Steve Klose's 1982 Yamaha XZ550 Vision

A true diamond in the rough? Steve thinks so!

Steve Klose, Yamaha XZ550 Vision, Cafe, Me & My Bike
Graphic artist Steve Klose knew he wanted a Yamaha XZ550, an admittedly flawed motorcycle that would find itself nicely sorted under his practiced eye and skilled hands.Photo: Steve Klose

NAME: Steve Klose
AGE: 60
HOMETOWN: Englewood, NJ
OCCUPATION: Graphic Artist

"The worst Japanese motorcycle ever built," (or words to that effect) is how one of the hyperbolic British MC magazines retrospectively summed up the ill-fated 1982 Yamaha XZ550 Vision. Can a bike with relatively high-tech features for its time and such a beautiful V-twin engine be all that bad? Follow me.

That engine. Rumor has it that it was designed by Cosworth and, for what it’s worth, I would like to believe it. But it was the look that had me at hello when I first laid eyes on it during the Reagan administration (first term). And it delivered the goods, too: DOHCs, counterbalancer, four-valve-per-cylinder heads, water cooling, dual exhaust ports, and dual downdraft carbs. Uh-oh. Those double-D Mikuni B34s proved to be the Vision’s biggest stumbling point – literally (the ailment is better known as “The Vision Stumble”). The internet is brimming with “fixes,” but it all comes down to installing an upgraded airbox and keeping the carb internals surgery-room clean. Performance improves, but a bit of stumble remains.

How else was the Vision's reputation earned? Let's count the ways: flambéd stators and regulator/rectifiers, oil-filled starters, starter clutch bolts that back out, and a leaky YICS box (don't ask) just to name a few of the more serious reliability issues. Pragmatists would just buy a Honda CB750 or Yamaha XS650, order café parts off the shelf and call it a day. There is nothing – nada – available to café your XZ550. So I started from scratch. First, I Photoshopped what I wanted the finished bike to look like. OK, easy part done. I found a non-runner on Craigslist. ("I guarantee it WILL run!" Good enough for me. "Hold my beer while I reach for my cash"). I carved the shape of the fuel tank out of florists' foam and had it fabricated in aluminum. I shortened the frame and cut new rails from an old steel folding chair. (Did I mention I was sticking to a budget?) When it was all welded up the back formed a point. OK, that's the way I wanted it. Then I fabricated a tail cowl –again from florists' foam – and fiberglassed it myself (first time!) I also found the courage to fabricate an aluminum seat pan.

Goodies include imported Marving mufflers from Italy, series-type R/R to ward off charging issues, Paolo Tarozzi fork brace, 2003 Yamaha R1 rear shock and Progressive fork springs. I felt the bike needed a "toy," so I sprang for a Motogadget Motoscope Pro digital dash. Under throttle it sounds not unlike a little Ducati, which is in keeping with my subterfuge of passing it off as an obscure Italian motorcycle. To that end I added a radiator cap from a Ferrari. It's inscribed, APRIRE LENTAMENTE, or OPEN SLOWLY. Simpatico! More subterfuge; I named it the Visioné Cinque Cinquanto, which I think means 550. You can find a video documentary of the build at saddlebums.tumblr.com.

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