Yamaha were late arriving at the big bike party, an early attempt, with a heavy and dated 750cc triple, saw them at the rear of the performance race but that was set to change in 1978 when an all new design arrived.
The XS1100 was Yamahas answer to the ever-growing Superbike cult of the 70s. Honda started it back in 68, and arguably Kawasaki and Suzuki jointly put a full stop on it come the turn of the next decade, with the Yam adding a bit of spice during the latter part. The XS was a good sound engineering exercise in how a bike should be built, its powerhouse engine was housed in a strong steel chassis with a titanic shaft drive keeping the horses in check as the galloped to the rear wheel. The only trouble is the weight that all this overkill created, the XS is certainly no lightweight, especially when compared to its rivals and it showed when viewed alongside the opposition.
The type was a popular model in the states however, where long roads span out for mile upon mile making the low maintenance Yam a breeze to cruise the highways. Unlike the other big bikes, the engine was tuned to give a massive spread of power and peaked around 8000rpm, this allied to a wide and flat torque curve gave the rider a huge punch with each and every gear shift.
Although not a pure sports machine by any stretch of the imagination the XS did have considerable success on the racetracks of the southern hemisphere. In the year it was launched, the XS took victory in the prestigious Castrol Six hours race and several more long distance speed events too. Fighting against more likely racer machinery like the Suzuki GS1000, the big Yam stole the march thanks to its super reliability and hug fuel capacity. The Yam needed at least one less fuel stop over the race distance and this along with the spirited riding of Greg Petty took the big machine to a stunning win. Honda was also present with their new six-pot CBX, but it suffered tyre wear problems leaving the XS to romp home unchallenged. The Australian victories was the only competition success enjoyed by the XS however and the type soon sat back and enjoyed a more leisurely role, as the opposition developed faster and better handling machinery the Yam stayed true to its original and became a long haul monster. Funnily enough, Yamaha did the exact same thing in 1984 when its replacement arrived; the FJ series was initially lauded as a pure sports bike, and yet, within months, it was renamed a sports tourer, the development of the XS engine was no match for the all-new GPz900R.
In use the XS does have a few bad habits. These come to the fore at speed, and in particular when trying to change direction. The massive weight doesn’t want to shift its trajectory too willingly; so advanced thinking is required when in a hurry. Riding the bike in a normal relaxed manner couldn’t be easier, the soft tune of the powerful engine allows all kind of liberties to be taken, and the need to shift gear is all but redundant once on the move.
The weight of the machine makes for a sturdy feel in a straight line at least, the attribute that endeared it to riders in the US and in this mode it feels like a conventional motorcycle, albeit a very powerful one. However, apply throttle mid corner, or indeed shut the throttle completely and the bike takes on a whole new persona. The rear end does the exact opposite expected of a bike and rises under acceleration, while sinking quite dramatically on a closed throttle, not good when first experienced, especially if mid corner with the pipes and footrests just skimming the deck, if the corner tightens, and the throttle is eased back a tad, then the metalwork makes even stronger contact with terra firma, possibly with disastrous consequences. Its a minor niggle and one with no cure, as the upside down shaft drive, licensed by Yamaha from BMW, is the cause, it’s a case of developing a smooth throttle approach to keep the big XS on an even keel and once mastered is very rewarding.
The pure power and smooth torque is the cause of the bikes only Achilles heel, 2nd gear can jump out of its position and once this has happened there is no other choice but to split the casings and change that ratio along, with its corresponding shift fork. This is the result of riders setting off in 1st gear as they should but then short shifting well before the peak revs but exactly where the peak torque is, while being the correct way to drive, this practise places too much pressure on the one gear and it all too often cries enough.
That common fault aside, the engine is generally under stressed and easily capable of mileages well into treble figures. The XS has grown into a machine with cult status like few others from the period, its legacy stretched well into the 90s and beyond with the FJ series and there is still plenty of the original models around.
Yamaha XS1100 Model history
The big four was first seen in 1978 and, as the largest capacity Japanese machine yet built was immediately the proclaimed as the fastest production motorcycle in the world, but not for long.
In 1979, a special, fully faired version, was developed in the UK for Yamaha by John Mockett, his body work design being unique as the top half of the fairing was attached to the handlebars, while the lower part remained firmly in touch with the chassis. This fully faired machine was also painted up in martini racing colours to tie in with Mike Halewood’s racing comeback, while advertising or the period featured world champion Kenny Roberts sat on his XS1100 with the slogan “Sometimes we flew, and sometimes we went by plane” suggesting that the XS was a better way of getting around Europe than flying.
A sports model, the XS1100S, was released in 1981, featuring a handle bar fairing, and a reduced tank size, the S was liveried totally in black, from the paintwork to the ultra modern black chrome, it certainly cut a dash, although no match for any of the accepted sports machinery of the early 80s. Custom styled models were also introduced, largely to cash in on the types popularity on the other side of the pond.
Yamaha XS1100 Timeline
1978 XS1100 E
The first of the big Yam fours is introduced; at the launch it was the largets capacity and fastest production motorcycle in the world, but not for long as the gauntlet was readily picked up by all and sundry.
The model carries on in the UK line up with few, if any, modifications, there is a US custom style SF model added to the range, shorter drag pipes, a smaller fuel tank and high rise bars being the major differences from the standard version.
The XS1100S is launched to much acclaim and expectation, however, it is still far too heavy to take on the fast emerging competition from the other three Japanese manufacturers who were busy pushing the envelope using advanced technology.
The type started to bow out from the UK line up at least, as a new machine, the FJ1100, sits in the wings. This new machine uses a development of the original XS power plant and will live on well into the 90s, albeit growing in size to 1200cc, becoming one of the best sports tourers ever created. There was a “parts bin” special released in the final year the XS1100 Maxim, a sort of hybrid between the standard and custom models.
Yamaha XS1100 Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled DOHC four- stroke
- Capacity – 1101cc
- Bore/stroke – 71.5 x 68.6mm
- Power – 95bhp @ 8000rpm
- Torque – 66ft-lb @ 6500rpm
- Carburetion – 34mm Mikuni CV
- Transmission – 5-speed wet clutch shaft final drive
- Frame – steel tube twin cradle
- Suspension – 37mm telescopic forks adjustable spring pre load. Twin shock rear adjustable for spring pre load
- Brakes – 2 x 300mm discs single-piston floating-calipers. 300mm disc single-piston floating-caliper
- Wheels – 3.50 x 19, 4.50 x 17
- Weight – 217kgs
- Top speed – 132mph
- Wheelbase – 1545mm
- Fuel capacity – 23.6ltrs
Yamaha XS1100 Gallery