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Cycle Magazine - March 1980 - MNS Print E-mail

Cycle Article

March, 1980

After-Six Cruiser

When it comes to Specials, Yamaha really knows what time it is. First to capitalize in a big way on fresh visuals, Yamaha is now trying to out-special itself - and to stay on the leading edge of boutique motorcycling without getting bizarre. What better way to stay out front than offering tricked out versions of the stable-Specials, the XS850SG and XS11SG.

These amplified glitz-and-glitter Specials can only be built in limited quantities and showroomed at premium prices. If all goes according to plan, the Midnight Specials will increase shoulder-to-shoulder density in Yamaha showrooms and cause more floor traffic. Individually numbered on small plaques affixed to the lower triple clamps, the Midnight machines will be scarce, though all Yamaha dealers will get at least one XS11 Special of Specials. Yamaha hopes its dealers won't sell the bikes before they're out of the crates - that would ruin the come-and-see sales methodology.

The Midnight Specials are not functional Specials; they are cosmetic Specials. The first XS11 Special distinguished itself from the touring XS11 both in appearance and function. For example, the 1979 XS11 Special had an air fork and adjustable rear dampers; the plain-James version did not. The Midnight Special ($4249) differs from the Daylight Cruiser only in cosmetics, so you see everything extra you pay for. Other than exclusivity, of course. Having anted up the $370 surcharge, you'll have it, and for that, you should flaunt it.

Two things separate the Midnight Specials from their before-dark brethren: quality control and finish. According to Yamaha, all of its machines have been upgraded in the last two years, as the production departments have instituted tighter and tighter quality control. On the MS-bikes, there's special attention paid to welding at frame junctions in an attempt to get perfectly rendered, splatter-free welds. In this area, Yamaha has gone into a Mercedes-mock; that is, lovely crafting on the outside - which the buyer can see - creates the impression that the entire vehicle has been carefully and tenderly screwed together. It's a comforting thought, though not necessarily valid; still, there have been a lot of German cars sold on flawless silver paint. Anyway, when was the last time you saw anyone attracted to a motorcycle that had the fit and finish of a Russian garden tractor?

The operative word in Special paint is black. Black is big these days, and every Yamaha Special comes in black. Six or seven street-bike buyers out of every 10 prefer black, so the MS-bikes are black, real black. The frame has a flat black treatment; crackle black on the steering crown; trick black engine paint; and a deeper and richer adaptation of the new Yamaha black for items like the gas tank. Oh yes, then there're black-body carburetors, black fenders, black fork legs, black horns, black plate holder, and so on into the night.

There's more to the Midnights than black. Specifically, gold. The color. Not the stuff that's $600 an ounce. Black and gold is the trendy scheme these days - just look at the black-and-gold cars in showrooms. This particular combination is tougher to do on a motorcycle than on a car. An automobile has more surface area than a motorcycle, and that means the various gold elements (wheels, pinstripes, eagles) are separated by black expanses. Consequently, most people don't notice that the various gold elements aren't all the same color. It's hard to get away with gold mis-matches on an object as small as a motorcycle because almost anyone can see the differences.

After agonizing over all the possible combinations of black, gold and aluminum parts, Yamaha decision makers then struggled with the problems of color-match and durability. Anyone can build his own custom - and if the color-match is off or the black chrome headers turn chalky gray, the individual custom-builder can have his rationales ready for his friends or he can do his bike over. If you're a factory, your paying customers don't want excuses. It's right or it's back on warranty.

The most important things technically about the MS-bikes are their plating and processing techniques which produce (a) a relatively uniform and resistant gold color and (b) black chrome with the kind of durability necessary for motorcycle use. Yamaha developed a gold-color processing - which is actually a paint - called Nebula. This paint, for example, covers the wheels and disc carriers. The wheels, once painted, are final machined to create the alloy accents. Paint works better than anodizing, which would not give the desired color match from part to part - and the color was wrong anyway. No matter what the base metal alloy, Nebula comes out uniform in color, and this paint process can be used in accent-striping-detail elsewhere on the bike.

A second gold-color production method is SY, a plating process, developed in conjunction with one of Yamaha's outside suppliers. SY parts are everywhere - headlight rim, gas cap, carb tops, etc. The most difficult single item to get right was the passenger grabrail because it gets handled a lot and is in an obvious place. The rail had to be gold, and stay that way.

SY and Nebula look very close to the real 18k or 24k stuff. Real gold was the color standard which Yamaha worked toward. For a while, there was some talk about doing the gas cap in real gold plate, but cost considerations aside, the real stuff isn't durable in outside applications.

Black chrome has a reputation for quick-to-wilt beauty. In applications such as headlight and instrument bodies, handlebars and shock spring covers, Yamaha didn't anticipate problems. The exhaust system was another matter, because on black chrome the equivalent to "bluing" is graying. A four step process (polishing; three nickel layers; black chrome plate; special oil polishing) produces a black chrome, according to Yamaha, that has greatly enhanced rust-resistance, additional depth and sheen, and a higher heat resistance to combat graying. Yamaha claims that its black chrome has much greater durability than normal chrome plate. A good thing it is, because EPA engines can run as hot as 400 degrees C under adverse conditions, and normal chrome blues at about 360 C.

The MS custom look extends to the saddle which, though built on the standard pan, has a higher step and distinctive pleating. The high-grade vinyl is hand stitched, a nice touch; functionally, the seat is neither better nor worse than those found on 'standard" Specials.

It would be possible to elaborate on a multitude of details on the XS11 Midnight Special, but to get wrapped up in heraldic emblem hubcaps misses the point. The point, we think, is this. These 850 and 1100 Midnight Specials are black-and-gold windsocks run up to test the market air currents. If Yamaha discovers that trick finishes, black chrome and neat welds will sell, then we'll soon see technological trickle-down of a cosmetic kind. The tricks, one-by-one, will probably be applied to the standard models.

Still, Yamaha insists, you'll never again be able to buy a motorcycle like this year's Midnight Specials. They were built to be collector bikes, and as such, they'll remain the first, and unique.


Below is scans of actual magazine article with photos.

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