Virago Wheels and Tires

WHEELS

All Virago Wheels and Tires are made out of caste aluminium alloy, with the exception of spoked wheels which were offered as an option on 700cc models in 1986 (and possibly ’87?).  These spoked wheels will fit any of the later Viragos, and a modification sought after by some is to find a set of these spokers and swap out their caste wheels in favor of them.  See wheel sizes below.

Virago wheels are not particularly “tender”, but they can be bent in accidents or by really hard hits in potholes or objects in the roadway.  Yamaha will say “replace a bent wheel”.  But some reputable shops can assess these wheels and sometimes straighten them.  It maybe worth trying this path before spending a lot of money for a new or good used wheel.  The Frame Man in Sacramento California is one shop that will do this.

Sometimes owners want to chrome their wheels.  I’m not an expert in cosemtics and you should consult you local chromer or chopper shop for your options here.

Wheel bearings tend to go a long time without attention.  You can check for the feel and sound of rough bearings by spinning the wheels, or by feeling the bearing action for smoothness when you have the wheel off.

Be careful about the use of disk/wheel locks.  Start off with one of these in place and you may find yourself popping for a new speedo cable drive unit.

TIRES

The early (’81-’83) 750 and 920 Viragos have:

19 inch front and 16 inch rear wheels, and

100/90-19 front tires
130/90-16 rear tires.

’84 on up 700’s ,750’s, 1000’s and 1100’s have:

19 inch front wheels and 15 inch rear wheels, and

100/90-19 front tires
140/90-15 rear tires.

What do these numbers mean?  For a 100/90-19 tire we can read: 19inch wheel, 100mm wide, and 90% of the width in height, or roughly 90mm tall (from the rim to the highest part of the tread).  As a practical matter these dimensions are going to vary a few millimeters between manufacturers.  With a 90% aspect ratio, we can see that the fatter the tire, the taller the tire.

Most riders need new tires at some point, and the question always is “Which ones?”  I’m not going to answer that, but here are a few thoughts and questions you might want to ask yourself.

All Virago tires are bias ply tires as opposed to the radial tires which are now fitted to many (most?) motorcycles.  For those interested, a Google search should produce plenty of information on the difference in construction between these two types of tires, and the claimed advantages of each.  Radial ply technology is the newer technology, and radial  tires are fitted to virtually all sport bikes.  Virago tires are tubeless with the exception of those used on spoked wheels.

In my view, it is best to mount the sizes specified.  In my opinion, going one oversize on the front slows down steering and degrades handling.  Going one oversize on the rear maybe possible, but particularly on the ’81-’83 frame style, the clearance between the left side (drive shaft) swing arm and the tire is very tight to start with, and I have seen oversize tires (140’s) rub that swing arm.  On ’84 on up bikes the clearance looks better and one over (150/90 instead of 140/90) should be possible.  But this call is up to you, not me.  Note that tires with the same number size number (e.g.150/90) will in fact vary in size depending on the manufacturer.  So you may not know exactly what you have in the way of clearance until you mount the tire and wheel on your bike.

But why do this?  One reason could be that it looks cool to you.  Another might be that you figure a bigger contact patch will give you better grip.  However, you really aren’t going to gain much in contact patch, since your wheel rim didn’t get any wider.  For cruising type riding I don’t think an oversize tire helps much.  Even for aggressive riding the advantage of a bigger rear is still questionable in my opinion.  One possible advantage of a bigger rear is that it should lower your revs somewhat while cruising.  But the tradeoff may be a slight lowering of acceleration since the taller ratio affects all the gears, not just 5th.

If you are basically a cruising type rider, your tire needs maybe different from those who ride Viragos aggressively, more like a sport bike.  The usual thinking runs like this: a cruiser guy should be interested in a “good all-around tire” which will feel secure but give good mileage.  The rider who pushes his Virago around corners harder may want a softer compound “sticky” tire which will provide more road adhesion–but at the expense of mileage.  However, advances in tread compound continue and I am told that there are tires now that do very well at “sticky” and still give good mileage.  Check also the contour or “profile” of the tire, particularly the front one.  “Round” tires will steer slower and more “neutral”.  Tires that come to more of a point in the middle will steer faster and tend to “fall into the corners” until you get used to them.

New tires are being offered from time to time, and when it’s time for a change, you’ll want to consult some tire shops/dealers to see what’s available and what you can afford.

You can save money by taking your wheels to the dealer, thus avoiding the labor charge to remove and reinstall them.  You can save more money by mounting and balancing your own tires.  Tire irons, rim savers, “static” balancers, and wheel weights aren’t too expensive and with practice you can to learn needed skills and techniques.

Many modern tires have really stiff sidewalls, and I have had guys drive into my garage with no air at all in a tire and not even know it.  Check your air often.  If you are losing air slowly, check the tire for nails.  Sometimes nails can plug the hole they make quite effectively, causing only a slow leak.

Virago tires are tubeless tires and can be easily plugged if the hole is not too big or the tire somehow torn.  The “stop and go” plug gun is my weapon of choice.  It does not use cement.  You don’t have to remove the tire.  Look for mushroom-shaped plugs  The information/directions may say this is a temporary repair for motorcycle tires.  I consider it a permanent repair in most cases, particularly if you are not pushing your bike super hard.

For those few with spoked wheels, they can explore the options on how to deal with holes in tubes.  The advantage of the tubeless tire and the plug repair is, of course, that in most cases you don’t have to remove the  wheel or tire.

But how you deal with flat tires is your call, and yours alone. The main thing in my mind is to have some sort of strategy to deal with a flat–aside from sitting by the side of the road and weeping.  It may be as simple as a cell phone and a towing service, but you should have some idea of what you are going to do if a nail nails you, and make preparations accordingly.

O.K., O.K.  What tires should you chose?  There are a number of different manufacturers who make tires that fit Viragos  But here are a couple of thoughts based on my own experience and guys I talk to..  If you don’t ride too hard around the corners and want to low-ball it costwise, consider Kendas.  Most dealers don’t stock these but you should be able to order them.  If you ride more aggressively and want sticky, plus handling, plus good mileage, consider Avons.  But you also need to talk to your riding buddies, local dealers, and tire shops to get their opinions.  The decision on tires is solely yours.

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