1978 Yamaha XS1100

Since I’m already on the topic of late 70’s Yamaha bikes and mentioned my sorted history with XS1100’s yesterday, I figure I ought to dispense a little information about how to build one properly into a long distance touring bike.

This is my 1978 Yamaha XS1100 that I picked up in Arizona.

1978 is the first year of the XS1100 and also the best in my opinion if for nothing else than they came with a kickstart shaft. They do not have a permanently affixed kicker, but one can be easily bolted on. They instead came with a small kickstart lever hung under the seat for use in emergencies. The later year XS1100’s did not come with a lever or shaft in the engine. The hole for the kickstart shaft was plugged and the space for the mechanism inside the cases was left empty.

As far as XS1100’s go, this one is setup for touring as good or better than other out there. Here’s a rundown of some of the modifications:

  • Final drive conversion from XS850. The Yamaha XS750 and XS850 final drives run a taller gear ratio than the XS1100. XS1100’s are widely known to be a little tightly geared and run higher than ideal RPM’s in extended high speed highway cruising. A very popular mod in the XS1100 circles is to swap the final drive of the smaller triples onto the XS1100. It is not a direct bolt in mod, it requires a small bit of custom work to make proper spacers and washers, but is not terribly difficult. Some people experience failure over the long term because the XS750 and XS800’s gears aren’t built to the same strength specs that the XS1100 parts are. But as long as you don’t beat the piss out of it the gears will spin long and happy. The big benefit? Reduce highway cruising RPM’s and improve gas mileage.
  • Yamaha Venturer auto cam chain tensioner conversion. The Venturer automatic tensioner is swapped on so that the cam chain no longer needs to be adjusted manually. A wonderful conversion for people who will be riding endless miles.
  • 3 Ohm Honda ignition coils with marine grade caps and wires. Jumping up to 3 Ohm coils allows you to ditch the ballast resistor completely and uses less draw.
  • Fuse panel replaced with automotive grade blade fuse panel. Lets face it, pretty much any old bike with glass fuses will benefit from this type of conversion over the long term.
  • Kerker 4-into-1 exhaust. Meh. I rarely care about what exhaust is on a bike, but it sometimes feels impossible to find an older big bore bike that doesn’t have an aftermarket exhaust on it. The kerker does sound nice, I’ll give it that.
  • Fork brace. The XS1100 is one of the most flexi bikes around. It has a huge amount of weight and power packed into a typical 1970’s rolled tube steel frame with spindly forks. A fork brace won’t cure all the flex, that’s for certain, but it definitely helps and I would highly recommend one. They are hard to find these days.
  • Progressive fork springs. The stock springs in these bikes were never ‘good’, and after 30 years they sag like crazy. A good pair of progressive springs will liven up the front end, and combined with the fork brake make the bike feel much more solid.
  • Of course the bike also has all the standard touring equipment. Luggage, guards, case savers, forward pegs, etc.

If you are preparing your XS1100 for some distance cruises (real distance cruises) then I would recommend you invest the time in a few of these modifications. None of them are expensive, they just a little time and effort.

I toured this bike very aggressively all over the west coast and central US. I’m typically a back roads kind of rider, but once in a while it’s nice to be on a big vintage hog and eat some highway miles. The XS110, when setup properly, is a an excellent distance cruiser. It was sold as a middle market type bike, appealing to both the sport bike crowd because of it’s speed and performance, and the touring crowd because of it’s weight, comfort, and the accessories available. Afterall, it was competing directly with both the Honda Goldwing and the CB900 – CB1100.

It toured like a dream both solo and two up. It’s a real workhorse of a bike.

It gets a little squirrelly when it’s overloaded, but that’s to be expected. The above picture is heading south through Central Nevada. Below is riding 2 up and loaded down through the mountains of Northern Montana.

After crossing the United States on the bike a couple times and zig zagging the southwest I had had my fill and moved on. Back to a lighter single cylinder for the time being….


By ef

Hey, I'm Evan and this is one of my motorcycle sites. You can find more about me on my homepage, or visit me on Google Plus: +Evan Fell


  1. Hey, my first time on your blog.
    I’ve just read this one article and it is really good.
    The bike is really nice and the views are perfect.
    Never had a chance to ride this kind of 70s tourer, but it really looks like a bike with the soul. I’d love to have a tour on that bike, I’m sort of jealous. 🙂
    No time for reading other articles at this moment, but I’ll be back.. I checked out the titles briefly, sounds good.
    Also, all the manuals/pdf files are great, thank you very much!
    Best regards!


  2. hi Evan, just ran upon your blog doing a search about XS 1100. i have just picked up a 81 xs1100, runs and all intact 55,000 miles. But it hasnt really been run in a few years. Your suggestions for refining the bike is a big help as i go over everything. Thanks much and cant wait for the snow to melt here in Wisc.


  3. Hi Evan; I just picked up an ’78 xs1100 and starting to strip it down. Appreciated your upgrade comments. I can’t wait to hear what this one sounds like.But before I ride I go over everything to be sure its all good. Thanks much, I will be reading more


  4. I just saw your blog for the first time. I am currently rebuilding this same bike and am having trouble finding a fuel tank for it. If you could help me or point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.


  5. Any help would be appreciated….My Dad passed away at the age of 55 and left me with a 78 XS11…..any idea where I should place this bike for sale that it would be appreciated for what it is and in the same time I would not be giving it away. We have gone through and tuned it up replacing seals etc. It has new tires and is running smoothly. It amazes me how this bike is just an absolute tank. I hate to see it go as I used to ride with him but it is WAAAY to heavy of a bike for me to manage. BTW…we are located in Missouri.


    Evan Fell Reply:

    Hi Elizabeth

    Sounds like you have a pretty nice XS1100. It’s too bad you are letting it go, but there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who will gladly keep it on the road. I am a member of the XS11 forum (http://www.xs11.com/forum/). They have a “For Sale” section which might work for you. There isn’t a huge amount of traffic there, but it is where all the XS11 enthusiasts hang out.

    Other than that, Craigslist and eBay are your best outlets for a sale.

    Unfortunately XS11’s aren’t worth a whole heck of a lot, but I can give you a rough assessment if you’d like.

    Sorry to hear about your father.



  6. I had one of these new in 78 12 sec flat in 1/4 mile 4 into 1 kerker no slick me on it!! Want to sell it or do you know of any others TY nice ride!!!!


  7. Just took delivery (Huntington Beach, Cal) of a very clean ’81 XS1100 Midnight Special with 19k miles and am stoked, chasing my younger days with a ’78. Your article highlights todays “first ride in 30 years” experience and memories of the soft, wobbly, front end requiring progressive springs and fork brace as well as the lower gear ratio. Everything is stock and in searching for a restoration shop in the area I ran across your blog. Unfortunately the links to the repair forum are failing for me with IE.

    Do you know of any resources to identify how many of these limited (250) production bikes remain in existence? Or regional restoration experts?

    Thanks for a great blog


  8. Hi, really liked your article I’d been hunting a really good XS1100 for a while and finally found & Bought a great original “macho maroon” 78 XS1100w ith only 32,000 klm on the clock & never been in the rain ..stored & lovingly maintained for years by the old fellow who sold it to me, awesome condition and I’m stoked,It’s that good I don’t think I’ll put it on the road 🙂 so now I’ll have to get another one to ride, have a year to go before i get my licence back so plenty of time.
    As for value there is a beautiful mint one with only 11,000 on the clock on Ebay U.K for 10,000 pounds & I’ve seen then asking as much as $9,500.00- over here for excellent original ones ( Australia) so maybe they are starting to be appreciated.?


  9. Early XS1100’s are great bikes, in the seventies they could out run a CBX1000 on a long straight. They have to be the most under valued classic on the market. Great looking bad ass muscular bike. Good original bikes are taken up quick and prices on these machines are going up fast.


  10. I have a 1979 and 1980 XS1100 Specials. These are great running bike. I’m outfitting the 79 for touring with a full set of Vetter bags…all original. you bike looks great.
    Planning on riding from socal to Sturgis this year 2013.


  11. I have had xs 1100’s in the past and really enjoyed them. I recently bought two xs 1100’s for $ $1250.00 The main one is all original 1978 that was made in october the first month of production in 1977. it is a low mileage bike. The second one is also a 78 that I plan to restore. As I have ridden across America by horse back and i a now in my later years I find a good project is needed for me to keep busy with. I plan to tour some with the bikes. Maybe we will meet. Larry


  12. I have a 78 XS1100 I picked up its been sitting since 87 it cranks but no start any help would be appreciated thank you


    A R Reply:

    I will check if you have spark in the plugs and gas filling up the carb reservoir, the carbs usually have a plug underneath, but you need to turn the gas peacook or gas valve to R to have free flow of gas, the unscreew that carb plug and see if there is gas coming out.
    If you have spark and gas flowing you need to check the gas actually passing trough the carbs into the combustion chamber and for that you may need to clean up the carbs, try that and see what happens, good luck


  13. that is a pretty awesome bike, I am for the last 2 years been restoring a 78 xs1100, no fairings though, but I was able to get an 1979 original 4 to 1 kerker system and just had my carburetors jetted, this is an extremely awesome bike, hope to see you here in Fresno some day and take a ride to yosemite or kings canyon, the ride and views are breath taking just like the places you’ve been
    Salutations AR from Fresno CA


  14. Thanks for the comment. I forgot about the cigars, but I have a photo. I do#7&821n;t think I can add it to this comment spot so I’ll add the photo and some others to the end of the post.


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