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Yamaha XS2 650cc

Yamaha XS2

Motorcyclist Illustrated October 1972

It was the same old ride, one I had done so many times before. No - I didn't know every stick and stone of it - it still retained some small, pleasing revelations for me. Its full 113 miles were yet to become familiar to the point of contempt, but I knew the gist of the thing - some of the more goose pimply straights that tapered and flung themselves into the distance, down to a needle point between the Hansel and Gre-tel menace of the dark pine trees on either side of the blond tarmac, some of the serpentine sweeps and curves arcing their way over the countryside, neatly sidestepping the cornfields which, when last passed had been green and preg­nant with goodness, but were now gently rippling with massive armies of ripe grain wands.

By a meteorological process of deepest mystery the weather was never other than pleasantly twixt and between extremes - never scorching, yet never chilling, always just right. It could be for­gotten, and that part of the mind usually taken up with a native cau­tion of road conditions left clear to deal with the more important mat­ters of life. The most important matter in life had dawned on me quite slowly, almost without my realising it. I had been concentrat­ing on the 'bike. I didn't altogether like it, and everything I had heard of the machine prior to testing it had done nothing to quell the doubts I had. But, in the words of all euphemistic reports, it was a big, lusty 650 twin. Bags of guts and all that. Though the roadhold-ing was hardly the thing the ad­men were going to dwell on, it did have one or two niceties about it, and I was determined to enjoy those to the full. Little things like a rather magnificent disc brake and a torque curve that made one stop weeping over the demise of the Square Four. The thing had been harmlessly twaddled about town for some twelve or fourteen days without any complaint, but the feeling that there was much more to the 'bike than mere townability nagged at me. So I was tramping on, if not at my maximum ability, then- amid a nonchalant shrug and a glint of fly specked teeth – quite near it. Let the critics sneer and the sceptics scoff, I was enjoying myself.

The run, then was familiar. The Norwich run. The north of Lon­don had released its grimy, grumpy grip on the traffic, and spewed it out onto the A1/M1. Save for the growling obstinacy of occasional and fiercely overloaded artics, it was only a smattering of family saloons that stood between me and the beginning of motor­cycling country - the Royston-Baldock turn off. Little things in life are often the most pleasing (and the most surprising). Like the fiver in that tattered old coat pocket before the garment is finally laid to rest on the next Guy Fawkes pyromatics or the forgot­ten can of beer in the hitherto desolate freezer, icy sharp and totally provocative. And at the turn off another warming little dis­covery; I had been going rather fast and was well ahead of my previous best time. Until this time it had been an unpretentious after-noon's trot. It now rapidly developed into a helter skelter headlong rush against the clock: every minute wasted was damned horribly, every one gained gloated over. And you can immediately stifle any wandering interest in the resultant ET to Norwich. A man's got to have some circumspection. It was a very personal game of silly so-and-sos, which had been inflamed by the boasts of a lifelong friend whose claims to this run, if not completely outrageous, then at least erred to the side of the suspect.

The machine that sat aquiver beneath me was none other than the latest Yamaha four-stroke six and a halfer - the XS-2. It had behaved well enough, but now, nearing a well earned retirement from the merciless hurly burly of Press usage, it was getting a little tired. Only a little mind - small, relatively unimportant things showed up like a slightly increased oil consumption, a fraction longer to reach top speed, the odd oil seep. But the engine's essential attraction hadn't been daunted at all - a slogging, tireless torque that charmed its way throughout the entire rev band, never lost, always at your beck and call. Yes - the torque compensated for a lot. Weeks before I had been offered (without broad hints or pleading looks) by the ever obliging Sondel Sport the earlier XS-1 Yam, the one without electric starting and carrying a conventional tls on the front. The power characteristics, though, had been the same. So had the noise - a flat raucous, droning blast. Loud to the point of embar­rassment, but appealing to many people. Not to me, though. The continually swivelling heads on the pavement, the unremitting attention of gentlemen constabu­lary, the fares in the taxi beside me at the lights, yelling to them­selves in a blue hoarseness, all finally tugged at my well subju­gated better half. Comical phrases revolving around the theme of "the image of the sport" circled my mind and, inevitably knocked it off. But by that time I had rediscovered the enchantment of chugging around dappled coun­try lanes, the revmeter never ris­ing above 2000, , a blissful 30 or so miles treading their docile way under my wheels every hour. The sound, I thought, put motorcycl­ing back fifteen, twenty years (in the nicest possible way, naturally) to the soft, off-beat throb of cer­tain mild V twins. A bang every lamp-post? Well - almost. What­ever it was, it was poetry to my sullied ears.

The XS-2 is really very little different from the earlier model, as I soon found out. The glaring changes that all and sundry can pounce on gleefully are the elec­tric starter, whose load is light­ened by the expedient of a valve lifter, and which is operated by a rather natty trigger device sitting coyly under the throttle grip, and a disc brake. To merely say "and a disc brake" is to dismiss the thing with the most outrageous simplic­ity for the inescapable fact is that Yamaha have come up with a quite superb stopper. The disc is large by most standards, 11.7 inches and though of utter inconsequence to its retardation capabilities, aes­thetically pleasing thank you very much to look at. The caliper

bearing, the anything-but-incon-spicuous Yamaha motif, snucksin snugly onto the leading edge of the right hand slider. Now, the factory have overcome the least attractive, aspect that I have always found on single discs - the heavy leaden feeling after the pads hit the disc. Brick wall type of thing. By dire contrast the Yamaha's had a com­plete sense of "feel" and the over­used word to describe the quality of sensitivity. Lever pressure is at a minimum for the full range of required retardation. And, believe me, the full range is there. Any­thing from the gentlest decrease in velocity to panic stricken, look­out-next-world-'cause-I-think-l'm-on-my-way, gut-wrenching stops. Indeed a far, far higher voice would have been mine for the asking had not the Yamaha disc intervened between the 'bike and a double dealing, twisting, monstrously driven van. So, it's absolutely dependable and, save for the Dunstall twin 9 inch set up, the easiest and most effec­tive disc I've personally experi­enced.

The impression that the machine first leaves on your eyes is that the styling department had been told to bust their britches for immediate appeal. The outcome is the unkind and unjust complacent Jittle judgement that the thing had been styled for the eye rather than for the road. And this is unkind. The main offender is the tank - a long, narrow, tapering creature in which slops a mere two and a half gallons. An apologetic two and a half gallons. And at the mysteri­ously hefty consumption figure of approximately 34 miles per (everyone else seems to have achieved the mid fifties) the tank just isn't going to take you for more than a quick cough and splut­ter. In fairness, our consumption figures were gained under the har­dest driving, more often than not two up, but I feel this still doesn't account for such a deficiency. The outstanding virtue of the tank lies in its great comfort. No one, save a circus midget, is going to complain of his knees being rudely torn akimbo by even the fiercest three figure breeze. The bulk of the tank has been further diminished by the clever paint job: the central bright orange panel is encircled by a broad, very broad, black outline. Removes visual emphasis, and all that. Nevertheless, it provided a very charming tie-up between the headlamp, instrumentation, and handlebar mass and, down diagon­ally, the side panels with their heavily chromed curly bits. These were the two focal points of the machine's looks, excluding the massive and upright bulk of the single ohc motor and the wide slab of front brake.

To our minds, and for that mat­ter many others, the machine had been conceived to cater for the vagaries of the American market, whose peculiarities are to blame for so much that is incongruous in motorcycling. Said offending gas tank and the overall looks of the thing, gave an overwrought imagi­nation the idea that perhaps the factory were half heartedly hank­ering after an even more half hearted chopper look. Well, while it was pretty, and sure-as-hell flamboyant, never anything but obvious, it seemed just a little out of place on the British motorcycl­ing scene.

Heads were scratched over the finish of the Yamaha. It varied in differing parts so much. Take the castings of the engine unit. The horizontally split crankcases, in an anodised finish, and the side cases of well polished alloy were immaculate,.Barrel and head cast­ings equally ditto. And then take a peep at the welds on the frame -untidy, slap and tickle stuff. Pretty brutal. The same could be said of the welding on the mounting lug of the silencer. One annoying charac­teristic of design rather than finish was the tool box, mounted with a conglomeration of electrics beneath the hinged saddle. One of our meagre pleasures in life is the continual cleaning of machines. In the process of this they get very liberally doused to get rid of the nameless product in which you really should be soaking your dainty fingertips. The result of this wetting on the Yam was that the tool box \/->\/c t - and to your great /UVhr surprise the tools were flooded. It evidently hadn't just been MCI playing free with the hose - there was already a serene layer of rust on the thing. Petty and unimportant, but as we said, irritating. So - finish wise the XS-2 was rather a curate's egg.

Mitsui, the concessionaires, had shown great consideration. Gone were the high wide and handsom-ers to hold on to up at the front. These had been changed for com­paratively low and narrow things which we held in great admiration (the pun, please believe us, is unin­tentional). Comfortable and giving all the manoeuvreability in town, yet neat and concise when one got down to motorcycling. The layout of the things to twiddle, pull and tug was, as is becoming the norm for Japanese machines, delight­fully logical. The clutch side of the affair did the electrical honours -lights, dip, horn (a plaintiff but penetrating cheep), and trafficator controls, while at t'other end, in solitary splendour, clung the three position (another Nip norm) kill switch. One can say no more than that after half an hour, manipula­tion of these various creatures became instinctive. And that, after all, is what it's all about.

To brew the painted lady into life first thing in the morning was a matter of delightful simplicity. Whether the petrol taps were left on over night was irrelevant. Iden­tical components were situated on either side of the tank, though it didn't really seem to matter if one or both were used. Certainly no sign of starvation on one carburet­tor when only a lone tap let trickle its golden load. The choke lever, standing to the outside of the left instrument, was used on most occasions, but was not required after the first minute or so of warming up. Then the well prac­tised deft flick of the between-instruments-mounted ignition key, a tug on the trigger thing and the motor would whine and grate with a painful screech and almost instantly grumble the engine into life. All the time there would be a sharp, taut repetitive jerking on the trigger itself, like the mam­moth struggle of a denizen of the deep on the end of a line. Let the thing go too early and it would all recede amidst a clank and rattle begrudgingly back whence it came. With the burden on the star ter motor lightened by the valve lifter it was seldom if ever an ardu­ous task to get the Yam going. A good idea, in fact.

Pushing down into the first gear of the day sometimes produced a slight gasp forward, but not often. From then on the unit would quickly warm to its task and was everything that one could wish from a large vertical twin.

With one exception.

From the morrient thetfingine blared into shouting life you felt the vibration. All over, thqugh mostly through 'bars and seat. At tickover - a judder of around 1000 rpm - it was merely a series of wallops, not so massive as a Com­mando's, but still quite hefty. Then, as the pulse quickened to around 4000 which was really all one needed for town use, perhaps less even, the world would begin to blur. Like many riders, I had suspected that the inspired phrase "vision fuzzing vibration" was merely a little, funny ha ha bit of poetic licence. Believe me - it ain't. Without a shadow of exag­geration there were occasions, without loss of spectacles or sobri­ety, when the world was a double world, distinct lines and definition all gone haywire. Admittedly, it occurred only at infrequent times, when mood and traffic betook one to a certain far from rapid pace. More a sedate lollop. The charac­teristic cropped up during London driving and only then. At the higher revs that were constantly used on the Norwich run the vibra­tion settled to a gentle zizz. unob­trusive through the general con­centration of briskish riding, but never far from one's mind. The characteristic had been abun­dantly present in Sondel's XS-1 and one can but wonder that the factory, so obviously knowing that the' machine shivered some­what, had not displayed their usual cunning in overcoming the prob­lem. Big question to ask is how about vibration on the newly announced 750 parellel twin? Can but keep tingling limbs crossed. Could it be something to do with using a 360° crank? Though we're hardly qualified to start heated arguments about the more subtle quirks of crankshaft, con rod and piston balance, we do think that with Yamaha's enviable reputa­tion for smoothness on their two stroke twins, they are not going to make a fool of themselves over such (relative) basics as balance factors. So, we would be fasci­nated to know the cause of the XS-1 and 2's massive vibes. What­ever the cause, the simple fact remains that it is a nuisance, and for the most part an obtrusive one. It must be overcome. It can be overcome as, f'rinstance, the last of the Enfield twins proved. (Of incidental interest was the conver­sation I had with an automotive engineer. A lot of balance prob­lems in the four leggedy world are thwarted by means of a separate camshaft carrying nowt but coun­terbalancing weights. Save for the obvious drawbacks of added over­all weight and bulk, there could be a moral for us somewhere in there.)

The power unit itself follows a fairly well worn path. The crank­shaft runs on three roller bearings, and on the far right side, one ball bearing. Between the centre two flywheels and for that matter the

centre bearings, lurks a small drive sprocket for the overhead cam business. Transmission to the top floor, then, is obviously by the time honoured medium of a simp­lex chain, tensioned twixt and behind the bores. And if you should take a fancy to tearing the thing apart, you'll be delighted to know that the camchain is the end­less variety. So wire cutters and rivetters will be the order of the day. Chain tension is maintained by an adjustable spring loaded sprocket and, a little below that on the tensioner arm, a rubber dam-pener. Across the block from the tensioner is bolted a camchain anti vibration dampener - a rubber buffer thing. Nice touch to avoid those neat channels scooped out of your alloy by a"frenzied, bow­ing chain. There is, believe it or not, yet another camchain vibra­tion dampener in the upper crank­shaft half - this time pushing the chain rearwards onto its mate below the tensioner sprocket After all this, a rude letter is a certainty if you nag at the factory for bevels.

Up in the penthouse the cam­shaft runs at half engine speed, twiddling itself happily on two pairs of single row bearing-one at either end of the shaft. The shaft is interesting in that the thing is hol­low and running through the centre is a rod, mounted on needle bearings either end. Cause and effect is blissfully simple. Right hand end of the camshaft is threaded to take the (centrifugal) auto a/r unit, while the rod, after being suitably a or r'd by the unit, drives the twin contact breakers fitted against, though not firmly fixed to, the left end of the cam­shaft.

The remaining valve operation is orthodox ohc practice: four indi­vidual rocker shafts and rocker arms, valve clearance being adjustable as per super usual at the valve end of the rocker arm by means of a screw adjuster.

The slimy stuff is squirted around the engine by a trochoid oil pump, driven from a crankshaft mounted gear, just outside of the primary power take off. From the pump, your priceless multigrade is scurried up through a fine mesh filter and thence, by routes devi­ous but, to the external eye, nice and clean, to mains, big ends, rocker arms, transmission main shaft, clutch bearing and the shift fork guide bar. The rest of the house is kept in order by splash lubrication to primary (straight cut) drive, crank, small ends, the pistons and bores, and, finally, the cam chain. One of the niceties of wet sump oiling is the cleanliness of the whole thing. Well - our's was respectable and upright until the long beat over 250 miles to and from Norwich. Then, and only then, did it wet itself - around the cylinderbase/crankcase joint. N nothing shaming or really me>v but not quite the preposterously high standards of Japanese oil- tightness had led us to expect. But then, as always. Press machines do get the worst of it, and Sondel's 'bike, in all fairness, even after fairly hard usage was a gentleman to the end.

Having dispensed with rather tedious mechanical low downs, how did the thing go? Torque is the big Yam's password. Anywhere from as low as 1400 rpm the machine would haul happily away. I doubt if the torque curve was completely flat - things after all, became that much more exciting after 4.5 or 5. A manic frenzy of mechanical action - you knew it was all happening. It was only dur­ing faster riding, with no effort spared, that one kept to the higher rev range. But in the normal call of things tweren't necessary. The machine should have been set side to side with an old English Bon-neville for the most telling com­parisons, but since I have yet to have the pleasure of a thoughtfully fettled old English big B, a Corn- mando had to suffice. Yes - I know; another unfair comparison. But . . . said friend of unlikely claims now possesses one of these beasts, and through a short but hurried chunter around town it was quite obvious that, those 100 extra little ones taken into account, the Yam was having to be treated very roughly to keep pace. A gentle zip and a purr, and the Norton was twenty-five yards ahead of a gasping Yamaha at a standing start - traffic lights to you. The mere difference in effort was very apparent. But due to those blasted and blasting silencers it was very Mickey Mouse to extend the creature in town. Even we have consciences. In the blissfully open and virtually uninhabited countryside, though, the story was different. Upward changes were made in the region of six and a half. I don't remember exactly. Despite loose fillings and rattling eyeballs I was having a nice time. And the Yamaha, by some odd psychological process, is a machine one can enjoy quite a lot. At ninety you are stationary -a vacuum in a world of hurtling careering motion. White centre lines take on a life of their own, shake themselves, and spit for­ward like,,a snake tongue at the machine's handlebars. Unravel­ling and unwinding, stringing themselves out into the path of your vision. Simple pleasures, but very worth while.

Mitsui had been experimenting with our particular 'bike. A very much harder oil swilled around in the front forks. It bore no relation to the XS-1 I had tried earlier. The XS-2 was hard, rock hard. Rear suspension units on their softest setting (the mind shrinks at the thought of the hardest), the harder front forks and if the vibration didn 't shake your brain loose. road shocks would. The seat I found adequately comfortable, but it was of no help. With the cool intention of getting from point A to point B and back again some 250 miles later, concentrating hard, riding; briskly, such forms of mild dis­comfort are scarcely going to implant themselves in the very forefront of your mind. But in town, and especially for a pillion, the situation didn't quite become absolutely intolerable, but it did spoil some of the joys of spring. Later, when the machine was returned, I nosed around after a ride on a standard strength forked XS-2. Mitsui didn't have one at the time, but there was a customer's machine standing near (TOMMC no less - draw your own infer­ences) whose front end was far, far softer. Being well brought up, we could hardly just ride away on someone else's pride and joy, but a vast difference was apparent. That would leave you to do some­thing about the rear shocks (which incidentally have now gone the way of all human flesh and are featuring exposed springs). The previous model carried nicely shrouded units. A pity - not my most favourite (and a sadly univer­sal) styling trend.

Throughout the period that we ran the XS-2, the gearbox (with all that torque are five speeds a must?) did all that gearboxes should do - quite admirably. The action was on the firm side of a "knife through butter", and those spine tinglers which did crop up, of course in the most densly popu­lated corner of London, were the fault of over enthusiasm rather than the mechanism. Only twice was the thing the object of nasty words. On both occasions the cause was not so much a reluc-tancy as a flat determination not to pass through neutral from second into bottom. Twice - and come hell and high water we were left stamping, thumping, prodding, and cajoling - with our necks aprickle with hot, crimson embar­rassment. And didn't the car drivers love it. After five, perhaps ten seconds the gear would slip in. full of angelic smiles and innocence.

One or two grey hairs had been raised by lurid stories surrounding the Yamaha's roadholding capabilities or lack of them. I had expected the worst, but never found it. Similarly to Dave Min-ton's report on the earlier model, my own experiences were of good and peculiar being quite sharply divided by a certain speed. In my case the dividing line approached at about 65 mph. Below that, while hardly the BMW or Trident gleeful let's-see-just-how-far-down-we-can-get confidence, roadholding was quite adequate. Round­abouts and the like were, with a little dedication, things of the footpegs. Long sweeps, ignoring the jolting around from the rock-like suspension, quite secure. But up on the All. as 80 and above speeds were maintained without trying all that .hard, the curves ..fcrought about a sensation of being thrown wide - almost of drifting. Reactionary that 1 am, I still har­bour doubts, which I think nowa­days are unfounded, of Japanese tyre mixes. Our particular foot­wear was Nip Dunlops - ribbed on the front, block K70 on the rear. This might have been the cause, but I rather doubt it. No - of steer­ing geometry or engine placement the greenies would be on the latter. Things, of course, would be tidied up by the universal Girlings and TTlOOs panacea, but even those are not going to cure weight distribution with too much emphasis on the rear. It's just one of those feelings, with nothing concrete to substantiate it, except instinct.

The twin Mikuni made Solex constant vacuum carburettors can't be criticised in their delivery. I suspect their adjustment was off song, though. Our machine was removed from Mitsui without the benefit of a checkover and hot from the hands of another rag who 1 rather think rode the beast hard. I am certainly at a loss to explain our very low consump­tion figures or the fairly drastic drop off in acceleration after the mid 90s. The longest, longest straights had to be found and then doubled up over before the madly fluctuating speedometer needle would waver into three figures. Highest speed attained, and this indicated during one of the more flamboyant leaps of the instru­ment, was 106. It was but a flicker second's worth of 106 with the revmeter dancing well before the red bits started. Still - it's certain that with a little gentle fettling and attention a newer machine would keep its maximum steadily and easily up in the 106 mph range, and not a mere indicated 106 either, but a timed one. If we ever get the chance to wrap sticky mils around another XS we'll be hotfoot to write about the results.

On my way back that evening, through the cool of the descending dusk, the lights were used in ear­nest. And they are rather good lights - the beam throwing a dis­tinctly felt flutter of warmth across your face at ten or twelve paces. Against a wall at fifty yards the main beam threw a well defined circular pattern which, of all things, suffered a hole in the middle - just like an ordinary hand torch, but with the subtle differ­ence that the Yamaha's illumina­tion was about three thousand times brighter. Along the unlit main roads I was happy in the upper 70s - more than sufficient in other words.

Learned discussions carry on into the wee small hours as to the Yamaha's merits back to back, pistols for two, coffee for one, against the Bonneville. And, of course, virtually any 650 four-stroke parallel twin is considered "traditional" nowadays. Until Triumph cough up with the latest Bonnie it would be foolish to form any personal judgement on my behalf. But I do suspect that until the Japanese factory have rid the machine of its vibration - repu­tedly worse than that of the T120 or the Beesa twins - as well as bringing the roadholding up to acceptable British standards, cus­tomers may well be found erring on the side of the known quantity. Which could be a pity. Yamaha have the basis of a very competi­tive sales package in the XS-2; neat, for the most part oiltight, and, one imagines, as reliable as most Japanese bicycles - which is saying a lot. Perhaps their hearts aren't in the 650, all eggs going to the 750 basket. Time alone will tell.

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