Pashnit Bike Stories

Yamaha Venture XVZ1200

The Venture was a wonderful bike.  And if you have owned one, do own one or are thinking of owning one- this little page is for you. If you read my history first- you know I specifically went and bought this bike paying a mere $3200 for it- and with only 30K on it (in the early 90's).

Three weeks later- I left on my little 6000 mile excursion in a mere 8 days of traveling.  I covered the first 1200 miles on the first day in a 22 hour ride across the southwest which turned out to be a great shakedown run!

Before I went out and bought the Venture- I went to the library and looked up the original magazine articles from when the bike was reviewed. 

 

They were on microfiche. 


 

 I printed these articles at the library and read them over and over.  The bike was largely regarded as the hot rod of its class, with higher corner clearances and a torquey 1200cc motor.  I was this twenty something college kid riding this huge bike targeted for someone 25 years my senior.

And to this day, I have never met anyone that young riding that type of bike.  Instead of getting a CBR600 like the rest of my generation- I bought this.  But at the time- I never cared about impressing the girls, or hooliganism.  I wanted to travel long distance- to ride the endless road- to listen to the hum of the motorcycle for hours on end watching the world go by as if it were I who was standing still.

The Venture was smooth, quiet, and had a wonderful bubble of air provided by the ample fairings.  I almost never rode with the face shield down on my full face helmet.  It simply wasn't necessary.  Although I do remember one time a rather large Amazonian bug somehow got around the windshield and smacked me square in the face splattering bug guts all over me. 

It had an air suspension that you could fill the front or rear with air pressure to adjust your ride.  The stock seat was the best thing about this bike.  I could ride all day and my backside was never sore. 

The handle bars were very adjustable- you simply loosened it all up- put it where you wanted it- and tighten up the bolts.  

Having a radio & cassette tape deck was something new and proved to be great fun.  I would sit at intersections in front of God an everybody with the music blaring as loudly as the speakers could handle.  High energy dance and remixed Depeche Mode. 

I would commonly carry 5-10 cassette tapes with me.  The bike's vibration would cause the tapes I wasn't using to unravel within their cases.  I spent considerable time with a pencil maintaining the cassettes.  Now I look back on those cassettes in this day and age of CD's, DVD's, and mini-discs and smile to myself as if I were remembering my first computer- the Commodore 64.

I did add things like a cup holder for my endless need for slurpee's and an altimeter to give greater insight to my travels throughout the mountains.  The throttle lock was on the bike when I got it- and soon I couldn't live without it.

A digital temperature gauge was something I never traveled without- it was always fun to know what temperature it was.  Although it was not so fun riding through New Mexico's desert at midnight in January.  22 degrees!  That was cold!  

The best thing I did was replace the original windshield which was badly clouded.  Unfortunately, I did it after I got back from Alaska.  Imagine- you are actually supposed to see through this thing! 

I also took tail lights out of an old truck and rewired them into the Venture.  By having two-filament bulbs- the turn signals now acted as running lights.  Later I would buy a module from Signal Dynamics that was designed to do this.

 

The Venture actually handled quite well once it was up and running.  It was a very large motorcycle but with the v-twin engine, the bike was very narrow in the midsection.  This also allows for a more v-shape than it's larger counterparts like the Goldwing.  I soon learned the first thing that would touch down was the footpegs, not the mufflers or other assorted hard parts. 

Once the 10,000 mile mark comes and goes- you get this level of comfort in which you can lean the bike over at any time and scrap the pegs.  Kinda fun actually.  Did a whole lot of curvy roads on this thing.

The bike also had linked brakes which takes some getting used to.  The front brake lever does only the front, but the foot brake will activate both. 

Just to see what it felt like, I once slammed on the foot brake and promptly locked up both tires.  Keep in mind a motorcycle only has two tires in the first place.

That was very scary and I never did that again.  Duh.  In the end, I would always appreciate the linked brakes- it always stopped well, and you never worried about locking up the rear like you do with sport bikes. 

I bolted extra running lights to the engine guards and fell in love with all those lights.  I'm still convinced that being seen is the toughest obstacle in this 'didn't see the motorcyclist' mentality of auto drivers.

It was common practice for me on my -dawn to dark- day trips to get in as many miles during daylight, riding virtually nonstop- making sure I hit the freeway for the rest of my way home just as it got dark.

One time coming back from the Pacific Coast in Northern California on Highway 36 into Red Bluff- the road was very curvy and the sun had fallen into the sea behind me.  I reached down and pulled the running lights up and out so they were pointing up at an angle into the dark night.  However, the road was so curvy that when the bike was leaned into the corners one after the other- the running lights actually pointed straight down the road- lighting my way through the corners.  Earlier in the day, I had just missed some cows in the road too.

On the bad side, the worst thing about the Venture that would plague me for 50,000 miles was it's incredibly top heavy.  Probably the most top heavy motorcycle ever built.  This thing fell over all the time- everywhere- at the slightest chance I might lose my balance- all at low speed.  And at 5'9" and 160lbs, I'm right there in the middle of any anthropomorphic measurement. 

On the bad side, the worst thing about the Venture that would plague me for 50,000 miles was it's incredibly top heavy.  Probably the most top heavy motorcycle ever built.  This thing fell over all the time- everywhere- at the slightest chance I might lose my balance- all at low speed.  And at 5'9" and 160lbs, I'm right there in the middle of any anthropomorphic measurement. 

The engine guards are bolted right onto the frame and no damage was ever done from all the times this thing fell over.  I heaved this thing up many, many times.
I ran Bridgestone ML2 High Mileage tires on the bike almost continuously.

I chose them (when I headed off to Alaska) for their high mileage rating and oddly- the tread pattern- they have this sort of off-road look to them.  I had a habit of continuing to ride when the pavement ended.  I was always very pleased with these tires. 

Went through a lot of tires- all of which I changed myself.  The hardest thing was breaking the bead and I always did it by hand.  Looking back- I changed so many tires- I should have just spent the money for a bead-breaker.  I usually would use a 6 inch C-clamp and a board on each side of the tire.  I grew up restoring antique furniture for a living and all sorts of woodworking clamps were within easy reach.  This actually worked rather well.  We did have a set of tire irons though- and some really big screwdrivers.  I would then take the tire to the local shop and have them balance it for me for 5 bucks.

One time in January, it was raining and I was headed across town to go to the ice rink (Nobody ice skates in California).  Train tracks ran down the middle of the boulevard for the city's mass transit.  I was running parallel to them and when I attempted to ride over them, the front wheel slipped on the slick metal.

I went down taking another divot out of my leather chaps.  Again not a scratch.  Couple more scratches on the crash bars.  Always negotiate tracks perpendicular.  Another time I was pulling out from the curb onto the city street. The middle of which was a foot higher than the curb where the back wheel was.

 

I hit the gas a little too hard while the bike was leaned and the bike literally slipped right out from under me.  Another hard lesson.  My spectacular crash in the Yukon really changed the way I looked at motorcycling.  And maybe even the way I looked at life.  In a nutshell- I wiped out in a corner and came to rest on the very edge of a cliff.  I had my share of wipeouts before but this was something quite new.  I could have been seriously injured, or possibly even killed, but again walked away without so much as a scratch.  From then on, the bike pulled to the right.  A constant reminder.

I had put 40K on the bike when one day I was pulling away from a stoplight and felt something slip.  At first I didn't know what it was. It literally felt like the rear tire had slipped on some oil in the road. 

It was also raining at the time and I thought maybe I had hydroplaned.  I thought nothing of it but it soon happened again and with increasing frequency.  Second gear was quickly becoming a memory.  Remember when I said this bike is a bit of a hot rod? 

 

No, it isn't a Yamaha V-Max (both motors are very similar), but for a full dress touring bike- it has some get up and go.  And get up had just about gone.  Within a few thousand more miles, there was nothing left of second gear.

The cost of replacing second gear was more than what the bike was worth (unless I did it myself).  And so I rode it that way skipping from 1st to 3rd for another 10,000 miles.  Eventually, these little wipeouts would take their toll on the bike.  Most of the mounting tabs of the fairings had been broken off. 

 

These were my college days and money was quite scarce.  I would drill holes in the plastic, take speaker wire and cinch it all back together.  Speaker wire was holding all the fairings onto the bike (it actually worked quite well).  Although it sort of rattled in the bumps.

After 50K miles in three years, it was time for a new bike.  What must be said for this bike though is despite all my wear and tear on the bike- the motor always performed flawlessly.  With regular oil changes, yearly tune ups of carb syncs, valve adjustments and new valve cover gaskets- that was the extent of the attention paid to the motor.  It ran like a tank.  I can't say enough good things about the motor- sans gearbox of course.   What was Yamaha thinking when they designed that?  My Yamaha FJ12000 would later suffer from this same exact problem.

When I bought the FJ1200- It took sometime to get it roadworthy.  When all was ready, I parked the Venture and let it gather some cobwebs. A few months later- I sent the FJ1200 to Chandell Motorsports to have the new stage 3 jets tuned on the dyno.  

I cleaned all the cobwebs off the Venture and once it was running- the motor was a smooth as always.  I would only need to ride it one day. On my way to work going through a residential intersection in which I was not required to stop- a woman waiting at her stop sign pulled out right in front of the bike never even looking left to see if anyone was coming.  How do you prepare or prevent something like that from happening?  It was sudden- I didn't even  slam on the brakes.  I wasn't going all that fast in the 25mph speed limit.  I hit her drivers door with no time to swerve or brake.  

The impact folded in her door panel.  The fork took a 3 inch gouge out of the door as the bike collided bending the fork and breaking the 1/4" thick fork brace.  The tire was pushed far enough back to impact the radiator and curve it inward.  The front of the bike followed next into the side of the car breaking all the plastic.

I went over the handlebars and still don't even remember hitting the ground.  For my ten minute ride to work, I was wearing riding boots, gloves, leather riding pants, my armored leather jacket, and full face helmet.  

 

Again, not a scratch.  It was a classic case of she never saw me.  She never even looked to see if anyone was coming from that direction.  Amazingly, I got on the bike, and drove it home- only several blocks away.

I am very pleased when I hear people say they have been riding for 30 some years and have never had a motorcycle crash.  I though, have never met a single motorcyclist that didn't have some story to tell regarding a wipe out or crash.   (You could also say, I don't think I have ever met a single person that has not been in some sort of car accident too.)

Well, that finished off the Venture- it was good for scrap now and since there is no demand for the motor (this was years before eBay), it had little value.  I had no idea what to even do with the bike, but was put in touch with someone who might be able to help me.

I ended up trading it to a guy in Reno for a pickup load of Triumph Spitfire parts- the car I was restoring (or rather attempting to keep running) at the time.  I had no idea what he would do with the bike, but he was willing to take it if I cleaned out his garage of the British sports car parts. It culminated 50,000 miles of traveling in a little less than 3 years.

It was the end of an era.

The close to a chapter in my life.

You always remember that first real bike. The one you had in college, on your first date, the first big trip. The one that became a part of your very identity.  

The Venture took me across Canada to Alaska and across the southern United States.  This bike accompanied me through college and to the night job I worked for 4 years.  If I was feeling really antsy during the week, I would ride 120 miles to the next college town up and over the mountains, stroll into the  campus library- and study my Organic Chemistry there.  On weekends, I would start out early and ride in a huge radius getting back well after dark.  I rarely took the same road twice. This amounted to an endless list of roads in northern California which eventually inspired me to build Pashnit.com and the California Motorcycle Roads website.

In 1997, I began working on a book about my 10,000 miles journey to Alaska publishing the book two years later as a soft cover. Writing the manuscript was a massive undertaking and it was my second book, the first being the manuscript called 6000 Miles in 8 Days about my journey across the south in January on this same bike.

It's a fun story about the people you mean when wandering and there is no plan in place. When I finally finished the book after two years of incessant writing and editing, there was a need to keep writing and I began working on creating Pashnit.com focusing on the many roads in California. At the time, the internet was still relatively brand new and the guide banked on my experience of moving to California with little more than a motorcycle but no idea where to go ride to explore my newly adopted state. The idea was to create a seperate webpage for every single good motorcycle road in this state. It was a massive undertaking.

 

At the time, There was no internet yet, no road guides, apps, and very few books on the topic designed around motorcyclist's unique needs.

Twenty-five years later, I'm still working on the California Motorcycle Roads website for riders. A life's work for you dear fellow rider.

They say history repeats itself...  12 years later...

Twelve years after I bought the original Yamaha Venture, I bought another one.  I paid a mere $1000 for this motorcycle. The plan was to park the Hayabusa, and just use this Venture as a commuter bike while my wife was on maternity leave.  Good excuse to buy another bike!  It had 73,000 miles on it, a bad second gear, and could best be described as 'rickety'.  When you hit a bump, the entire bike rattled.  The suspension was pretty much shot, and any attempt at pushing the limits turned this motorcycle into what I began to call the 'rubber band bike'. 

But it worked great on the freeway and city traffic. Smooth, comfy as always, turn on the tunes and head on down the road.  All that ample trunk space was greatly appreciated as I headed to and fro work each day.  I spent the winter on this bike riding it every day.

In April of 2005, this bike was used and photographed by Cycle World Magazine.  The article appeared in the August 2005 issue about $1000 bikes on a 1000 mile ride (which I designed for the editors of Cycle World Magazine). The bike performed terrific on that ride through rain and even some snow atop South Fork Mountain Summit (on Highway 36).  Several months later, I used the bike again on another 1000 mile ride of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  

Looking back on the original 50,000 miles I put on my bike 12 years ago, I'm amazed I took this bike as many places I did.  Dirt roads, over snowy gravel passes, and all over North America.  It's unusual to get a chance to relive the past, but that's exactly what happened.

After the Cycle World Tour, I led just one Pashnit Tour of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the Venture, the bike was big and clumsy just I'd remembered all those years earlier. During the tour on Cherry Lake Rd, the front brake began to lock up and the piston would not release.

The Venture has linked brakes so this is sort of an issue but not too serious. I simply unbolted the brake caliper from the fork and hung it from the fender which you can see at right. So the rest of the tour, I could use still use the front left brake which is connected to the hand brake. The foot brake was out of commission at that point.

Half the brakes working, no second gear and ready for retirement, my second Yamaha Venture was a pleasant footnote and epilogue to the history of this bike. You don't always get to relive that first real bike, that took you twice across the continent, but this story has a happy ending.

The article about the $1000 Bike on a 1000 Mile Ride was published in Cycle World Magazine during the same time I used it for this last tour in the August 2005 issue so the legacy of the Venture will get to live on forever.

 

I sold the Venture as the last owner and soon bought a Honda ST1100 as a daily commuter to accompany the Hayabusa.

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About Pashnit:

Tim Mayhew has devoted nearly 30 years to photographing and writing about California roads. His tireless efforts on the California Motorcycle Roads web site have spread across the globe becoming the encyclopedic guidebook for motorcycle travel in California. As of 2020, Tim has been designing & leading professional motorcycle tours across California, Oregon & Nevada for the last 17 years.
Learn more about riding with Tim on a  
Pashnit Motorcycle Tour in 2020.

 

Dear Pashnite, the 1999-era California Motorcycle Roads you have used for the last 20 years to plan your rides has been retired.
Two decades later, it's time to rebuild. A lot of work will go into building a site like this from scratch. It will take time. Thousands of hours, years actually. I think only a crazy person would attempt a project like this. Which is why there is no equal. The original CMR had 300 webpages of roads, 600 pages of text, thousands of photos, tens of thousands of links and was made up of 241,148 files. I would like to double that. It will take time to rebuild this site. I appreciate your support over the last 20 years. Hundreds more road pages are coming.  -Tim

 

Want to help? Pashnit is simply a hobby and labor of love for me. Consider donating $20 to help support this site. The all-new Pashnit.com California Motorcycle Roads site is 100% free to access by all.
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