Every month Steve Cooper from the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club picks out another great example of classic oriental metal

When it comes to buying a Japanese cruiser, you’re well served by the four big manufacturers. Since the late 1970s they’ve all offered a wide range of models: from 125cc learner bikes right up to the six-cylinder excess of Honda’s amazing Rune (and now the new F6C). Kicked-out forks, lashings of chrome, and a low seat are normally pretty much de rigueur. Along with plenty of mass. Yamaha has always figured large on the factory custom scene, and typical of the company it has generally approached the concept from left field. Its XV535 Virago was a perfect example, offering the custom look in a smaller and more manageable package that appealed shorter legged riders. Working on the basis that it was on to a good thing, in 1997 Yamaha pensioned off the biggest Virago and launched a custom machine that many would argue is the thinking man’s Japanese factory cruiser; the XVS650 Drag Star.


Better thought-out and executed than the XV535, more cubes bring more power and torque. Also key to the bike’s success is the fact that it’s substantially more modern than the old 750 or 1100 V twins. Both of these were first generation, full-on, purpose-designed factory customs. The outgoing XV535 rightly came in for criticism regarding durability and finish, but the Drag Star benefitted from dealer comments and customer feedback into what was lacking on previous models. Of course any machine that features chrome plating will need a bit of TLC, but Yamaha made a real effort with its new middleweight: High quality paint and plating allied to a rust-resistant resin coating on the spokes clearly demonstrated lessons had been learnt. OK, so cruisers might not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, but they do have a place in both the current and classic scenes. Know that USA magazine voted the XVS650 Drag Star both Cruiser of the Year and Best Value when it was launched, and you get some idea of how highly regarded the bike is. Add that a tidy higher mileage, private sale example can now be bought for less than a grand and it begins to get even more attractive.

For those who remain cynical about cruisers, the XVS650 might just be the machine to win them over. A number of sceptical professional road testers have variously describe the bike as the perfect introduction to the style; hugely enjoyable; surprisingly agile; amazingly comfortable etc… Also high up on the plaudits list come comments about the unobtrusive shaft drive; light clutch; silky gearbox and peachy motor.

Fuel consumption is a subject on everyone’s minds these days and here the Yamaha is well ahead of the field with the potential to give a genuine 60mpg. Factor in the 3.5 gallon tank with that sumptuous seat and you have the genuine potential to cruise for 175 miles before worrying about looking for a petrol station.


What’s not to like? Well if you’re used to sports machines the front brake might come across as a little weedy, but in the factory cruiser world it’s actually seen as better than most. Even on-line forums seem to have little to winge about. The most popular thread seems to be poor running directly attributable to low use and decaying petrol. If that’s the worst the nay-sayers can come up with, then the XVS650 might very well be an alternative to Harley’s 883 Sportster.

You wouldn’t, perhaps, think that ancestry of factory custom motorcycles is a particularly emotive subject. After all, the very concept is something of an anathema. Custom bikes by definition are supposed to be one-offs expressing the riders individuality, so turning out several thousand kind of defeats the object in many people’s mind. Depending on whose records you look at, the first Jap cruiser was either Yamaha’s XS650SE or Kawasaki’s Z650CSR. Arguably the Yam genuinely looks the part, but both these apparent toe-in-the-water exercises confirmed there was a market worthy of further exploitation.

The origin of Japanese factory custom machines is something of a moot point with classic enthusiasts. Some argue it was a cynical ploy to use up old stock; others suggest it was a way of taking sales from Harley-Davidson on their home turf. Whatever the reasons and logic it worked. Countless would-be H-D riders bought into the Japanese cruiser scene, and these machines now form a very significant market to all the main players. The Vintage Japananese Motorcycle Club makes no distinction between custom cruisers, cafe racers, full-fat restorations or daily riders. If your bike is over fifteen years old you’ll fit right in.





The VJMC; run by motorcyclists for motorcyclists

www.vjmc.com membership_vjmc@yahoo.co.uk


Tony Carter

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