Short Takes–Misc. Subjects/Fixes – Virago Tips

INDEX1.   Oil filter change
2.   Oil light
3.   Shifting problems
4.   Side stand switch
5.   Mixture Control Valve
6    Switch pods
7.   Electrical Trouble Shooting
8.   Service Manuals
9.   Timing
10.  AIS pipes
11.  Rear Wheel Splines
12   Drive shaft splines
13.  Oil
14.  Fuel
15.  Side covers
16.  Compression Testing
17.  Changing handle bars
18.  Gearing
19.  Small hands
20.  Pulling a flywheel
21.  Seats
22.  Matching Paint
23.  Running rich, running lean
24.  Adding a throttle lock
25.  Steering Head Bearings
26.  Making your own brakelines

Virago Tips. In this website I try not to cover  information that is found in the factory service manual, or aftermarket service manuals (e.g.Haynes, Clymer).  If you want to read about procedures–how to do things–get those manuals.  What we are after here is first, real world garage stuff–the things that can trip you up as you go through these procedures. And second, we describe the inner workings of some components that are not decscribed in any of the manuals, so you can understand better what is going on.

1. Oil Filter Change

here are three things to talk about here:

First, new owners of later model Viragos are sometimes shocked and dismayed when they find they can’t get to the bottom bolt in the oil filter cover without loosening or removing the right hand side foot peg bracket, and engine guard  (if they have one).  The response to that is, you  have to get access to that bolt, so screw up your courage and do what it takes to get there.  Or, if that is too much for you, have your dealer change your filter for you

Second, while it ain’t easy to do, oil filters have been installed backwards. When this occurs, no oil reaches the heads, and rockers arms, cams, etc. are soon toast.  So be sure to note how the filter goes in. Open hole out! If you can stick your finger in the middle of the filter, you’re good!

Third, the bottom bolt holding the filter cover is different from the other two.  It can be used to drain the filter cavity without removing the filter cover.  There is a small O-ring that goes around this bolt and sits between the filter cover and the engine side casing.  When you pull the filter cover off (that bottom bolt is already out) this little O-ring may stay in its little groove in the side casing, or it may fall into your oil pan to be lost forever.  On remounting the cover, you need to be sure that that little O-ring is in place.  Otherwise you will get an oil leak.  The oil will dribble down and look like it is coming out of your oil level switch below.

2. Oil light

An irritating thing that happens with some Viragos is this: the oil light comes on when you know you have enough oil in the bike.  Often it happens when you are starting out.

First of all, let’s be clear that the oil light indicates oil level in the crankcase (engine sump) not a lack of oil pressure.  The best and most positive way to check your oil level is by looking at the level window (sight glass) on the left side of your engine toward the front.  With the bike on the centerstand  You’ll have to get down on your knees to do this.  The level window has an upper and a lower line, and if you see oil there, you have oil, regardless of what the oil light is doing.

A note of oil level: Go for a ride.  Let your bike sit a while. Check your level window.  Top up to near the top line, as needed.  As oil expands, the level sometimes goes a little higher than the top line, to where the whole window is full.  This is not a problem, but overfilling by a quart or so, is.

As for the oil level light, it is turned on by a sender which resides in the bottom of your engine just to the rear of the oil filter cover, and under a little cover of its own.  The switch is actually a little float which goes up and down in a tube.  When the float hits bottom, a contact is made and the light goes on. The tube has little holes in it so that it fills, and unfills, slowly.  This is to prevent the float from bobbing up and down every time you lean the bike in a corner or hit a bump.  For reasons I can’t fully explain, the float sometimes gets sticky and stays too low, or the tube fails to fill, turning the light on when in fact you have plenty of oil.

Possible things to do if you have this problem:  1. Change your oil. Fresh oil may unstick things. 2. keep your oil level high in the level window.  Low oil will contribute to the problem. Note that running the bike on the side stand may well turn the light on.

3.  Shifting Problems

A fairly common occurance is to start losing gears, especially on hot days.  Owners typically panic and begin thinking about second mortgages to cover the coast of a transmission rebuld, which requires a complete tear-down of the Virago engine.  But there is some good news here.  The most common cause of shifting problems is a sticky pivot where the shift lever linkage turns in a little tube.  Go to the left side of your bike and you will see that pivot at the end of the shift lever.  Nobody ever lubricates that pivot and when it starts to stick it can just raise holy hell with shifting.  Solution: squirt some WD40 or other general purpose lubricant into that pivot, so that it will soak in and lubricate the inside.  Your troubles are like to go away immediately.

4.  Side Stand Switch

When you are running in gear, your TCI (Transistor Controlled Ignition) box takes part of its power through the side stand switch.  Lower your side stand, or shift into gear and leave it down, and your engine stops.  So when trouble shooting igntion problems, you want to check the side stand switch to make sure it is making good contact and providing good power to the TCI.  A typical symptom is: the bike revs and acts normally when in neutral (where the TCI gets the needed power through the neutral switch) but the engine falters or runs bad when in gear (power through the side stand switch).

5. Mixture Control Valve

All Viragos and RH/RJ models from 1981 to 1985 had a gizmo on them called the “mixture control valve” (MCI), commonly known as the “gulp” valve.  This valve first appeared on early sports cars.  When the throttle is closed sharply (as on deceleration) a high vacuum is developed which opens this valve. The valve then admits a little puff of air into the front cylinder to offset a momentary rich condition, as droplets of fuel are sucked off the intake walls by the vacuum spike. Anyway, that’s the theory. But as a practical matter this valve never really did anything on Viragos (that is measurable or noticible ). It was and was probably put there by Yamaha to impress the EPA boys that they had some smog equipment on their bikes so they could get an import license.  But these valves can be a problem. Over time they can leak air and dump it into your front cylinder when you don’t need it, making for a lean condition.  So if you have this valve on your bike be aware of that.  If you want to, you can safely remove it and cap the ports in the front carburetor holder.   I simple cap can be made from short pieces of vacuum tube with a ball bearing shoved into the top of them.

6.  Switch Pods

If you suspect that one of the switches/buttons in your handlebar switch pods is malfunctioning, try to test it at the first connector you find.  If that doesn’t work, or the switch is bad, you may then want to disassemble one of the pods.  First, pay close attention to how things come apart. Second, be aware that there are some little springs and detent balls in switches that can fly away and be gone for eternity somewhere in your garage. So be careful. I sometimes do some of this work inside a clear plastic bag to keep this from happening.

7.  Electrical Trouble Shooting

I get a lot of questions from guys who have an electrical problem and want to know the quick fix.  Well, in my experience there often isn’t a quick fix.  The way I do it this:  I pull out the wiring diagram for the system involved.  I read the manual to find out if there are tests I can run on the various components involved.  I use a digital multimeter (not expensive) to find the presence of volts, to check resistance, and to check the continuity of circuits.  For me there is no “magic” here. Just systemactically going through it, trying to find the problem.  With
Viragos, sometimes this can be hard, because the manuals don’t always tell you specifically what is going on inside some of those black boxes.  Factory service manuals are the best ones for circuit diagrams and electrical troubleshooting.

8.  Shop Manuals

I hesitate to put a wrench to a bike without a shop manual handy.  Here is the story on manuals available for Viragos.



During these years, Yamaha published a basic shop manual for the 750 Virago.  The 1981 manual had a supplement in back covering the RH/RJ model.  In 1982, a version of the 750 manual (unchanged) came with supplement in back covering the 1982 Virago J model.  None of these manuals are avialable from Yamaha any more.  But at least this tells you what you are looking for.  Note that the 1983 920 K model Virago did change quite a bit from the 1982 J Virago, but most of these changes took it back closer to the 750. To my knowledge a 920 K supplement was never offered.


In 1984 Yamaha came out with a manual covering the Virago 1000 and 700.  Over the years supplements were added covering the 1100 and the 750, and  also couple of major interim changes mainly involving the change from Hitachi to Mikuni carbs in 1988.  I use a version which covers ’84 through ’90.  My belief is that no further supplements were added after this, since mechanical changes were minimal from 1990 to the end of the run and didn’t justify further supplements.  The changes that were made were typically covered in service bulletins to Yamaha dealers.  However, owners of later versions of this manual may want to correct me on this.

These manauls are available from Yamaha ( for all years from 1984 on, I am quite sure.  Cost $60, but worth it. Owners manuals should also be available.


These are aftermarket manuals which have some merits and don’t cost as
much. But they suffer from the fact that they try to cover all models from
’81 on.  I do not consider them to be a substitute for the Yamaha factory service
manuals, but I would recommend you get them–particularly if you can not
find one of the earlier manuals for your bike. Haynes, in particular, has
some good descriptions in it.

9. Timing

The Virago engine is a four stroke engine.  Starting at the point where the fuel ignites (the cylinder fires), here are the strokes:

The first stroke is the power stroke where the piston starts at the top
and is pushed down by the burning fuel.  This is the stroke that puts
power to the crank shaft and turns it.  Both valves are closed.

The second stroke is the exhaust stroke. Here, the exhaust valve opens
and, as the crank shaft turns, the piston rises to the top again, pushing
the gasses from the burnt fuel out the exhaust port.

The third stroke is the intake stroke.  As the crank continues to turn,
the intake valve opens, and the piston goes back down, sucking fresh fuel
mixture into the cylinder.

The fourth stroke is the compression stroke, where both valves are closed
and the piston rises to compress the fuel mixture to prepare it for
ignition, or firing.

So for each igntion the crankshaft and attached flywheel turn two times or
720 degrees.  The piston reaches its top position (known as “top dead
center”, or TDC) twice for each igntion, once when the plug fires, and once
between the exhuast and the intake strokes..

Timing The Engine

In order to time the engine correctly you need to have access to the
timing window in the left side cover.  This window has a pointer in it,
and by rotationg the crankshaft you can see the timing marks on the
flywheel.  There are three marks on the flywheel:

The line with the “T” indicates TDC for the #1, or rear cylinder.  The “F”
marks are used to check ignition advance and can be ignored.  The single
line indicates TDC for the #2 or front cylinder.

Note: The Virago engine is always rotated clockwise.

Since we are starting from scratch the covers over the upper timing chain
sprockets must also come off.

The upper time chain sprockets have an arrow on them.  This arrow is used
to align the sprocket with a timing mark on the head, which is a small pointer at
the top of the cover mounting surface.

When the arrow on the sprocket is alligned with the timing mark on the
head, both valves are closed. The arrow on the sprocket will be pointing
straight up along the axis of the cylinder (not straight up to the sky).

Therefore, for cylinder #1 we need:

a)  the timing mark on the flywheel (the “T” mark) alligned with the
pointer in the timing window, and
b) the timing arrow on the rear cylinder upper timing chain sprocket
aligned with the timing marker on the head.

When these two conditions are met, #1 cylinder is at TDC at the point of
igntion and is properly timed.

Note that the piston reaches TDC twice during every 720 degree cycle, once at the
point of igntion with both valves closed, and once at the point between
the exhaust/intake strokes, at which point the the exhast valve is just
closing, and the intake valve is just opening.

As an aside here, if you try to adjust your valves at the exhaust/intake
TDC, you will get a major incorrect adjustment since there is still some
pressure from the cam on one or both of these valves at this TDC.

Note also that the camshaft (upper can chain sprocket) turns at half the
speed of the crankshaft/flywheel. So when the #1 cylinder is at the TDC at
the point between the exhaust and instake strokes, the arrow on the
sprocket will be pointing directly away from the timing mark on the head,
or straight down along the axis of the cylinder.

Cylinder #2
Now we need to time the #2 (front) cylinder in proper relation to the #1
(rear) cylinder.  Note that the cylinders do not fire directly opposite
one another, that is 360 degrees apart.

To time the #2 clinder:

Starting at TDC at the point of firing on Cylinderr #1, rotate the
flywheel clockwise until the #2 cylinder timing mark (plain line) comes
into view.  This rotation is 288 degrees, slightly less than a full 360
degree revolution.

At this point, set your front upper timing chain sprocket (and thus
camshaft) the same way you did for the rear cylinder, arrow pointing up to
the timing mark on the head.

Congratulations! Your engine is now properly timed.

And now we see that the firing strokes are uneven.  Staring with firing
the #1 Cylinder, the #2 cylinder fires 288 degrees later, and the #1
cylinder fires 432 degrees after that (720 total).  So the sequence goes
288, 432, 288, 432, etc.

See your manual for details on removal of covers, pictures of timing
marks, etc.

10. AIS Pipes

Starting in 1984 (in the States at least) Yamaha added something call the Air Induction System (AIS) to their larger model Viragos.  This system was designed to decrease emissions by injection air at the exhaust valve outlet when the bike was decelerating in order to promote more complete burning of the fuel mixture and thus cleaner exhaust gasses.

The way it works is that when the throttle is closed on deceleration, a relatviely high vacuum condition is created in the intake path between the carb and the intake valve.  This vacuum is sent from a vacuum port in the front carbholder to a valve which sits in the left hand pod.  The valve then opens, allowing air to be sucked into the exhaust gas path just after the valve.

Is there a problem here? Not really, and you can leave the AIS system alone.  I see no reason to remove it, particularly on Viragos with Mikuni carbs.  However, on ealier models with Hitachi carbs, it tends to interfere with access to at least one of the pilot screws.

Also, there is the matter of esthetics.  It’s a bunch of pipes messing with the clean lines of your engine, and things look neater whithout them. Note also, that they don’t affect the running of the bike when you are on the gas, so there is no performance downside if they are gone.  Also, their removal should not cause backfiring.   Also, for your green folks, let me simply say that trees need CO2 to make oxygen, so direct your exhaust gasses toward trees whenever possible.

Anyway, if you decide to remove these pipes, here’s how.  Disconnect the vacuum line at the front carb holder, and cap that port.  A ball bearing shoved into a short piece of vacuum hose is one way.  Then physically remove the pipes.  At the engine you will find some gaskets which adapt the pipe to the stubs coming out of the heads.  Leave these gaskets in place.  Rush down to your local Ace hardware store and buy a couple of 1/2 inch copper pipe ends.  These will fit snugly over those gaskets and cap the stubs quite neatly.  Add a little JB weld or other high temp epoxy to hold them on.  I’ve never had one come off.  A little silver paint and they’ll look like Yamaha OEM equipment.

11. Rear Wheel Splines

When it comes to splines, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Once you see them you’ll understand immediately what they are.  They have a male and a female side to them with teeth that mesh together, making two parts move as one.  Your rear wheel has a set of splines on it that plugs into your rear drive, which transfers energy from the rear drive to the wheel.  The point here is that these splines must be well greased, and if they are not, they begin to wear. If this situation goes on long enough, they wear completely away, and one day, you’ll drop your bike into gear, let out the clutch, and go nowhere.  Normally, checking the grease/regreasing at the times you have the rear wheel off for tire changes is sufficient.  But there are a couple of ways that this grease can go away on you.

First, you’ll note that there is a O-ring on the male splines side.  If this O-ring is not there, grease can get out.

Second, if you adjust your rear brake too tight to where it is rubbing all the time (particularly on long downhills) your wheel hub can get hot enough to boil out this grease.  So check for this O-ring when you have the wheel off, and leave enough free-play in your rear brake lever to avoid rubbing. That’s all it takes to be O.K.  Honda Molypaste is my choice for grease in this application, but any good grease (e.g. Bell Ray Waterproof) should do.

12. Drive Shaft Splines/Rear Drive

While on this subject note that the driveshaft coming from your rear drive plugs into the U-joint at the tranny end with splines.  These also need grease.  But Yamaha doesn’t include this as a maintenance item on their list, and most Viragos seem to run forever without attention here, since most owners don’t have a need to pull the rear drive and drive shaft.  If you do happen to get into these splines, a little grease won’t go amiss.

The rear drive bolts to the swing arm with four studs/nuts.  If you have a need to take the rear drive off, mount it back on as follows: seat it properly and the tighten the nuts finger tight.  Then mount the rear wheel and torque the axle nut to spec.  Then torque the four rear drive nuts to spec.

13. Oil

In the old days, things were simple.  If you had money you poured in Mobil 1 15-50 synthetic.  If you didn’t have money you used Castrol GTX racing oil, 20-50.  But times have changed, and if you call either of these companies, they will tell you: “No, no, no!! Don’t use our car oils in your bike.”  Of course, it needs to be pointed out that both these companies now offer “motorcycyle specific”  oils which they will be happy to sell you for megabucks a quart.

I’m no petroleum engineer, but I’ll attempt to describe a few of the factors/developments as I understand them.

First, they keep changing oil, and every time they make a major change they also change the API (American Petroleum Institute) “service” letters.  So years ago we had “SG” oil which was car oil and considered good for air cooled bike engines by motorcycle manufacturers.  But since then we have gone through SH, SJ, and on up to SL and possibly SM.  Motorcycyle manufacturers now say that car oil after SG/SH is not good for air cooled bike engines.  Why is this?  Partly because the zinc and phosphorous content in SG/SH oils (insurance against wear in extreme conditions where oil starts to break down) has been reduced in later car oils because they raise hell with calytic converters.  Secondly, in many later car oils “friction reducers” (e.g. moly) have been added to restore the protection of the lost zinc and phosphorous and to increase gas mileage.  These new additives can cause wet clutch slippage problems. So beware of any oil labelled “energy conserving”.
Another development is the proliferation of oil tests.  In addition to API letters, we now have JASO MA, CCMC G4/G5, ACEA A3-96, CC and maybe others.  What does all this mean?  Your search is as good as mine.

If this is not confusing enough, we need to understand that oil refining keeps getting better.  Whereas a few years back “synthetic oil” was made from chemicals (e.g. olefin) which is not petroleum based (and was clearly superior to petroleum based oils in its structure and performance). refining of petroleum based oil has progressed to a point where the best of these oils approaches “true synthetic” in terms of desirable properties and performance..  Moreover, the courts helped things along by ruling (in a suit by Mobil against Castrol) that the term “synthetic” was a marketing term, and that petroleum based oils could also be called “synthetic”.  So when you buy Castrol Syntec, you are buying very good petroleum based oil, but not “true synthetic.”  So for synthetic oil made from olefin (or other non-petroleum base stock) you are now looking for labels like “100% synthetic”, or “Fully synthetic.”

So where does that leave us?  In the good old days of Mobil 1 “Red Cap” 15-50, I used to consider “motorcycle specific” oils to be a rip-off.  But no more.  I now use only motorcycyle specific oil with API ratings (SG, etc.) recommended by manufacturers.  I don’t choke on a few extra bucks per quart anymore.  After break-in (factory fill), I pour in full synthetic.  Tests show this oil to still be superior at withstanding heat (more of a factor in aircooled engines than in liquid cooled ones) and is a better built oil in terms of viscosity breakdown and other factors– as opposed to the best petroleum based oils.  What should you do? I only give you my best shot.  The ultimate decision about oil is up to you.  For my virago, I’m into 15-50 or 20-50  “true” synthetic which meets API SG and JASO MA standards.

You can find some good info on oils on the internet  Try “All about Oil” –from which a lot of the above information was taken.

14. Fuel

Virago engines are low compression engines, under 9 to 1.  Low compression engines run well on regular gas (87 octane rating)  Your owners manual probably says what mine says “Your Yamaha engine has been designed to run on regular unleaded gasoline.”

Sometimes after long service, buildup on the heads/pistons can raise compression.  In “pinging” (predetonation) starts to happen, you’ll want to switch to a higher octane grade.

Higher octane grades, won’t get you more power.  In fact they may actually cost you a smidge. Rather than being a “hotter” more powerful fuel, premium  91/92 octane is less volatile and burns slower than regular (87).

This is all I’m going to say on fuel.  For those who want to know more (and possibly become totally confused) do a Google search on “octane” or similar. Also try ‘pinging.”  There’s a lot of stuff out there–mostly the blind leading the blind–but there are some good articles if you will look for them.

15. Side Covers

Side covers tend to fall off Viragos.  The reason almost always is that they were mounted wrong–which isn’t hard to do.  Mine never fall off because I pay close attention to mounting them, and make sure that all the mounting points are properly engaged, the stickers are in the grommets, and nothing is pushing against them from the instead.  For those of you who lose them a lot, or plan to lose them, drill a small hole in the bottom where you can’t see it, and attach a string or safety wire from them to the bike, so if they pop off, they will just dangle.

16. Compression Testing

A common mistake made when compression testing is not to hold the the throttle full open. With the throttle closed, the cylinder will not be able to suck in a full breath (same as compression braking) and you’ll get a low reading.

17. Changing Handlebars

Some of us don’t like the stock Virago bars and want to change to something else, usually flatter.  Virago bars are 7/8 inch bars, so any bars of that size will almost surely mount up.  Go on the internet and you will find plenty of bars.  I really don’t have any recommendations, since individual tastes vary here and the choice has to be yours.  It would be nice to actually mount bars on your bike to see how they feel, before buying, but this is not usually possible.

The important thing you will need to consider here is the effect the new bars will have on your cables (clutch, throttle, and choke), wires, and mirrors.  If your grips wind up in a new place with your new bars, you may find your cables are too (usually) long, and you may need to shorten them.  If you do this yourself this may require mounting new barrel ends which is a small porject.  I would think companies like Motion Pro could build you cables of non-standard length if you gave them the specs.

The length of electrical wiring to the bars may also need to be changed if you want a neat looking installation–another project.

Finally, if you go flatter with new bars, your mirrors will almost surely mount up at crazy angles, to where they won’t work properly.  In any event, you’ll want to check that and have a solution in mind before you make the move.  I solved that problem by abandoning the stock mirror mounts (“perches”) and mirrors, and going to bar end mirrors.  But this won’t please everybody.

Recently Mike Greer from South Carolina offered an elegant solution.  Says Mike:
“Regarding changing handlebars on a Virago-yes, if you go to lower bars the mirror mounts are useless.  But if you pick up a brake cylinder and “clutch perch” for an ’81-’83 XJ Seca you will be in business. All the electrics connect right up.  I did this on an “82 XV 750 and a ’96 XV1100.  Looks factory” Thanks Mike! Contact

18. Gearing
From time to time we get questions from riders (mainly 700, and 750 riders) who feel their Viragos rev too high when cruising in 5th gear.  They wonder if there is a way to lower the revs.  Without going into all the ratios involved, here are some of the factors.

–The “primary gearing” between the crank and the clutch are the same in all the bigger Viragos–that is 700’s, 750’s , 920’s, 1000’s, and 1100’s.  The two gears that mesh have gear teeth of 78/47.  While these gears are accessible by pulling the right hand side cover, I’m not aware of any different sets that are available.  So I’m assuming no help here.

–The rear drives for all these models are also the same–the pinion has 11 teeth, the ring 32 teeth. So  swapping an 1100 rear drive into your 700 won’t buy you a thing.

–The pinion gears that “turn the corner” at the beginning of the the drive shaft (going to the rear drive) are all the same, having having gear teeth of 19/18.  So no help here.

–So, what does that leave? Viragos get their different overall “final ratios” (not to be confused with “final drives”) by varying the teeth in the gear coming off the output shaft of the tranny–which meshes with a gear on the “jack shaft” which sends the power back across the engine to the “turn the corner” pinions. To get to these gears requires splitting the cases– in other words, a major engine teardown.  Unless you are capable of doing this yourself, the cost at any shop (if you can even find one) will be probably more than your bike is worth.

–1000’s and 1100’s have the lowest ratios, and do rev lower than 750’s, 700’s, and 920’s.  Individual transmission gear pairs can probably be swapped, so it I would think it maybe possible to swap in a lower revving fifth gear from a 1000 or 1100 to one of the ’81-’83 750 or 920 shaft drives.  I’ve had no personal experience doing this but vaguely recall someone doing this .  But again, getting to the tranny gears requires splitting the cases.

–Whether lowering revs would be a good idea is debatable.  The higher revving Viragos have more usable power in high gear than many other cruisers with “overdrive” high gears that rev lower.  You generally need to down shift less with a Virago to go up hills and do high speed passes.  Yamaha engineers set these ratios based on their best judgement as to what that engine can handle.  By chnging middle gears, your ratios would be changed in all gears, not just 5th, and you’ll probably lose some of acceleration across the board when you go higher.

–In summary, if the high revs really bother you, you might better try to love your ride the way it is (as best you can), save your pennies, and buy a Shadow or a Harley.

–Another way to somewhat lower revs in all gears is to mount an oversized rear tire with a slightly larger circumference.  One size over is usually safe, but on earlier bikes, rubbing on the swingarm maybe an issue.  I can’t say specifically how many revs you’ll be able to knock off doing this.

–FINALLY, we’ve had something of a breakthrough here.  We heard from a guy who found that an 18″ wheel off a 1982 Seca would bolt right up to the Virago 920 rear drive.  He mounted a Bridgestone Spitfire 11R tire on it.  This  combination produced a 400 rpm drop in 5th gear.  He’s pleased with this.  He’s had a little clutch slipping problem, but my feeling is that a clutch in good shape, running in motorcycyle specific oil (no friction modifiers) could probably handle it. No guarantees, though.

19. Small Hands

From time to time we get questions from people who have trouble reaching the front brake and clutch levers on their Viragos. The question is whether an adjustable set of levers can be found in the aftermarket, or whether the levers can be brought nearer by some other means.

To my knowledge, there is no help in the aftermarket.  However, the levers can be brought nearer by welding some material onto the lever at the point where it meets the lever mount.  Pull the lever in a little, and you’ll see where that material has to go.  However, note this: levers have to have a certain amount of travel to perform their function properly and safely, and by bringing them closer, travel is reduced.

On the brake side, you must be sure that you have more than enough travel to fully apply the brakes.  You must experiment to see how much travel you need to fully apply the brake, and add material accordingly. Never cut it too close. Leave yourself a bit of extra travel.

If you are ready to go to steel braided brake lines, it gets better. With these lines the brake lever gets good and hard, and the needed travel is usually reduced a bit. So you might be able to come in a little closer.  However, whichever lines you have, you must be able to fully apply that brake!!

On the clutch side you need enough travel so that the clutch will fully disengage/engage, warm or cold.  First thing I would do is make sure your clutch is properly adjusted at both the bottom and top adjusters.  The system needs some slack in it.  Then you might experiment to see at what point you can achieve full disengagement/engagement.. If you don’t need all the travel you have available, you may be able to bring the lever in a bit and still have enough travel to allow for proper functioning of the clutch, so that shifting remains smooth.  That, in turn, will be a guide as to how much material can be added to bring the lever in.  But you must also be able retain the proper adjustment on the clutch cable, since the system always needs that slack.

There are safety issues here, so what you do is strictly your own responsibility!!

20. Pulling a Flywheel

Most Virago owners will never have a need to pull a flywheel, (also called “rotor”).  This unit is keyed onto a taper at the left end of the crank shaft and you remove the left side cover to get to it.  The thing is, the flywheel is on there really tight.  The first challenge you’ll encounter is the large retaining nut that holds it on and is heavily torqued.  You may need air wrench to coax that off.  Then you are faced with pulling the flywheel.  Using a suitable puller (and hopefully a heat gun) the method is to apply pressure to the puller and heat  to the center of the rotor.

My first experience went like this.  The amount of pressure needed on the puller became what seemed to me really excessive, and yet the flywheel wouldn’t come.  So more pressure and more heat.  When the flywheel finally broke loose, it flew off the engine and across my garage, like a canon shot.  I thought about that a bit, and the next time I had to pull one, I made a washer out of an old piece of inner tube and placed it onto the shaft and against the flywheel.  Then I screwed the retaining nut back on just finger tight.  Then I applied the heat and pressure.  When the flywheel broke loose this time it did so with a soft “dink” and didn’t go anywhere.  I remove the retaining nut and the washer, and lifted it off.

21. Seats

The stock Virago seat looks good, but for some it doesn’t “sit” that good, particularly after a few miles.  A number of manufacturers offer aftermarket seats for Viragos–Corbin and Mustang come to mind.  In looking at seats, you’ll want to consider the passenger accomodations.  For example, I consider the Corbin seat to be excellent for the driver (I’ve done 5-600 miles days on it with no discomfort) but the passenger seat is pretty minimal.  Driver backrests can also be a problem for the passenger since there is not a lot of room to mount them and mounting posts at seat level can be annoying, to say the least. A Google search on “seats for Virago” should bring up some of the options.

22. Matching Paint

ColorRite Distributing is the only game in town as far as I know.  You’ll find them on them web.  They have the Yamaha paint codes, and can supply paint for shop use, as well as touch-up paint for owners in the form of spray cans, and “pens.”  But all is not so simple here.   And paint jobs on most or all the later Viragos involved metalics.  So to duplicate the factory paint job ColorRite may tell you you need three different coats (paints), as in base coat, metalic coat, and top coat.  And once you get your paint, it may take a little knowledge and skill to apply them correctly.  So for a perfect paint job (if that’s what you are after) I’d consult a pro and review the options before you pull out your debit card.  On the good side, my experience with single coat colors from ColorRite is that their colorsd are dead on the money.  If you don’t need perfection, fill in small chips and scratches with the closest color you can find (or mix).  You can sometimes get close with colors from the hobby store. And most likely from six feet away they’ll never notice a thing.

23. Running rich, running lean

I get lots of “black plug” questions, and while I cover a lot of the reason for this in the car articles, I decided to do a list here (and on lean running as well)

Why carbs run rich:

–Air cleaner dirty
–Fuel too high in float bowls
–float valves leaking
–floats out of adjustment
–floats leaking (taking on fuel, going “heavy”)
–Pilot screws adjusted too rich
–Coasting enrichers (where found) not working properly (cutting off air to pilot circuits)
–Worn needles and/or needle jets (ovalling)
–Starter plungers leaking

Why carbs run lean:

–Air leaks (between carb and engine)
–vaccum lines
–Pilot screws adjusted too lean
–Fuel levels too low in bowls
–floats out of adjsutment
–Diaphragms blown
–slides not rising properly
–Fuel supply problems
–Seals around butterfly shafts leaking air (mainly affects idle)

24.  Adding a throttle lock ‘cruise control’

Sometimes it is nice to be able to take your hand off the right handle bar (throttle) or just rest it there.  A throttle lock is a device that holds the throttle in position so you can keep running while you do these things.  The most common ones used are made by Vista Cruise.  They make two types–one that will fit “most Yamahas” and also a “Universal” type.  I favor the first kind because, it makes for a cleaner installation.  However, installing it, does have one or two challenges.  First, it really won’t work with the later Virago grips.  So be ready to remove these and install aftermarket ones.  Also understand that (at least in my experience) there is no way to get the stock grips off, without destroying them.  A feature of their design.

Once you get the right grip off the throttle tube, you are going to encounter some raised sections on the throttle tube right where the throttle lock needs to grip.  These “bumps” have to come off, and the best way to do it is to take the throttle tube to your friendly local machinist, and have him carefully turn these off on his lathe.  Or you can remove these by hand in a pinch, but the tube has to be made round and smoothe to work well with the throttle lock.  Finallly the throttle lock has to be fastend securiely so that that it doesn’t move with the throttle tube.  Otherwise, if you are going 60 and want to stay there, you’ll put the lock on, and the throttle will move back a bit, so you’ll wind up at 55.

In my experience the Vista Cruise is perfectly safe, since you can easily overcome it and turn the throttle when it lock is in the “on’ position.

25.  Head Bearings

The main issue here is keeping them adjusted properly.  If they get too loose, the steering stem will start rocking back and forth and eventually the balls or rollers will pound notches into the races.  When this happens it becomes impossible to adjust the bearings properly, since, when tightened, the balls or rollers will drop into these notches causing lumpy action and poor steering.

Early Viragos came with ball bearings.  They work fine, but when they wear out, they can be replaced with aftermarket roller bearings which maybe a bit better.  Note the the torque settings on ball bearings and roller bearing are very different, the ball bearings requiring much higher torque.
Balls bearings: roughly 15 lbs.  Rollers: 2-3 ft pounds, basically just over hand tight.

26.  Making your own Steel Braided Brakelines

For those interested in this, e-mail me and I’ll send you a Word File attachment on how to do it.

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