It’s impossible to be an editor of a moto publication without being a humongous fan of motorbikes. As such, I derive great pleasure from riding every new motorcycle that presents itself to me, and that attitude holds true even for non-new motorcycles, ones that I’ve never before thrown a leg over.

2017 Triumph Bonneville T100 First Ride Review

I was pleased to be among the first journalists in the world to have ridden Triumph’s new T100 Bonneville, which successfully attempts to bridge the gap from the decades-gone past to the Euro-4-approved future. The newest Bonneville brought the list of different bikes I’ve ridden to 833. That would be a lot if I were a younger man, yet I’m proud to have sampled such a rich panoply of two-wheeled contrivances no matter how long I’ve been orbiting the sun. Each machine has in its own way given me a seminar on motorcycle design, and each adds hints of color to what’s possible in in the way humans experience motorcycling.

Bike number 834 on my list brought me back in time to the genesis of my interest in things moto. I hadn’t ridden but a couple of minibikes back in 1977, but I was becoming aware of what I perceived to be cool streetbikes of the day. I remember being enthralled with the exciting two-stroke wail and perfect proportions of Yamaha RD400s, as well as the simplistic grace of Honda’s CB400 Four and its seductively sweeping exhaust headers.

An unholy love child of those Japanese sports roadsters might be, if you squint tightly, a 1977 Yamaha XS750. It borrowed design language from the RD Yamahas but uses a 747cc three-cylinder motor with sinuous exhaust headers somewhat akin to the 400 Four Honda.

10216-dukes-den-1976-honda-cb400-four10216-dukes-den-1977-yamaha-xs750-engine

On the left is a 1976 Honda CB400 Four I owned a lifetime ago, a bike I bought partially because I adored the snaking exhaust headers of its factory exhaust. On the right is a similar array of header twists on the 1977 Yamaha XS750 I recently rode. The sweet, cascading flow of pipes was a one-year-only feature, as a three-into-two system was employed on succeeding models.

The XS750 was the first more-than-two-cylinder streetbike engine from the tuning-fork brand as it tried to keep pace with the four-cylinder CB750 Hondas and 903cc Kawasaki Z1s from the early-to-mid-1970s. Setting the Yamaha apart was one fewer cylinder and the adoption of shaft drive to deliver power to its rear wheel. At that time, shaft-drive systems were almost exclusively available only from European manufacturers like BMW, Guzzi and MV.

The XS750 is really the progenitor of the modern three-cylinder Yamahas like the FZ-09, FJ-09 and XSR900, a trio of bikes we at MO admire for their capabilities and high smiles-per-dollar ratios, thanks in large part to the excitement derived from its engaging Triple. Most of what I know about Yamaha’s 1970s Triple I learned from the cool piece Troy Siahaan wrote that traces the lineage of Triples from Yamaha, but I recently had the chance for a behind-the-bars riding experience from an XS750.

Lots has changed since 1977. No longer do we see double overhead cams actuating just two valves per cylinder, let alone a kickstarter on a large-displacement streetbike.

Lots has changed since 1977. No longer do we see double overhead cams actuating just two valves per cylinder, let alone a kickstarter on a large-displacement streetbike.

I was near this lovely first-year XS750 to research a wonderful story about how a longtime Yamaha lover made a national search to find a vintage bike that always intrigued him but had escaped the grip of his knees for a variety of reasons. Incredibly, he found the excellent specimen seen here 3,000 miles away located in a small town in which he grew up!

That’s a tale for another day, but it’s the thread that brought the XS750’s seat between my legs for 30 or so miles on a recent sunny SoCal morning. Riding a three-cylinder XSR900 to my meeting with the XS750 was the perfect time capsule to step back in time to a Yamaha Triple from 40 years prior.

There are a few things in particular that draw distinctions from one generation to another after first sit. Its seat has what looks to be about six or more inches of cushy foam, a depth of padding not seen on typical modern bikes, resulting in a tallish-for-the-era 31.9-inch saddle height. Secondly, the older bike is amazingly narrow between the legs and has a low fuel tank. Finally, at around 550 pounds, the curb weight of the XS exceeds the XSR’s by almost 120 lbs.

Instrumentation is simple but effective and looks more modern than something from the mid-1970s. Self-canceling turnsignals was standard equipment four decades ago on the XS, a feature that should be more common today.

Instrumentation is simple but effective and looks more modern than something from the mid-1970s. Self-canceling turnsignals was standard equipment four decades ago on the XS, a feature that should be more common today.

More distinctions become apparent when fired up and moving down the road. The engine of the XS feels like it uses a heavy flywheel, as it picks up revs much slower than the XSR. Still, the motor and its 120-degree crank sounds largely similar to the XSR, but with a significantly lower rev limit of 7500 rpm. The XS’s driveline operates with a lack of refinement. Its clutch is grabby, and its gearbox requires unhurried and deliberate actions compared to anything modern. Ride modes are the responsibility of a rider’s wrist rotating the longest throttle turn I’ve ever experienced.

The XS is crude and anachronistic relative to the endlessly appealing XSR, but there is some commonality in the riding experience. The riding position is upright and comfortable, with a chrome handlebar angling back at an agreeable angle. A generous amount of low-end grunt delivers ample acceleration without trying hard, and power ramps up to a satisfying surge around 5500 rpm, accompanied by a tuneful exhaust note that reminds of an inline-Six Jaguar motor. It was rated by Yamaha at 64 horsepower, and there’s probably about 50 horses making their way through the shaft drive to the rear wheel.

Just as engine response from the XS is relatively slow, so are the responses from the steering. A lazy 27-degree rake delivers very stable directional stability at the cost of some agility. It’s not exactly truckish, but it prefers firm and smooth inputs to get it heeled over into corners. Power from the triple-disc brakes is underwhelming relative to modern kit. The front suspension proves to be surprisingly good, but the rear shocks seem to have lost some damping qualities over four decades. The thick seat helps cushion larger bumps.

That’s the owner of the XS750, Bob Starr, who was thrilled to track down a really nice example of an unrestored XS from all the way across the country. Look for his story in an upcoming feature story on MO.

That’s the owner of the XS750, Bob Starr, who was thrilled to track down a really nice example of an unrestored XS from all the way across the country. Look for his story in an upcoming feature story on MO.

Period bike reviews praise the XS750 for its lack of vibration, but its non-counterbalanced mill buzzes more intently than modern machines are allowed. Rubber-covered footpegs and rubber isolators for the handlebar take the edge off the buzz, although feeling the bar deflect during braking was a bit disconcerting.

Although the XS750 didn’t light the world on fire like the CB750 and Kawasaki Z1, there is a gentlemanly grace to Yamaha’s first Triple that melded Japanese modernity with a touring-oriented shaft drive nearly unique among Asian motorcycles of the day.

“Its strong appeal isn’t in the realm of muscle, but in nicety and finesse,” Cycle magazine described in a period review.

My personal review is colored by 40 years of technological progress, so XS750 feels behind the times compared to modern machines like the gloriously satisfying XSR900. But the old XS stimulates a rider’s senses in its own pleasing manner, and the smile I had on my face from riding it lasted for hours after I dismounted.

Now, where’s #835…?

1977 Yamaha XS750D Specifications
Engine 747cc, 3-cylinder, air-cooled, DOHC, 2-valve/cylinder
Transmission 5-speed
Rake/Trail 27.0 degrees/4.49 in. (114mm)
Wheelbase 57.7 in. (1470mm)
Front Suspension 38mm telescopic fork, 5.5 in. travel
Rear Suspension Dual shocks with preload adjustability, 3.5 in. travel
Front Brakes 267mm discs (2); single-piston caliper
Rear Brake 267mm disc; single-piston caliper
Front Tire 3.25-19
Rear Tire 4.00-18 rear
Length 85.0 in.
Width 38.0 in.
Height 46.7 in.
Seat Height 31.9 in.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gallons
Dry Weight (claimed) 470 lbs
Curb Weight (approx) 550 lbs
  • Donnie

    I was working at a Yamaha shop when these were popular. I seem to remember something about the oil level being real critical. At one time the back of our shop was full of XS750 in various state of repair. I can’t remember if it was from overfilling or underfilling, but it seems like there were at least a dozen of them being fixed.

    • Kevin Duke

      I remember hearing something about second gear being an issue that got some sort of upgrade a year later. Checking the oil required a using a dipstick until a few years later an oil-sight window was added.

      • Jon Jones

        It seemed every one of these I wrenched on and rode would jump out of second gear. It did sound cool and have nice power characteristics.

    • ClarkeJohnston

      I worked at Richmond Yamaha/BMW/JawaCZ in the late 80’s. Don’t remember the bike as being fast; a reddish plum colored one we got on trade was rather a dog. Also seem to recall transmission quirks. Liked my silver 82 XJ650 better.

  • kenneth_moore

    Mr. Duke, what percentage of the 883 bikes you rode did you wheelie?

    So the XSR is a whopping 120 lbs less than the XS? That seems to contradict the typical forum gripes. And it has what, double the horsepower at the rear wheel? No more “retro-bikes” for me…

    • Kevin Duke

      I’ve probably tried to wheelie them all! Not all were successful, tho. That reminds me of another idea I had for an editorial: Unlikeliest bikes I’ve wheelied (and have photographic proof). Perhaps something you’d like to read?

      Yeah, OEMs are to blame for decades of bogus claims of dry weights that had very little correlation to how much a functional bike actual scaled in at. Often, dry weights were tabulated by simply adding up the weight of each component on a bike, which totaled up to a figure far from reality. For instance, the XS750 had a claimed dry weight of 470 lbs, a gargantuan 80 lbs less than an actual ready to ride weight. And this is with an air-cooled bike, lacking a radiator and coolant.

      Five or so years ago, Japanese OEMs decided to provide actual curb weights to the specifications of their bikes. Now when we weigh bikes on our own electronic scales, our weights are usually within a few pounds of Japanese OEM claims. Bikes originating in other countries often have less reliable claims.

      • kenneth_moore

        Hell yeah, and you can start with that just released BMW 1600 you put on its rear wheel. That reminded me of when Tex Johnoon barrel-rolled the then new Boeing 707. The company execs hated it, but everybody else thought it was cool as hell.

    • ClarkeJohnston

      This rider piloted his XV920RJ “Euro” for tens of thousands of miles and never even tried to wheelie. So what. Ditto for his XJ650 Seca. Never even tried. No matter. Both bikes provided decades of reliable, comfortable riding; with sufficient power to get the job done. Would purchase new ones again without hesitation. Especially in those ’82 dollars compared to the price of bike$ now 🙂

  • ‘Mike Smith

    Jeebus, 833? I’ve ridden 10, 4 of which I rode as a child. I’m beyond jealous.

    • TC

      maybe he means he wheelied a Sportster 883. Counting the number of bikes you have wheelied probably correlates to counting the number of times you have pleasured yourself while looking at photos of models on choppers.

      • ‘Mike Smith

        For a second, I thought I saw 883 as well. All Harley’s should be tested by wheelies.

        • Kevin Duke
          • john phyyt

            Respect !!

          • Craig Hoffman

            Cool photo! I too will not forget the infamous wheelie shot, with the Dukester going vertical on a BMW K1600. That little stunt had to create literal and figurative shock waves 😉

            Ah, wheelies. My favorite stupid bike trick. Had a ’97 TL1000 that was very easy to wheelie, and it is fortunate I never spun the crank on it, as I learned later that can happen from extended wheelies on that particular model. Ah, ignorance is bliss!

            Got this poster signed by the “Wheelie King” Doug Domokos himself. I spoke to him for awhile, his desire was to be a MC riding stuntman in Hollywood, but it seems that is an incredibly hard circle to break into, and he never did. He died in an ultralight accident not long after I met him (’99 or so). Domokos held the longest continuous wheelie record (145 miles) for many years.

            A favorite old desert racing trophy where I hoisted the front end of my 500cc 2 stroker (not a terribly hard thing to do) resides next to Doug’s poster in my garage. It seems fitting somehow. The similarity is surface only though of course. Unlike Domokos and his 145 miles, I can wheelie for about 145 feet 😉 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bdc84efda2811699ebbb97ce2c077913bf06b5857e4d373f83d7bffaac418722.jpg

          • Starmag

            DD! I’ll never forget the shot of him on the last page of some cycle rag scraping the rear fender doing a straight up and down wheelie on a then-new, 700 lb. KZ1300.

  • Gabriel Owens

    Duke, thanks for this. 550 pound wet weight? Eh, just gave me ammunition against the “modern bikes are too heavy” crowd.

    • Kevin Duke

      See my comment to Kenneth below…

  • Starmag

    These were charming, if underwhelming power wise. Loads of driveline lash combined with CV carbs made for a jerky ride. These liked to break shift shafts which were a nightmare to fix because they utilized an inverted clutch. Not as cleanly styled as a CB400F but not bad.

  • ManfredtheWonderDog

    One of my favorite bikes. I owned a ’79 XS750 Special for several years in the mid-’80s. First year with electronic ignition as I recall. A friend had a ’77 with points.

    • Layton Layton

      Had a 79 standard for 25 years. Had a Vetter fairing and Samsonite tribar luggage, made it a capable tourer. Grabby clutch means time for an oil change. Availability of parts was an issue near the end. Replaced it with a 2004 FJR, which felt small compared to the XS.

  • Joe Romaella

    This was actually a ’76 model..the XS750D..I purchased a new one upon return from a 2 yr. stay in Japan,( courtesy for the USN) and it was my first shaft drive bike. My neighbor had bought a Goldwing, I thought the Yamaha was “sportier”, & I loved the silver / blue paint, it was a beautiful bike. For me, the seating position was poorly designed, as it caused a cramp in my hips, on longer rides. Foot pegs too high (?) Never actually toured on it, but put more miles on that bike, riding around San Diego area, than any bike I’d owned previously. Had almost 50K miles by the time I traded it in on a new ’81 Suzuki GS-750.
    The bike was VERY reliable, but wore out tires in 5K miles, or less, despite keeping close track of tire pressure. Short tire life was more common back then as better tires were still in the future. My driving habits may have contributed to the short life.
    The service dept @ the dealership told me to change the oil frequently, so I did, using Castrol 20w-50 every 2500-3000 miles. Didn’t have any problem with bike jumping out of gear. Only mods I made was to put a chrome Kerker exhaust system ( & it sounded great) and a Windjammer fairing. Later, installed barnett clutch plates before trading it in. Was a treat , seeing pics of the bike, as I’ve managed to lose or misplace any pics I had of my bike.

    • Bare1

      My boss in ’79 had just bought a Triumph, and He was going buy me a bike. I rode his Triumph a few times and didn’t like it. I’d owned several previous Brit bikesand worked in a BSA/Norton/Triumph shop for several years until ’75. A friend of my boss had an XS-750 which I did like, so he bought me one. I had it for a few months, then I was supposed to be transferred to Dallas, but ended up going to Omaha first and took the bike there for transportation. When I was done with the Omaha stint my boss didn’t bring the bike back to Indy and I was off to Dallas and never saw it again. I did like the bike but it was a bit tall for me and was definitely one heavy moose. It was replaced by an SR-500. I liked that one better!

    • Jon Jones

      Great post.

  • Patriot159

    “so XS750 feels behind the times compared to modern machines like the gloriously satisfying XSR900. But the old XS stimulates a rider’s senses in its own pleasing manner, and the smile I had on my face from riding it lasted for hours after I dismounted.” Indeed, classic bikes can be rewarding in their own way.

    I have an FJR1300 and a Suzuki DR650 dual sport thumper. The FJR is light-years more refined than the DR but my DR ‘stimulates a (this) rider’s senses in its own pleasing manner, and the smile I had (have) on my face from riding it lasted(s) for hours after I dismount(ed).’ I put 6000 miles on my DR from May to Oct and 300 miles on my FJR. Of course I appreciate refinement, but unlike my FJR, my DR actually makes me giddy riding it, so in this case…a pox on refinement!

  • kawatwo

    Duke, don’t know if you ever go to ride the 86-87 EX250R Ninja? My favorite bike I have ridden. Black with white wheels and red seat. 350 pounds. I am pretty sure that bike would still feel modern if you ever get the chance. Amazing how much difference a decade or so can make.

    • Kevin Duke

      Nope, hadn’t ridden that version of the 250 Kawi!

  • James Edward Zeiser

    While judging its weight keep in mind there’s a lot more metal on the old XS. I won’t make the mistake of old timers that say, “Let’s see how long these Modern Marvels last” but I’m tempted. I won’t be around to see it but I doubt that someone will review an “Antique” FJ-09 in 40 years that hasn’t been restored several times.

  • Chris Noftz

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b23b256a7231cebd6f5bfb2785fd656faf1cc85caef63dff26ad1503b38949f1.jpg
    Your piece brought back memories of my ’78 750 Special. The photo was taken along I-40 riding back home to Alabama from Oklahoma in either ’78 or ’79. Loved that bike.