1995 Yamaha Virago 750

Yamaha's Venerable V-Twin Cruiser Simply Styles Down The Boulevard - But Is It A One-Trick Pony...

story by Tom Fortune, Contributing Editor, Created Aug. 20, 1995
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Yamaha's 750 Virago is entering it's fifteenth consecutive year of production. In this age of techno-marvel constant-change, not much of anything can boast of that kind of staying power. What makes the Virago so special? Yamaha has refused to change the qualities that make their cruiser a showroom success - Muscular-looking air-cooled V-twin, raked-out forks, low-slung frame, tear-drop tank, and lots of chrome. That classic American style thats become an American cycling institution. But cruisers were meant to be city-dwellers, right? Boulevard bikes. Urban assault weapons. In this arena, the 1995 750 Virago shines like its highly-polished chrome-plated exhaust pipes. Its robust V-twin motor delivers smooth power and responsive carburetion, with idle-to-redline strength. Strong enough to play jack rabbit at stop light drags, with enough usable power to muster up effortless top-gear passes on the daily freeway commute. Its low-rider seat height allows shorter pilots the comfort of planting both feet easily on the ground during stop-and-go riding, and the wide pull-back handlebars offer plenty of leverage at parking lot speeds. Narrow and light, the 750 Virago is exceptionally easy to ride. With it's softly-sprung suspension and flashy good looks, the Virago begs to be taken downtown after dark for a cruise down the boulevard.

But here at Motorcycle Online we love to ride the open road. To get out and explore. With our offices located in crappy old Southern California, and finding ourselves spending way too much time in front of our glowing monitors, we lust for open spaces. Rather than cruise the congested boulevards, we prefer to glide through the open sweepers of nearby mountain ranges. And we were anxious to find out how capable the 750 Virago would be in our preferred environment. Can this city-bred custom cruiser tour the highway as easily as it prowls the mean streets? We turned on the screen saver, grabbed the riding gear, slung a friendly pillion passenger onboard, and set out on a two-up tour of old west towns in the mountains and desert east of San Diego.

Our trip included a wide variety of roads, from slab-smooth Interstates to sinewy mountain switch-backs to arrow-straight-for-miles desert stretches. It would take us from sea level, into the clouds at over 5000 feet, and drop us back down to the arid Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, then climb back up to the foggy peak of Palomar Mountain before returning home. And all this within the span of about six hours. Was this torturing the Virago? Was it going to torture us? Were we asking it to perform too much outside of its realm? Well, yes and no.

Thumb the bar-mounted choke lever and hit the starter button and the engine jumps instantly to life. Yamaha got the jetting on the dual 40mm Mikuni carburetors dialed spot-on, with no glitches or flat spots anywhere in the power-band. The bike can be ridden away immediately after starting, and the choke can be shut off after only a couple of minutes. The cable operated clutch gives good feedback with a wide engagement point (something we find lacking in hydraulically-actuated clutches), and coupled with the engine's torquey, low rpm grunt, the Virago is a breeze to get underway. Light, narrow, and nimble, the Virago handles city traffic with ease.

But out on the freeway, the 750's minor shortcomings make themselves apparent. Stylish, teardrop-shaped mirrors give an adequate view of traffic behind, but their small size limits views to the side, necessitating a lot of head cranking during lane change maneuvers. The Virago's front Dunlop F17 tire has a center tread groove which causes the front end of the bike to wander over irregular pavement or rain grooves. We would have preferred to see the 750 equipped with the Bridgestone Excedra tires which come standard on the 1100 Virago. Beyond this complaint both the front and rear Dunlops performed acceptably well under all other situations, although we didn't have a chance to test wet weather performance.

Heading down a twisty two-lane road toward the town of Ramona, we pick up the pace a little to see just how nimble the Virago can be in the tight stuff. And this particular road gets tight. The non-adjustable 38 mm forks seem perfectly set-up as they soak up the old blacktop's irregularities with ease. The raked-out attitude of the Virago's front end aids in lessening fork dive under heavy braking. The dual front binders have excellent power, even with the bike fully loaded, and give good feedback at the lever. The widely spaced handlebar provides exceptional leverage while flicking the slow-steering, long wheelbase cruiser into turns. It becomes quickly apparent, though, that when riding two up, this bike needs stiffer rear shock springs. That cushy set-up that works so well while boulevard profiling becomes a real liability out on the back-roads. Rough pavement has the bike dancing in the corners, and although the low-slung chassis has decent ground clearance -- excellent when judged by cruiser standards -- the footpegs drag all too easily. To be fair, we haven't ridden a bike yet that doesn't drag something too easily. Add closed throttle shaft-drive effect to the soft springs and limp damping, and we're glad to see the road finally straighten out as we approach the town of Ramona.

The center of a large agricultural area, Ramona has retained much of that Old West charm; standard dress is a pair of Wranglers with a huge gut-retaining belt buckle, boots and a straw cowboy hat. The classic looks of the Virago fit well in this setting. We cruise through the center of town and pause briefly to crank rear spring preload up to the max setting. The Virago comes equipped with Yamaha's standard issue toolkit and vinyl pouch, which tucks nicely into a lockable storage compartment behind the seat, just above the tail light. We hope this adjustment will help keep hard parts from any further touchdowns.

The road winds its way up into the mountains now as we head towards lunch in the mountain community of Julian. The five-speed transmission clicks effortlessly from gear to gear, and the Virago's smooth running engine and shaft drive make for relaxed riding round the sweeping curves. But now, as the grade gets steeper on it's way up the mountain, and the air is getting thinner, the 750 is hurting for passing power. It's a very competent, torquey engine during solo riding in the city, but it's under-powered for the task at hand. Vibration from the normally-smooth V-twin increases two-fold as we rev out the engine in search of usable power.

Both the 750 and 1100 Virago have stamped-steel frames which use the engine as a stressed member, eliminating the possibility of rubber-mounting the engine. Yamaha has tried to isolate the rider from engine vibration through the use of rubber-mounted footpegs and handlebars. At most engine speeds, vibration is not an issue. In fact, the Virago is one of the smoothest twins around when ridden on the street. But as the revs rise under load, we found the vibration level mildly intrusive.

Julian is another one of those small Southern California villages that have preserved the Old Western charisma, and sits at an altitude of around 5000 feet. Best known for it's vast apple orchards (and home-made apple pies!) it features horse-drawn carriage rides and a 120 year old gold mine. Again, the styling of the Virago just seems right parked amidst this idyllic setting and had us looking for a hitching post to tie it to. Unfortunately, though, the standard lean-back legs-forward cruiser posture is taking its toll on our backs after only a couple of hours in the saddle. We find that short term comfort on the Virago is second to none - the large pillowy seat makes you feel as though you're sitting in the bike rather than on it, and coupled with the forward-mounted footpegs and high, pull-back bars you've got that easy-chair sensation. But after an hour or so of straight 60 - 70 mph riding, this position begins tormenting the lower back. We're ready for a break.

After chowing down at one of the local eateries (with a big piece of apple pie for dessert) we take a tour of the old gold mine. Turned out to be just what we needed. The 45 minute jaunt through the cool, dark and damp hollows of the mine was not only engrossing, but allowed us to work the knots from the Virago's urban-warrior ergonomics out of our backs. Exiting the mine we notice that it's getting really cold up here. The wind is picking up and menacing clouds are rolling in. The weather at home was sunny and warm, but we were 5000 feet lower then, too. We sure could use a couple of extra sweaters, which brings up another shortcoming about the Virago. There isn't very much room to carry anything. This is easily remedied though with some well chosen custom options available from Yamaha's official Virago Accessories Catalog. Over the years Yamaha has developed an extensive line of custom accessories made to perfectly fit the Virago's classic lines. We would opt for a set of the leather saddlebags, which would be ideal for a day-long ride such as this one. Another nice addition would be the chrome rear passenger sissy-bar with back pad like the one that comes standard on the 1100 Virago. The back pad would have provided some support for our passenger's cramping lumbar region. Other accessories we would have chosen were the acrylic "Mini III" front shield to reduce the wind blast which intensifies the strain on the arms and back due to the cruiser riding position and the custom chromed-capped "Virago Grips" which have added foam for increased comfort and vibration-isolation on long rides. But without a change of gear, it was time to depart the quaint little hamlet of Julian and continue our tour down the mountain toward the desert community of Borrego Springs (and warmer climes).

Page 2 Banner Grade, the section of Highway 78 which takes you out of Julian and down the mountain toward the Anza Borrego Desert, is one of those roads that allow the rider to hustle the Virago along at a pace that would have most other cruisers beveling hard parts. With the Virago's shocks adjusted to their highest preload settings, the bike leans quickly and confidently into every curve. The footpegs are much less prone to touching down, but they'll still drag occasionally just to remind you the pace is getting a little hot and this ain't no sportbike. All too soon this wonderful ribbon of a road straightens out as we hit the desert floor. A pitiful excuse for a top speed run shows the 750 to be lacking in top end punch. Unable to pull red-line in either 4th or 5th gear, the best we could muster riding two up, throttle pinned, was an indicated 90 mph before the V-twin ran out of steam.

Pulling into the desert retirement community of Borrego Springs the Virago hits reserve. The efficiently carbureted motor achieves almost 50 mpg and the 3.8 gallon fuel tank is ready for a fill-up after 150 miles. But that's okay with us because after an hour in the saddle, wind fatigue and engine vibration coupled with that cramped cruiser seating position has us eager for another break. It's hot down here in the desert - 90 degrees or more. Hot enough to have us longing for a biker-friendly, cool watering hole. Won't find one in Borrego Springs, though. This is the land of gray hair and Golden Sunsets. So we thought we'd head up to Mother's Kitchen on top of Palomar Mountain to search for some much-needed refreshment.

Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake! The springtime weather in California is unpredictable, to say the least (refer to Senior Editor Andy Saunders' write-up on the BMW R1100R for more unfortunate experiences with So. Cal. weather). As we approach the summit (over 5300 feet above sea level) the air temperature turns cold and heavy fog rolls up the mountain and our fingers begin to numb from the chill air. At the top it's freezing cold and beginning to drizzle. To make matters worse, we discover that Mother's Kitchen is closed for remodeling! By now we've lost our thirst and our passenger is losing her temper (Why did you bring me up here? It's about to snow, for chriss-sakes!), so we fire up the Virago and beat a hasty retreat down the mountain for home.

Pulling into the garage, it's time to reflect on the Virago's performance. The engine hasn't missed a beat all day. It revs freely, has good low-end grunt, and starts easily no matter what the weather - from scorching desert heat to near freezing, high altitude mountain air. The air-cooled V-twin offers simplicity, reliability, and it just plain looks good. It's beautifully styled, civilized, has an easy-to-ride personality and, when adjusted correctly, good suspension. All day rides are certainly not out of the question with the Virago - just allow time for frequent breaks. Is it a one-trick pony? We think that with the addition of a few well-chosen aftermarket accessories, the 1995 XV750 Virago can become a multi-faceted thoroughbred, a nice addition to anyone's stable.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Yamaha
Model: XV750 Virago
Price: $5999 (U.S.)
Engine: Air-cooled SOHC, 75 degree V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 69.2mm
Displacement: 749cc
Carburetion: Dual 40mm Mikuni
Transmission: 5-speed - shaft drive
Wheelbase: 60.0 in.
Seat height: 28.1 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.8 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 483 lbs.
Impressions:

1. Tom Fortune, Contributing Editor.

The Virago has got to be, by far, one of the sportiest, best handling cruiser bikes I've ever ridden. Can the term "sporty" be applied to a cruiser? I think so. Multi-talented? You bet. Great looking with high quality construction, the Virago fits best in an urban environment. The smooth-running engine is perfectly suited for cruiser duty. All of the switches and controls fall readily to hand and foot in typical Yamaha fashion - I enjoy those white-faced dials and self-canceling turn signals. The biggest problem I have with the Virago centers around the rear suspension. Two-up, the shocks spend more time bouncing off the bump stops than not. Vibration and cruiser ergonomics do limit comfort on longer rides, especially for taller riders like myself - 100 miles is about all I could handle at a stretch, and one of MO's resident pillion testers complained of numbing and tingles in her hands and face - but, for me, a quick blast down a smooth mountain road on the nimble Virago 750 is all it takes to shift any irritations to the back of my mind. ***1/2

2. Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor.

It impresses me how Yamaha got a bike to look so much like a cruiser, yet behave like a standard. It hides its length well, has great brakes, and the shaft effect is barely noticeable. Fit and finish is first-class, but I found the key-switch difficult to access because the tubular handle-bar runs right over the top of it. I like the self-canceling turn signals and the fact that they're also running lights. The terrible starter gear set-up of the older Viragos has been re-designed to be, well, less than terrible, but still miles better than its predecessor. Bigger guys (listening, Tom?) will want to fork out the dough for the 1100 to get the extra room and horsepower the bigger bike offers. For a cruiser style bike, the Virago is an excellent standard at an affordable price. For my money though, I'll stick with a more standard-looking bike.
***

3. Brent Plummer, Editor.

What's not to like? This is one great street bike! Torquey with good fuel mileage, it's also comfy for average and small size people. And I'm really impressed at the detail work Yamaha put in on the Virago; the chrome is excellent, paint well done, and all the minor little details -- such as a rubber boot covering the left lever's clutch cable adjuster and a flip-up cover for the "trunk" lock under the rear seat -- are nice additions. I rode on the back of the Virago for a couple hundred miles one day, and found the pillion seat comfy, too. However, our larger testers universally hated the 750 Virago, as it's just too small for people over six feet tall and 200 pounds. But hey, I'm 5' 10" so I say screw the tall people! I like bikes this size. At 6000 dollars it's a bit hard on the wallet, especially since Honda's 750 Nighthawk ($5139) and Harley-Davidson's 883 Sportster ($4995, prices are from our 1994 compilation so may be a bit outdated) are cheaper and have easier maintenance since they've both got hydraulic valve lifters compared to the Virago's threaded rockers. But I digress: This is an excellent all-around bike that I found supremely comfortable and a joy to ride. Probably one of the best beginner bikes around, though experienced riders or torque freaks should save up the cash and get the 1100.
****
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