I started riding on a whim. I’d been around motorcycles on and off my whole life—my dad was, and still is, a dyed in the wool Harlista—but I never rode one and never really expected to. Well, until one day my co-worker Nate rolled up to work on a mid-80s Yamaha SECA and I was like, “What the hell? Nate rides a motorcycle? I’m way cooler than he is. Why don’t I ride a motorcycle?” That was it, right then and there I decided to buy a motorcycle and learn to ride.
Over the next few weeks I attacked this thorny problem as I did most things—directly, impulsively, and with very little forethought or concern for the future. I read everything I could about beginner motorcycles. I sold my car (a mint, steel-gray late-80s Honda Accord with a bum fifth gear that I’d bought from my mother-in-law) for around $1,000 (in 1999 money, mind you). Then, completely ignoring all common sense and all the advice I’d been given, I bought a 1980 Yamaha XS850SG.
The XS850SG is among the last generation of Yamaha’s storied triples. It’s powered by an 826cc, dual overhead cam, air-cooled, three-cylinder mill mated to a five-speed transmission. New from the factory and in stock trim, the 850 triple generates around 80 horsepower and gets those ponies to the ground through a stout shaft final drive that Team Blue may have ripped off from the Bavarians. Other features include vacuum-operated fuel taps, three CV carbs, disc brakes all around, cast wheels, and, in typical Yamaha fashion, about 100 extra pounds of curb weight.
My triple was a poorly-treated, slightly modified version that came from Iwata in a deep metallic burgundy color with gold badging. I paid $800 Yankee dollars for it, and when I picked it up from Belleville, MI, it didn’t run because, as is always the case, the PO was a complete hack and had rendered the bike unrideable by tinkering with it. On the plus side, at some point in its life it’d been treated to a bunch of standard Yamaha triple mods—a three-into-one MAC exhaust system, K&N pod-style air filters, and the OEM Hitachi carbs (which were hot garbage) had already been switched out for a trio of superior Mikuni Mk.II carbs off an XS750. It ruled, and It was love at first sight.
I’ve ridden that Yamaha everywhere over the past 18 years and it’s never let me down. I fixed all the PO problems (while creating a few of my own), and it’s gone through several looks and configurations over the years. It’s currently in pieces in my garage, awaiting a new paint job and a new front end from a donor early-aughts Yamaha R6. I plan on riding that bike until I can’t ride anymore, and I’ll be buried with it. I’ll ride that bike to Valhalla, shiny and chrome, and look great doing it.