Friday, 30 March 2018

Yamaha XS1100

My least enjoyable moment with the Yamaha XS1100 came when it fell over after I'd left it standing on the sidestand on some hot tarmac. The massive weight of the bike, combined with the scorched earth effect of the summer sun on the tarmac, meant that it gouged out a huge lump of the council's finest black stuff and fell on to the ground with an earth shattering crash. The lay-by was miles from anywhere and no other vehicles or people were in sight.

I weigh twelve stone and pride myself that I am able to come out of any fight still standing on two feet, but lifting nearly 600lbs of top heavy alloy and steel off the ground nearly proved my undoing. The only way I could achieve this remarkable feat was by clamping on the front brake and pivoting the incredible hulk on its front wheel. Once upright I managed to support it on firmer ground; actually achieving the stability of the centrestand was by then way beyond the capabilities of my knackered muscles.

Damage to the machine consisted of a bent handlebar, dented tank, wrecked indicators and crushed silencer. A quick caress of the starter button revealed that it was still able to rumble into life and settle down to a regular if raucous tickover.

The bent bars meant that the low speed wobble was more prominent and it was even more awkward to swing through the country bends, but twenty miles later I was back home in one piece. Two hours work, use of various bits laying around and a big hammer, and the machine was back in proper running order.

You'd have to be blind not to see that the XS1100 is a big, heavy brute of a motorcycle. This was what initially attracted me to the machine, of all the big Japanese superbikes. the XS is surely the one that looks the most like a proper motorcycle. It is dominated by that chunk of DOHC alloy motor which is really just an enlarged XS550 four, sharing its two valve per cylinder Operation, hyvoid chain primary drive and alternator mounted under the carbs.

The motor is the most impressive part of the machine. I bought my 1980 machine four years ago. It had only 12500 miles on the clock and full service history. During my ownership l have done 80000 miles under a regime of internal neglect. As hard as it might seem to believe. all I've done is change the oil every 1500 miles and the odd oil filter swap. Even the carbs have stayed in balance. True. these days, the top end is clattery and maximum speed has gone down by 10mph, but it still shifts well enough to scare the pants off the plastic missile brigade.

That its 1100cc only produces 95hp will have some readers scoffing, I suspect. but that power figure hides the fact that the motor also knocks out huge gobs of torque. In its way it's an extremely easy bike to ride fast - you just get it up to 30mph, whack it into top gear and hold on until 140mph is on the clock, 130mph lately).

Admittedly, very much beyond 120mph the design shows its age because enough vibration is transmitted to the rider's hands and feet to discourage continuous flat out riding... a reason why the motor’s lasted so well. Another reason why the motor's lasted for such a high mileage is, of course, the limitations of the chassis. The Yamaha might well look exactly like a proper motorcycle should but it certainly don't handle like one. No wayl Let me quickly add by way of mitigation that it is still running on stock suspension. I did change the fork oil once but it made not one bit of difference so I never bothered again.

When I bought the bike the rear shocks were quite firm but jumped about a bit under heavy going and got delirious if I braked hard in a bumpy corner. Funnily enough, although the bike moves around all over the shop in a most disconcerting manner it does not stray so far off the chosen line as to suggest suicidal tendencies. The forks twist and dive under the heavy braking provided by the twin discs - heavy use of the brake in fast corners makes the bike sit up and want to go straight on.

Overall, though, I have ridden bikes that felt much less safe at 100mph speeds. I use mostly motorways and wide A roads so don't suffer as much as I could from the limitations of the XS's mass and chassis. At 70mph it feels rock solid, by 85mph a weave has intruded even on a smooth, straight road and by 100mph the weave feels like it's going to become a wobble but only does so if the bike happens to hit a large bump.

Braking when the brakes are in good condition is superb. Unfortunately. the brakes are rarely in good condition and then they suffer from fade, wet weather delay and an on-off action that has quite often come close to making me do an intimate inspection of the road surface.

The disc brakes on the Yam are crap! The calipers rot, the disc pads fall out before they are down to the metal, the discs crack... I spend more time, money and effort running desperately around the breakers trying to find bits than I do on the whole of the rest of the bike. Fortunately, most of the parts are not unique to the XS1100, so availability is better than the rarity of the 1100 might suggest.

Running around town on the Yam is a breeze. Once 10mph is up the bike feels well balanced and does not require excessive muscle to throw in between cars. True, it is a bit on the wide side and I occasionally get caught out when I try to follow in the path of some young hoodlum on a 125.

Having allowed the exhaust to decay into a straight through system, car drivers are very aware of the massive beast about to rip off the side of their car and more often than not actually wrench their vehicles out of my path. Similarly, incidents of cars rushing out of side turnings under my front wheel have been minimal.

Traffic light GPs are great fun. The clutch is strong and does not object to being slipped or dropped rapidly. it's possible to get the front wheel way up in the air if 8000rpm are dialled in and the clutch dropped; I'm sure it would see off a Jumbo jet on acceleration and most spectators run for cover when they see that front wheel pawing the air, waggling around all over the place. Uncoordinated takes offs make the machine land with a back breaking wrench. Alternatively, it’s possible to produce massive, tyre smoking wheelspin - a quick way to remove a worn out tyre!

Tyre and brake pad wear is terrible, as is fuel consumption - 35mpg on a good day, more usually 30mpg but an astonishingly bad 22mpg was once achieved on a flat-out motorway blast. A contributory reason must be the riding position created by non standard high-rise bars which perch the rider in the perfect position to create the worst aerodynamics possible. 50 miles at 100mph creates arm and neck muscle cramp, although the seat is good for 500 miles in a day at more moderate velocities.

Each year I take the bike on a Continental tour of at least 3000 miles duration. The engine runs along faultlessly, the only limitation on the duration of the trip is the need to get back home before all the consumables wear out! The weight of the bike even saved it from being nicked by some French bastards. One of them ended trapped under the machine when the pair of them failed to lift it into the back of their van. I accidentally dropped the bike back on top of him when l was summoned to the scene.

I had a bit of trouble with the electrics, but this was cured by buying a used generator and new regulator. Batteries only last for a year and the headlamp bulb has blown twice since I've had it. The main beam is just about adequate for 70mph but dip cuts off too sharply and has you peering hopefully over the bars trying to work out which way the road is going to go. Switches have never provided a moments disquiet so they must be OK.

The nicest thing about the Yamaha XS1100 is that I've never actually fallen off the beast. lts mass lets it sit securely on the road and there is enough feedback from the tyres to ensure that l have time to react to any life threatening situations. Apart from the exhaust. wheels and some decayed engine alloy, it still polishes up nicely; were I to sell it off I'd make a few hundred notes profit on the deal. But quite simply I love it; I may even give the old girl a proper service one of these days.

R A Hemmings

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