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
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.
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
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.
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
by Eloise Sorensen