Yamaha XV1000 TR1, European High Millers

Yamaha’s 981cc XV1000 / TR1 V-twin road bike might well have been disregarded as an ugly duckling back in the early 1980s, but under a huge blue sky on sinuous roads crossing the Somerset Levels i’m having a ball with a well-preserved example that could have been Japan’s Ducati.

There was no need to dance on the gear lever as I approached bends, just roll off the grip and let the engine surge out of the corners on a wave of torque as I opened it up. Even out of the tighter corners it would pull cleanly from 35 mph in top. Unlike many big V-Twins, Yamaha’s engineers got the TR1’s transmission just right with its distinct lack of clatter, enabling power to be applied seamlessly just when needed.

It was completely unexpected. There’s much to be said for a lusty 75º twin when its power is delivered so smoothly, and better for the crisp action of the gearbox that needed just an easing of the grip for clutchless upward changes. In no time and without fuss, I was whipping along at speeds that made the snaking roads across the levels really interesting.

Yamaha TR1 Styling

You get the picture ? This Yamaha TR1 dated from 1983, not long before production stopped, and featured the revised rear end styling that improved not just its looks but also the practicality of carrying a passenger. This is despite the bike having a reputation as a bit of a dud after its launch. Having road tested the original version in 1981 for Which Bike?, I must accept some responsibility for this.

Its styling, with a weird rear mudguard attached to the monoshock swingarm and a decidedly naff seat, didn’t help; nor did its uninspiring outright performance, which at the time could be matched by many smaller bikes. The idea of a fully enclosed drive chain was good, but not enough to sway my, or anyone else’s, opinion.

Yet underneath there was a fine motorcycle struggling for attention. Fast forward three decades and I can better appreciate why the Yamaha TR1’s designers tried to break away from the fashion for conventional frames and engine layouts. Remove the fuel tank and seat and you’re left with the engine dominating your view as it hangs from the pressed steel spine frame. True, the TR1’s V-twin layout leads to a long wheelbase, but it’s arguable that the height of the steering head is also a result of this. It means the TR1 has a particularly strong "presence", made the more so by the huge 200mm headlamp. So when you swing a leg over the low seat you find yourself almost peering over the instruments.

Care is necessary when hitting the starter button next to the twist grip. If the engine doesn’t catch the first time, you have to wait for the whirring starter gears to stop before trying again, otherwise you provoke horrendous clashing of metal. Once it does fire up, the engine produces a pleasant cadence from the twin pipes that never intrudes.

Handling is slow with cushy suspension that can be stiffened by increasing its air pressure using Schrader valves on the tops of the fork legs, and below the right side of the seat. Steve’s TR1 felt just right, verging towards touring rather than sport. It’s not after all a machine for snapping through S-bends. The Yamaha TR1 takes its time; indeed, try to force it and it’ll respond by nodding its head.

The more than 30 years since Steve’s TR1 was first sold have been kind to it, with some rust on the hidden parts of the exhaust and some spots on the rear fork, which is a remarkable testimony to its durability. No wonder it’s attracted a cult following in places like Germany where it is raced in classic events.

Yamaha TR1 V-Twin Engines

Yamaha was first of the big four Japanese factories to offer an inline V-twin in the modern era as it more deeply explored the market for American-style cruisers. Its range of "specials" based on bikes such as the XS650 parallel-twin had already been a success in the previous three years, more so in the US, so a proper V-twin targeting Harley-Davidson territory was the logical next step. The XV750SE Virago launched for the 1981 model year turned out to be a revelation in Main Street, USA, providing a more reliable and less intimidating alternative to the Milwaukee offerings, which had long suffered from quality problems under AMF ownership.

Yamaha’s V-twin hit the bull’s eye with perfect timing, its clean image and shaft drive enabling entry into a relaxed riding style without having to become a one percenter. Honda, (whose across-the-frame CX V-twin of 1978 was never aimed at the cruiser market), Suzuki and Kawasaki joined in with their own versions, but Yamaha was first out of the blocks.

European motorcyclists were seen as a breed different from their US cruising counterparts, with tastes that were seen to demand more sporting as well as touring equipment. So while sports riders were satisfied in 1980 by the LC two-stroke twins, the new V-twin was re-engineered as a machine for the "thinking rider". Later that year at the Cologne show in Germany the Yamaha TR1, or XV1000 as it was known at the factory, appeared but the initial reaction was muted.

Essentially, the Yamaha TR1 was a full-size bigger-bore 981cc version with a chain replacing the shaft drive and styling that was at best described as eccentric. Yamaha said in its promotional literature that it wanted to return to the “solid virtues of good motorcycle design” with a “quest for simplicity”. Yamaha’s product planners in Amsterdam were probably tapping into a sector of enthusiasts that will be well known in club circles. They regarded features such as the spine frame and triangulated rear fork of the Vincent in the 1950s as the pinnacle of powered two-wheel design. The practicality of an enclosed drive chain is appealing, as used on MZ two-strokes, which offered the low maintenance of a shaft without the higher unsprung weight.

Stripped of its bodywork, the Yamaha TR1 would likely be a thing of beauty to this group of cerebral enthusiasts. This would give a better view of the engine and how it interacted with the novel pressed-steel spine frame from which it was supported at the front cylinder head. Its architecture was identical to the XV750, having a 75-degree angle between the cylinders and heads, which were identical but exhausts facing forward and aft, thereby reducing production costs.

Whereas the XV750SE’s internal dimensions were 83 x 69.2mm, Yamaha TR1’s 981cc derived from 95mm pistons with the same stroke. The cylinder heads looked similar to those on the single-cylinder SR500, each having a single overhead camshaft operated by chain. These were in turn driven by countershafts from gears above either end of the crankshaft. This was a one-piece item on which the connecting rods with their shell big ends sat side by side, providing an offset for better cooling the rear cylinder.

Flat combustion chambers with an 8.3 to 1 compression ratio featured single 47mm inlet and 39mm exhaust valves, the same for both the 748cc and 981 versions, fed on the Yamaha TR1 by 36mm Hitachi carburettors in between the heads and controlled by a linkage and a single cable from the twistgrip. Not unlike the latest Ducati 1299 Panigale, air was drawn into the engine from the spine frame, which acted as a plenum chamber that in turn was fed by a single air filter below the left side of the seat. On the other side, a huge 18Ah battery powered the electrical system which included the generous 200mm headlamp and clunky starter motor.

Lubrication was by chain-driven high-pressure pump on the left side of the cases behind the alternator, drawing oil from the wet sump containing 3.6 litres. Drive was by gears to the wet multiplate clutch to the five-speed gearbox. While the shaft drive engine required bevel gears, the necessary countershaft on the chain drive version was redesigned to take the chain sprocket. In each case this required that the engine ran backwards.

Protecting the drive chain from the elements was a light alloy enclosure around the rear wheel sprocket, with the top and bottom runs of the chain working within rubber mouldings.

Peak power for the TR1 was a 69bhp at a lazy 6.500 RPM, up from 61bhp for the 750, with peak torque of almost 60lb-ft at 5500rpm. Delivery was lusty from low revs with little need to overtax the engine at the high end. Gearing was for 108mph at peak power revs, giving 4.200 RPM at 70 mph.

The chassis and suspension also sported a number of unusual features. The TR1 was Yamaha’s first big bike to use its Monoshock rear suspension, first seen on its motocrossers and trail bikes in the 1970s, and on the LC road bikes a year earlier.

Yamaha TR1 Ride Test

A new aspect at the rear of the spine frame was that the single shock unit used air pressure, adjustable for ride height, along with a hand adjuster for the damping with 20 settings. Yamaha said that the magnesium needle valve controlled by this movement compensated for temperature changes. Up front the telescopic fork also had conventional springs along with adjustable air pressure, but with separate valves for each leg, making the balancing tricky.

Cast-aluminium alloy wheels were in conventional 19in front and 18in rear sizes with the signature spiral spokes first seen on the LC two-strokes. Braking was with dual discs up front and drum rear. But for all the TR1’s practicality it suffered from a feature that was inherent with inline V-twins of the time: an overly long wheelbase.

Designers almost always found it tricky to accommodate the front wheel’s travel and the position of the front cylinder head. With the Yamaha TR1 this resulted in both a long 60.6in (1539mm) wheelbase and a need for long fork legs with a high steering head. In contrast the rear of the frame enabled the seat to be low at just 30.3in (770mm). So the rider felt as if he were inside the bike, squatting behind a handlebar that was almost at shoulder level.

The TR1’s best aspect was its stability rather than agility and not helped by a hefty dry weight of 485lb (220.5kg) Then there was the unusual styling of the bike’s rear end, with a highly sculpted seat, impractical grab rail, modest luggage rack and an early attempt at a "hugger" mudguard attached crudely to the rear fork.

While the rear end’s styling was improved in 1983 with a more conventional clip-on seat and rear bodywork, offering better comfort for riders and passengers alike, it was the modest top end performance that left potential buyers unimpressed. With a top speed of barely 110mph and a quarter mile time of 13.8 seconds, many smaller bikes could show the TR1 a clean pair of heels. Gutsy flexibility didn’t count for much in the old days.

Yet such were the pressures that when the production bikes arrived later that year in showrooms, no changes had been made to address the press comments. Perhaps by then the Yamaha TR1 had already been written off. Its final model year was in 1984. Since then the basic virtues of the TR1 have been better appreciated in racing and custom circles where the simplicity of the frame offers great opportunities for improvements. Some say it’s a cult machine.

While the TR1 or XV1000 was aimed at European riders with a 981cc engine, the Japanese market was catered for with a 750cc version that was outwardly similar with its European style. The American market was provided in 1982 with the XV920, using a 920cc engine with 92mm pistons, and a cruiser called the XV920J that also sported twin front discs and a rectangular headlamp.

Yamaha TR1 Specifications

Manufacturing : Yamaha Motor Co.

Model : XV1000 / TR1

Production Year : 1981 - 1984

Engine : 4-Stroke, 75º V-Twin (V-2), SOHC 4 Valves, Air Cooled

Bore x Stroke : 95 x 69,2 mm

Displacement : 981 cc

Fuel System : 2 x Hitachi 36mm Carburettor

Compression Ratio : 8,3 : 1

Transmission : 5 Speed

Max Power: 69 HP @ 6.500 RPM

Max Torque: 81 N.m @ 5.500 RPM

Frame : Pressed Steel Spine Type

Wheelbase : 1.540 mm

Seat height : 770 mm

Ground Clearance : 140 mm

Dry weight: 220 kg

Fuel tank capacity : 19 Liter

Front Suspension : Telescopic fork, Coil springs & Air pressure

Rear Suspension : Triangulated steel swingarm, Single spring/damper with Air adjustability

Front Brakes : 2 x 267mm Hydraulic disc, 2 piston calipers

Rear brakes: 180mm Drum Brake

Front Tires : 3.25 - 19

Rear tires: 120/90 - 18