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Hal's Ride Along Motorcycling Memory Lane: Yamaha

Updated on November 21, 2009

Yamaha RD200. The only two-stroke street bike I have ever owned. Basically a toy which I bought for the only reason to turn it into a Kenny Roberts replica. I spent a fortune on it outfitting it with full dolphin racing fairing, tailsection and all the bits, then painted it Yamaha bumblebee racing colours. Probably ended up riding it for all of half an hour. Wish I had a photo of the finished product, though... It looked great!

Yamaha TT500. I sold the XT500 to buy this and was sorry from the first time I swung my leg over the saddle. Although it was lighter and had knobby tires which were a boon in the dirt, somehow, the XT500 magic was missing in this competent, but unexciting thumper.

Yamaha SR500. The street version of the XT500. Where the XT was thrilling, white-knuckle and spirited, the SR was just a boring commuter bike. Thump, thump. Chug, chug. Snore, snore.

Yamaha XJ550 Seca. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And did I forget to mention blah. Leave this one to the courier services and the riding school crowd.

Yamaha XS650. The first successful attempt by the Japanese to copy the Triumph Bonneville, but they did it right this time. It was a flawless motorcycle with the heart of a lion. It was my steed of choice during my freshman year at UCLA. This bike took me all over Southern California, discovering it all for the first time.

Yamaha XJ650 Maxim. Of all the UJM 4-cylinder cruisers, the Maxim range was always the best styled. It all held together in one coherent, classic package.

Yamaha 650 Turbo. Unrideable demon. It felt like a 250 around town, then as soon as you would hit the turbo boost the machine would rear up and accelerate into the stratosphere. The peakiest powerband since the Kawasaki H1 and H2!

Yamaha XS750. The first four stroke triple ever produced by Japan, and it's probably a good thing that it traumatized them to such an extent they didn't try again for a couple of decades. Although it was revolutionary for the time with its shaft drive, the triple never felt balanced and was quite underpowered. Still I managed to do one of my many four corners trips on this bike (New England to South Florida to Southern California to British Columbia and back!)

Yamaha XJ900 Seca. Believe it or not I talked the man down from his normal asking price for this bike to US$150! All it needed was a bit of cleanup and about US$30 in parts, and it was a great bike! But what do I care, I lost it in the divorce anyway!

Yamaha FJ1100. How can Suzuki take an 1100 UJM and produce nothing of great merit, while Yamaha takes the exact same formula and blows your butt off with one of the hottest, best bikes in history? The FJ was the two-wheeled thrill ride par excellence of its day. I AVERAGED 214 kph (133 mph) across Kansas with it. That included fuel and pee stops. I was cranking over 265 kph (165 mph) on this baby across the Great Plains. A perfect bike in all respects except for the incredibly uncomfortable and completely non-adjustable (or replaceable) handlebars which made you feel you were caught halfway through a pushup! I'm sure the FJ's handlebars is the reason why I have lower back spasms to this day!

Yamaha XS1100. One word. Phenomenal. In my humble opinion, the XS Eleven tourer ate the Gold Wings of the age. Sure, the Wings were more powerful and smoother, but this was a real bike! It handled with a precision belying its heft. It would hunker down on its rear shocks and reach for the high side of 260 kph (162 mph) with one crack of the throttle. I loved everything about this bike, even its styling which was a criticized at the time. It took me from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back again. It did Toronto to Miami, almost 3,000 km in 28 hours FLAT. I ended up selling it to a friend in Italy and have regretted it ever since.

Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Sorry, my old friend Paul Anka for stealing your song. I would love to have at least half of these bikes in my collection. I'd spend all day waxing them, while shedding a tear!

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