84+ Virago Starter Systems

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Those of you who want to make a study of all Virago starter systems should first read my paper about the system used on’81-’83 Viragos and ’84,’85 XV 700’s. It describes that early system, with its mechanical engagement approach using springs and clips. That paper tells owners of “classic” Viragos all the bad news and what to do about it. This paper covers the redesigned system used on 1000cc. and 1100cc. engines starting in ’84, and on 700’s and 750’s, starting in ’86.

Before we get going, a couple of cautions. This paper does not describe the full procedures for working on starter systems, or the disassembly and reassembly required to do so. If you are going to try any of these procedures yourself, you had best have some knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and electrics, and a Factory Service Manual (or other manual) to guide you. If you are a beginner (we were all beginners once) and want to have a go at it, be ready to make mistakes, some possibly costly. Try to understand any procedures you are going to attempt as fully as possible before you do them. Remember, the bike is yours. You must be ready to take full responsibility for anything you do (or have done) to it. You must evaluate the information given here and decide for yourself whether it makes sense to you, and whether you are competent to attempt your own repairs.

This paper should, however, be of value to inexperienced people, or those that don’t do their own work, because you will at least now know as much as the typical Yamaha service mechanic, and be able to better judge the various “fix” recommendations you get from your dealer, your friends, or over the internet..

We are now going to look at the redesigned Virago starter system. It was actually first used in the ’81-’83 time frame on the TR1, a 981 cc chain drive model not available in the U.S. It came to the U.S. on the ’84 XV 1000 (981 cc) shaft drive cruiser model.


When we refer to the “starter” we are talking about the unit that sits in the front of the motor at the base of the front cylinder. This unit is actually made up of two separate components, the start motor, and the reduction gear assembly. See the attached diagram.


The design of the starter motor is typical. and the starter is subject to the problems that all electric motors can develop (worn brushes, dirty or worn commutator, shorts in the armature or field coils, etc.). Generally Virago starter motors don’t experience problems except after long usage, or unless they are flogged for long, hard sessions on motors that refuse to start. Brushes and commutators can easily be inspected, and manuals give resistance tests for the armature and field coils (although sometimes these can test O.K. when cold, only to go South when they get hot.) Note that starters fitted in the earlier years were of the two brush variety and had electro magnet field magnets, also called “field excited”. Sometime in the late ’80’s these were changed to four brush motors with permanent field magnets. This later design is believed to provide somewhat increased starting power, and longer lasting performance. One reason given is that current is no longer required to service the field coil magnets, so more is available to power the armature. In any case, where you have to replace a starter, I would recommend going with the four brush design.

But generally all these starter motors are O.K. and reliable. So when starter problems develop, owners should not necessarily rush out and buy a new or rebuilt starter, since that may not correct the problem. There are other factors to be considered as we shall see, before the motor itself is determined to be the villain.


This is the component which reduces the revs of the fast spinning starter motor so that the starter output shaft spins much slower than the starter motor, thereby providing the high torque necessary to turn over the engine. In the older systems this was the home of the “spinning planetary ring gear”. The fix was to lock this ring into the piece below it with JB Weld or by other means. If you disassemble a starter and there are signs that the ring has been spinning, check out my article on the earlier systems on this website and read more about ring gears, and how to fix spinning problems. While the design of the later units seems to be about the same, ring gears don’t spin that much any more. One explanation offered is that the gear ratio between the starter output shaft and the fly wheel may have been lowered somewhat, placing less stress on the system. Note that the reduction gear assemblies for the new redesigned system (the one we are talking about) have longer output shafts than the earlier (’81-’83) starters. Short-shaft starters will not work in bikes with the redesigned system!


I will now try to comment on features of the newer Virago starter system as I understand them:

*SOLENOID (BENDIX) TYPE ENGAGEMENT–A major improvement was made in the method of thrusting out idler gear #2 (shown also as number #8 in the graphic) for engagement with the flywheel. (The older starters relied on a mechanical system which was much less effective and reliable.) The new system employs a solenoid (Bendix) type engagement approach, where a strong electro-magnet (solenoid) is activated when the starter button is pushed. The solenoid provides a positive force to a lever/slider arrangement which thrusts idler gear #2 into contact with the flywheel teeth and holds it there as long as the starter button is depressed. The engine cranks. When the engine starts, and/or you let up on the starter button, the solenoid then snaps back, withdrawing the idler gear. The end result is that engagement is much more positive and reliable.

*TRUE STARTER CLUTCH–A further major improvement was the addition of a “sprag” type starter clutch (#18 in the graphic). The older system really had no clutch at all. The sprag clutch is a one-way clutch which bites hard when torque is applied to it from the starter side, but spins freely if torque is placed on it from the engine side (or backwards, as in the case of a backfire when starting, and briefly after the engine has started.).


On most Viragos these new starter systems give no problems at all, unless abused, except maybe after very long usage. However, it is not a perfect world and some problems have developed in some bikes. Here is a run down of the most common ones, and what to do about them.

*STARTER MOTOR GETS WEAK OR QUITS. Remove the starter motor (requires pulling the left side cover) and check it for brush wear, signs of over-heating, armature continuity, etc.–or have it checked by a qualified mechanic. If the starter motor is basically sound, replace worn brushes and do other starter maintenance and lubrication chores (not fully described here). Check for signs of a spinning planetary ring gear, and correct if necessary. In the event major faults are found, buy a new or rebuilt starter from one of the sources listed at the end of this paper, or from one that you like.

*STARTER CLUTCH WORN OUT: A blown starter clutch is not too common, but they can and do wear out after long use, particularly the earlier ones. If the starter clutch starts spinning you’ll know it, because you won’t get consistent power transferred to the flywheel to start the engine. The side cover has to come off to get to it. A good starter clutch should lock up tight in the engagement direction, and roll smoothly and nicely in the other direction. You can test this somewhat by hand. If it locks in both directions that is also a fault as it will cause problems when the starter disengages. The starter clutch was redesigned around 1992 for better action and the new part number is 3LP-15570-00-00. If the clutch is gone it must be replaced. A new one will not be cheap, but there is no way around it. If you install one on a bike built earlier than 1992, you will, in theory, be getting an upgraded design.

*STARTER GRINDS OR FAILS TO ENGAGE PROPERLY. This is not too common with later model Virago starter systems in my experience, but it does happen. You need to pull the side cover and see what is going on. If idler gear #2 (#8 in graphic) is badly chewed it should be replaced. Yamaha came up with a redesigned idler gear and wheel set in 1995, so you’ll be looking at a new, improved set. See more on this below. If the teeth on the flywheel are badly chewed the flywheel can be renewed (see sources at the end of this paper) for $200 or less or a new one can be purchased from Yamaha (which will shred your bank account). If the gear and flywheel teeth look serviceable, then consider the following ‘service bulletin’ fix that Yamaha has come out with:

*COLLARS: In 1992 Yamaha specified several new collars that are designed to make the engagement action more precise in bikes with the newer system.. Part Number 5A8-15542-01-00 (one required), replaces old style #12 Drive lever collar, and shortens the throw on the idler gear. Part Number 90387-0801M-00 (two required) shims up the drive lever spring #17 for better action, but note that These latter collars have been discontinued by Yamaha. They are probably not too important, and you could easily make a couple if you wanted to install them.) These collars are shown in an attachment to this paper. They are relatively cheap, so why not stick them in? Tool Note: In order to remove Drive Lever Collar Screw #13, you are going to need a star wrench. It is called a T-30 and the one I found has a ¼ inch drive, so I needed a 3/8 inch adaptor to use with a typical ratchet type wrench. Note that if your bike is newer than ’92, you may have these upgrades already.

*REDESIGNED IDLER GEAR AND WHEEL: If you are faced with the need to replace idler gear #2, note the in late 1995 Yamaha redesigned Idler Gear #2 and the wheel gear it slides on (number #4 in graphic), in order to change the pitch of the helical splines for better engagement. You need to replace the older style components with this new combination and you’ll have to purchase both parts as a unit, which will be expensive (I would guess $150 or maybe more). If your current idler gear is in good shape, I’d try the collar first and see if that helps. Note that if you install this new wheel/idler gear combination, Spring #5 must be removed, since it is no longer required. Again, remember that bikes after 1995 will have this upgrade already installed.

*FLYWHEEL: If the teeth on the flywheel are badly chewed, you’ll want to renew or replace it. One renewal method involves cutting off a band with the teeth on it, reversing this band to access the other side (fresh teeth), welding the band back on, and rebalancing the flywheel. The cost for this is around $200 plus shipping. Another method is to add material (metal) to the worn teeth and re-machine them. This costs around $150 plus shipping. See sources at the end of this paper. Or you can buy a new flywheel for around $450 from Yamaha. Note that pulling the flywheel is not that easy. If you plan to do this yourself and have not done it before, give me a call for some pointers. That’s about it for the possible fixes that I know about–except for the problem and fix noted below.

*STARTER CLICKS BUT WILL NOT TURN ENGINE. THEN AFTER A WHILE MAYBE IT WILL OR IT INITIALLY ENGAGES, BUT THEN JUMPS OUT OF ENGAGEMENT. This is a fairly common problem in earlier models. Both my friend and I had it with our ’85 XV 1000’s. If this is your problem, try the following: Remove your seat and find the hot wire going to your starter solenoid –not hard to locate. Tracing it back from the solenoid is one way to find it. We will call this the STARTER LEAD. Now find the connector where the wire from the starter button plugs into this starter lead. Undo this connection and jump the starter lead directly from the positive side of the battery, THUS APPLYING A FULL 12+ VOLTS TO THE STARTER LEAD. If the starter engages properly, you’ve learned something. And that is that there is not enough voltage coming from the starter button wire to properly activate the solenoid.

Note that the solenoid has two functions. First it pushes the drive lever/slider mechanism out which in turn moves idler gear #2 into contact with the flywheel teeth. And second it acts as the STARTER RELAY by slamming a contact strip forward to make a heavy duty (high-amp) contact which will allow the full starting current (cranking power) to flow through that fat starter cable to turn the starter motor. If this contact strip is not slammed home solidly, you’ll hear a click, but the main contact will not be made and the starter will not turn.

It is our theory that in some older wiring systems enough resistance (voltage drop) develops in the circuit between the starter button and the starter lead going to the solenoid, so that the solenoid only works to a point, and not well enough to slam the contact home for a proper contact. This is the clicking symptom you hear. This can be tested, as noted above, by first trying to start with the button. Getting just a click, you then try starting by applying a full 12 volts from the battery to the starter lead (jumping the hot side of battery straight to the starter solenoid). If you do get a good start that says you probably have a voltage drop problem.

FIX: You could troubleshoot the entire starter button circuit but there switches and relays involved in this circuit, so this seemed like a lot of work. And since we found that with a full 12 volts from the battery to the starter lead we got a good start every time, we decided to go that route and make it permanent. We ran the wire from the starter button to a Bosch horn relay (rugged and plenty of capacity-30 amps) and out the other side to ground, in this case to the negative side of the battery, but any ground would do. Thus, when the starter button is pressed, this relay switches ‘on’. The key here is that there is always enough voltage and current from the starter button circuit to power the little relay with no problem! Going the ‘other way’ through the relay, we ran a hot wire from the battery to the relay, and then out the other side to the starter lead. An in-line fuse might be a good addition also.

So here’s what happens. When the starter button is pressed, the relay is switched on. When this happens, 12+ volts of current flow directly from the battery through the relay to the starter lead, giving the starter solenoid the full shot it loves, and slamming the relay contact home for a solid connection every time. The bike starts. Neither of us has had a starting problem since. This approach also has the advantage of retaining all the starting safety features of the bike, since they all cut in before the new relay.


That’s about the sum total of what I know on this subject of Virago starter systems. Comments, additions, and corrections are welcome. Questions are also welcome, so contact me if you have any. And again, please understand that I have not covered starter motor repairs, pulling flywheels, the removing and reinstalling the side cover, and other mechanical procedures that go along with working on starter systems.. All of these procedures have their own challenges. You should understand any procedure you plan to do before you attempt it, and BE SURE YOU FULLY UNDERSTAND the various ‘fixes’ described here before decide to apply any of them. It’s your bike and you have to take full responsibility for what you do (or have done) to it. Good luck.


Stockers Starters, San Diego, California
1-888 786-2537
I have talked to Stockers. They understand Virago starters and can supply you with a new or rebuilt long-shaft 4 brush starter.

Cycletronics Camp Hill, Alabama
1-800 524-2252 Same as above. These people will talk to you, are good to deal with, and know Virago starters.

Rick’s Motorsport Electrics, Hampstead, New Hampshire
Check them out on the internet.


Joel D. Anthony Boise, Idaho
208-331-4155 Joel will renew trashed flywheel (rotor) teeth for less than half the cost of a new rotor. I have renewed a flywheel with Joel and the work and service were fine. Cost at that time $200 plus shipping.

Sadly Dave passed away recently, so this great service is no longer available.
Dave Jacobs, Veneta Oregon
See “Flywheel Repair” on VOC website. Machining method $150.

RELAYS I like Bosch horn-type relays (12 volt, 30 amp capacity). They have a plug-in connector with pig tail wires, which makes wiring up the relay easier. Try auto or electronics stores. Radio Shack also has similar relays.

ALL OTHER PARTS (Brushes, collars, clutches, idler gear/wheel combos, etc.) Your Yamaha dealer.


STARTER MOTOR ·Clean, inspect, test as needed. Replace brushes if needed ($25) For serious defects replace starter with new or rebuilt ($175-$225)

REDUCTION GEAR ASSEMBLY ·Clean, inspect, re-lube (Honda Moly paste is good). Secure planetary ring gear if this appears to be required ($7)

STARTER CLUTCH ·Replace if bad ($180?))

ENGAGEMENT PROBLEMS ·Add collar ($30) ·If Idler gear #2 chewed , install new idler gear #2/wheel combo ($175) ·If flywheel teeth are bad, renew/replace ($150/$450)

CLICKING PROBLEMS Add relay as described ($15)

LATE BREAKING NOTES I talk to a lot of people on the e-mail around Virago starter systems. Two recent inputs are worth noting.

1.As noted above drive lever spring collars (PN 90387-0801M-00) are no longer available from Yamaha. Seems like similar collars could be easily made by owners. It also may be that these collars aren’t really that important. If I run across a set I’ll give dimensions here.

2.One owner stated that he ordered a new starter clutch unit and received one that had one more teeth on it than the one he was trying to replace on his early Virago 1100. We know that this clutch was redesigned, but had assumed it was the same size. If the new clutches have an additional tooth, then idler gear #1 would be different as well, and these two units would have to be replaced as a pair on earlier Viragos. I think he got the wrong clutch, but just make sure you dealer orders the right one.

Posted 2/20/04

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