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Classic Motorcycle Review - 14th April 2009

1983 Yamaha XJ900 Seca Special, Part 1

Jon Fife knew that his ultimate sport-tourer would be a bike which Yamaha never actually built. So he set about creating it himself...

When you have spent as many years as I have riding and restoring motorcycles, after awhile you get to know each model's idiosyncrasies. Through the 1990s, 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 realise.

The journey began in 1995 during a restoration of a 1982 Yamaha 650 Turbo Seca (Known as the XJ650 Turbo in the UK). 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 (XJ900 in the UK) 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.

Look, it was the eighties, ok? 1982 Yamaha XJ650 Turbo

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 CBR1000. 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 Yamaha 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 re-reading, 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 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 Titanics. 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.

Villiers Engines on Now...

Some advice 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 swinging arm and shaft drive to strip off the acid corroded paint. Then repainted. Next came the rebuild of the rear master brake cylinder, rear calliper, 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 that on the first ride, within two blocks, they warped.

Look, it was the eighties, ok? XJ900 Seca hydraulic anti-dive system

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!

But that was only the start. The engine and the all-important bodywork were going to be the major tasks in this rebuild…

Turbo fairing, 900 engine and cycle; it'll never work...

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