Dave Botchar of Winnipeg Sport and Leisure digs into the cylinder heads to check for proper valve lash.
Dave Botchar of Winnipeg Sport and Leisure digs into the cylinder heads to check for proper valve lash. Click image to enlarge

Article and photo by Michael Clark

Wow! Even the hoists are pint-sized.

When you’re dealing with mechanical issues for two-wheeled transport, you can definitely save a few acres when building out the service centre. There were no ‘Check Engine’ lights flickering on the Virago gauge-set; it was simply due for its first service interval at Winnipeg Sport and Leisure.

Unlike most ‘cages’, many new motorcycles still need to receive a first service interval at a relatively low amount of kilometres. In the Virago’s case, that meant the 1000 klick mark, when the first oil change is scheduled. “Sometimes, you can have a small amount of debris in the crankcase from assembly,” said Dave Botchar, who has been servicing motorcycles for the last 20 years. The removal of those contaminants early in the mileage game can mean a longer engine life.

The Virago’s styling has drawn plenty a head-scratch as to its true displacement. What appears to be two air filter assemblies is a bit of a hoodwink. “One is fake and the other’s real,” said Botchar, as he removed the covers. The left side houses engine management controls, while the right side has the foam cartridge air filter. A simple soap-and-water solution is all that’s required to clean it. Once dry, the filter gets a bath in a special oil to catch the smallest of debris. “You want to distribute the oil as evenly as possible through the whole filter,” said Botchar.

While up in the air, (about 3 feet) I noticed the switch that is actuated when the sidestand is in the ‘down’ position. “It’s a safety feature so you don’t drive away with the kickstand down,” said Botchar. It also explains the ten minutes of driveway hell I had one day, wondering why every attempt at gear engagement was met with a stall.

I was curious about the different preload settings that could be chosen on the rear shocks, however there wasn’t really any adjustable advantage for comfort purposes. “It’s if you start carrying a lot more weight,” said Botchar, referring to passengers, luggage, or the growth of one’s spare tire.

The service interval mentioned the need for a check of the valve clearances. Speaking of clearance, there isn’t much when it comes to working on the Virago mill. “The one thing with Japanese motorcycles is there are situations where you need Japanese fingers,” said Botchar. I couldn’t see it for certain, however I think Botchar’s digits have grown universal joints to access the V-twin. To get the proper valve lash, Botchar turns the flywheel by hand to achieve top-dead-centre (TDC) on each cylinder. A quick swipe of the feeler gauge confirms that the Virago requires no valve adjustments. Botchar is able to access all of the necessary service specs for the Virago through a special Yamaha web-based portal. It goes back as far as 1961, when the largest Yamaha offered was 250 cc’s of displacement; the same as the Virago test bike.

Proper lubrication is a must for the drive chain. Whether it’s a chain lube or wax product, the goal is to keep as much lubricant on the chain as possible. Botchar recommends applying the lubricant on the inside of the chain, on the joints of each link. When the chain is moving, the centrifugal force pushes more of the lubricant into the joint, prolonging the life of the chain. The chain can be advanced by hand while the bike is in neutral, to ensure proper coverage.

Depending on how often, and how far a bike is driven during the season, riders can experience issues with batteries. Short jaunts to the office or corner store may not be enough to recharge the battery sufficiently. Botchar recommends the use of a trickle charger to keep the battery conditioned with these driving patterns.

I had found that the Virago’s footpegs weren’t exactly the fit I had hoped for; a common problem when trying to build a motorcycle to “one size fits all”. “There is no adjustment, unfortunately,” said Botchar. Luckily, there is a vast array of aftermarket pegs and running boards available.

Washing a motorcycle is basically a lesson in common sense. Keeping a high-pressure stream of water on electrical connections and switches is only going to lead to problems. Whether it’s a wash or wet weather, the drive chain must be lubricated after any encounter with the damp.

Speaking of damp, this was the week I found it. The prairie in these parts has been quite parched as of late, however I knew it was only a matter of time until the clouds would catch up to me. The Gearing Up course spoke of the first five minutes of a rainfall as the scariest. This is when the road dirt becomes a slippery mess, until continued showers can wash the slick into the gutters.

The ‘cages’ didn’t get the memo on the rain dangers to me and my Virago, as I took a few corners uber-slow with their plastic bumpers nipping at my back tire. The only time I noticed an issue was at two stop signs, when experiments with rear brake pressure resulted in lock-up and slight skids. I launched a little harder to see if I would experience any wheelspin; none occurred, however my jeans would have to spend an extra spin on “extra-soiled” in the Maytag. Next investment, rain pants.

The miles may have been fewer this week, however the dangers/idiocy had some honourable mentions. I was heading West on Talbot towards Henderson Highway, where a sharp right turn signals the entry into the Henderson merge lane. Talbot appears to be two lanes up to this point, however the confusion as to how much room there is in the turn is the same as my K-Car Driver’s Ed days. I firmly believe this apex becomes one lane; the gold Accord next to me thought otherwise. My glare set on ‘nasty’ was enough to get the Honda to back off, and I positioned myself in the centre of the merge lane to leave no doubts that there was no room at this inn. It reminded me of the talk at the Gearing Up course about attitude. I wasn’t trying to be cocky; this was about my survival.

It’s easy to point out the folly of motorists as they dream up new and interesting ways to send me airborne; it’s almost too easy. And while the ink on my graduated license is still tacky, it’s high time I pointed out a few of my brethren, bent on getting branded by asphalt. It’s been a cruel summer, with temperatures that can easily tempt one into light and loose riding garments. I’ve had to hand-wash the Joe Rocket jacket a few times to keep the sweaty funk down to a minimum. This summer’s Bull Moose Winner goes to a cruiser rider (male) witnessed on Highway 8 North, sans shirt. Imagine leaving the bike at highway speeds, surviving, and explaining to a future squeeze how your nipples got erased.

I’ve been instilling proper riding procedure and gear into my daughter’s noggin’ while behind the wheel. She was quick to point out a shorts-wearing Suzuki driver this week, however that’s not what caught my eye. On the gas tank was a 15-pack of Kokanee, which he was cradling with his chest. I really wish I was kidding. As ingenious as the rider may have felt about his little hop to get hops, I couldn’t help but see images of shaken cans of Columbia Brewery’s finest spewing their wares next to road flares and yellow police tape. Dear Mr. Suzuki; you’re an idiot. And you’re ruining it for the rest of us.

I’m not trying to provoke ‘rider profiling’, however the Kokanee Kid was just that. I could have pointed out the danger of his actions; heck, if it was Stella Artois, I might have offered to carry it home for a small commission. I knew that what I would get would most likely be a suggestion to go forth and multiply myself. Whether the age is 20, 37, or 77, no one on two wheels has air bags, crumple zones, or crash notification. They have legs and flesh instead of fenders. A motorcycle is not a stage to impress the world with your ability to multi-task. I know that I’m new at this. I want to get old at it too.


Read Michael Clark’s entire series!

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