Yamaha TRX850 (1996-2000): Unfinished Monkey Business

Not so long back, MotorMartin looked into the history of Yamaha’s extremely underrated TDM850, a story that can be read by clicking here, concluding that the TDM was an adventure styled bike produced around 25 years too early. But what about the TDM’s sporty younger brother, the TRX?

In 1996, Yamaha, like the other major Japanese manufacturers, were left wondering what to do about those pesky red upstarts from Bologna, Italy whose relatively new, World Superbike Championship winning 916 was making a mockery of the already well developed YZF, ZXR and RC45 on the track whilst their road bikes, such as the air-cooled 900SS were performing just as well on the sales floor. After looking through all available options, Yamaha decided to look inward for a solution and after much searching of the factory floor, noticed the unloved TDM standing right at the back, trying not to be noticed.

What Yamaha had in the palm of their hand then was a ready made 849cc engine sporting a decent (for the time) 79bhp that could be used to create the perfect Japanese Ducati. An engine after all, that after the TDM’s 1995 revamp, sported a 270-degree crank, an idea developed by Yamaha to give the bike a better connection between the rear tyre and the road itself, providing the rider with more grip and torque and had already proved itself to be both fast and reliable. It’s true to say that the engine was already producing less power than sports 600s of the same era when launched but the TRX was always much gruntier and more satisfying to use thanks to it’s twin cylinder character produced by the 270 degree crank (one piston is a quarter of a cycle behind the other) which made the Yamaha feel much like a V-twin.

In perhaps the greatest two wheeled plagiarism seen since the early days of the Japanese motorcycle industry, Yamaha decided to house this peach of an engine in a steel trellis frame rather reminiscent of another manufacturers (ahem). Suspension was taken care of at the front with right way up 41mm telescopic forks with the rear comprising of FZR pieces from the parts bin. Unspectacular but efficient which was perhaps all that was needed. With the front end adjustable for preload and rebound and the rear, preload, rebound and compression, there was certainly scope to try and tune the suspension to give a sportier ride than standard but ultimately, the budget nature of the suspension was perhaps to big a cross to bear as adjectives such as adequate, soft and wallowing were thrown at the TRX from the start.

But the overall look can only be described as a success in MotorMartin’s opinion. The smart and sporting half fairing was just right to provide the rider with decent, for a Sportsbike, protection from the elements and a look that suggested ‘real life’ power and handling rather than the more unobtainable pleasures of the Honda Fireblade or Suzuki GSX-R 750. Perhaps it was the angled half fairing or the way the lines of the bodywork complimented the tubes of the trellis frame but this was/is a good looking motorcycle, if anything, like the TDM before it, the TRX has aged extremely well and wouldn’t look out of place in Yamaha’s line up on the sales floor of today.

Contemporary road tests at the time found it difficult to separate the Yamaha from it’s Italian baiting origins, a stance that meant a negative viewpoint was often the case even before any riding had been undertaken, the TRX then being unable to extricate itself from the weight of all the negativity surrounding it. The suspension of the TRX was always known for being slightly soft when new and the passing of time will unlikely have improved the situation therefore most Yamaha TRX850s still alive today would benefit from new fork oil and springs as a minimum now. That said, the Yamaha can still be a neutral and nimble motorcycle with the feel of a proper sports bike. Brakes were, again, fine in their day but Yamaha calipers are not well known for their longevity and so will surely benefit from some tender loving care by now.

With the top speed of a brand new TRX850 measured at 135 mph and 1/4-mile acceleration of 11.8 secs, the Yamaha was a relatively quick bike and one that would still hold it’s own out on the roads of this green and pleasant land of ours today, but like the 900SS that it was so very desperate to better, the riding experience wasn’t just about the numbers. The feelings that the TRX gave the rider were those of immense lumps of low down torque and subsequently, a direct line from the throttle to the rear tyre.

Why all the fuss over the TRX parallel twin and it’s special firing order? The Yamaha’s 270-degree crank imitates the sound and feel of a 90º V-twin, and there are other advantages, in contrast to the 360 and 180 parallel twins, the 270 crank gives a compromise that allows a more regular firing pattern than a 180-crank, and less vibration than a 360-crank, a concept used on the 2009 Yamaha R1 as well. Must have been a good idea back in 1996 after all.

With average fuel consumption of 43 mpg giving a potential tank range of around 165 miles, a relatively comfortable riding position compared to a modern super sport and that undefinable something that this (so called) mock Ducati gives you and you have something really rather special. A bike that, like it’s TDM850 step-brother before it, struggled to find an audience when launched and is only now beginning to be fully appreciated by riders and collectors alike. The problem for fans today is one of supply and demand as with few bikes originally sold, the pool of good ones for sale is an ever diminishing one.

MotorMartin’s advice, buy the best one that you can and make sure that it’s a bike that’s as original and unmolested as possible with some or all service history. Ignore modified machines, loud exhausts, non-standard suspension hardware, engine tuning and loud, Larry paintwork and you know what? You’ll have a superb road bike, one that will rightly claim it’s place at the top table of motorcycling and reward you with unforgettable rides for many years to come.

I’d love one and so should you.

Where will you go?

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