Come join Jeffrey Pamer as he takes us along for a quick trip on State Route 88 on his 1986 Yamaha Radian.
The Bike. The Road. The Results.
Story and Photos by Jeffrey Pamer
The Bike: 1986 Yamaha YX600 RadianWhy start with this bike? Well simple, it’s my bike. I was itching for another bike a few years ago but was short on cash. I bought an 1981 Honda CB750 that was in rough shape, not even running. I thought I could learn to work on it, then be rewarded with a bike to ride. I slightly underestimated the size of the job, and the time it would take. So, when I had a bit of cash in my pocket a year or so later, I went back on the hunt for a bike that I could ride while I worked on the Honda. While working on the CB I became quite partial to Japanese machinery, so that’s what I was on the hunt for. After hours looking on Craigslist, I found this Yamaha that had been sitting in a garage since 1989. The owner had bought it new then lost interest in riding. He gave it to his nephew to ride or sell, but it needed some work. It got taken to a local shop and brought back to life. Carbs, tires, forks – they did everything the bike needed. It had 6,800 miles on it when I went to look at it. I tried to play it cool, but the Yamaha looked like it had just rolled out of the showroom, and I was getting emotional. I haggled, paid, and rode it home.
The mid 1980’s in motorcycling have a lot in common with our current industry climate. Coming off years of huge growth, all manufacturers were fighting to cut costs and grow slumping sales. The Radian was a success story from the time and it was all about doing more with less as it was essentially a parts bin bike. Yamaha went through their inventory and tried to create a new bike with minimal creation of new parts, or R&D. The engine came from the Seca, tuned to increase low and mid-range power. The frame and the carburetors were from the Maxim 500. Many of the other parts were from the Fazer. To do a deeper dive into the Radian, check out this write-up on Motorcycle Classics.
Riding the Radian in all it’s 80’s styling glory is a complicated affair. The inline four creates a claimed 66 horsepower with 26 ft-lbs of torque while topping the scales at 436lbs wet. Not exactly impressive numbers, especially by today’s standards. That being said, there’s more to a bike than numbers, and when you set off on a Radian, none of them matter. The fact is you can really have a lot of fun on this bike, and you can use all of it. The entire power band of the bike is at your disposal without the fear of getting arrested or getting into some trouble that you can’t back out of. Redlining every gear change and letting the bike sing is arguably just as much fun and using 25% of the power on a liter bike.
However, it is good that you that you’re not going to be crashing through the sound barrier on this bike, because the braking is where it really shows its age. They aren’t bad (in fact, the front brakes are 267mm double disks taken from the RZ350), but the braking technology of today has spoiled us in the best way. Rear braking is taken care of by a mechanical drum. You’ll get to a stop, quickly if you need to, but you’ll have to work at it.
The Radian is also a comfortable bike, and probably a lot more comfortable for someone a bit shorter that me. At 6’3, I can get a bit cramped up on it, and this stops me from doing any serious touring. That said, it has been ideal for commuting and running around town. The seat is comfortable, and the rubber motor mounts and foot pegs keep a lot of the engine vibrations away from the rider. Suspension is good, not great, with the rear shocks being adjustable for preload. It handles well but can be a bit punishing on a poorly-maintained road.
The Road: Tortilla Flats in Arizona Via State Route 88Tortilla Flats was originally a campground for prospectors searching for gold in the Superstition Mountains but was later set up as a freight camp for the construction of the Roosevelt Dam. The road in and out was refined over the years as the Dam itself became a tourist destination, and Tortilla Flats became a stop for mail carriers and tourists alike. At present there is a great restaurant/bar where bikes line up out outside, and riders relax and refuel inside. The road features historic single lane bridges, one built in 1924, and the other in 1932. In very recent years the road was repaved and is essentially fresh asphalt from start to finish.
The road is full of blind corners, switchbacks, and sharp grades. If you’re a newer rider, it’s best to take it very slow. There is evidence of the bikers that did not heed that advice as some corners are littered with pieces of bike fairings. The road demands your respect and focus. There isn’t much time to enjoy the unreal views until you take a turnout and stop to take them in. It’s a beautiful example of a road that seems to be laid on top of the landscape, not pushed through it.
The Results: Connecting an Old Bike with an Old RoadThe Radian through Route 88 reminds me of what I said earlier about only using 25% of a liter bike on the road. I push a bit through the corners, but I knew I wasn’t using the whole bike. The bike being 33 years old, is so wonderfully mechanical through the curves. Every gear change matters, and you feel that when you hit the perfect gear through and turn, it’s incredibly rewarding. The Yamaha gives great feedback and as you move your body around on the bike, a deep connection occurs. You need to be incredibly mindful of the bike’s shortcomings as well. The braking needs to be well thought through, as braking too late could end very badly.
The constant chatter in my brain quiets. The bike, with no rider aids, and the road take all your concentration. It’s beautiful. The stakes are high on AZ Route 88 on a bike, but I think this is one of the reasons we ride. To be alone yet connected to the world and a piece of machinery.