You probably wouldn’t think that new riders looking for a cheap and unintimidating starter bike would have much in common with budget-minded veterans who neither need nor want the expense and complexity of new models. But the requirements of both often seem to converge around middleweights from the mid-1990s. At the center of this particular Venn diagram is Yamaha’s Seca II, a bike whose modest specifications belie its versatility, and whose used price is such a bargain you almost can’t afford to not buy one.
The Seca’s 599cc engine has dual overhead cams, two valves per cylinder, four 28mm Mikuni carbs and a six-speed gearbox. There’s little in that list to make a sportbike rider’s heart beat faster, but that wasn’t what Yamaha was after. With 61 horsepower on tap, the 452-pound Seca is sufficient to introduce novice riders to the heady joys of acceleration while keeping the transportation-focused ones from becoming hood ornaments on the freeway.
What the Seca lacks in sheer excitement it makes up for in practicality, usually as a backup for your hot-blooded sportbike or your elephantine tourer. The Seca won’t take up much of your weekends with maintenance or repair; the understressed engine routinely sends the odometer past the 50,000-mile mark with little more than regular oil changes and the occasional chain service. Some high-mile engines sound like they have a dollar’s worth of loose change in the crankcase, but synching the carbs and adjusting the valves usually clears it up.
One very large red flag is if the starter spins without turning over the engine. A stripped idler gear might be the cause, and it’s not an easy fix–the crankcases have to be split to get at it. Leaky valve-cover and clutch-cover gaskets are common but easily fixed.
The Seca’s chassis mimics the engine’s no-big-deal philosophy. The tubular-steel frame has a 38mm non-adjustable front fork, a single rear shock with preload adjustment, a 320mm single disc brake and a 245mm rear. Cast wheels are shod with a 110/80-17 front tire and 130/70-18 rear. The seat is 30.3 inches off the deck and, while not actually built for touring, is tolerable for one or two riders on day rides. Mileage is typically in the 45-55 mpg range, depending on how you load the bike and how hard you flog it.
The fairing does a decent job of blunting the wind. But like all plastic parts, and especially those on older bikes, it’s expensive to replace, so look closely for cracks around the mounting points and the windscreen, and be prepared to lower your offer substantially depending on what you find. Also inspect the fuel petcock for leaks. Faulty ones let gas drain into the engine, leading to the aforementioned starter idler gear losing its teeth as it strains against flooded cylinders.
The Seca’s reputation for reliability is sometimes its downfall, as owners neglect necessary chores in favor of more road time. Check used examples for leaks, loose steering-head bearings and crash damage. Shine a light in the tank and look for rust caused by water in the gas. The Seca is notoriously cold-blooded, but if it can’t be ridden cleanly off the choke after 10 minutes something’s up. Book prices range from just under a grand for a 1992 model to $1,300 for a ’98.
Yamaha XJ600 Seca II
A solid and reliable middleweight that won’t keep you up late at night in the garage. A learner bike worth keeping.
All the flair of vanilla ice cream. Gets you there with little fuss, and less excitement.
Final drive: Chain
Wet Weight: 452 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gals.
Seat Height: 30.3 in.