Cruisers and Drifters
by Lee Meyer
One recent week I serviced no fewer than six 1980something Yamaha Viragos. There must have been a billion of these things made. So, I will put aside my sporting tendencies to pay attention to the laid-back crowd. Cruisers are still motorcycles, right?
I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: when you are considering any purchase, get the machine to the shop for a pre-purchase inspection. The fifty bucks it will cost could prevent a $1,000.00 headache.
The old Viragos are well known in shops for several problems. Probably most notable is their starter setup. This deal has got to be the worst design in history. At best the thing sounds like a coffee can full of marbles. At worst there is even louder racket and very sporadic engagement. Unfortunately, not much can be done about the racket. The starter engagement can be improved with internal shims. Most shops can accomplish this for around $200.00.
Problem number two is engine noise–specifically ticking from the cylinder heads. It may sound like it needs a valve adjustment, but more likely it has seriously worn valve train gear. The rocker shafts, arms, cams, etc. are prone to premature failure. This can be expensive to repair, and on an older bike I suggest you live with it. It could tick for years before it dies.
Carburetion is next. I don’t know why, but nearly every Virago I work on requires some jetting work to get it to run well. On the 86 and newer and California models the pilot jets are often fixed and cannot be altered. These jets handle all fuel metering from 0 to 3000 rpm. A lean condition is very common and can be very difficult or impossible to correct on these models.
Now, these problems are no reason to run and hide from what may be your ideal bike. Out of the six or seven zillion that are on the road there has to be a big pile of good ones. Just about every Virago owner I have met loves the bike to pieces in spite of the marbles in the starter. If you already own one, good preventive maintenance goes a long way toward keeping problems away.
The AMA Super Cycle Classic at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI was held on the weekend of June 6-8. I loaded the bike up and made the trek. If you have never been there, I recommend you check this place out. The race track has 14 turns and is located in and about a somewhat hilly area. The geography and track layout are considerably more interesting than our own BIR.
The bike racing was great as usual this year with a new and interesting attraction added–sidecar racing. Ahh, very amusing. Rather than a solo effort, this is a true team sport. As a sidecar cannot lean in a turn, sliding or drifting is the way to handle the corners.
To keep all three wheels on the pavement the driver needs a little help. Here is the team part. The sidecar passenger (A.K.A. ‘monkey’) provides moveable ballast to keep the bugger from flipping over. Quite a busy job indeed.
Now apparently any type of sidecar can enter this deal. The rule book I obtained is pretty vague. I think just about anyone can enter. The field at Road America ranged from a close to stock BMW R75 to all out custom chassis powered by Kawasaki ZX-11 engines and covered with one-piece carbon fiber bodies.
Some of these things can be deceiving. Approximate vehicle weights seem to be in the mid 400 pound range–surprisingly light. Maximum engine size is 1200cc for four-strokes and 900cc for the two-stroke mosquito killers. A couple machines ran three cylinder snowmobile plants.
In the pits I talked to Kurt Dillman of Victor, NY who had two bright green rigs powered by big ZX Kawasaki engines. I inquired about the horsepower of his newest drifter, no. 59. His reply: 180+. Wow. I then asked how fast it would go. He pointed to my ZX-11 and asked me how fast it would go. Scary…but in a good way.
Kurt went on to win the main event on Sunday. However, an A+ for effort has to go to the boys on the old BMW Rwhatever. It may have been slow, but the crowd appeal was huge. Sideways and crossed up in every turn they held on, didn’t crash and finished the race. All the while getting major cheers at every turn.
If all this sounds like your kind of deal, one of the racers from California builds and sells a very nice start-up chassis. The complete rig sells for 8,500 bucks. All you need is a paint job, an engine and someone to be your monkey. I have all the info on hand so drop me a line if you are interested. Did I mention the spare ZX engine I have?