Yamaha XV 920J Virago
What does Yamaha do for an encore after the sweet success of the 750 Virago? They make a bigger bike, of course—the XV920J. It has Virago styling, but it's faster, torquier and full of electronic gadgetry.
FOR YAMAHA, LAST YEAR WAS SENSATIONAL. THE COMPANY culminated a process that began with a tew modified XS650s and grew with the Special-series machines. The new-for-'81 750 Virago and XV920 Vee-twins surprised the motorcycling world, just as fresh examples of creative thinking always surprise us. Yamaha's successful effort helped bump Honda into action, and you can see the result of their retaliation elsewhere in this issue.
But all manufacturers develop new machinery in cycles. Given the reality of a 24-hour day and the cost of research and development, even the largest companies can produce a new bike or series of bikes only once every three or four years. That's why you should little wonder that one of Yamaha's new models for '82, the XV920J Virago, catches few observers of the marketplace by surprise. The 920 proceeds logically from last year's 750 Virago in the same way that the Honda CB500 Four followed the original CB750; both play off the success of a winner. As a machine, the 920 is new only in the sense that there has been no previous Yamaha shaft-drive Vee-twin of that displacement. Its basic design has been revealed to and embraced by the public, and in fact the 920 is a blend of 750 Virago and XV920 technology.
As a counterpoint to the similarity of hardware, though, there is the dissimilarity of their introductions. Introducing the 750 was a daring act with few precedents. Daring because sometimes radical works—witness the Honda Gold Wing—and sometimes it doesn't—remember the Suzuki RE5 rotary. Who was going to buy a Japanese 750 Vee-twin? Yamaha hoped it was anyone who considered a Harley or a European machine, or who was infatuated with Special styling. That was hope, even if it was based on research. Introducing a 920 a year after the 750, on the other hand, is betting on a sure thing. That's calculating, not daring.
The 920's chassis is virtually a 750 piece, retaining the same steering geometry and nearly identical dimensions. Suspension components feature the latest in adjustability. The air-assisted fork can be adjusted at a single fitting, and a four-position knob on the top of each fork leg controls rebound damping. A long metering rod which penetrates into the middle of the damper alters rebound oil flow in much the same way as a carburetor needle. Position number four gives 47 percent more damping force than position one; each step in between is proportional.
The fork produces a comfortably smooth ride, which is partly a result of having good damping action and very little stiction and partly a result of the rider's rearward seating bias. The Virago's seating position effectively isolates the rider from fork and front-wheel commotion. Indeed, we changed the fork damper settings while riding over a variety of terrain and could detect no change in damping qualities, though we knew the damping had in fact been altered.
At the rear you'll find the same gas-charged, air-assisted DeCarbon shock absorber the 750 uses, but with increased spring rates. The 920's initial spring rate is 386 pounds per inch, up six percent from the 750's. With 14-17 psi in the shock, the light coil-spring's travel is exhausted in the first 55 percent of shock movement, after which the second spring (with a rate of 655 pounds/inch) comes into play for the last inch or so of travel. This second unit's spring rate is 36 percent stiffer than the 750's.
A six-position damping adjustment is provided; it's located apart from the shock itself just under the right side of the seat and is easily accessible from the saddle. Though the shock actually has 20 damping adjustments, calling other positions into play requires adjusting the cable that connects the damper adjustment knob to the shock; this makes a different set of six positions available.
The stiff-legged springing reduces drive-shaft torque reaction in comparison with the 750. The 920's generous amount of engine torque needs the heavier spring rates to help keep the rear-end's up/down motion to a minimum. Typically, driveline backlash exacerbates the shaft torque reaction; to the 920's credit, it has very little lash, and the power delivery is fairly smooth during on-off throttling.
Equipping the 920 with relatively stiff rear springing has a predictable side-effect: the big Virago's suspension compliance is barely average. Total effective rear-wheel travel is 3.4 inches; the weight of the bike uses an inch of travel (again—with 14-17 psi) and a 170-pound rider compresses the suspension another 0.8 inch, which virtually depletes the shock's softer springing. Only about 1.6 inches of wheel travel is left to deal with road shock, and that is controlled by the monoshock's stiffer spring. Our lighter, 140-pound testers found the springing somewhat firm over small and medium bumps and freeway expansion joints, and harsh on larger bumps. Our 170-pound riders reported about the same—acceptable on smooth roads but harsh over moderate-sized bumps. Heavier riders (190 pounds) found the ride firm but acceptable. We injected more air into the shock (up to 55 psi), figuring the increase would prevent some shock compression under a static load and thus provide more available wheel travel during actual riding conditions. No luck: with more air the shock action was firmer initially and, naturally, harsher during the final couple of inches of travel.
Put a passenger aboard, and the Virago's ride improves. With maximum recommended air pressure (55 psi) and damping set to full firmness, the ride is less harsh when riding two-up than solo. That's logical. Air-springing has a couple of benefits; inject more pressure and it raises the ride height, which gives more wheel travel, and it provides progressive springing. The catch is that you need enough weight to compress the firmer suspension; two-up is enough, solo is not. Also, hitting a solid bump causes some rear-end loft, indicating that rebound damping is a bit soft for this fully preloaded springing.
Passengers report a nice seating position with plenty of foot room. The footrests don't vibrate, but the passenger grabrail buzzes intensely over 4000 rpm. The seat has slight humps at the front and rear that help position the passenger positively. The seat's foam composition is firm, allowing a couple of hours of comfortable riding, but no more. A final word about passengers; if they wear plastic or rubber-soled shoes they'll have to rest their feet forward to keep the shoe heels from heating up and possibly melting on the mufflers.
For the rider, the Virago makes a nice short-haul bike, but the shape and firm composition of the seat and the seating position combine to intrude on rider comfort during extended rides. The seat forms a bucket which couches the rider, limiting fore and aft movement; its upward slope concentrates weight on the tailbone, and the forward position of the footrests amplifies this. As for the bar-seat-peg relationship, our testers were uniformly in some discomfort after about an hour. Typically, they complained, of wrist aches, backside numbness and unusual muscle soreness in the shoulders.
The Virago's steering characteristics also make it a good short-haul cruiser. Despite rake and trail figures (29.5 degrees, 5.2 inches) that tend to make you think it would be a lethargic handler, the 920 has light, precise and responsive steering. This is in part due to its moderate wheelbase (59.8 inches) and in part a result of little of the rider's weight being on the front wheel.
The Virago 920 engine is basically an RJ-type with shaft drive added, but there are minor changes. The middle gears of the 920 shaft drive have 47/46 teeth; the 750 has a 42/45 pair. From there, forward and rearward, the drivelines are identical. The middle gear change produces higher gearing, which means the 920 turns fewer revs than the 750 at any given speed. The 920's oil pump measures seven millimeters wide, one millimeter thicker than the 750's. This serves to pump up oil pressure and volume about 15 percent. Yamaha altered the camshaft profiles slightly from the RJ920 model's. Both intake and exhaust duration are 284 degrees, with 67 degrees of overlap. The new, larger air filter has corresponding enlarged airbox-to-carb ducting, and the carburetion has been changed to compensate.
The engine pulls from just off idle, but it has a flat spot between 2000 and 3000 rpm. The lean carburetion in the lower mid-range causes alternate lunges and pauses in power flow. Trying to hold a steady speed results in lean-mixture gasping and spitting unless under a load. This cold-blooded stuttering was also a symptom of our XV920RH, which we tested in August 1981. During the first minute of running, the engine accepts throttle reluctantly. Once above idle speeds, it occasionally spits back, sometimes catching the rider unaware during take-off and forcing foot dabs.
After the engine passes through this ragged area, you'll find immediate throttle response and a wonderfully wide powerband. This makes riding a blast, especially in the canyons. Leave the transmission in third gear and you have crisp acceleration from 15 to 55 mph no need to paddle the shift lever looking for better acceleration. You can pass traffic on the highway in fifth gear simply by rolling on the throttle, even with a passenger aboard.
Although its mid-range acceleration is strong, the Virago is not a high-rpm rocket. Its quarter-mile elapsed time of 13.18 seconds means you can jump ahead of virtually every car on the highway, but it places it in with bikes 350cc smaller front-rank, multi-cylinder mid-dleweights such as the Yamaha Seca 550—a 13.16 quarter-miler.
For highway cruising or around town, the 920 provides a fairly smooth ride, thanks to largely muted engine vibration. The engine passes through a rough period near 4500 rpm that vibrates the tank, seat and bars. This rumbling is noticeable but not obtrusive. At other speeds, the engine emits a low-frequency, high-amplitude rumbling about average for a big V-twin but somewhat less smooth than that of the 750 Virago.
We obtained 49.0 miles per gallon during one highway trip—our best. Normally the fuel indicator warning light began flashing close to the 160-mile mark,'and within one or two miles we had to put the petcock on reserve. The smallish reserve capacity will get you about 20 miles at best. Our worst mileage, during a standard 290-mile city/country/highway test loop, was 43.5 mpg.
Though maintenance of the Virago is straightforward in theory, in practice there are a few complications. As it happened, our test bike sprang an oil leak when one of the screws that holds the rear cylinder's tappet cover loosened. No problem—we tightened the screw and continued without further incident. Getting to that screw with an Allen wrench did bring up an interesting point:
valve adjustments, recommended every 2500 miles, can be tedious. You must squeeze a feeler gauge, tappet wrench and lock-nut wrench into the valve cavity. It can be accomplished easily only after removing the air cleaner assembly and gas tank. Oil changes and air filter servicing are straightforward, although removing the air-cleaner element requires dismantling the entire airbox. The pointless, electronic ignition demands no attention. The tool kit stores in a small non-lockable compartment on the left side.
One set of features that most assuredly distinguishes the 920 from the 750 Virago is the addition of Yamaha's new CYCOM (Cycle Computer) system. It's an on-board liquid-crystal digital speedometer display and graphic-display tachometer, combined with Yamaha's computerized monitor system, introduced last year on the Seca 750. The entire display package, complete with micro-computer module and connecting LCD unit, lives in a compartment barely 2.5 inches deep and no wider or longer than standard instruments.
Switch on the ignition and seven LCD lights pop on. Four warn of low fluid levels: engine oil, front brake hydraulic fluid, battery electrolyte and gasoline; two warn of head lamp or tail lamp burnout; another signals if the sidestand is down. A display of four liquid-crystal blocks indicates fuel level by quarter-tank increments. In addition to the usual neutral, high beam, and right and left turn indicator lights, a red warning light draws the rider's attention to an activated warning.
After the rider starts the engine, the computer begins scanning its seven functions. If it detects a malfunction, the indicator light stays lit and the red warning light begins blinking. By pressing the warning control button, you change the flashing warning to a steady light. Push the button again and the red light signs off, but the LCD indicator remains on. Only fixing the problem turns off the indicator light. If a new problem develops, the warning light reactivates. At any time when the engine is running, the rider can send the system through its display check by pressing the check button.
The press of a button also switches the 0.8-inch-tall speedometer readout to the kilometers-per-hour mode. The speedo is mechanically driven by cable from a conventional gearbox on the front wheel. An electronic circuit in the speedometer head makes the conversion to digital readout. Odometer and tripmeter readouts didn't get the LCD treatment—they are standard mechanical units. Tachometer drive, however, is electronic. Its LCD display is an analog type rather than digital, which simply means there's some form of graphic representation other than numbers. As the engine's speed changes, a ring of individual tach "needles" appears or disappears at 250-rpm intervals around the tach's face.
At redline, a faceful of needles fills the zero-to-seven-thousand-rpm scale.
The tach has an idle-speed mode useful for synchronizing carburetion during servicing; depress both the mph-km/h button and the check button, and the 10,000-rpm scale switches to a 2000-rpm scale. The rider may even check the speedo and tach functions at a standstill—sending the tach needle to 10,000 rpm and the speedometer to 200 mph.
Functionally, there's no clear advantage to the LCD speedo and tach displays. They are clearly visible in midday sunlight, and they're approximately as accurate as standard units. The system has one drawback: after the CYCOM's low-fuel-level warning light has been triggered and the red flasher begins flickering, pressing the warning control eliminates the signal; however, fuel slosh can reactivate the flasher. If that happens, you must re-press the warning control button, which eliminates the flash until the fuel sloshes once again. And so on. If dashboard red lights bug you, you'll spend most of your time pressing the control button until you find a gas station. On the other hand, we doubt that any of the major Japanese manufacturers are employing electronic monitoring strictly for functional purposes. For the time being, the companies are finding out what's valuable and starting a trend or two while they're at it.
Another new feature this year is the pair of adjustable handlebars. Each right and left bar assembly has two pieces. The bottom bracket, an aluminum forging, attaches to a splined shaft on the top steering crown, like a shift lever. Likewise, the upper bar piece, the steel grip-end of the bar, splines into the top of the aluminum support. Locating pins slip into notches, limiting the range of splines that can be used. According to Yamaha spokesmen, this prevents the handlebar from being placed in unsafe positions. The main support bracket has two positions; the grip piece has three, giving a total of six possible configurations.
We found that the standard handlebar position cramped the rider's elbow room and positioned the grip at an awkward angle. It is fine for a short ride, but fighting winds at interstate speeds for more than an hour causes some discomfort in arms, back and shoulders. By the two-hour mark the wrist of the throttle hand cramps. Moving the bars improves the grip angle; however, not one tester was satisfied with the handlebars in any position for long rides.
Add up all the 920's distinguishing characteristics and you have a bike that complements the XV750 nicely and establishes the Viragos as a model line. The XV920 offers more power than the 750, and it has several accessory features the 750 lacks, including adjustable handlebars, fork damping adjustments, front dual-disc brakes, and the CYCOM system. The XV920 is also distinct from the sporty RJ920, primarily because of its styling and shaft drive.
Apart from being different, though, the XV920J judged on its own is functionally sound. We would indeed like to see the seating position moderated and the rear suspension refined. But the big Virago's strong points are appealing. In crucial areas of performance, like braking and steering, the Virago is very good. More important, the 920's torquey engine makes it a ball to ride in a variety of conditions. If you're looking for style, innovation in detail, and solid performance, the Virago deserves consideration.
Source Cycle 1982