Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Yamaha XS750

Most people pre-plan, weighing up the pros and cons of a motorcycle, before they fork out large amounts of cash, so why did I have to be the exception?

Perhaps it was the unfortunate experience of 12 days with a Moto Guzzi V50 Mk2 in which I spent more time pushing than riding it — I still cringe every time I see one. Luckily, I was able to dump it back at the dealers and retrieve my money.

An acquaintance complained of a ban for drink driving, revealing that he had an XS750 he could no longer ride. I offered him £350 to take it off his hands. I couldn’t believe my luck, he accepted.

It’s common knowledge that these bikes are considered a bit of a dog, but I was not to be put off. A close inspection of bike, a good test ride and the deal was clinched. Despite it’s age (1977) the Yam was in good condition and stock save for an Alpha 3-1.

After I had the bike for a week it was time to give the Yam some hard riding. Was I in for a shock, you can’t ride the bike hard because despite a rigid frame the suspension is just not up to the job - high speed bends that I could take at 85-90mph on previous bikes could only be taken at 60mph on the Yam.

Where the Yam did excel was high speed motorway cruising at 70 to 80mph all day long. Completion of a long journey left you relaxed and free of a stiff neck or backside. Despite the Yam’s weight, it handled quite well around town, with a useful 1st gear for rush hour crawling traffic and a light clutch.

The first modification I made was to fit a set of lower bars off a XJ650, which helped to reduce wind buffeting on open roads. After 500 miles I was becoming used to the shaftie, and despite being treated with derision for riding such an old hack I was very pleased as it did everything that I asked of it and was brimming with character.

Servicing could be easier. The valve shims and carbs were simple enough but the three sets of points reduced me to a gibbering wreck on more than one occasion. Fortunately, I had a mate who knew what he was doing. Don’t use pattern points as they only last 800 to 1000 miles...

And the brakes are another poor point. Reasonable in the dry, the merest hint of dampness doubles the braking distance - only a madman would ride hard on the XS in the wet. I tried different pads, stripped the calipers down, and used new hoses, but all to no avail; I put it down to the nature of the machine.

A nasty piece of maintenance is changing the oil filter. First I had to remove the exhaust system then I rounded the bolt as the previous owner must’ve had help from a gorilla when he last bolted it back - a new bolt costs £5!

Starting the bike from cold wasn’t much fun, either, for the six month old battery was drained before the engine roared into life — fortunately, the XS was old enough to have a kickstart fitted, which brought the engine to life first kick. Either the starter motor is on the weak side or it‘s tired out - hate to think how all the modern iron is going to start in ten years time, ’cos they ain’t got any kickstarts.

Despite the Yam’s age it was full of useful touches that could be employed on more modern bikes to their advantage. For example, rubber mounted bars, flip-up rear mudguard for easy wheel removal, simple and easy to cancel indicators, allen bolts in the engine cases...

After a year I decided to junk the standard front mudguard and use a secondhand one off an XJ750 which fitted fine after a gloss black respray. The machine was still providing reliable service, although I wasn’t tempting fate — I carried lots of tools in the two useful compartments under the seat.

After 10,000 miles top speed had been reduced from 110 to 100mph and it was only doing around 40mpg. The ton on a 1977, 520lb Yam is bloody fearful, that I can assure you. I eventually changed the weird mix of front Conti and rear ME77 for front ME33 and rear ME99 - in fact, braking and handling were only marginally improved, probably because the suspension was so shot.

Now to disaster. I often thought that if I did have a prang it would either be on my new bike or someone else’s new bike and not on my old hack. One wet and windy day in October I was 250 miles from home, pissed off and damp, my moral was low. As I approached a set of traffic lights I failed to note they’d gone red — as I entered the junction a Mk3 Cortina pulled out.

Luckily, I was only doing 25mph and I hit the door head on. I admitted liability straight away and the driver didn't inform the boys in blue. The driver was okay, more than can be said for my reproductive equipment, from the force of the impact my body was thrown forward with my nuts coming to rest on the headstock.

The damage done to the Yam was bent mudguard and fork stanchions - £138 to repair which was rather steep but nothing compared to the £660 the Cortina needed. Okay, so I lost my NCB, but just think of the cost of damaging more modern tackle.

After the repairs were done, to exercise a well worn cliche, it never seemed the same again. The Yam had 36000 miles on the clock, the clutch and primary chain (£80 new) were becoming a little jerky.

Luckily, my Yam had already been modified under warranty, look for punch marks on the engine number plate - avoid any bike without these marks for they haven’t had the gear— box, primary chain and camshaft modified and fall apart in under 20,000 miles.

I sold my 750 after two years of ownership, for a mere £25 less than I paid for it, so I was quite happy. To be fair, I will never let anyone bad mouth the XS750, unless they’ve actually owned one.

Phil Manning

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