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Yamaha XV 500 Virago
When the Virago 500 began its trip down the drawing boards, Yamaha's designers must have figured the task was more like play, a working vacation perhaps. The original Virago was a an air-cooled V-Twin with shaft drive and full cruiser treatment, as in stepped seat, small tank and high bars. The model hit the target market right on center and the Virago 750 was Yamaha's sales hit of the year.
Traditional looks, traditional
engine configuration, so it made perfect sense to take another old-time
favorite, the 500 Twin, and scale down the Virago theme to fit the smaller
engine. Lower seat, lower price, proven looks and engineering, it's bound to
They have little to do with the
mechanical package. The 500, like the 750 and 920 Vees, is air cooled, but
the angle of the vee is 70° for the small engine vs 75° for the larger ones.
The same applies to the Yamaha's
other two 70° Vees, the Vision 550 Twin and the Venture 1200 Four. Except
that those two engines produce more power and thus need water-cooling and
Cast-iron sleeves are pressed
into the aluminum cylinder castings. The cast pistons are moderately domed,
producing a 9.3:1 c.r., and use internally-tapered wrist pins located in the
center of the pistons, with no offset. Bore is 73mm, stroke 59mm for 494cc
Two 23mm Mikuni CV downdraft
carbs are positioned between the cylinders. Along with the carbs there is a
small, two-chamber tank that serves as part of the YICS (Yamaha Induction
Control System). We've seen YICS before, on inline Fours, in which the
intake ports of the engine are connected by small passageways intersecting
each port just past the intake valve. An inline Four has regularly paced
pulses in the intake tract and these passageways take advantage of the
pulses to (in effect) boost the charge entering each cylinder in sequence.
For the Virago 500, Yamaha uses
another form of YICS, this one shared with the 550 Vision. Because a V-Twin
has an irregular firing order the Virago's secondary ports aren't connected.
Instead each cylinder has its own chamber in a YICS tank, connected by a
passageway leading to the intake port just above the intake valve. When the
valve shuts, the mixture still entering the port escapes up the passageway
into the YICS chamber, which is precisely sized so pressure continues to
build up until the intake valve opens again. When the valve opens, the
pressure in the YICS chamber rushes into the cylinder again in the form of a
jet stream and swirls the mixture entering through the intake port proper.
The engine is a stressed member
of the frame, and there are no downtubes or engine cradle tubes. The four
forward cyk inder studs extend above the cylinder head and attach to a plate
suspended from the frame's backbone. That backbone is formed of stamped
steel plates, welded together in box section and curving from steering stem
to swing arm pivot. The rear of the engine bolts to the backbone in two
places, one above and one below the swing arm pivot.
The leading-axle non-adjustable
forks have 36mm stanchion tubes held by a steel lower triple clamp and an
aluminum upper clamp. These clamps are different in more than material. The
lower triple clamp has less offset than the top triple clamp, so the
Steering Head Angle is different from the fork rake. The difference is 1.5°,
the steering head set at 29°, the forks set at 27.5°, producing a long 4.9
in. of trail. Two rubber-mounted risers bolt to the top triple clamp and
hold the tubular steel pullback handlebars. The front wheel is 1.85 in. wide
and holds a 3.00-19 Bridgestone L303 tire, the rear rim is 2.5 in. wide and
holds a 130/90-16 Bridgestone G509 tire. Both wheels are cast aluminum in
the now common swirl pattern used on most Yamaha Virago and Maxim models. An
11.75 in. disc is used for the front brake and a 7.1 in. drum is used in
Instruments include a 120-mph
speedometer and a 10,000 rpm electric tach (redline is 8500 rpm), with a
simple row of warning lights positioned below the instrument faces. Those
lights indicate turn signal and high-beam use, low oil level and neutral
selection. There isn't a fuel gauge; the gas tank petcock has a reserve
And at the drag strip the Virago
turned 13.70 sec. for the quarter mile with a trap speed of 93.55 mph and
the Vision (Cycle World, April 1983) did 13.05 sec. at 99.33 mph. More to
the point in daily living, in top gear acceleration the Virago is actually
quicker; 40-60 mph in 5.4 sec. vs 5.8 for the Vision.
At any rate, the Virago's strong mid-range and easy-on torque supply make it great fun to ride on the street. It's perfectly happy tooling down the road at less than 3000 rpm, and will leave traffic behind when short-shifted at 4000 rpm. It's equally happy when run to the red-line in every gear, the power delivery strong and steady with an extra kick of bhp above 6000 rpm.
The 500 is more willing to rev
quickly than the larger Viragos and stays smoother in the process. The 500
responds whenever the throttle is opened, no matter where the engine is in
the rpm range. There isn't any surge at steady throttle when threading
through traffic jams, and there's no hesitation off idle when the throttle
is opened quickly. And all the time there's that intriguing V-Twin exhaust
note, muffled on the 500 but there just the same, the off-cadence beat that
says, well, motorcycle.
The technical advances mentioned
above are advances. They do quell the tremors. But when an engine has
smaller pistons it also has smaller tremors and the uncomplicated little
Virago is smoother than the 750 or 920 Viragos or the Honda Shadow 750 or
Harley 1000. There are vibrations, sure, but what the rider gets is little
more than a reminder of an engine at work. No problem here, the mirrors even
remain clear at cruising speed.
The light weight and short
wheelbase make the Virago nimble, good for cornering, and make it more
easily disturbed by sidewinds and wind blasts from semitrailers on the
highway, not so good for straight-line touring. But the Virago is stable at
top speed and in fast, sweeping corners. The suspension is not adjustable
(except for rear shock preload) and comes set up a bit on the stiff side.
The trade-off is a choppy ride over repetitive bumps in the roadway.
The cruiser look began as a chopper look and choppers were originally built from Really Big Twins. Low seats, kick-out front ends, stretched wheelbases and the riders could easily lean back, put their feet up and stretch out. Those first Specials, Customs, etc. had the look but not the dimensions. Since then the Big Four has learned to deliver the looks after amending the style to allow for more compact machines.
This works up to a point; the
Yamaha XSl 100 and Honda CB1000C, for example, can be cruised and ridden
while the Honda 650 Night-hawk has cruiser elements while still being fine
in daily use.
The horn button, for example, is
tucked down and inward on the left control pod, and the one time one rider
needed the horn, all he got with his thumb was a blank space on the control
pod. The footpegs had some riders searching for someplace to put their feet
during long rides, and the one-position-only seat didn't help riders avoid
feeling cramped. Those are the prices of the Virago's style.
The fuel tank holds 2.9 gal.,
which gives the Virago a total range of between 136 and 148 mi., depending
upon how it's ridden. Reserve is usually good for 16-20 mi. at highway
The Virago is fun to ride, feels
light and agile, sounds neat, gets good gas mileage. It also compromises
rider comfort with styling, styling far enough into the cruiser mode to
deter riders who don't care for that look, yet perhaps too conservative to
appeal to hard-core cruiser fans.
Source Cycle World 1983