and water and a top box. 

We have since changed our set-up to soft Lomo panniers at the rear, small crash bar bags up front and a top box. 

Check out our full luggage set-up here:

Travel

Reliability

The XT has been given a very, very hard life and we’ve had a lot of breakdowns. But, none of those problems were the XT’s fault. Every issue we had was because of an aftermarket part or accessory. For example, the exhaust gave us a huge head ache and that was aftermarket.

The remote preload adjuster cable broke and we needed a new part and then the shock shat itself in Tajikistan and needed to be completely replaced. It was an expensive aftermarket shock and we had our original sent out from the UK to Kyrgyzstan and refitted (it has so far lasted us through even harder terrain through the likes of Mongolia). 

So as for reliability, the XT is bullet proof. It has been completely submerged, through -15C to +45C, sand storms, snow storms, battered, crashed and ridden hard two-up round the world and it’s still going. 

Servicing

Servicing is very simple and easy to do. I give it an oil and filter change every 5-6,000 miles and perform the basics when needed. There’s nothing complicated about servicing this bike. 

Maintenance and parts

The only high-maintenance part on the Yamaha XT is the cush drive rubbers, which wear out fast at around every 5,000 miles. It’s about £30 for a new set and they’re easy to source in the UK. You can get the rubbers to last longer if you pack them with cut up bits of inner tubes. 

Other than that, maintaining the bike and getting parts is a doddle. 

Long distance comfort

Comfort is of course subjective. The XT is a bit vibey and does suffer from a bit of a delicate throttle, but you get used to it. The riding position is all-day comfy for me and so is the standing position. I did change the bars for a wider set of Renthals and also put bar risers on and that’s made it even more comfortable. Oh, and I also swapped the seat out because the old one was a pain in the arse. 

So far, I rode this bike around 20,000 miles from the UK to Iraq and back solo and have now ridden 45,000 miles from the UK to Japan and then through Southeast Asia two-up and have no problems with comfort. 

Uzbekistan Motorcycle Travel

Good and Bad

What's good?

The most important thing for me is reliability and everything else is a bonus. I can rely on the Yamaha to get us round-the-world. It’s a simple, rugged and dogged machine that just keeps on going no matter what you throw at it. 

The engine pumps out tractable power, it won’t bite your hand off if you tickle the throttle and that makes it easy and progressive off-road. If you love delicately carving sublime corners on the road, then you’ll need a seriously cultured wrist to get round bends smoothly because the motor loves to chug and can be snappy if you get it wrong.

Another thing that’s great about the XT is its displacement. Sitting at 660 puts it slap bang in between the lightweight dirt bikes and bigger twins and triples. It manages the best of both worlds. 

What's not?

The XT is a competent all-rounder. It doesn’t excel in any one area and is a no thrills bike. If you have visions of competing in the Dakar or flying over sand dunes then this might not be the bike for you. But if you want a solid and dependable bike that’s just as comfortable on long motorway slogs as it is chugging through the Gobi then it’ll do you well. 

Improvements?

The usual for most bikes: more power and torque, strip about 50kgs of weight away, crash protection as standard, do away with the two exhausts for a well thought out two into one system that doesn’t run underneath the bike, an updated engine, more comfortable seat, grippy pegs as standard, a bigger fuel tank… but now we’re talking about a whole new bike. 

Verdict

The Yamaha XT660R is a proper travel bike. It’s not built to knock your socks off, it’s built to get you round the world. That’s not to say it’s boring – you can have a blast on the XT and there’s plenty of power in that 660cc single-cylinder to fly down gravel tracks, and there’s enough oomph to get you out of trouble too if you’re pinning it. 

In the 10 years of ownership and 60,000 miles of travelling on the XT I’ve not got a single complaint. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, if you want an off-road weapon then it’s obviously not the bike for you. If you want a mile-munching European tourer then look elsewhere. If you want a tough bike that can handle anything, go anywhere and take whatever you throw at it and keep you smiling, then welcome to the XT club!

Cambodia Motorcycle Travel Bayon Temple

About the author

Andy Davidson runs Mad or Nomad with his partner Alissa Potter. Andy’s been travelling on bikes since he was 18, took a break to work at Motor Cycle News as a feature writer for five years before leaving to ride round-the-world indefinitely with Alissa. 

Mad or Nomad in Mongolia

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Are you planning a motorcycle trip, interested in the Yamaha XT660R bike or have any questions? Let us know in the comments below. 

2 thoughts on “Yamaha XT660R Review”

  1. Hi Andy, can you pls explain in more detail the headache with the exhaust. I’m planning to buy one and travel so would be good to know what to avoid and why. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Martin, thanks for your comment. Take a look at my 2 in 1 exhaust review because I go into great detail in there on the issues. That should explain it, but feel free to shoot any follow up questions my way anytime!
      Also, that’s brilliant you’re looking to travel on an XT! Where are you headed 😀
      Andy

      Reply

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