Yamaha XV750 SE

Yamaha XV750 SE/Virago Road Test

Yamaha Virago

Sit back and enjoy the ride

When the XV750 first arrived on UK shores many must have been left asking why? Never before had the Japanese manufacturers turned out such a focussed custom styled machine, it must have been quite a gamble for Yamaha to take.

There isn’t much to tempt those riders not wishing to sample the delights of state side cruising. High bars and forward placed footrests aren’t my usual cup of tea either but, the XV is a well designed and thought out beast, the riding position is easy on the body while controls and levers fall to hand very easily. The ride is both smooth and reassuringly sure footed with handling not in any way like you might have expected for a soft and lardy cruise mobile. The weight is centrally placed, with the large machine feeling many times smaller than it actually is, while several little touches around the frame and cycle parts make the job of moving the big twin just that little bit easier. The placing of the wheel spindle an inch or so in front of the forks centre line so it reduces the trail and speeds up the steering, for instance, is a good example of this thinking.Yamaha XV750 SE

In use the engine isn’t at all like a V twin, rather more a successful mix of many engine types, feeling as grunty as a single and yet as smooth as an inline four. Only the narrowness of the engine gives the game away, a feature that, where it not for the wide bars, would enable you to sip unnoticed through the busiest of traffic jams. For the most part, once on the move, top gear can be left alone such is the width and power of the torque curve. The engine willingly pulls from way down in the rev range while the shaft drive gives no a hint of snatch should the revs be too low like a chain would.

As is typical with a Yamaha, the carburetion is near faultless, producing a linear response to throttle inputs and a keenness in the engine department to trot along nicely. With so many aspects performing so well it comes as some shock that many other important features don’t. The brakes are verging on the pathetic with a single floating caliper grabbing a solitary small diameter disc up front, although some face is saved with the large, single leading shoe, drum stopper hanging off the rear end. The weight of the bike can soon overwhelm the front disc in heavy use and equal amounts of rear brake are required to get the plot stopping before something else makes you. Of course experienced riders will throw the engine into the stopping process and by doing this you can really haul the V twin up in double quick time.

Shifting down the box however, can be a clunky affair, when the XV was new, dealers used to tell people the gearbox would bed in nicely with age well, here we are twenty four years down the line and the bloody gearbox is still as noisy as a bag of spanners. This isn’t a bad thing; it shows how hefty the gear wheels and their dogs are with the result that gearbox problems are few and far between, even in a high mileage XV motor.

Once accustomed to the unique foibles involved in riding the XV you start to realise just how good the package as a whole really is. OK the brakes aren’t ever going to bend the forks, not unless they completely fail anyway, and the motor, with barely 50bhp to play with after the engine has transmitted its power through the shaft drive, is hardly going to spin the rear wheel out from underneath you in a moment of heavy handed madness, and yet, the ride is superb. The laid back style is effortless and the chassis holds it all in line and true throughout. Once you get the hang of it, corners can be great fun too. You must take your time to set the suspension up to your liking, not so much the front as that is pretty good straight out of the crate but the rear has a multitude of settings enabling the exact ride you desire to be set up quite easily. The spring can be jacked up or down with the large knob situated below the right hand side panel while a Schrader valve, also in this area, allows the air pressure within the single shock to be adjusted too.

The fuel tank of the first XV’s was the only real complaint voiced by owners, as it was just too small to be of any practical use. The contents of the 12 litre tank can be consumed in a little over 100 miles, especially if the engine is given the signal to go. This makes long distance travelling an exercise in planning and logistics, rather than an enjoyable experience. The real reason lay in Yamaha’s choice of carburetion and valve sizes, choosing to keep the 40mm Mikuni instruments found on the 920cc TR1 models as well as the large diameter inlet and exhaust valves. This leads to a very heavy breathing 750cc engine that goes well thanks to the extra fuel being thrown in to each pot but, in return, yields a heavy appetite and a liking for garage forecourts.

Yamaha XV750

Yamaha XV750 SE/Virago Model History

At a time in motorcycling history when technological advancements in design and performance where key, it seems on the face of it, that Yamahas latest range of old style V twins would be a short lived affair. The birth of the custom versions of established models had been a great success especially in the US, and Yamaha America’s planning manager, Ed Burke, built upon this idea. He found that most owners would like to chance to go one stage further and have a V twin machine as the basis for their custom motorcycle. Yamaha didn’t like the idea at first and considered the design to be fraught with technical difficulties, especially if the Harley Davidson was to be used as the design model. The research team in Japan found that if they offset the cylinders, unlike the inline HD power plant, that they could maintain efficient cylinder cooling and make an engine worthy of the tuning fork badge.

Not only did Yamaha create a new class of Japanese motorcycle, but also one of biking’s longest running series of machines, with the XV range still being available, in its original form, as recently as 1996. The concept was indeed new to the Japanese but the technology wasn’t. The XV750 was made up of many aspects of previous Yamaha models all wrapped around a seemingly all-new air-cooled V twin power plant. A close look at the workings of that engine reveal it to be little more than two XT500 top ends grafted onto a single-crank bottom end, creating the simple, yet effective design. Unlike the XT500 however, the bottom end was very different, the pressed roller bearing crank of the single pot thumper was replaced by a tough, single piece design using plain metal big ends and rollers for the main bearings. Both con rods running side by side on the same journal to align with the offset cylinders and resulting in a narrow engine unit in keeping with the whole XV concept. The 75-degree angle between the cylinders was chosen over all other configurations to create a compact engine unit. A major decision maker may well have chosen the configuration just to be different; Ducati had the 90-degree arrangement while Harley had their 45-degree engines so Yamaha more than likely just went for the figure in between those two. This turned out to be a strange decision as all they achieved was a short, tall engine that would eventually go on to be fitted into ever longer chassis’s, while the height created by the closely coupled cylinders caused there own problems for carburettor and fuel tank placing, although nothing as extreme as the problems facing the monolithic HD power plant. These problems were overcome in later designs first by positioning some fuel low down beneath the seat and pumping it up into the carbs via a fuel pump.

Holding the whole plot together was a new pressed steel, monocoque, frame incorporating the air filter passages, saving much space and aiding the compact nature of what could have been a very large machine. With a seat height of only 750mm, lower than most commuter machinery many times smaller in capacity than the XV, the bike was appealing to all, no matter how short they may be in the leg department.

Quite surprisingly, bearing in mind its custom pretensions, the wheels were very much in the LC350 sweeping style, these were replaced with wire wheels on the Virago models. Carrying on this approach, the rear end was held up by a single shock “Monoshock” absorber just like the LC and DT model range from previous seasons. The single shock rear end was a bit of a Yamaha trademark during the 70’s and 80’s, having been used to great effect on the factory motocross and road race machinery since 1973, the DT 175 and 250 trail bikes first sported this design on the road back in 1978.

The XV moniker comes about using the analogous nature of previous Yamaha models the X meaning four-stroke, as in XS and XT, while the V is self-evident. The engine is similar to the larger TR1 998cc machine, the stroke and even the valves in the cylinder head are identical with just the bore size denoting the actual capacity of the engine. The major difference being the use of an all enclosed final drive chain on the larger capacity machine while the 750 made do with a shaft drive. By 1983 the life of the monoshock XV750 was well and truly over in the UK and the type was discontinued. Great emphasis was placed on the 1000cc version and this carried the V twin flag for Yamaha in the UK for the next six years. In 1889 the capacity of this big cruiser was upped, via a longer 73mm stroke, to 1063cc and three years after that the 750 Virago returned to UK showrooms. The later XV750 virago came with thicker, 38mm, fork stanchions and dual disc brakes while the monoshock suspension was dropped in favour of the true cruiser twin shock set up, making the three quarter litre bike look every bit as convincing as the full capacity version.

Across the pond, the 700 Virago had remained as part of the US Yamaha sales fleet throughout this period and many have since found their way onto the UK scene as imports. During 1983 the potential for the XV in the all-important US market was held back because of a tax placed upon imported motorcycles of 700cc and over. This was to allow Harley Davidson to maintain a lead based upon price as, not being imported, the tax didn’t apply to them. Yamaha responded by reducing the bore size of the XV750 from 83mm to 80.2mm to give a tax-exempt capacity of 699cc and the type remained on sale. 1988 saw the removal of the levy and the full capacity XV750 returned to the Yamaha dealer’s showrooms.

In 1987, the baby of the family, the XV535 was introduced and for the first time cruiser sales in Europe began to match those of the USA as the incredibly small and compact machine attracted a whole new type of biker into the market place.

Cruiser style machine are now prolific and form a large part of most manufacturers range, and it all started with the XV750SE.

XV750 SE Road Test

Lets not forget the rest

To get the full on cruiser look and feel there was little out in the market place except the machines from Harley Davidson, like the XL-1000 and FXE-1200. The Japs were already producing cruiser style machines but these were based on existing roadster models, equipped with higher bars and more than a little kitsch. A good example of this would be the Kawasaki Z650 D2, structurally very similar to the basic Z650 model but fitted with cosmetic enhancements to create the custom style. Perhaps the only true cruiser to challenge the XV ethos, outside of the HD range that is, would be the Moto Guzzi California, although many would have been put off from buying this unique machine due to its quirky engine characteristics and even stranger braking set up. The linked brakes, that see the left front and rear disc operate together, makes the foot pedal far more effective than the single front disc and this does take some getting used to. Before the XV750 no Japanese manufacturer had taken on the task of creating a pure bred custom machine, the XV/Virago series changed all of that and now most factories produce them in one form or another.

Oh Dear!!

The main fault to be found with any of the XV series can be discovered without turning a wheel. Simply pressing the starter button will inform you whether or not the XV under you has a starter motor problem. The starter motor drives a pair of planetary gears that can slip under load and an effective repair can be tricky to implement. The best cure to date appears to be the fitting of some extra shims to tighten the starter motor body up and prevent further slipping. Yamaha never did find a cure for this problem throughout the life of the entire XV series and advised against taking preventative measures, the end of the starter mechanism should be relatively free in case the engine ever backfires during the starting phase. Should this happen then serious mechanical woe could be caused although surely it is far better to be able to start the bike in the first place than worry about something that may happen once in a while. Not really a failing but something to keep a regular eye on is the oil level in the rear part of the shaft drive. All too often this has been neglected resulting in serious and expensive damage occurring to the bevel gears.

Yamaha XV750 Tuning tips

With little reason to pep up a 750cc, air-cooled, V twin there isn’t much in the way of evidence of anyone having carried out much in the way of tuning and similar work. To get the standard bike running even better than they do Dynojet offer a range of stage one kits, for the 81-83 XV fit kit DJY-4113 and for the 92-96 model kit number DJY-4128 is required. The standard exhaust system is a tightly restricted piece of pipe work and great gains can be had simply by fitting open ended cans. The exhausts are prone to corrosion too so after market items are often the norm in any used machine.

The engine can be safely increased in output as the lowly 60 bhp produced is not enough to overcome the transmission and shaft drive. Stan Stevens did big bore and breath on an XV1100 with some success bumping the horsepower up from 58 hp to around 78 hp with a sizeable increase in torque as well. If you are happy with your V twin’s engine performance, and why shouldn’t you be, then concentrate on the chassis. Unique to the XV750SE is the cable that operates the rear shock, this can be altered to give an extra couple of spring pre load settings previously not available with the standard set up. This can make life more bearable for those carry heavy loads or luggage as well as a pillion.

XV750 UK Model Time Line

1981 – 83 – 5G5 –000101
1992-93 – 4FY- 000001
1994 – 4FY- 017101
1995 – 4PW-000101
1996 – 4PW- 015101

US models

1981 – 4X7
1983 – 20X
1984 – 42W (XV700)
1985 – 56E (XV700)
1986/87 – 1RM (XV700)
1988 – 3AL
1989 – 3JL1
1990 – 3JL4
1991 – 3JL7
1992 – 3JLA
1993 – 3JLD
1994 – 3JLG
1995 – 3JLK (3JLL California)
1996 – 3JLN (3JLP California)

Yamaha XV750 SE Specifications

  • Engine: Aircooled 4-stroke V-twin OHC
  • Capacity: 748cc
  • Bore & stroke: 83 mm x 69.2 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 8.7:1
  • Carburetion: Hitachi HSC 40
  • Max Power: 60 bhp @ 7000rpm
  • Torque: 48ft-lb @ 6000rpm
  • Ignition: transistorised
  • Transmission: 5 speed, wet clutch, shaft final drive
  • Frame: pressed steel monocoque
  • Suspension: 36 mm telescopic forks oil/air damped. De Carbon monoshock, remotely adjustable damping
  • Wheels: 3.50 x 19 130/90 x 16
  • Brakes: 245mm single disc floating caliper, 180mm single leading shoe drum
  • Wheelbase: 1520mm
  • Weight: 211 kgs
  • Fuel capacity: 12 ltrs
  • Top speed: 100mph
Yamaha XV750 SE/Virago Road Test Gallery

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