Sunday, 4 March 2018

Yamaha XS400

I'm an avid air cooled four stroke fan, .so when I saw the little Yamaha I fell for it. You don't see many around, and it should not be confused with the fairly awful OHC version. My bike has a nice lump of DOHC vertical twin alloy engine held in a spine type frame with monoshock rear suspension. Styling is neat, surely the best looking air cooled twin?

The bike already had 20000 miles on the clock when l bought it. I knew the previous owner well and felt sure that it had been well looked after and mildly used. £300 changed hands, not too bad for a B reg machine. There were some problems. The most noticeable shot front wheel bearings allowing half an inch of side play. Even so, I was still able to ride it home and the bike was light and flickable.

Also in need of replacement were the exhaust (an £80 Motad saw to that) and a badly split seat - it had a plastic base and I was able to fix it with a combination of vinyl and a staple gun - plus a £30 sprocket set and a new from tyre while the wheel was out to replace the bearings.

The most impressive thing was the handling. With a set of Metzelers on it could be leaned over to quite wild angles without anything touching down. That combined with a responsive motor meant that through the curves it could actually keep up with a mate's LC350, much to his annoyance. The bike pulls like a particularly pokey single up to 5000rpm, and shifts like a bigger bike from then on. You can potter around in a relaxed way or scream the engine to the redline and burn off mild middleweights like GS550s.

Where heavyweights have to slam on the brakes and back off the power, the XS can be hurled through bends with nary a moment of concern, thanks to a stiff frame, good suspension and the excellent tyres. The suspension soaks up most of the bumps with ease and never lets the bike get seriously out of line. The rear monoshock is very similar to that fitted to the DT400MX and, indeed, combined with a seat that perches you on the bike rather than in it, the XS often feels like being sat upon a big trailster.

Braking isn't perfect. A caliper design shared with the LC ensures that. It has a bloody awful pin which holds the pads in place, it takes a week's soaking in Plus Gas, a blow torch and an allen key attached to a socket wrench to remove the damn thing. Thank god there's only a single disc to maintain, two of the things would have me rushing out to buy a sledgehammer. Wheels are cast in a not particularly attractive eight spoke pattern, but at least Yamaha resisted the temptation to fit a rear disc; instead there's an excellent drum brake that combines the necessary power with lots of feedback.

In 10000 miles there have been no engine problems. It never uses any oil, although I change it religiously every 1500 miles and the filters every 3000 miles. I use vacuum gauges to set the carbs myself every 5000 miles and had to do the valve shims once, after 6000 miles. Other than that, nothing needs touching, the camchain tensioner’s automatic and the ignition trouble free electronic.

My only concern with the electrics was that the self-cancelling indicators stay on for a little too long in town, but they are fine on motorways and the like. I did notice that the brake light only worked off the front brake. Neither the excellent headlamp bulb nor the twin bulb tail light have blown and general vibration levels are low enough to make them not worth writing about.

Running costs are very low. Even the rear tyre lasted for 10000 miles and the front didn't seem to wear. Chain and sprockets have done 10000 miles and only seem a quarter worn out! Rear brake shoes are probably still the originals judging by the lack of wear and I haven't had to replace the pads yet either.

The bike does not disappoint on fuel economy, either. It's possible to better 75mpg if ridden mildly but still fast enough to see off most cars. l have never got worse than 60mpg and it’s very easy to do 65mpg, giving a range of around 200 miles before hitting reserve. The bike has been used to commute back and forth to work 50 miles a day, six days a week, and also for weekend work that
often involves doing 200 miles in one sitting. The bike takes everything in its stride, although it obviously won't give the same grin inducing acceleration and ton plus excess of the 600cc race replicas, it has a nice balance of qualities that must appeal to anyone who uses a motorcycle as his or her sole means of transport and wants enough stomp to keep the fun factor going.

The only real question about the XS400 is just why Yamaha never promoted the bike or imported more than a few into this country... could only be it cost too much?

G D Jones