Virago Midnite Special

Good Old Days


My first motorcycle was a 1968 Suzuki X250 Hustler. I bought it new for about $650. That was followed by a BSA 650 Thunderbolt. And eventually, a 1979 R100S BMW, which I took to Alaska.

But in 1980, I got married and settled down. My wife hadn’t been around motorcycles and didn’t have the desire pursue them. Plus, the family demands focused my priorities for time and money elsewhere. It was time to parent up. Love does strange things!

But what goes around, comes around. And sure enough, as my family responsibilities lessened, I remembered my motorcycle experiences. I headed to a cycle shop and was in for a shock, as things have changed, dramatically, over the last 25 years.


First, cycling costs have sky rocketed. When I left motorcycling, a good bike cost about half the average price of a good car. Today, they can easily cost as much, to more than twice that. In fact, they can cost almost half as much as I paid for my home. And that’s an obstacle I refuse to cross. So, a new bike is out.

Second, the focus on cycling has changed. Twenty-five years ago, the race was on for more cylinders, more gears, more horsepower, more top end speed. The technology used in my R100S horizontal twin seemed antiquated, although its performance was more than adequate. Now, twins, and V-twins in particular, are in vogue. And hi-tech is ok if it doesn’t interfere with a classic look. And that’s ok. I don’t desire to blast around above 100 mph. Some things do change with age.

midnite special virago
Nothing hanging. Nothing dragging. This bike is a leaning machine.

So, I set a ballpark figure of $3000. And I began looking at used cycles. In Wyoming, the cycle season is about 3 months long. After that, most motorcycles end up parked in a garage and are forgotten until the snow melts. Opportunities develop for purchasing a good bike, at a decent price during the winter.

The Catch

Virago Midnite Special

And after 5 years, I’ve found the perfect bike. It’s a 1983 Yamaha Virago Midnite Special. It has 6400 original miles on it and no damage other than a two small scratches in the paint and a set of leather saddlebags that are shot. It’s like a brand new machine. I’m the third owner.

So, I decided to surprise my wife. I bought it on sight for half my ballpark figure. And she sure was surprised. 🙂

With a shop manual in hand, I went through the bike replacing fluids, tuning and tweaking it, and assuring myself a 23 year old bike would run down the road safely. In those intervening 25 years, I’d done all the work on my cars. Turning the wrench was rather mundane and sometimes even a pain. But turning the wrench on this classic was actually enjoyable. This bike was in great shape.

And this bike is a perfect match for my taste. It’s light and narrow, with a combination of high tech frame, suspension, great brakes, shaft drive and a torquey, reliable, 920cc V-twin engine.

Riding this bike is a blast from the past. I enjoy the freedom, the wind. On a whim, I’ll fill up the tank for a song, that’s about $10 at $3/gallon. Then drive for hours across the plains and through the mountains while surrounded by the sights and smells of the land. There’s not much traffic in Wyoming, yet. So a motorcyclist is pretty much by himself. And that 3500 foot mountain behind my home, the one with all those switch back corners, well, I enjoy my light, narrow and torquey bike there!

Some may say I’ve entered my second childhood. And maybe so. But I think the value of some things endures the test of time. And motorcycling is one of those things for me.

beautiful woman on a yamaha virago
Beautiful woman on my Yamaha Virago.

And this motorcycle has brought about another surprise. The woman I love, grudgingly agreed to go for a ride. And while noticing herself in the mirrors, she found a great big smile on her face. She likes the motorcycle. She wanted to have her picture sitting on the machine. And that beautiful woman wants to go riding again! What could be better than that?


Some of my tricks

Valve Clearance

After buying the Virago, I went through it adjusting, checking and servicing just about every bike part. I had some problems adjusting the valve lash. I followed the procedure in the manual and adjusted the valve clearance to specs at the TDC marks. They made less noise than when I first bought the bike, but they needed adjustment again after a few hundred miles. The bike ran ok, but the valves got noisy. At which point I’d adjust them again.

After several rounds of re-adjustments, I decided to try something different. I rotated the engine until an intake valve closed and the cylinder was on the compression stroke. Then, starting at that point, I found a location, where the valve clearance was the greatest for that valve, and adjusted the valve lash, for that intake valve, there. I repeated the process for the other intake valve. Since I was searching for a spot with the greatest clearance, and not the clearance in relation to a crankshaft position, it didn’t matter which way the engine was turned. I searched in directions. It’s surprising how far away from the TDC marks, the those locations were.

I repeated the process for the exhaust valves. I rotated the engine until an exhaust valve closed. Then I found the location with the greatest valve clearance and adjusted the exhaust valve there. And repeated the process for the other exhaust valve.

The results: The valves are relatively and uniformly quiet. They have stayed in adjustment. And I can easily synchronize my carbs. Before this new approach, the synchronization varied depending upon the RPM. But now, I can sync them at 2000 RPM and they remain in sync at 6000.

The bike runs smooth and feels like a completely different machine.

Sea Foam

Sea Foam is a gas additive found in most auto parts stores. I’ve used it to stabilize the gas in my fuel tank when storing the bike for winter. Stabilizing the fuel prevents nasty deposits forming in the carbs.

And I’ve added it to the oil a few tens of miles before an oil change, which greatly benefited the clutches operation. It’s smoother and operates with less effort after the sea foam treatment.


The temps were approaching the 40’s, so I decided to start up the Virago. I took it out for a short spin and returned allowing the engine to warm up to summer operating temps. I do this about once a month during the winter.

While setting on the machine as it idled, I was surprised and amazed at my emotional response. The sound and pulse of the engine. The smooth feel of a finely adjusted and maintained machine. It was satisfying. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a response.

Next Bike

I first starting reading about motorcycles when in elementary school. I was fascinated with a large displacement, 4 stroke, single cylinder bike, the Greeves Ranger. I’d only seen pictures of one, but the thought of putting out through the desert and mountains was exciting.

They stopped making the Greeves Ranger before I was old enough to buy one. But a BSA 441 Victor had the same appeal. As a young man, I didn’t have the resources to buy one. Used road bikes were more available and much less expensive. I ended up going that route.

The Virago is a nice machine and suits my road needs as few other bikes could. I’ll keep this one forever. But it’s not good in the dirt. I want to ride down the public portions of the Oregon trail. I still have that romantic dream. I think a large displacement, 4 stroke, single cylinder bike is in my future.

What will my wife say about owning two bikes? I don’t know, but if I find a great deal on one, I’m sure to find out. 🙂


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