Buying used: Yamaha XJ900
There are thousands of motorcycles out there that can boast impressive credentials when it comes to being practical, and many of them are certainly very worthy. It’s my contention that the most practical motorcycle ever made may well be the Yamaha XJ900, in either the guise of the XJ900F (1986 to 1988) or the XJ900S Diversion (1994 to 2003). So let’s consider the things that make up ‘practicality’, and see how the venerable XJs stack up.
Let’s start with price. Despite the age of both variants, they still hold their value reasonably well if they’re in good condition. You can pay up to $7500 for a nice, clean and low-kay Divi, ranging down to about $5000 for one with higher kays but in reasonable condition. The earlier XJs, like Editor Blackbourn’s, still manage to command somewhere in the order of $3500 for a good-un down to about $2000 for one that will do the job so long as you’re not fussy.
Reliability has to be high on the list and both are amazingly robust, so it’s no surprise that XJ9s rate highly in a courier’s assessment. Time and distance will ultimately take their toll on the camchain and tensioners so they can be a bit noisy, especially the F. There can be a clunk from the clutch basket on the Divi and I’m told the regulator rectifiers on the F can give trouble. But really it’s very simple to fix and 300,000km is quite on the cards for either machine.
Simplicity is good and the engineering on both machines, with its roots in the air-cooled ’80s, is uncomplicated. The F has a capacity of 891cc and boasts a claimed 72kW (98hp) from its DOHC, air-cooled, four-cylinder engine, and perhaps more importantly some 8.3kg-m of torque at 7000rpm. Equally ’80s is the tubular steel chassis carrying a 22lt tank, atop skinny 100/90-18 and 120/90-18 tyres slowed by 267mm discs.
Tragically the Diversion is the last of the XJ line of budget, four-cylinder shaft-drive bikes. By no means exciting as a performance motorcycle and perhaps doomed to be regarded as dull, the Divi has persevered, soldiering on through the H, M and N models with very little in the way of change. That’s a good thing for the ‘would be’ Divi owner.
In truth the Divi is a much more civilised package than its forebear. The rubber-mounted 892cc DOHC, air-cooled, four-cylinder donk is single malt smooth at 110 to 120km/h (around 5500rpm), and there’s enough power at a claimed 66kW (89hp) for deceptively rapid transit.
FROM THE SADDLE
Depending on your expectations, both XJs are still excellent at doing what their designers intended, which was to provide all-round capability that focussed on long-distance travel. Both have an upright touring stance coupled with a good footpeg position and wide, supportive seats – perfect for travelling big distances with or without a passenger. Both machines have effective integrated fairings, although the later wind-tunnel-designed Divi unit – which contains a much nicer and more modern dash arrangement – is by far the better of the two. Economy is excellent regardless of model and 20 to 22km/lt is entirely feasible, although both the F and the Divi are saddled with pessimistic fuel gauges.
When it comes to handling, you notice the Divi’s extra 20kg or so of lard, especially when pushing it about, but both bikes really do share quite similar characteristics on the road. Expect the forks to dive alarmingly under brakes, boing about and then settle down briefly before the back end starts to wallow and the steering slowly wanders. Although the F sports twin shocks and the Divi a monoshock, neither will have any damping by now. From 1996, the Divi got preload adjustment, which helped, but not by a huge amount.
Yet with a suspension freshen up, which doesn’t really cost that much, and a firm hand at the tiller, the XJs are more than capable of providing entertainment in the time-honoured manner. Both steer sweetly and hide their weight well once decent tyres are fitted, although to be completely honest the Divi is a better handling unit overall.
The brakes, although low-tech twin-piston units, are actually quite good when they’ve been properly maintained. My overseas experience on both machines has been that even from 225km/h, you can pull up with confidence, although you do need to be aware of the fact despite the feel, braking distance is always going to be longer on an XJ than for a more modern machine.
IN THE WORKSHOP
Both machines are easy to keep going. There’s no complicated bodywork, no liquid cooling, and no techno trickery to get in the way of servicing. As a result, service costs are very reasonable. You can do the job yourself for about $100, or part with about $120 plus parts for a minor service every 6000km, and $250 plus parts for a major at 24,000km.
SHOULD YOU BUY ONE?
Absolutely! These babies were built to last and they do. It’s true that a nice F is getting harder to find these days, but they are out there. I recently saw a beauty on eBay for $3000 with less than 40,000km and stainless mufflers. Divis are a little more common but quite sought after simply because they represent the last of the cheap Japanese non-cruiser shafties. Being that much older the Fs are getting a bit noisy, which can put some people off, whereas the Divi is inherently quiet, even at quite high numbers. Yet a new camchain, tensioner and tune up can do wonders for an F if you’re prepared to take the time.
Check for crash damage and make sure the thing steers straight. Thanks to the weak rear shocks on both bikes, they both shake their heads to some extent if you take your hands off the ‘bars and slow down – especially with loaded panniers. Good tyres and a careful eye on the pressures helps, just don’t be alarmed – a gentle hand on one of the ‘bars calms it all down.
Like a lot of Yamahas, the discs seem to warp with monotonous regularity, which results in a pulsing sensation at the lever. All the same, discs are now quite cheap at about $90 from eBay.
This is hard as I really rate both variants. The F wins my nostalgic heart for its faithful service over an epic trip a few years ago, while the Divi is a more sensible decision. Both deserve good suspension and the F would get some good shocks, some springs and a revalve at the front, while the Divi would get a lengthened rear shock and a set of straight rate springs married to some decent damping.
Both bikes have surprising amounts of character and there’s no doubt that they are very, very practical at doing everything from commuting to touring without costing much money. Even though I have a Divi in the garage at this moment, I have to confess I’d probably go for the F, simply because not everything in life should be about being sensible.
The kind of person who’ll buy a Divi is likely to be someone who got scared off by the price of a BMW and is scared off by the age of an F. An awful lot is going to be down to how much money is in your bank account and the F is always going to be cheaper than a Divi. No matter what model you buy, both bikes are great machines and excellent used buys.
Type: Air-cooled, DOHC, two-valves-per-cylinder, four-stroke four-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 68.5 x 60.5mm
Displacement: 891 or 892cc
Fuel system: Four 34mm Mikuni
Type: Five-speed, constant mesh
Final drive: Shaft
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Tubular steel cradle
Front suspension: 37/41mm telescopic fork
Rear suspension: Twin shock/rising rate monoshock, adjustable for preload
Front brakes: Twin 267/320mm discs with twin-piston calipers
Rear brakes: Single 267mm disc with twin-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight: 218/239kg
Seat height: 790/795mm
Fuel capacity: 22/24 litres
Max power: 72/66kW (98/89hp) at 9000rpm/8250rpm
Max torque: 8.3kg-m/8.5kg-m at 7000rpm