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www.thekneeslider.com Yamaha 900 sport tourer prototype by Paul Crowe
motorcycleretro.com - editor Mitch Boehm
vintagemotorcyclesonline.com (you can visit them through SPEEDtv.com)
motorcyclenews.com The largest motorcycle news group in the world.
motobike-search-engine.co.uk First folks to print us-good on ya!
Google - Tough Bike Tough Times for our press release.
Popular Mechanics (motorcycle section)
When you have spent as many years as I have riding and restoring motorcycles, after awhile you get to know each models' idiosyncrasies. Through the 1990's, Honda and Yamaha came close to my perfect "10," but really the ideal sport tourer just didn't exist. The closest thing I found was an artist's rendering of a Yamaha prototype but it never rolled off the production line. It did, however, put an idea in motion that took 13 years and hundreds of hours to realize. The journey began in 1995 during a restoration of a 1982 Yamaha 650 Turbo Seca. While doing some research, I came across an article that indicated Yamaha had plans for more turbo-charged bikes if the 650 sold well. One of the bikes in the artist's rendition was what appeared to be a 1983 Seca 900 with the 650 turbo fairing. To me it was magic, but not for Yamaha. When 650 sales didn't meet their expectations, plans for more turbo-charged bikes were scrapped.
In the meantime, I was still in the middle of a restoration job. After a year of hard work and parts gathering, the 1982 Turbo Seca finally rolled out of my garage in 1996. I rode that bike for the next five years and learned some valuable lessons. While the more upright seating position of the turbo was great, I missed the real horsepower of my 1990 Honda CBR 1000. Also sorely missed were great brakes, the 650's were horrid. Even after a rebuild with stainless steel brake lines, top of the line pads, and the best brake fluid money could buy. Keeping the turbo's carbs in tune was another fun robbing chore. However on the plus side: I loved the shaft drive, ease of adjustment and maintenance on the twin rear shocks and one of the best sport touring fairings ever designed. Some 50,000 miles later, I sold the 650 and bought a 1993 FJ 1200.
Quickly the need for the turbo disappeared and I was back in horsepower heaven and sport touring bliss. But I grew tired of the chain drive, and after long trips the chiropractor was on speed dial.
By 2003, riding something more comfortable became a pressing need. My back problems were getting worse and even driving a car was painful. I pulled out all my old research on the 1983 Seca 900 and liked what I was rereading, except for its butt ugly bikini fairing. Then I remembered that little blip about the proposed 900 with turbo fairing. I wondered if I could make it fit.
Although my business was keeping me busy, by 2005 I was getting a clearer picture of how I could make this marriage of bikes work. Local perusing of the want ads uncovered two 900s during a year of looking and both were outdoor storage queens. In Seattle, you either store a bike indoors or watch them rust into electrical nightmares or two wheeled Titanic's. I've done enough bike restorations to know the difference between a good project and a money pit and these were the later. But there were no local 900s to be found. I was getting desperate.
A recent article in one of my motorcycle magazines describing the pitfalls of buying a bike online still didn't deter me. Mercy, I needed a 900. Finally in early 2007 I found a seller on eBay. He said it ran "barely" and he seemed pretty straight up. I took the plunge and had a trucking company deliver it in February.
Some advise when buying off eBay, always ask the seller to pull the battery and drain the fuel before shipping. I didn't and there was acid everywhere. But the bike actually exceeded my expectations and I was anxious to get started.
First, I removed the swing arm and shaft drive to strip off the acid corroded paint. Then repainted . Next came the rebuild of the rear master brake cylinder, rear caliper, and new brake lines. Both front and rear wheels required about 15 hours each of surface corrosion removal, cleaning, sanding, repainting, and buffing. All the brake rotors had galling. I thought I was brilliant and had a local semi-truck repair shop stone grind the rotors to resurface them. Bad idea. To clean them up the shop took off so much rotor surface, on the first ride, within two blocks, warped.
The rear piggyback shocks were also a challenge. They were a real first for a street bike of this vintage and everyone I talked to said they weren't rebuildable. I finally found a small company in Idaho, GP Racing Suspension, who took on the challenge. After two weeks the bad news - "no can do."
But there was still hope. Guy, the business owner, could tell I really wanted the stock look. He offered to try again on the condition that if he trashed the shocks while he was trying to remove the piggyback seal caps, and if it all went wrong, no harm, no foul. I was just happy he was willing to keep trying. Two weeks later, Guy called with great news - "they're done." Sweet restoration victory!
Now I could turn my attention to getting the engine up and running. Carbs were removed and sent out for rebuild. No evidence of oil leaks prompted me to try a shortcut and simply paint the engine in the frame. However the clearcoating of the side cases was peeling and faded. This was repaired by wet sanding multiply times, and then buffing to a high luster, as were the cooling fins, foot pegs, gear shift lever, rear brake pedal and front forks.
With the carbs back from rebuild, the gas tank and body work, minus the bikini fairing were sent out for repair and paint. I was dying to see if the bike ran as advertised and rigged up a quart sized can suspended from the garage rafters with a gas line running direct to carbs and hit the starter button. Fired right up.
Ever wonder why you would choose a particular shop for your repairs, especially when you pick up the parts and think, this is what I paid $1200 for? The quality of paint and repairs was bad, the shop owners attitude towards making it right, just as bad. Truly a low point in the year and half project. I pressed on.
Most people who read about or attempt restorations never fully realize the next stage in bringing an old bike back to life. I call it the test phase. In a short two weeks in August of 07, I rebuilt the front brakes, master cylinder, new fork springs, installed the gas tank and body work. Leaving the old bikini fairing on, it was time to ride. Any rebuild or restoration is going to have problems. So from August to October of 2007, I rode the bike to find out its quirks. Problems included the warped rotors from the failed semi-truck shop experiment, fork seals leaking, even though they were replaced with new. A gas flooded garage floor, rough idle, and scary handling at freeway speeds. The fixes included new brake rotors, fork seals just needed time to seat, new petcock stopped gas leak, carbs synchronizing, and new steering head bearings.
During this test phase, I also placed an ad on Craigslist for a non-running 650 Turbo Seca, which I picked up five days later for $400. Having restored a turbo before, I knew I wanted as complete a bike as possible. I just needed the 650s bodywork, the rest went to eBay to recoup my costs. After I removed both bikes body work, my brother Scott got wind of what I was doing and offered to help.
Scott is a master craftsman and has built car air dams, exhaust systems, air intake systems, and accessories for MG's and Alfo Romeos, not to mention a custom built Kawasaki H2. His help came at the cost of rewiring his wife's kitchen remodel. Good trade.
With his years of fiberglass repair and manufacturing, all of the body panels from both bikes were repaired and primered. About 40 hours were needed on the turbo fairing alone. All the fairing pieces, 900 gas tank and body work were then sent out for paint. Now came the real test of my vision. Would the turbo fairing even fit the 900?
My research had led me to several facts about the Seca series of bikes produced in 1982 and 1983. First, the 650 Turbo, 750 and 900 all shared the same engine dimensions. Only the bores were different. A recent listing on Craigslist showed a 1982 Turbo Seca with the 750 engine installed. This led me to believe the frames must be very similar and I had a good chance of fitting the 650 fairing.
But when I rolled the 650 off the trailer and started to take measurements, my heart sank. The frames were not the same. The tube diameter is bigger on the 900. I was ready to abandon the project, but Scott took some more measurements and ever the optimist said, "I can make this work." Now realize I'm not the master wiz engineer here. If we get this wrong and start welding and hacking....you get the picture...about $4000 up in smoke and a 900 butchered.
Scott started with a hand-held die grinder and carefully cut off all needed fairing mounting brackets. We then loosely bolted all needed hardware to the fairing and used duct tape to firm it up. To hold the weight of the fairing as we attempted to position it on the 900, we roped it to the garage rafters, and slowly rolled the stripped down 900 into place.
We anticipated a lot of cutting and grinding of the fairing would be needed to make it fit. The 900 fuel tank is 5.8 gallons and it appeared to be much wider than the 4.5 gallon 650. Clearance at this widest point of the tank to the fairing didn't look promising. Also a concern was the fairing lowers and connecting air dam. Early measurements indicated it would not fit. Finally, on a cold, wet December night, with tripod halogen lights ablaze, we slowly walked the 900 into place around our jigged-up turbo fairing. Scott and I were amazed at the fit. We stood in engineer's stunned silence as we became aware of Yamaha's brilliance in the design of the Seca family of bikes. It was obvious that at least the 650 and 900 had been designed from the get-go with interchangeability of both engine and fairing pieces in mind. The fit was perfect.
However, a project like this conducted in family two-car garage has its limitations. Our fitment jig was neither precise nor laser-perfect. Scott solved this problem with hours of test fits, measurements, temporary JB welds, and levels. Test fit, temp weld, one side of fairing off and start over. Again and again until he had it perfected. Then came the mig welding. Twenty to thirty hours were spent on this process alone. Most folks who've seen the bike swear it's a factory production bike.
Scott had schooled me in the fine art of plastic repair and I began the repair of the 900 instrument panel next.
The 900s housing and lenses were badly cracked. I quickly repaired the housing, but the lenses were nonexistence. I then remembered the 1995 restoration and dug through my file and found an old business card of a Lexan plastic company. I took my old lenses as examples and had new ones made. Taking the 650 turbo fairing hardware, I then manufactured a mounting bracket for the 900s instruments to fit the turbo fairing.
Assembling all the bodywork to the bike was the most fun. Seeing your 13-year vision come to life is better than anything depicted in a Master Card or Visa ad. The journey was just as exciting as the destination, which was one big reason for building it.
And there's something to be said for creating your own perfect 10. Today, Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki all make far superior sport tourers. But in 1995, when I was looking for the best bike, it didn't exist. But now I know Yamaha was ahead of the game....if only they would have built the 1983 900 Seca, with the turbo fairing. Perhaps they would have given it the model designation 900 Seca-SST, for Standard Sport Touring. The 83 was twenty years to early by today's standards. It had shaft drive, air assisted front suspension, self canceling turn signals, easy to read fuel gauge and clock, easy-to-access twin piggyback shocks, 5.8 gallon tank, adjustable handlebars, flat wide seat, adjustable windscreen (mine has MRA adjustable spoiler), and MP3 mounted on the triple tree.
The public may not know it, but 25 years ago Yamaha was on the verge of sport touring heaven. Slow bike sales, saturated market and the 900 never got its chance. The FJR is now king. Yet the 900 is the only bike I know of that can be multiple bikes to multiple people. It's also the only one in the world, for now.
Update. Since posting our website we are hearing from riders all around the world! The more we learn the more we will share. Look for our maintenance section to be totally updated in March. We will also be listing a catalog of aftermarket replacement parts soon to be available. Requests to build 900-SST for customers are currently being taken...several already booked. Ride safe....Jon Fife
Update. We are now posted in the following nations of the world, UK, Scotland, Germany, France, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, India, USA