Sometimes we motorcyclists like to think our sport is relatively immune to the ups and downs of the world’s financial markets…but it ain’t so. Never doubt the marketer’s ability to adjust prices according to events far beyond the comprehension of most mortals.
Back in the late 1980s, the motorcycle OEM bean counters, especially those in Japan where the nation was entering what would prove to be a prolonged and painful economic crisis, were well aware of the minor recession that would soon be affecting most of the developed world.
The suits at Yamaha told R&D to develop an inexpensive mid-size motorcycle—which became the Seca II.
The initial 1992 price of $3,800 (10 grand in today’s money) was a lot less expensive than the $5,200 FZR600—which was a $500 drop from the FZR’s 1991 price of $5,700. The FZR was a quasi-racer with a 16-valve liquid-cooled engine, sophisticated twin-spar perimeter frame and full fairing. Whereas the new Seca II used an air-cooled 4-cylinder, 8-valve motor, a tubular-steel perimeter frame and a half fairing. In Europe, the Seca II was being sold as the Diversion, and could be had with or without a fairing.
The American street market was sporting mad, and Yamaha felt that this new bike, reminiscent of the sporty models from the late ’70s, would appeal to those who wanted the image but did not have the cash. It could be considered a beginner’s sportbike—but, in truth, in the hands of a competent rider it could show its license plate to a less competent person on a more expensive model. Proof of that point is that some owners of track day schools found the Seca II quite appealing, and Yamaha was willing to cut quite a deal if anyone wanted to buy a half dozen of these bikes.
The in-line four was essentially a new engine, if based on old designs. Sporting a pair of overhead camshafts and a 10:1 compression ratio, some 45 horsepower at 8,200 rpm would be turning the rear wheel. And 35 lb-ft of torque at 6,200 rpm. A quartet of 26mm Mikuni constant-velocity carburetors fed the combustion chambers, and while ridden hard the consumption might drop to 40 mpg, the average was more like 50 mpg. Which meant that the 4.6-gallon tank could run the bike well over 200 miles. Sensible types would look for a gas station after the bike went on manual reserve.
One extremely irritating factor was the EPA-mandated overly lean carburetion—it took a very long time for that engine to warm up. Pull out the choke two clicks; push the elaectric leg, and the engine fired easily. And the rider could pull away slowly if he used no major throttle. After a couple of miles, push the choke in one click, things got better. But it took at least five miles before the engine warmed sufficiently to behave itself. Aftermarket kits to solve this problem were soon on the market.
To aid weight distribution and to give the fuel mixture a straight shot from carbs to combustion chambers, the cylinders were canted forward 35 degrees. Power went from the crankshaft through primary gears via a multi-disc, wet clutch to the mainshaft, then six gears—in the owner’s manual the recommended shift points were rather low, with first to second at 10 mph, second to third at 15, and third to fourth at 20. The more exuberant might easily double that.
The rather sexy frame worked well, but the suspension components were on the cheap side. The 38mm front fork had no adjustments possible, and provided a reasonable 5.5 inches of travel. The rake was 25 degrees, with a trail of 3.8 inches, virtually the same as an FZR. The solitary Monocross shock absorber was charged with nitrogen, and did have preload adjustment—with the appropriate tool in the bike’s minimalist toolkit. The shock allowed 4.3 inches of wheel travel.
The bike, which itself had a curb weight of 445 pounds, had a rated carrying capacity of 440 pounds. It was capable of carrying two people comfortably, but anyone interested in going seriously fast was advised to limit the weight to about 250 pounds. Otherwise the suspension would get more than a bit mushy, with the fork squishing and the shock bottoming.
Wheels were three-spoke cast-aluminum, with a 110/80-17 tire on the front, a 130/70-18 on the back. The brake on the front was a 12.6-inch disc with a dual-piston caliper, then a slightly smaller disc and single-piston caliper at the back.
The ergonomics were good, with the rider using a slight bend forward to the almost flat handlebar, and even six-foot-plus riders could find the pegs, seat and bar grips spaced adequately.
The fairing provided reasonable coverage and looked quite racy. The engine, fully revealed, gave the bike a rather classic appearance, from when engines were viewable. Anyone wanting more fairing could order lowers from Yamaha, as well as a belly pan, centerstand and luggage rack. The list of accessories was long, as much had been kept off in order to keep the price down.
Americans bought a reasonable number of this bargain bike, keeping it on the sales list for seven years. But inflation was talking its toll, and the end was near in ’98. By then the price of the Seca II had risen to $5,300, while the FZR600 was only $700 more. The sportier version won out.