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Certain bikes are somehow easier to ride than most and the Yamaha XV535 is one of them. From the late 80s to the 90s, when it was superceded by the XVS650 Dragster, the ’baby’ Viragio attracted thousands to biking with its pleasant looks, low seat height and modest performance.

Now a used bike bargain, with prices starting from as little as £1,000, the XV535 is good, old fashioned, weekend fun. Chris Pearson cruises down memory lane.

Bikes come in all shapes and sizes and although most of us look down our noses at the ones we do not like, thankfully the manufacturers still make all manner of different types. There, I never thought I would say that, but I have to admit that people do desire machines that are not just track orientated, and those machines are valid in their own right.

To be honest, I was looking forward to this test ride as much as a trip to the dentist!

It goes with the territory however that us journo types have to be totally impartial and willing to ride anything, like it or lump it.

So here we have a custom style bike of diminutive proportions, both physically and capacity-wise, which despite my initial `racism´ towards such machines, I have to admit I really can see how people like them. As a daily commuter or a general runaround for the short-of-leg person, it simply gets on with the job in hand.

The seat height is lower than a snake´s belly at 720mm and this makes the XV535 a very popular mount for the feminine half of the biking fraternity. It also joins the upper end of my wife´s list of favourite bikes, as regards the pillion seating. At the top of her wish list is the new Honda Gold Wing, whilst at the very bottom is anything I can get my head down and throttle pinned back on - Doh!

The air cooled 535cc V-twin engine, with its oversquare bore and stroke of 76.0mm x 59.0mm , whilst not in the Harley league, is still thumpey and torquey in a kind of miniature way, almost like a working model of the big Yank icon. In typical Japanese style, and unlike its American counterpart, it doesn´t leak oil or threaten any kind of regular mechanical misdemeanour in the process. (Not that Harleys are unreliable in my book - Scared-of-lawyers - Ed)

In fact, the only criticism I could level at the mini Virago is that of ground clearance; there is absolutely zero available before decking out, but to be fair that is not what this little bike is all about and it never compromised its cornering ability when used as intended.

The five speed gearbox is positive and the ratios are well chosen, allowing you to just get on with riding this mini armchair on wheels. Braking is provided by a twin piston floating caliper, single disc up front, and an old fashioned, but nonetheless effective, single leading shoe drum at the rear. Both perform more than well enough for the performance of the engine and, at a reasonably light 182 kgs, the weight of the bike.

Build quality is solid with good chrome work, but not quite up to Honda´s high standards I reckon.

Take it easy baby

Top speed is very near treble figures, although up in that region the handling can be a bit suspect. This is no doubt due to the huge difference in tyre width between the front and rear, the 300 x 19 at the bow end is almost of pushbike proportions while a 140 section holds the stern up, but to be fair we are talking about serious points on licence stuff and probably not why most people buy a 535 Virago.

The large handlebar mounted windscreen also played its part in the upsetting of the machine as it acted like a huge spinnaker upon the steering. The effect of this large sheet of perspex upon the front wheel blossomed almost exponentially with the gaining of speed. Certainly cruising at or around the legal limit, the general handling is more than predictable, and comfortable thanks to the wind deflection created by the screen. At no time below 70mph did the little Yam get out of shape.

Living with the Virago couldn´t be simpler with either low dealer servicing costs or your own routine maintenance. This machine is not at the cutting edge of motorcycle technology so most tasks should be within the reach of the average home mechanic. Certainly an oil and filter change is easily tackled with only the simplest of tools required to get to the sump plug and filter itself. The lubricant should be changed every four thousand miles or sooner if at all possible.

Likewise with the spark plugs, they are not easily seen but in reality are only hidden behind two large chrome covers and require no specialist tools to get at or remove. Simply undo the two 5mm Allen bolts that hold the covers in place, then remove the plugs as normal. There´s no need for messy chain lubes and constant adjustment thanks to the trouble free BMW licensed shaft drive system at the rear wheel, which only requires an oil change every 8000 miles.

Problem Areas

Watch out for trouble starting from cold as the rectifier/regulator unit can be problematic resulting in a poorly charged battery. The rectifier is situated behind the left hand footrest panel and consequently collects a lot of crud off the road causing the unit to fail due to very heavy corrosion. This is easily prevented by regular removal of the said unit to clean off the crud and then insulate with grease etc.

Also, the Virago´s front brake caliper can be prone to sticking, once again due to the salt corrosion but this is a failing found all too often on motorcycles within the UK and again, a bit of regular stripping and cleaning, is the only real solution.

It can be very easy to forget that the petrol tank has slipped onto reserve, as it is switched via a handlebar mounted slider and once moved over there is no light to remind you should get some gas soon as possible. Next day, you get on the bike ready for work and with no fuel tap to turn, or warning light to illuminate the problem, it would be all too easy to get a few miles up the road, then start pushing.

But taken all round, these are minor failings which are more than balanced out by the easygoing nature of the bike, its long term reliability and simplicity. Any novice can buy a Virago, and with a little regular maintenance, have a near faultless introduction to motorcycling, for weekend fun, or some commuting too. That´s a bargain.

Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha xv535 viragio.

Vital Statistics
Engine Air cooled, SOHC, twin cylinder, four stroke
Capacity 535
Claimed power 42bhp @7,500rpm
Transmission Five speed
Cycle parts
Bore and Stroke 76mm x 59mm
Carbs X2 Mikuni
Chassis Steel tubular spine type
Suspension Front 38mm telescopic. Rear: Twin oil damped shocks
Wheelbase 1520mm
Wheels/tyres 19 inch front, 15 inch rear
Brakes Single 298mm front disc, single leading show drum rear
Dry weight 182kgs
Top speed Estimated 100mph
Fuel capacity 13.5 litres
Buying Info
Colours Two tone paint available on the S model
Current price Not in production today. 1994-97 used examples from about £1500 upwards depending on condition and history.

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