Find of the Month: 1981 Yamaha XS1100 Sidecar rig

Welcome back to the Find of the Month, where we share some of the cool bikes we find for sale on autoTRADER.ca. This month, we’re checking out a 1981 Yamaha XS1100 for sale in Surrey, BC.


Are you a fan of old-school touring bikes, but afraid to get into the hassle of working on a vintage Gold Wing? And do you like sidecars? Are you relatively close to Surrey, B.C.? Do you have $4,699 (plus taxes and fees) kicking around in your wallet? Then maybe this old XS1100 could be the bike for you.

If you’re not even sure what a Yamaha XS1100 is, you can’t really be blamed. Although they were one of the fastest bikes of their time, they have never received the same adulation as other motorcycles from the late 1970s and early ’80s. If you talk about vintage Gold Wings, or CBX1300s, or KZ1000s, sure, everyone gets all excited. But if you bring up the XS1100, people’s eyes glaze over.

The XS1100 actually had the largest engine of any production motorcycle when introduced for 1978. The air-cooled DOHC inline-four (Yamaha’s first!) supposedly made 95 hp at 8,000 rpm, and 66 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. Those numbers aren’t remotely close to modern superbikes, but in the late ’70s, this machine was hot stuff. Back in the day, riders called this the Excessive Eleven.

Just the thing for going on adventures with your dog.

It was even better when you considered the bike had cast wheels (still a big deal in those days), a shaft drive (also fairly rare on that era’s machines) and dual disc brakes up front with a single disc in the rear. The XS1100 was made to haul long distances with easy maintenance.

Early editions of the engine also came with an optional kickstarter; you stowed it away, only using it in emergencies. Considering the reputation some early Yamahas had for crap starters, this could be seen as a huge benefit, but alas, the emergency kickstarter didn’t come on the ’81 model. Word on the street is that you can retro-fit one.

Of course, the chassis design wasn’t conducive to high-speed cornering, like any other machine designed in that time period (although in some markets, endurance racers successfully flogged the XS1100 in a custom-built chassis). The bike’s ponderous weight didn’t help. It was rated around 274 kg curb weight, depending which version you bought.

As with all other big-bore bikes of the late ’70s, Yamaha produced different models based around this platform. There was the Special, which added some cruiser styling (step seat, pullback handlebars, lots of chrome), along with a touring version, and a sportier version for Europe.

Trigger warning: This XS1100 Special is a good example of what Japanese customers considered would pass for a cruiser in the early ’80s. It was a good way to recycle engine technology before introducing the Virago series. Photo: Wikipedia

This sidecar-equipped rig for sale at Daytona Motorsports looks like it may have been built from the remnants of one of the touring XS1100s. However, the odometer has very low mileage for a bike that’s more than 35 years old — the dealership selling the machine says the engine was rebuilt 800 km ago, and the machine has about 18,000 original km. Considering the reputation these bikes have for bulletproof motors, that’s very curious. You could probably blame the low mileage on the sidecar setup, as many sidecar operators just don’t rack up crazy distances, but the rebuild is still a bit strange. A call to the dealership might helpfully explain what went on there.

But the rest of the bike appears to have been set up as a tourer, probably from the factory. There’s colour-matched hard luggage and a fairing, which certainly looks like stock equipment. The engine guards and other chromed accoutrements are also likely OEM equipment. That luggage rack looks like it might be an aftermarket add-on, though, or at least re-finished. And that stainless steel exhaust is described as “hand-built.” Hrm. Maybe they had to make a custom exhaust in order to fit the sidecar.

Speaking of which, that’s a pretty classic-looking sidecar; it’s allegedly custom-made. Remember, though, that almost any idiot can bolt a sidecar to a bike, but it takes a very specialized idiot to make it actually handle somewhat safely. You’d want to check over all the connections and the steering geometry to make sure this thing is rideable. Note that the front end still uses the stock telescopic fork setup, instead of the leading link suspension seen on more specialized sidecar rigs. There’s no fork brace evident, which would definitely help the steering, but there does appear to be some sort of steering damper, which might be a big help.

Put on your open-face helmet, a set of aviators, turn on your Top Gun OST cassette, and you’re off for a weekend of three-wheeled fun.

Other flash add-on bits include Cycle Sound speakers and an “era correct cassette and radio player.” Wot, no 8-track? Still, you could jury-rig a modern MP3-capable stereo in there pretty quickly, or just buy some Tom Petty tapes for 25 cents apiece at the Salvation Army, and start runnin’ down your dreams.

Once you add up DMV fees and all the other hands in your pockets, the seller says the bike’s price will be $4,874 plus taxes. That’s a bit high if it was just an old XS1100, but not too bad for a vintage sidecar rig, assuming everything checks out mechanically. If you think you might be interested, visit the ad here and send them a note, or call. If you have any other questions, there is a pretty decent XS1100 owners’ forum at XS11.com. If you join up there, they can surely tell you what problems to look out for.

One thought on “Find of the Month: 1981 Yamaha XS1100 Sidecar rig”

  1. Having owned the newer version of the XS, a Maxim 1100, I wouldn’t touch this before checking second gear very closely. The torque of the big four cylinder mill was very hard in the engagement dogs, and many of them had a 1 down, two up, up, up (1, 3, 4, 5) shift pattern.

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