IF EVER A MOTORCYCLE HAD ALL,
the ingredients for mediocrity, Yamaha's new
600 Radian seems to be that machine. It's a parts-room special, you see, a new
model that Yamaha fabricated by merely bolting together a collection of
relatively low-tech components borrowed from several of its existing models.
The styling is one of the few things not lifted from any other Yamaha, but
even it is not truly original, for the Radian is simply a slightly modernized
rendition of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle), the "Standard" type of
bike that has been on the endangered-species list for the past few years.
This sounds like a description of a bike that has very little
going for it. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Radian is an
excellent motorcycle, one that's versatile enough to perform superbly in just
about any kind of street-riding scenarios, and able lo excel in many of them,
it has the most exciting engine performance of any current motorcycle of its
size and type, and it'll outhandle most anything but pure sportbikes. It's so
competent that the average rider will probably ride better and have more fun
on it than he would on any of the narrow-focus middleweight sportbikes. So
rather than being a forgettable motorcycle, the Radian just might turn out to
be the success story of 1986.
If that happens, it won't be because the Radian is built of
leading-edge componentry. The engine, for example, is the same basic
powerplant that has been powering the FJ600 lor the past couple of years. But
while that two-valve-per-cylinder, air-cooled inline-Four might seem almost
anachronistic in this era of four- and five-valve cylinders and
liquid-cooling, the fact is that the FJ600 has been murdering its competition
in box-stock roadraces—due, in large part, to its engine. It has simply outrun
everything else on the track.
Before being slipped into the Radian, however, the six-speed,
dohc engine was mildly retuned for more low-end and mid-range power. Slightly
smaller carburetors and a recalibrated exhaust system were what did the trick,
along with revised intake-cam timing.
These minor engine changes are intended to make this
general-purpose bike more pleasant for around-town riding than the FJ600
sport-bike, which was kind of dead at low and medium rpm. And while the
Radian's power output in those rev ranges is still not likely to cause any
dislocated shoulders, the bike is nonetheless quite peppy and responsive at
moderate engine speeds by middleweight standards. Roll-on acceleration is
decent if not spectacular, and the engine has an almost linear power output
from around 3000 rpm all the way up to its 10,000-rpm redline. The end result
is a motorcycle that, in most normal riding situations, at least feels
every bit as quick as the racer-replicas in the 50O-6OOcc class, even
if it really isn't.
Like the engine, the frame comes from another Yamaha, but the
donor in this case is the discontinued XJ550 Maxim. The 550 and 600 engines
share the same basic main cases, so the frame required no reworking to allow
the larger engine to fit. It has, however, been beefed up to handle the 600's
extra power and weight.
To get brakes for the Radian, Yamaha used RZ350 rotors and
FJ600 calipers up front, and put a drum brake on the rear that is much like
several other Yamaha rear drum setups. That rear brake tends to lock easily in
panic-stop situations, but the discs work very well. The front brakes have a
positive feel and give a lot of feedback, allowing quick, predictable stops
without front-wheel lockup.
Two key areas of the Radian that were not equipped with
recycled parts are the front fork and the rear shocks, all of which were built
for this bike alone. The fork offers no adjustments whatsoever, but it works
well in situations ranging from cruising in town to thrashing around a
The shocks aren't quite as good as the fork, though, for the
Radian's twin rear units suffer from inadequate rebound damping. That trait is
most noticeable on short, choppy bumps, especially at higher speeds. The ride
is fairly smooth most of the time, and larger bumps at moderate speeds are no
Altogether, the Radian handles far better than its chassis
specifications might indicate. On backroads, the bike is not only a blast to
ride, it's easy to ride. It responds best to a smooth touch,
because the chassis requires only subtle rider inputs to change direction. And
because it responds so immediately to the rider's actions, the Radian feels
very sporty, despite its fairly upright seating position and medium-rise
handlebar. Getting through the turns quickly is an almost effortless affair,
as the steering is light and precise, and the bike is quite stable. This ease
of maneuvering is aided by the fact that you don't have to keep the engine
wound tightly to get from turn to turn quickly. And riders who choose to
corner the Radian aggressively will take comfort in knowing that its Dun-lop
tires provide good traction, and that the cornering clearance is adequate for
all but the most gonzo of charges along a twisty backroad.
Around town, the Radian is equally delightful. The clutch has
a light pull and the engine comes on reasonably strong off idle, making the
bike easy to get moving. The low-speed handling is exceptional, due to the
bike's light feel and responsiveness. And its small size, dictated by the
dimensions of the XJ550's frame, is an asset for urban riding.
Of course, the flip side of the Radi-
an's smallness is that the bike is not all that roomy. Larger
riders might find the seating position somewhat restrictive, mostly because of
a comparatively tight footpeg/seat relationship. For a beginning rider,
though, or one who is rather small, the compactness of the Radian will be one
of its more attractive features. Nonetheless, the bike still is capable of
handling a wide variety of assignments, while keeping a rider of almost any
size reasonably comfortable in the process. A rubber engine-mounting system
isolates virtually all vibration from the rider, and the seat offers good
support and is narrow enough to allow him to move about freely. So after all
is said and done, the
Radian is everything it promises not to be. Its
parts-bin heritage and standard-bike configuration lead one to think that it
would be a dead-boring, middle-of-the-paek performer; but in actuality it is a
fast, agile middleweight that is as exhilarating to ride as many more
technically sophisticated machines.
But by far the best thing about the Radian is not its spirited
engine performance or roadracer-like handling; it's the bike's price. This is
a machine that would be a solid buy at around three grand, but at $2399 it's a
screaming deal. It has to be the best buy of the year. And perhaps, in
terms of motorcycle per dollar, the best buy in quite a few years. Just as
important, that bargain price puts a full-size motorcycle of
top quality and high performance within the reach of a lot more first-time
buyers, a consideration that the manufacturers have too long neglected.
In the end, the Radian is a welcome solution to some of the
problems that confront motorcycling today: over-complexity, planned
obsolescence, increasing specialization and high prices, to name just a few.
The Radian represents a more-rational approach to building and marketing new
models, and a timely one, as well. Someone at Yamaha had the right idea; after
that, building a motorcycle as good as the Radian had to be the easy part.