Friday, 30 March 2018

Despatches: XJ900 and Yam turbo

There are a lots of rats in London, they outnumber the humans by at least twenty to one. Things have been very easy for them over the last few years, the winters have been mild and they’ve a lot of junk food left out for them. Along with the rats, the despatch industry has grown, partly due to the mild winters because if a company is going to hold on to its accounts it has to provide a reliable service. In the bad old days when winter struck all the fair weather riders stayed at home, the riders who kept going got a cold and were well paid. This also guaranteed that good riders got looked after and that companies with lots of good riders could charge more than companies who could not provide a year long regular service.

Nowadays, every wideboy in London has started up his own firm and wants to poach fat accounts by offering low prices. The trouble being that the low prices filter down to the rider’s pay packet in the end, and despatching is not worth doing unless there’s some decent wedge at the end of it all. What we really need this year is a good hard winter, to kill a few rats, and when the snow finally clears let’s see how many of the cut price operations are left.

These thoughts were rattling around my mind as l neared Milton Keynes. The last job in a string of jobs passed on to me by the infamous Pinker who had wimped out on account of it being very cold and looking like it was going to snow. I was dying for a piss, my nose was running continuously and my hands were numb. I almost lost the front wheel on one of Milton’s many roundabouts, that this time had a nice slimy coating of mud to make it different from all of the rest. Having got the front end back I just missed getting tailgated by some prick in the inevitable XR3i who wanted to race.

But, at last, I got there, got the signature and had a piss, feeling almost human I rang base. Good old rubberlips answered and asked if I was cold enough. There were no other jobs to take me back to the smoke on my trusty old XJ900 that’s been around the clock in two and half years. It’s done well, it's only had one camchain and a few clutches, but it's tired now. I can tell by the amount of oil it wants, I had to put almost a whole litre in when I stopped for fuel. Mind you, it’s still fast, but the engine has that nice loose feeling, sort of the same that two strokes get just before they blow to bits. What I needed was a replacement, preferably something with a fairing but it had to be cheap.

I came in via Kings Cross so I could find a cafe to thaw out in and then call in from the city where all the work tends to be. As I came into Farrington Road I saw it, a Yamaha Turbo with a for sale sign on it. I stopped and took a closer look. It had 32000 miles on the clock, the paint was a bit tatty but it was all there, the asking price was £850. I talked to the guy and arranged a test ride for the next day, trying not to sound over interested. Yamaha's version of the turbo consisted of adding a turbocharger to their tough 650cc four and disguising the appearance with a huge, and for the time, stylish fairing. As with the other Jap factories, the extra mass and complication did not inspire many purchasers who could get the same power to weight equation from bigger, simpler bikes.

The next day I saw my controller and he sorted it so I had work to take me up there about lunch time. I took the turbo for a ride, leaving my XJ’s keys as security. First thing I noticed was no mirrors, then that the rear suspension was far too soft and the forks bottomed out over the slightest ripple. The brakes were crap, but just as l was about to condemn it, I gave the throttle a good twist. The engine came on cam and lost its rough feeling, the turbo needle quivered briefly before burying itself deep into the red zone.

The beast howled while doing a passable imitation of a surface to air missile - l was sold! I parked it up and had a good look. Bargaining points were the well worn rear tyre, the leaking fork seals and lack of mirrors. Back at the shop the boss was not in so no deal was struck, but the next day I saw him and haggled the price down to £800 and a new MOT.

A week later, after my cheque cleared, I picked it up and worked on it for that day. When I tried to see how fast it was on a down hill stretch it reached about 80mph and then cut out. This was worrying because the turbo is lubricated by the engine - if the engine stops so does the lube, but if the turbo unit is spinning at 10000rpm in its red hot housing it takes a while for it to stop and can quite easily end up welding itself up solid.

Waggling the ignition key fired up the motor again, I took it easy for the rest of the day, ended up in Guildford and had no other problems. The next day I took the cover off the ignition switch and found it was held together by insulation tape, which when torn off resulted in a switch that fell apart. I tried to repair this with Araldite with little success.

Reaching for the fuse box revealed no fuses but plenty of wires twisted together... I eventually managed to blow the headlamp bulb. The last time I had a similar problem I ended up with a melted loom, not a good idea on the turbo as there are lots of expensive black boxes.

After much thought I did the decent thing by ordering a new ignition switch. There was little point annoying breakers as the switch is unique to the turbo. A week or so later the bike was back on the road after much swearing and pulling wires about. I also replaced the back tyre because the old one was not only thin but also contained two nails.

The turbo’s a comfortable bike, the fairing keeps most of the wind off, while not being so big that it gets in the way when filtering between traffic. The seat is deeply padded but not too wide. The brakes are single piston calipers and crap, they also have the old fashioned habit of not working for a split second in the wet; not much fun. It's very fast once the revs get past 6500rpm when the turbo suddenly cuts in, so harshly did this happen that the back wheel kept breaking away.

Something was sticking somewhere and the effect became more civilised after a few miles were put on the clock, allowing the rust, or whatever, to wear itself off. Below 6500rpm it runs along respectably enough and at lower speeds was safer in the wet than the XJ900.

The next time I attempted to find out how fast it would go the speedo had me in hysterics. After 70mph the needle shot around and off the dial, then it came back and at one point it was going backwards. Fortunately, the gearing's the same as the XJ900's so I could tell the speed by the revs.

Stable up to 115mph, beyond that the wind seems to get under the fairing, which isn't up to pushing all that air out of the way, and it starts wobbling. Then the clutch starts to slip after 120mph, with a new clutch it'll probably reach 130mph if you’re brave enough bearing in mind the lack of brakes...

l have just finished fitting some new fork seals, a saga of mammoth proportions, involving drilling through the fork sliders oil drain screws to peg the internal rod so I could get the fuckers undone! During which I discovered that one fork had very little oil and the other had none at all... it's handling a bit better now. Typical of ageing Japanese bikes which suffer alloy deterioration.

All in all, I like the bike, it remains to be seen as to whether it's reliable enough to keep for a long time, but I have known a few being used as despatch hacks and they seem to have lasted well. Right, who wants to buy an XJ900 with only 5000 miles on the clock?

Max Liberson

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