Home XS11 Info Articles Bob Jones of MerriamCycle: What makes the XS11 the Best Bike EVER?
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Bob Jones of MerriamCycle: What makes the XS11 the Best Bike EVER? Print E-mail

This is from the Bob Jones Merriam Cycle site.....No wonder I never wanted a HD. Haha We still have one of the best bikes ever made!

The most asked question about the XS Eleven. What makes the XS Eleven the best bike EVER?

Back in the early seventies, I and other Yamaha Dealers were continually pressing Yamaha to make a 4-cylinder motorcycle to compete against those, which Honda and Kawasaki had already unleashed. They had already received an unheard of amount of information from us as to what the bike should consist of and what it should be capable of.

Finally after exhausting every effort possible to do something else and spending untold millions for development on all of these projects. 2-cylinder omni phase balanced twins, a Wankle and a 3-cylinder right angle drive-shaft shaker etc. They must have decided hell, those guys might be right. Everyone is making a 4-cylinder bike and now we could have the best one ever.

This set them on a mission to figure it out. Most of the things they needed for it were already out there somewhere, scattered among a lot of different bikes. They just needed to bring them, (the right stuff), all together in the same unit. They noted every superior device that existed in bikes of all kinds and anything not considered good enough was designed new from scratch.

They knew from their own experience with the XS650 Twin Yamaha that a roller and ball bearing crank and rods may cost more, but they wouldn’t take the load or wear and tear that a high torque, high compression 4 stroke would put on it. That system is fine for a high revving 2-stroke with lower compression, but a big bore, hard hitting 4-stroke would pound those balls and needles until they knocked dents in their crank pins and races. Not only that the entire assembly, like the Kawasaki Z1900 through the KZ1000/1100’s and all Harleys of the original design have, are multi-piece. The crank web weights can twist on their respective pins and throw the entire crankshaft out of alignment. This would put the engine mechanically out time. I have seen this happen to the Kawasaki on several occasions. They must be welded in place for reliability.

Yamaha chose a solid automotive type crank like all 4-stroke Hondas have always had. Not only that they radiused the rod and main bearing journals like NasCar racecar engines have. This is for massive strength.

The crankshaft type and design being solved, they moved on to the head and valve train. The one chosen had already been borrowed from Ferrari by Kawasaki on the Z1. It is the coin shim adjuster system in a can device over the valve spring. There is a tray in the can at the top, which the shim sets in. The shims are in two-thousandths increments. The shim and valve seat are made from the same material, so that they wear at the same rate. This results in very little need for valve adjustment once they are run in and set. I could go on about the simplicity of two valve per cylinder versus 4 or 5 valve engines of later years, but I’ll give you an example instead. Chevrolet went to a dual overhead cam multi valve per cylinder engine a few years ago in the Corvette. Where is it now? For some reason they went back to the F1 push rod with 2 valves. I wonder why?

The final shaft drive system had already been worked out on the XS750 triple with some overkill. A constant velocity bearing at the U-joint, but was later changed to a conventional automotive type in the XS Eleven. I might add that I have never seen one fail.

The lower end layout had to be the key. The one thing that Yamaha had created that no other Japanese company could not seem to topple, was the TZ750 Road racer. It had been banned from every kind of racing it was ever entered into. Drag racing, Flat track, and finally Road racing for which it was designed. This was simply because nothing could beat it. The other manufacturers complained to the AMA that rather than be humiliated they just would not race. The AMA said, “ No, we’ll just get rid of that Yamaha.” And they did.

The crank and lower end power train were unique. The crankshaft was in fact, two TZ350 crankshafts end to end in the same crankcase. They were not even connected to each other. There was a narrow drive gear on the inside flywheels of each crank side by side in the center. They were then meshed in one wider driven gear equaling the width of the two of them together, on a jackshaft. This shaft paralleled the cranks and drove the water pump too. It ultimately went through the inner case wall bearing and had a driving gear on the end, which drove the clutch basket primary driven gear.

The TZ750 was a gear-to-gear drive and would have been perfect if the crankshaft had been one solid unit. However it is hard to criticize it at all since no one could ever beat it without cheating. That’s another story though.

Yamaha modeled the XS Eleven after this center power takeoff. They could have made it a gear-to-gear drive like the TZ750, but I believe Yamaha feared it would have too much gear wine. Kawasaki had that in their inline engines of the day. Yamaha instead elected to use wide straight cut gears on both the crank and jack shafts connected by a 10-row Hy-Vo chain. This chain was far shorter than the 3 row primary chain in the 3 cylinder XS750 residing in the outer clutch case of that bike. This new chain wouldn’t stretch and was extremely quiet running. It also had no power loss of heli-cut type gears. It was another one of a kind feature. This jackshaft also allowed them to put the shock-absorbing device ahead of the clutch and transmission giving them protection along with the middle gear, U-joint and drive shaft. The XS750 and 850 had that feature just ahead of the middle gearbox. This was another refined improvement.

Even the steering and swing arm bearings were Timken type stock OEM. Those had to be retrofitted to other brands.

In addition the primary drive gear on the end of the jackshaft allowed placement of the clutch assembly closer to the center of the engine and bike. This resulted in better balance and low speed handling.


1. It had to have 4 cylinders

2. It had to be a shaft drive without torque reaction

3. It had to be faster than a Z1 in the ¼ mile

4. It had to carry more than a GoldWing
5. It had to handle like a road racer
6. It had to last almost indefinitely
7. It had to perform well at any altitude
8. It had to be easy to ride in traffic
9. It had to be above all, easy to repair if it did break

Could it? Will it? (Does it? Do all of those things?)

You tell me, it’s 28 years later and even now there isn’t anything out there that has all of its capabilities in one bike. They made a big effort since to limit each new model to a specific job or purpose and they can’t do much of anything else. That leaves the XS Eleven right where it started, at the top of the heap.
Yamaha, in the XS750 Triple, had already accomplished the removing of side torque reaction from a drive-shaft bike. In the XS Eleven they went a step further, by making the engine rotate backward. The torque made by the turning crankshafts centrifugal force that might twist the handlebar out of your hands on a BMW, Honda CX or Motoguzzi was turned into a positive thing. It puts the torque reaction onto the back tire while the crank is spinning that direction. That’s like putting a bunch of sand bags in the back of your pickup. You know, those vehicles that go sideways on wet pavement from wheel spin, like a Corvette can do on the dry.

An XS Eleven will get better traction from this feature and is harder to wheelie than other bikes. However, if you lean over as you accelerate in low it will still squirt the rear end right out from under you. I have permanent injuries to prove that.

There is plenty more that makes the XS Eleven the best. The seven spoke cast aluminum wheels for instance. This design is so strong that I built “Street Sleeper” from a crashed 1980 Standard that suffered and impact so strong that it bent the frame and forks. I used the original wheels, engine and drive train on a 1978 frame and forks. The wheels were still in perfect condition after a crash like that. Try that on any 3 spoke mag type wheel of late, no chance.

A Wiseco big bore 1196cc kit was installed in my original long miles XS Eleven at 80,000 on the odometer. It developed some piston slap after another 80,000 miles. I figured it would require another set of cylinders to be bored and another kit. I disassembled the engine top end and ordered new pistons. Upon their arrival I slipped one in a cylinder and measured the clearance. It was still .002, which was in spec. The cylinder metal had no appreciable wear on it. I only scratch honed the cylinder barrels, so the new rings would reseat and reassembled the top end with the new pistons. It’s still running today with 219,300 on it. It sounds like the same thing has happened again. It’s still got a couple more long trips in it, but I plan to freshen it up again soon. Still, when you can cruise at 90mph and carry 8 pieces of gear for 100,000 miles, who cares? I’ll take that kind of reliability any day of the week for all that power. I’d certainly rather take an XS Eleven apart as opposed to a water cooled over complicated anything else. If some of you disagree with that, no problem. You do yours when it’s due and I’ll do mine. We’ll see how you feel after that. You’ll more than likely just buy another new bike. That’s just one of many reasons that I say the XS Eleven is the best. I’m just as thrilled each time I ride mine, as I was the first day I got it. If other bikes can do that then why are the papers full of them for sale?

I just installed the third new cam chain in this same bike at 216,000 miles. If you buy a copy of my book, “XS ELEVEN HEAVEN” By Bob Jones you’ll find a lot of useful information about the maintenance of cam chains and their adjusting device. Not to speak of many other things.

Why is the XS Eleven in a class by itself? Up until its creation no one company had tried to make an all round superior and versatile motorcycle. By 1977 most everyone had made their best effort and Yamaha knew what had to be done in every category to create such a bike. Once it was built and sold. Well, the other three Japanese companies saw it was unique in every way and a good idea and they didn’t have one. They hurriedly added on the drive shaft feature to their already existing chain drive inline transverse fours. This gave them competitive models to the XS Eleven, but they inherited all of the same problems and weaknesses of there chain drive predecessors and weren’t even close in any other department.

The buying, riding public had no way of knowing this though. They didn’t even have any way of finding it out. Dealers, even myself, were ignorant of the facts, so who would point it out?

After a 4-year run with the XS Eleven and the use of the engine in the XJ1100 Maxim in 1982. Yamaha then realized it was actually too good and would virtually last too long. After the crash of 1982, that left models from that year in show rooms and in warehouses for 5 years, it was obvious riders had to be resold. How can you do that if the bikes they have would last a lifetime? Yamaha then jumped on the bandwagon with everyone else. Everyone was making a lot of noise with and about V-Twins and V-Fours. They first produced the Viragos and then the Venture Royal and the V-Max, which is basically the same engine with a few hop up goodies in it. It’s still in production today 20 years later. Both are cumbersome and virtually one-purpose bikes.

The tourer can’t cross over the line to anything else because it’s too big and cumbersome. The V-Max may be a handful in a straight line, but it just doesn’t cut it in fast turns. Plus there’s not enough gas on board to actually go very far. We recently had one in our shop for repairs. It was a basket job and I doubt anyone else would even have taken it in. They have electronic V-Boost and a host of other such parts too numerous to mention that are very fradual and make them very costly to repair. All are a far cry from Yamaha’s best effort ever. (The XS Eleven)

After the mid eighties planned obsolescence went into all motorcycles, except Harley’s they were already obsolete. Ha Ha, did I say that?

I have a customer in Germany who has an electronics factory. He told me that a few years ago Japanese motorcycle company executives came in and wanted some relays made to put into their new bikes. He didn’t say which brand, but they asked how many functions these parts would make? He told them 100,000 and they said “ Well, we don’t want that, we only want 10,000.” Get the picture? They learned it from the car people.

At 10,000 functions every component on your shiny new bike will start to fail. That alone will total the bike if you don’t crash it first. That will definitely total it. I haven’t fixed a wreck in years, except for XS Elevens. Insurance companies won’t pay for it. They just total anything that’s crashed. The bikes were never meant to hold up in a crash or even in long time constant use. The materials aren’t strong enough.

There are no components in an XS Eleven built with these new rules. The best of everything known at the time was employed in its design and construction. Previous to it the technology was not there.

No matter what the mythical they make now, the mindset used on the XS Eleven will not be employed. Not to speak of government intervention for pollution, power and other so called abuses. This leaves the XS Eleven as a loner, one of a kind. The best all round motorcycle ever made and that ever will be made. So the next time someone asks you why is the XS Eleven better than anything else? Well, now you know.

I was in their face for three years until they built it and it will never die until I do and I doubt even then if it will. People who have them will end up having to leave them to someone else since they will most likely outlast their owners. Even now I deal with many people who have inherited the XS Elevens that they have."


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