Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Bike!

A month ago I mused with you about how the Hornet 600 just wasn't doing it for me. A fine, admirable bike, but one that evokes no passion. Well, I decided I would sell it and buy another bike for the same value - one which I could love, and one which I could more easily and economically maintain. I decided to buy the next bike first, and then sell the Hornet, as I use my bike for daily transport.

I figured I could get $3k for the Hornet. Which didn't leave me with too many options for a reliable and passion-arousing bike. I was temporarily drawn to a Royal Enfield 350, but they are not reliable enough for my needs. So I narrowed my options to two: a '90s Yamaha XT or TT 600, or a '90s Yamaha XV535 Virago. The latter won, as it is a better highway bike and because Fee can ride it too. And so today I took my first ride on my new 1992 Virago 535!

I've always like Viragos, especially as my friend Rosy who appears at times in this blog rides one - I helped her buy it some years ago - and it's very reliable and good-looking. Hers is a 250 and is very similar in design and look to my 535. The 535 has all the qualities I love in a bike: middle-weight (500cc), air-cooled, reliable, simple, classic-looking, and a Yamaha. As you can see, it also has a lot of chrome.

The bike's engine reminds me of the Suzuki GR650, from this blog, which I regret selling: it is torquey and pulls from nothing, and yet at the other end it is very peppy and enjoys revving. It has a clipped staccato drum-roll as I run up the rev range in second gear.

I rode for 450km today. I was very nervous, as I know little about the history of the bike and feared some bad surprises. The bike ran perfectly for the first 200km. Then something happened after a short stint up the Hume. As I slowed into Euroa it seemed to bog down or surge, as though running out of fuel. It continued to do this for the rest of the trip when at 1/4 throttle, though it ran fine from 2/4 to 4/4 throttle. Even above 1/4 throttle, however, it felt a though running a little lean? When it first manifested I became quite worried, as I've gone and spent our hard earned money and I need this bike to be our reliable vehicle.

Later I reflected that, whatever the problem is, it can be fixed. All parts for this bike are cheaply and readily available on eBay. Indeed, the bike came with a box of extras which includes carb rebuild kits, and these include a multitude of jets and needles. This presents an excuse to visit Craig, the wonder cutomiser of Mishief Makers (again, on this blog - he pulled up out of nowhere when James blew the clutch in his CZ175), to make an exhaust so that this bike will sound like a bike and not an industrial sewing machine. At that point we can rebuild and rejet the carbs.

I am going to do some work to this bike. First of all, the riding position is uncomfortable. It is cramped and the cruiser riding position is hard on my lower back and neck. I will begin by rebuilding the seat to make it 10cm higher. Then, if need be, I will have Craig mount the pegs back in a more standard road-bike position. Another thing is the rear shocks, which are stuffed. They allow the bike to be jarring, and yet bottom out very easily.

Aesthetically, I have always like the XV535 for the classic road bike it could become. My inspiration will be T.E.Lawrence's Brough Superior. I will go for a flat long-seat look. I will get another tank fitted, as this bike has two tanks - a larger one under the seat and a fuel pump to take the petrol to the carbs. This is against the principle of simplicity, so I will get a bigger tank and gravity feed it to the carbs. As said, I will modify the complex and strangled exhaust system so that it is freer, and more present and musical without being too loud. I will also fit a windscreen and saddle bags. Below is what the bike will look like with a raised seat. Further below are more shots from today.

A lot of people think of the XV535 as a beginner's bike, due to its size regarding both the chassis and the displacement/power. I've been riding for a decade and plan to keep this bike for some time. It's power is adequate, it's engine is fun, and it will in the end fit me nicely. What more do I need? Life's easier when you don't have the competitive 'bigger is better' attitude.


  1. Great choice, congratulations! Enjoy!

  2. Cool bike and good ideas for modifications. Enjoy your ride!