A Scrap Yard Reunion and Muscle Bike Encounter
by Lee Meyer
Recently the need for a used Yamaha part came up. As all roads eventually head to Sport Wheels, a massive motorcycle scrap-yard in Jordan, MN, so did I. While one of the mechanics removed my part from some wreck, I decided to mill about and look for a blast from my past.
After some searching, I caught a glimpse of something familiar. I climbed over a pile of bikes to get a better look and, sure enough, there it was, my first hot-rod motorcycle–not just another of the same model, but the actual beast.
Back in the late eighties I bought this old 1979 Yamaha XS1100 for around $200.00. It was an old hippie beater with high bars, a king and queen seat and over 89,000 miles on the odometer. No kidding, and no second gear. What a beauty.
I rode it for a year and then had a brilliant idea–I must rebuild it. Pure dementia.
I got carried away with that project, as usual. My stock rebuild became a hot-rod ordeal. I had the head fully ported and fitted with custom ground cams, got a Wiseco 1200 big bore kit, rebuilt the transmission with new gears and custom back-cut each gear for better engagement to handle the extra power.
The rest of the bike was completely disassembled and sand-blasted, including the chrome and aluminum, then painted. I located a standard seat, got some sporty low handle-bars and put the whole works back together. The old XS1100 now made 150 horsepower.
Then the problems started. The shaft drive made the gear ratios less than ideal for wicked acceleration. Clutches became a major problem. The best clutches available for this machine would last maybe five or six full-throttle runs. I went through about five clutches.
The next ordeal was transmission failure. Yamaha did not design the bike to deal with big power so it started eating gears. On the third transmission something went completely awry and some gears self-destructed catastrophically. A bent transmission shaft, broken gears and warped engine cases were the result.
Game over…all roads lead to Sport Wheels.
Now, years later, I am staring at my old bike. It is missing many parts, has a different front wheel and ape-hangar handle-bars again. Lesson learned. Life goes on.
I picked up my part from the mechanic, paid for it and headed back to the shop. By coincidence, the part I left with was a middle gear unit for a Yamaha XS1100. Creepy?
Back in the sixties and early seventies we had muscle cars. In the early eighties we had muscle bikes. These were the years of the big horsepower standards with 1100cc four-cylinder engines. Suzuki and Kawasaki basically owned the show.
The most popular and respected machine of this era was probably the Suzuki GS1100E. Built in one form or another from 1980 until late 1985, it remains one very sought after bike. Almost none of these machines ever makes it to the scrap-yard. Virtually all of them end up at the drag strip.
It is without question the most popular engine for drag racing and is probably the strongest motor ever designed for a motorcycle. It is very over-engineered. With a full roller bearing crankshaft and a four-valve cylinder head 200-250 horsepower can easily be achieved on gasoline and carburetors. No turbo or nitrous-oxide needed, thank you very much.
A friend of mine recently purchased a 1983 model in rare form–totally stock. He bought it from the original owner with 58,000 miles or so and still in fine shape.
Well, of course I wanted to ride it. I borrowed the machine for a couple of days and enjoyed a piece of cycle history. Although quite big, the GS is a great commuter bike. It is a very comfy motorcycle with great bar location, nice manners and enough gauges and idiot lights to make anyone happy. The big air-cooled engine is equally happy on the highway and so is the rider. I could easily ride one across the country. Performance-wise, even stock it goes like hell. Five gears and tons of torque mean not much shifting is required around town.
Getting a hold of one of these in any shape can be quite a hunt. It seems that everyone would like one for their own collection and the drag race boys are always on the look-out. If one shows up in the want ads you’d better be the first person there. Be prepared to pay a premium. They do not come cheap. A nice example of an ’80-’83 1100 can bring $2,000+ and a nice ’84 or newer 1150 will easily go $3,000-$4,000. Even a rat-pile junker is worth close to a grand.
As I write I am on vacation in northern Minnesota so see you next month — I gotta go canoeing.