But honestly? Neither offered the kind of emotional or visceral zing we all crave. Obviously, someone at Yamaha felt the same way because about that time, within the sanctum where two-strokes ruled Yamaha's engineers designed and built a bigger four-stroke cannon. Then they loaded it with extra powder, big balls and being extra mad about being left out of the super bike conversation, lite the fuse and pointed it across the bow of the motorcycle industry.
That was the XS Eleven. Big, brutish, and the fastest motorcycle of 1978. Unforgettable now, because it was memorable then.
Of the Japanese makers, Honda was the first to break 1,000cc territory with their 1975 Honda GL1000. Following the success of the Kawasaki Z1, the KZ1000 came onto the market in 1977. Suzuki responded in 1978 with their wildly successful GS1000. At the time, Yamaha lolly-gagged behind others in the Big Four offering up their XS-650 twin and the somewhat humdrum XS750, introduced in 1976 and mentioned above.
Nothing compared to the “Excess Eleven” which Yamaha launched in 1978. It was nicknamed this because the engine was too big, too heavy and too powerful for its chassis. I can also recall another nickname for this bike at the time; “The Freight Train.” Good name. Accurate.
The motor was clearly the centerpiece of this large motorcycle and dual overhead cams and those four “constant velocity” (CV) Mikuni carbs were ahead of its time, and in fact, CV carbs were a technological first for an inline four cylinder engine of the period.
The engine also featured very special combustion chambers, very similar to the “Hemi-head” design of Detroit's muscle cars of previous years. They called their creation the “polyspheric” combustion chamber, which required six separate machining steps but resulted in better overall performance without increasing the weight of the pistons. This resulted in an extremely solid, smooth, and inspired ride...and as long as one was pointed in a straight line! Regarding the bike's handling capabilities, Superbike magazine in April 1978 made the following observations:
“When this behemoth of a motorcycle finally hits a corner at anything approaching interesting speeds, it takes a good deal of muscle to lay it down. And while the Yamaha doesn’t disgrace itself in corner, (not as much as some Z1000s we've known) it doesn’t commend itself either.”
Superbike magazines journos also went on to say it was “A big, powerful tourer” that was supremely comfortable on the highway. But the most telling observation was about the power of the engine when they quipped: “...well-nigh impossible to stretch anywhere near any kind of limit on the straight.”
In the braking department, the triple discs brought the bike down, but often reported as weakness is fade when used repeatedly. Lots of hard corner braking upset the bike, resulting in the front-end wobbles due to the spindly front forks.
The bottom-line for Yamaha back in the seventies, was that if someone wanted an overall smooth and comfortable touring mount, they inevitably turned to the Honda Gold Wing. In 1982, the XS1100 was replaced by the smaller, more agile, more marketable Maxim (and this spiffy XS 1100S 'Sport' for Euro markets only) and the XS1100E went into the history books.
At a recent Saturday “Cruise Night” gathering of motorcycle riders and enthusiasts, I discovered a XS1100 among the masses of sport bikes and custom Harleys. I was immediately drawn to its massive size and engine and because it was different. Nice to see one in good overall condition, and most importantly, being used on the road as intended. OK, so they don’t quite handle like a Ducati 1098, but what of it? Knowing that, ride the Eleven with the proper respect and enjoy it!
Frankly speaking, if one paid $3,500-$4,000 for a mint example, one would be hard pressed to find a more capable long-distance touring bike. JJ Cerilli