Tim Turner, Service Manager at Headingley Sport Shop, with a 1981 Yamaha 210.
Tim Turner, Service Manager at Headingley Sport Shop, with a 1981 Yamaha 210. Click image to enlarge

Part Three – My first two-wheeler: a well-kept vintage Yamaha

by Michael Clark

You don’t have to swing a stick too far to discover an old motorcycle.

With minimal storage requirements, it’s not uncommon to find low-mileage examples of everything from Harleys to Hondas gathering dust next to a minivan. That’s probably how it got parked in the first place; trading the pursuit of cornering for cup-holders and Handi-Wipes. With a simple mention of my motorcycle need at the Gearing Up rider training course, I found myself writing a meagre cheque for a 1981 Yamaha XS 400 Special.

In Manitoba, unlicensed cars and motorcycles require a safety check, as well as any required repairs before insurance can be issued. “I think you got off fairly lucky,” said Tim Turner, Service Manager at Headingley Sport Shop. With only 12,000 original kilometres, plus a former owner that stored the bike properly, the Yamaha encountered minimal issues. “Ideally, it would be best if you could stay in the 1990’s,” said Turner. “Parts availability can become a bit of an issue.” Such was the case with internal parts inside the headlamp housing. With no aftermarket pieces available, the parts had to come direct from Yamaha. Not too pricey, however they took about ten days to show up.

Those kicking the tires on a used motorcycle should inspect the sidewalls and treads for any cracks; it’s an automatic safety failure. Just because there are only two tires doesn’t mean that you’ll get off cheap. A typical new tire swap can easily run $400. An oily film on the fork shafts points to a fork seal replacement job, about $250 when performed by a repair shop. The Yamaha didn’t require either. So far, so good.

The previous owner must have used a fuel stabilizer when the Yamaha went into storage. “Fuel doesn’t stay for anything more than two months,” said Turner. “It starts to varnish and dry out the carburetors. Quite often, you’ll open the fuel tank and it will be all red in there.” The remedy involves sending out the gas tank to be coated, which prevents rust or varnish from getting back into the fuel system.

Anyone who’s ever stored a car over an extended period usually finds varying sizes of fluid puddles underneath. “The biggest thing to watch for is rubber deterioration,” said Turner. Engine seals and gaskets may need to be replaced, a serious concern when you consider that a little bit of seepage could find its way onto the rear tire at the worst possible time. The rubber carburetor boots on the Yamaha are starting to show some surface cracks from age. They will eventually need to be replaced; an air leak can lead to running problems.

The exhaust system had originally incorporated an equalizing crossover pipe. Corrosion facilitated its removal, as well as the side pipes. Turner’s team attached new aftermarket side pipes, attaching them to trimmed exhaust pipes coming off of the engine. The original alloy wheels are in excellent shape. Bikes with spoke-style wheels usually don’t require any truing, unless the rim has been damaged or used consistently off-road. The original owner had replaced the battery. Most motorcycle batteries can last up to three years, assuming that they are properly stored and charged regularly.

I am ridiculously particular about my rides, so the oil in the crankcase had to be extra clean. Turner recommends a 10W40 weight, and it must be formulated for motorcycle use for proper operation of the wet clutch. “You can’t just go to the gas station and dump car oil in there,” said Turner. The front disc brake is hydraulic, which can use DOT 3-rated brake fluid; same as a car. None of the cables had encountered any breaks or fraying, which can also be cited as a safety issue.

Mileage on used motorcycles can vary widely. Turner has encountered some touring bikes with more than 100,000 kilometres. “You’ll get some running issues to know that you’ll have to do a rebuild on an engine.” Plumes of blue tailpipe smoke are usually a good indicator. “Running quality doesn’t come into a safety,” said Turner. “In fact, the bike can barely run and still pass.”

Turner advises regular checks of oil and tire pressure levels before each ride. Drive chains need to be lubricated every 600 kilometres, with a specific chain lube product that won’t fly off like regular oils. Get used to a little bit of wrench-twisting. “It’s not uncommon for a motorcycle to have loose bolts due to vibration,” said Turner. This explains the original Yamaha tool kit stowed underneath the seat.

With a minimal wallet dent, the Yamaha is now ready for the road. The question is, am I ready?

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