Retrospective: Yamaha XJ900R Seca: 1983

(This Retrospective article was published in the April 2008 issue of Rider.)


This was a good bike at a good price, as $3,700 (MSRP) would roll this 900 Seca out the dealer’s door.

The performance was not too shabby, with an 11-second quarter-mile and a chassis that could out-handle 90 percent-plus of America’s motorcycling public.

And a clean, maintenance-free shaft final drive meant that the rider did not even have to get his or her fingers dirty adjusting a chain.
Should have sold a gazillion; instead it bombed.

This was definitely a last-minute fill-the-gap model—Yamaha USA needed a bike larger than its 750 to show the sport-riding world that it was indeed running in the big-bore class. In 1982 Kawasaki had its GPz1100, Suzuki the GS1100E, and Honda the CB1100F—fast machines, chain-driven, and not bad in the corners. Whereas all Yamaha offered were some shaft-driven models, rather sneered at by the chain aficionados; there was the 650 Turbo, the 750 Seca and the cruiseresque XJ1100 Maxim, the last gasp of the once-vaunted XS1100. Designs were on the drawing board, new equipment in the factories, but nothing to put on the dealer’s floor.

Ergo, the XJ900. Yamaha had been taking its cues from the European market in the late 1970s, where the average motorcyclist was just as interested in practicality as performance, and had begun this XJ series supplanting the XS models, with the XJ650 of 1980. The 650 engine was a typical UJM, having four air-cooled cylinders, each with two valves and two overhead camshafts run by a single chain coming up between cylinders two and three. A very nice feature of the engine was its narrowness, the engineers having positioned the alternator behind the crankshaft, rather than at the end of it. This was spun by a Hy-Vo chain running off the center of the crank. Nobody could fault the motor, nor the five-speed gearbox, which also had a new design with the input and output shafts one on top of the other rather than behind, thus shortening the whole engine/tranny unit.

1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.

Yamaha was convinced that after the success of the shaft-driven XS1100/850/750 that shaft final drive was the way to go on the larger
models. It stood to reason, as shafts required virtually no attention, and the great majority of American motor­cyclists could barely tell the difference between the two drive systems. In Europe shaft-driven machines were held in high regard—witness the BMW R100S and Moto Guzzi 850 LeMans and MV Agusta 750S. But the pleasure of seriously sporty riding was coming to the United States, and any buff who read his magazines knew that a shaft took up quite a few horsepower; can’t have that.

In 1980 Europe got the sporty XJ650 while we got the cruiserish Maxim version, but the next year we also got the sporting model, dubbed Seca for the American market in an effort to evoke the racing lure of the Laguna Seca track. For 1982 Yamaha joined the abortive rush-to-turbo using the XJ650 as a basis. That year the factory also bored and stroked the 653cc 650 to 748cc, put it in a pretty good chassis and called it the XJ750R Seca. This was greeted with polite enthusiasm from the moto-press, which unfailingly pointed out that the shaft really put it in a different class, and not in the same league as Suzuki’s GS750E and Kawasaki’s GPz750. However, the European market was kinder, prompting Yamaha to take the engine one step further.

1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.

In the construction of the 900 Yamaha kept the costs down by using as much from the parts bins as possible. The transmission came right out of the 650 Turbo, as did many of the drivetrain bits and pieces, since they had all been reinforced for the turbo power. The 900 used four 35mm Mikunis, a good leap up from the 32mm Hitachis found on the 1981 Seca 650, and had the redline set at 9,500 rpm. The exhaust was a four-into-two, although the reader will note that the owner of this 900 has put on a Supertrapp four-into-one.

The frame was a conventional cradle, with the engine solidly mounted, giving a noticeable tingly feeling to the rider when moving briskly along. At 58.3 inches, the 900’s wheelbase was 1.3 inches longer than on the 750. The suspension was state of the art, with a pair of remote-reservoir shock absorbers at the back that could be tuned for spring preload and rebound damping. The front fork had air adjustability, with a convenient crossover tube. Plus an anti-dive mechanism that nobody seemed to like. The triple brakes were excellent, using ventilated discs and opposed-piston calipers. Eighteen-inch wheels were cast alloy, with a 100/90 tubeless tire on the front, 120/90 on the back.

1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.

The ergos were quite good, with a long saddle, slightly rearward footpegs, and two adjustable handlebars. A little bikini fairing surrounded the headlight, which Americans seemed to like but Europeans felt caused instability at high speeds. The gas tank held 5.8 gallons, giving a touring range of well over 200 miles. Weight, when fully fueled, was a relatively light 530 pounds.

When the big two-page ads for the Seca 900 appeared, Yamaha was claiming 97 horsepower and an “exhilarating 49-degree banking angle,” saying that the machine was “designed as much on the racetrack as it was on the drawing board.” The ad hype closed by stating: “All things considered, this may be as close to the perfect high-performance motorcycle as anyone has ever come.” Pretty brash… and quite unconvincing.

Especially when Yamaha unveiled a far sportier bike, the FJ1100 (Retro­spective, February ’03) the next year, with a new frame, single-shock rear suspension, chain-drive, 16-inch wheels and four-valve cylinder heads. And a genuine 100 horsepower at the rear wheel at 9,000 rpm. Also, a rather pricey tag of $4,999. The 900 Seca was pulled from the American lineup, though it continued to sell well in Europe—with a frame-mounted half fairing.

1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.
1983 Yamaha XJ900RK Seca.


  1. I had the ’83 Canadian version, in white. Beautiful bike, I liked the added displacement and the shaft drive and wanted a bit more power than my Virago had on offer; but I sold it with more enthusiasm than I had in buying it – it speed wobbled very badly. So not just the Europeans, but any bike that had that damned fork-mounted fairing.

    Conclusion: the biggest POS Yamaha ever made. And that will probably make it a collector’s item.

    • I’ve owned 2 of them now, the first with the fork mounted bikini fairing and the second with a Pichler frame mounted fairing. I’ve had both bikes far north of 100 mph numerous times, and neither had any instability problems, at all. Except one time a new front tire ended up being out of round. That got my attention in a hurry. New tire, no more problem.

      I bought my first one when I already had a nice 82 Honda CB900F Supersport. The hopped up Honda had more power but the Seca is lighter, with better handling and braking. It was like going from a truck to a sports car…Once I bought the Seca I sold the Honda, I never rode it anymore.

      My next Seca ir a low mile time capsule that was stugk in a storage unit in California for decades. I bought it with 6500 miles, we just turned 10,000 miles a few months ago.

      I redid the front end, new fork seals, I ditched the anti-dive, installed steel braid brake lines and wave rotors, and installed progressive fork springs. Much better.

      Sorry you had such a bad time with yours, Andy, sounds like some steering head bearing issues, possibly. I loved mine enough to get a second one, she’s a great counterpoint to my 95 Vmax. My friend I sold my first one too loves it, he says it’s a much better bike than the Honda 750 Saber he used to own. These are great bikes and unappreciated classics, for all the right reasons. Great handling, braking, looks, and range with that beautiful 5.8 gallon gas tank. I love mine.

  2. I loved mine but after one accident and at a later date in the 80s riding through and around Chicago with all of those bumps they had in the highway, three of the bolts holding the pipes onto the manifold broke. Issues were starting to mount up on the bike and I moved on to bigger and faster rides. But I did love my Seca.

  3. Had mine from new out if the box and to this day is still the most reliable and easy riding bike! Like wearing an old pair of slippers. Still like new and rock solid!

  4. Bought my ’83 xj900 in’86 and just love it. The signature ‘whine’ turns heads and the couple minute exhaust crackle-pinging when you shut it down wows people. It is a fairly big sport/ touring bike but my legs cramp up a bit when riding. A younger rider will love it. Yes the fork mounted fairing causes high speed wobble and is dangerous (it was recalled back in the day). Will be for sale soon.

  5. Hello all,
    Good site – just discovered it.
    I am looking for a 1983 Yamaha XJ 900 Seca air box assembly. All responses appreciated.
    Just in case that does not work, does anyone have direct experience with EMCO air pods and the tune up issues that go along with pods?
    One last thing – I have the original XJ 900 tank. Needs a rebuilding (rust & holes. Photos available) but they are hard to find and someone with body repair experience should be fine.
    Thanks all in advance. Tim (

  6. I had my tank done at an industrial radiator shop. Great job. they also epoxy coated the inside. I was very happy. Just had it painted afterword’s and it looks great.
    I also have a Seca 750, both very different. Good old classics. The 900 still turns heads.

    I also drive an a couple of MV Agusta’s, an F4RR Corsa Corta and a Rush 1000. Both make the Seca feel very very very very slow. But I like the 900 for around town as it handles lovely at slow speed in traffic. I also keep the mileage down on the MV’s as they are more ornaments than bikes, so the old Seca’s get used a lot.

    I’m In Canada, Prince Edward Island to be precise, if your anywhere near I can let you know the location of the shop that did my tank.

  7. Oh yeah, the Seca 900. I bought it new in ’83 in Springfield VA, installed a Supertrapp 4 into 1, and crossed the country with it. Looking at the dash/handlebar view photo brings back memories…

    Beautiful, if tall and slender bike. Shaft drive made the back end jump up if you dropped down a gear on the highway to make a quick pass.

    But at very high speeds that girl got the shakes worse than a junkie in detox. The inverted rear gas shocks wore out in just 18 months in high desert climate. I traded it in ’85 (with a little cash…) for a new Ninja 900 that was a bit more low slung and far more stable at high speeds.

    I haven’t seen a Seca 900 since. I’ve owned and ridden many big bikes since then, and I’ve never again experienced a bone jarring high speed wobble like the ones my Seca would deliver. Nostalgia, yes, big time. But I’m good just looking at photos of back in the day.

  8. My 1983 XJ900RK is in great condition. We need to replace or repair the original mufflers. The gas tank is intact but has developed rust at the rear lower points. Any assistance or advice would be very much appreciated.

    • Believe me it sucks far worse than you can even describe. I used to think it would never happen to me either bc I was really good and a very skilled rider. Its almost never your mistake that causes it. 90% of the rime its some careless jerk that kills one of us or worse makes you a complete disaster of a human being and a burden on everyone you ever loved. They too will eventually leave you bc they get used to the idea of you being a cripple….you kniw who never does though? The person who is crippled. You go to sleep at night and dream…you are never hurt in your dreams then u wake up amd relive the nightmare again and again.

  9. I miss riding my bikes. Some idiot not paying attention to their driving pulled out in front of me and almost killed me. I did not die but at times I wished I did as I am paralyzed badly from someone elses carelessness. Not being able to walk is what everyone thinks is so bad….it isn’t. It is all.the other things that go with a spinal cord injury that make you want to die everyday. You literally lose every ability your body had at one time. Cant move, cant feel, cant control your bowels your bladder your dikk nothing. Oh and you get a boatloaf of medical problems from sores burns cuts abbrasions etc. Cant urinate on your own so yoiu have to shove a catheter inside yourself causing massive infections every couple months. If your lucky enough to even kniw you have to go amd not go all over yourself. Im not looking for pity but I want to try and warn everyone to drive safe bc getting messed up like me is sooooo not worth it. Sometimes its unavoidablr as in my case but please guys take my advice, I see lots of videos of young guys ripping through traffic on their mean motorcycles….take a moment to think about the life I just described and ask yourself…do you really want to experience what I am going through? Bc one idiot is all it takes. So please dont drive crazy like that or you too will wake up everyday hoping to die.


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