Yamaha Virago 700/750

by Eloise Sorensen virago w:rider

After fifteen years of looking at the back of other people’s heads, I went for the full view. Four months ago I gave up the passenger seat on Per’s Road King, and I climbed atop a 1986 Yamaha Virago 700cc.

There are reviews and tests of new motorcycles. Potential buyers can find the results in numerous publications, but it is much more difficult to find the same kind of information about used bikes. When I started exploring the used motorcycle market, I kept my eyes and ears open and asked many questions. Advice givers continually mentioned one motorcycle in their comments–the Virago. Many people considered it a great first bike choice. Several women I talked to were especially enthusiastic about the bike.

My friend, Sue, had a Virago. I had my eye on it for some time. When she switched to a Harley, I purchased her Virago. This was a perfect situation for me. She had maintained the bike well, and I had been on several road trips with Sue, so I knew how it performed. She was also available to answer my questions and give me tips on riding my new used motorcycle.

The Virago first appeared in 1981 as a 750cc. It had an air-cooled, 75º V-twin engine with a five-speed transmission. It was to be a mid-sized cruiser that would run smoothly, demonstrate reliability and have superior technology at the right price. Its classic style (low, long and lean) was a big hit. Yamaha continued to produce the Virago with only slight changes each year until 1984. That year, the United States levied new tariff regulations against imported motorcycles over 700cc,so the Yamaha Virago 700 was born. It still had all the appeal and performance of earlier models except for a slightly reduced displacement. At 699cc, the new engine avoided the new tariff. After the U.S. lifted the tariff, Yamaha reintroduced the Virago 750cc and added an 1100cc model.

virago side shot 2

The seat height of my Virago is 28.1 inches. This allows me to sit on the bike with both feet flat on the ground. Anyone with a short inseam will find this a good feature. The wide and well-cushioned seat is comfortable on long rides. The foot brakes and handle bars are well placed for my 5’6″ frame, but reaching the brake lever is a bit of a task for my short fingers. The Virago’s low center of gravity minimizes any top heavy struggle.

I am not satisfied with the design of the Virago’s kickstand. It is too small and mounted too steeply to support the bike. I have dropped the bike twice because of it. I now carry a crushed beer can in my saddle bag, which I put under the stand when I park on blacktop or gravel.

The Virago fuel tank holds 3.3 gallons of gas, has 0.7 reserve gallons, and is getting approximately 40 miles per gallon. I do not have the cruising range of some of the bikes with which I ride. I checked into buying a larger tank, but they cost $200-$400. I will be happy with the more frequent stops.

I could write a novel about the Virago starter motor. It is inherently noisy. Yamaha has a shim kit available for the problem, or I could replace the starter grid spring. Either method is only a temporary fix, and I am learning to live with the noise.


The Virago handles very well on gravel and dirt roads. I attribute this to the bike’s weight distribution and the tires’ ample sizes. The tires are tubeless and mounted on mag rims. The ability to plug a leak quickly in a tubeless tire until you can get to the shop is a definite advantage.

virago side shot

The Virago has a number of other features that I really like. The shaft drive is quiet and easy to maintain. The dual disc front brakes are more than adequate to control and stop the bike. The tool kit is easily accessible under a side cover, and there is a small storage area in the sissy bar. My Virago has chromed, not painted fenders. It also has an after market windshield, highway pegs on the crashbars, a throttle lock for cruise control and saddle bags.

Before I bought my Virago, I checked the newspapers to see what other Viragos cost. A sound, 80’s-vintage Virago will set you back $1,500 to $2,000. This is a small fraction of what you could spend on a cruiser.

I have found the Virago to be comfortable and easy to handle. Most of my riding is with big road bikes, and I am able to keep up with them easily and carry enough cargo for long trips. I feel confident in recommending this motorcycle to any rider–new or experienced.



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