YAMAHA XV535 VIRAGO (1988 - 2004) Review

Highlights

  • Ageing but popular ‘first big bike’ cruiser
  • Perky and flexible shaft-drive V-twin
  • Great handling and easy manners

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Annual servicing cost: £70
Power: 38 bhp
Seat height: Low (28.3 in / 720 mm)
Weight: Medium (401 lbs / 182 kg)

Prices

New N/A
Used £2,400 - £5,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
5 out of 5 (5/5)

The XV535 Virago was originally introduced in 1988 as an all-new, smaller, more entry-level, novice-friendly cruiser little brother to Yamaha’s XV750 (introduced 1981) and XV1100 (introduced 1986).

All were purpose-built, air-cooled, 70-75-degree shaft drive V-twins and as such were arguably Japan’s first credible cruiser rivals to the likes of Harley-Davidson (Yamaha, and the other Japanese brands, had built cruiser styled machines aimed at the US market earlier, but always with engines derived from their existing bikes.)

The junior 535, however, perhaps surprisingly, was the most successful and thus long-lived of the bunch.

With pleasant, timeless styling, light, unintimidating proportions (it’s ultra low seat height was particularly appealing to women and shorter riders), surprisingly able handling and an absolute gem of an engine – and all for an affordable price – the 535 became the ‘go to’ first big bike for a generation of riders who wanted the easy manners of a cruiser.

Better still, with rock solid reliability, timeless styling and few credible rivals, the little Yamaha remained the best of this type of bike for the best part of 20 years before it finally went off sale in 2004.

Today, although undeniably ageing and almost all used examples are quite old, the 535 Virago remains a decent used buy for those on a budget looking for an unintimidating first big bike.

Impeccable reliability and understressed performance means it wears well; its timeless style has still barely dated and, as it’s a round-town cruiser rather than a tourer or adventure bike, mileages on even older bikes remain generally low.

The XV535 Virago may by modern standards be slightly basic, but it’s trusted, easy to ride and with unchallenging but enjoyable performance. It’s also a great value for money motorcycle and perfect for newbies or laid back commuters.

Once you've read this review and our owners' reviews, you may want to join an online community and meet likeminded owners. We'd recommend the Virago Star Owners Club.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Although the Yamaha Virago 535 is a cruiser at heart and its chassis is, on paper at least, unremarkable and slightly old-fashioned, comprising a traditional tubular steel cradle frame with fairly spindly, non-adjustable telescopic forks at the front and quite basic twin shocks at the rear, its ride and handling are, nevertheless, far better than you might expect and are perfect for a novice bike.

The riding position is on the upright side of laid back so delivers maximum comfort and control; the Virago 535 is slim, thanks to its longitudinally-mounted V-twin engine and has an ultra-low 720mm seat height, both of which significantly aid manoeuvrability.

The Virago’s light, too, while its steering is light and precise and it has a decently plush ride. It’s also reassuringly stable and predictable (within the limits of its fairly meagre performance at least), although the front end can get a bit frisky at the very top of the engine’s rev range.

Yamaha Virago 535 riding shot

It’s also well-balanced with a low centre of gravity which makes for easy slow speed work such as in town or when wiggling through traffic. Impressively for a custom-style machine, the Virago 535 also has pretty good ground clearance.

When it comes to brakes it’s a similar story. Although nothing special on paper, the single disc at the front and drum rear are more than up to the job, mostly due to the style of the bike and its comparatively light weight.

The front stopper gives enough power while the rear drum has bags of reassuring feel when you need to use it, something that’s particularly welcome in the wet.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Although the Yamaha’s peak power figure of 38bhp may be nothing to get excited about, the XV535’s sheer willingness, flexibility and ease of use for novices makes its engine and power delivery the star of the show.

It’s a purpose-built, air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve, 70-degree V-twin which stands out both for not just looking the correct cruiser part, but also for being an enthusiastic all-round performer and having a useful, maintenance-free shaft drive.

Yamaha Virago 535 engine

And while that powretrain’s top end performance isn’t exactly exciting, the XV535 could never be described as ‘fast’ and you’ve got to work it hard to reach top speeds (that’s not what cruising’s about anyway), there’s enough pull low down and strength in the midrange to make day to day riding effective and engaging.

The willing accomplice in this is its five-speed gearbox which, although it can be a bit clunky between first and second, is generally smooth and easy to use. While the shaft final drive, is another boon in being maintenance free yet also not heavy enough to affect the Virago’s overall lightweight feel.

As a genuined V-twin the 535’s engine even sounds authentically ‘cruiser’, too – although with the standard, ‘shotgun-style’ silencers retained, it is a little muted, so many fit aftermarket systems.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Both mechanically and cosmetically, the Yamaha XV535 Virago is a highly regarded motorcycle and has the longevity and successful sales figures to prove it. Gripes are few and far between but not unheard of.

These can include carb icing and corroding regulator/rectifiers, the latter being not at all uncommon on Japanese machines of this era. In addition, on higher mileage bikes (40,000 miles+, although these are, by the bike’s nature, fairly rare in themselves) there have been some reports of top end problems when cams, valves, camchains and pistons can all become a little suspect – although, we hasten to add, this is very much in the minority of cases.

In addition, you also have to factor in the undeniable truth that the Virago 535 is now also an ageing machine that, in many cases, will have been used and abused by non-mechanically-minded novice riders over many years.

The underside of the Yamaha Virago 535's exhausts

There’s nothing particularly intrinsically wrong with the 535’s build quality – or reliability – although the paint, chrome and metal finishes are typical Yamaha of the period and so nothing to write home about, but most examples are likely now, even if relatively low mileage, to have led a fairly hard, neglected life so some corrosion, rust and more should be expected.

On the whole, however, the Yamaha XV535 Virago is a solid motorcycle and still potentially a decent used buy and is endorsed as such by nearly all the owner reviews – even today.

Its popularity and long life span means there’s still plenty of used examples out there to choose from so there should be more than a few good uns. Oh, and keep that exposed V-twin engine and all that cruiser chrome in good nick to maintain its value – it’s a ‘first big bike’, after all, and you’ll probably sell it on after a couple of years, too.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
5 out of 5 (5/5)

The Yamaha XV535 Virago was not only excellent value when new, which was a major part of its original appeal, it remains something of a bargain as a used buy today – and there are plenty of good used ones around to choose from as well.

On top of that, as a fairly small capacity, low performance cruiser, insurance premiums are low as well. Then you can add on top low running costs due to a combination of factors including its style, fairly meagre performance (and thus a low appetitie for consumable items such as tyres and brake pads) plus the fact that it has shaft drive, so there’s no messy chain that over time would otherwise need adjustment and eventual replacement. Being fairly simple and accessible helps keep annual servicing costs down at the garage, too.

But it’s not all good news. Although the Virago’s 535cc V-twin engine is a willing performer, that very quality makes it prone to being thrashed by owners at which point it becomes quite thirsty.

An mpg figure in the high 40s is fairly average and can be raised significantly with gentle riding. But thrash a Virago 535 and this can drop into the 30s at which point, due to its quite small, 13.5litre fuel tank, you’ll find yourself filling up before you hit the 100-mile mark.

Yamaha Virago 535 studio static

Rivals, incidentally, are few, with Honda’s VT600 Shadow, which is faster, but less engaging and novice-friendly, and Moto Guzzi’s Nevada 750, which is heavier and less-refined, being the closest.

Finally, although a decent, low mileage, Virago 535 can still be found for under £3000, there are so many still available that it’s important to buy wisely.

There are plenty of bikes available much cheaper than that, but watch out: the Virago 535 is today also popular with customisers who may have chopped it about, many have been abused and neglected which you’ll want to avoide while others may be slathered in accessories that you don’t want. Take your time and choose wisely.

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

As with other older custom or cruiser bikes, the Yamaha XV535 is both a bike from an earlier, pre-fuel injection, ride-by-wire and electronics age, is a custom/cruiser so is, by very definition, a little minimalist when it comes to equipment and also is aimed at the more budget end of the market. For all of these reasons, when it comes to equipment and luxuries you should keep your equipment expectations in check – as there aren’t many.

So, for example, the XV535 Virago has a clear, analogue speedo – but doesn’t have a fuel light or even a rev counter. At the same time, as perhaps another giveaway to its pre-fuel injection vintage, there’s a fuel reserve switch on the handlebars – although this in reality is actually a bonus as usually it’s positioned down by the carburettors.

The underside of the Yamaha Virago 535's exhausts

Its chromed mirrors are decent enough, although they do vibrate at high revs. While the Yamaha Virago 535's plush, buttoned seat is comfy – but its pillion perch is tiny (although this may matter little as few owners are likely to carry a passenger). The later S and DX versions (see below) also gained more chrome and odds and sods.

But although fairly basic in standard trim, being a simple, affordable and hugely popular custom also means that the Virago 535 also attracts aftermarket accessories more than most bikes – many of which may appeal when buying used. Touring screens, ‘sissy’ bar backrests, engine bars, fruitier exhausts etc are all popular extras and, depending on your personal preference, are often welcome on a used buy.

Specs

Engine size 535cc
Engine type 4v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Steel tubular spine
Fuel capacity 13.5 litres
Seat height 720mm
Bike weight 182kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake 298mm disc
Rear brake Drum
Front tyre size 3.00 x 19
Rear tyre size 140/90 x 15

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 47 mpg
Annual road tax £69
Annual service cost £70
New price -
Used price £2,400 - £5,000
Insurance group 8 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage

Top speed & performance

Max power 38 bhp
Max torque 32 ft-lb
Top speed 100 mph
1/4 mile acceleration 14.2 secs
Tank range 130 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 1988: Yamaha XV535 Virago was introduced with very similar spec to the later versions. The first model had a tiny, 8.6 litre, underseat fuel tank which was ditched later that year for a proper, 13.5 litre version.
  • 1996: Minor update, including new mirrors, an improved gear box and extended mufflers.
  • 2004: Yamaha XV535 Virago discontinued.

Other versions

Yamaha XV535S: Introduced in 1994, the XV535S ran alongside the standard Virago until they were both discontinued in 1997.  It had more chrome fittings, a buttoned, cushioned seat and two-tone paint. In 1996, further updates included a “butterknife” sidestand and an optional sissy bar.
Yamaha XV535DX: This model replaced both the standard and S models in 1998. Similar spec but with chrome plated engine casings and side stand. It also got a new seat. The last of the XV535 Viragos, it was discontinued in 2004.

Owners' reviews for the YAMAHA XV535 VIRAGO (1988 - 2004)

11 owners have reviewed their YAMAHA XV535 VIRAGO (1988 - 2004) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your YAMAHA XV535 VIRAGO (1988 - 2004)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 3.9 out of 5 (3.9/5)
Engine: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Equipment: 3.4 out of 5 (3.4/5)
Annual servicing cost: £70
5 out of 5 One happy rider 32 years later
03 July 2021 by rob bozas

Version: 535

Year: 1988

Annual servicing cost: £40

I bought mine in January 1989. I am still riding it. On 2020 a clutch cable snapped. Come on Yamaha! :p Apart from that I put petrol in it, point it at the direction I want to go in and it gets me there with a big smile on my face. It's a brilliant bike.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

It took 21 years before the clutch cable snapped. I replaced the exhaust after 16 years.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Just MOTs and tighten anything that gets loose.

Equipment 3 out of 5

Buying experience: Private

5 out of 5 No regrets
18 April 2021 by Steven Eastwood

Year: 1997

Annual servicing cost: £50

Great lightweight bike. Really comfortable. Recent change from my Hornet. Loads of aftermarket bits available. Cheap Black Widow exhaust sound great

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Bit lumpy on the rough roads but handles them well. Seat is comfortable. I'm 6'1 and It fits well with feet out in front. I switched from my Hornet as I needed something more comfortable.

Engine 5 out of 5

Pulls well in all gears. Getting around 65mpg which is more than i expected. Really happy with it

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Few stone chips on the rear mudguard caused a bit of light corrosion. Easy fix though. Bit of paint peel on the brake master cylinder. But for a 24 year old bike it lasted well 👍

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Oil and filter. New plugs and caps. Easy to self service

Equipment 3 out of 5

Basic. Speedo and thats your lot

Buying experience: From a local dealer. Got a bargain at £1900

5 out of 5 Brilliant first bike, aside of missing ABS.
10 August 2020 by Juslin Janne

Year: 1996

Annual servicing cost: £100

Most forgiving and reliable learners/easy goers bike

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Out of the small lean backs the best, horrible compared to real motorcycles of course. Brakes are acceptable, able to block the front. Was able to slide a full 13m on a blocked front wheel, so good balance.

Engine 4 out of 5

Nice torque out of 500+ cc. Flat curves.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Never any issues. Based on experience with two.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Oil change, filter change, that's it.

Equipment 4 out of 5

There basically is no equipment standard. What do you expect? Heated grips and luggage roll rack are the first add-ons.

Buying experience: Dealers. Less than 2000€

3 out of 5 Old still good.Lovely looking bike, fun to ride if gremlins free...
01 August 2020 by Vili Jones

Year: 1998

Great looking old bike prettier than many other xvs models.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

If you are 6ft or more this bike could be low for you. Also if you lean too much on the roundabouts the food pegs may touch the ground, but it's a cruiser bike.

Engine 5 out of 5

On checking compression on my 11k miles returns results like new and oil in change is transparent and clean. The only issue is the virago illness the starter grinds when cold. With 5 sec from 0 to 60 this bike is fun to ride with the amazingly good v twin torque coming form such a small 535cc (33ci) engine

Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5

Lack of tachometer and fuel gauge. Lucily has switch to reserve which often get stuck and doesn't work. Those are old bikes and they suffer mainly carburetors and electrical issues.

Buying experience: Dealer. Overpriced bike at least by £1000

4 out of 5 budget cruiser
04 April 2020 by ian lazenby

Version: xv1000 1986 virago missing from your list.

Year: 1988

Annual servicing cost: £50

perfect little cruiser had it for years would recommend to anyone, best feature is having a reserve full tank is brillent idear (why more bikes dont have one) worst feature ? no lift up seat.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

best on the road, lol. has a compleat change to my zzr its great comfy and only stop for fuel

Engine 5 out of 5

get her in top gear feet on cruiser pegs and ride the torque down to 30 in top and pulls like a train even with 2 fatties on her back.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

built like a tank (over enginered ) 1986 done 71,000 miles in the 10 years ive had it never broke down just service work, only replaced the front down pipe has was showing its age.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

stick with the correct yam lube 20/50 oil, v twin motor dont like thinner stuff.

Equipment 5 out of 5

favourite feature of the bike is the reserve fuel tank. added sat nav and get this a custom made tow bar, we go two up touring camping and rallying with a freewheeling motorcycle trailer on the back never misses a beat, and best tyres we have found are continentals milestones.

Buying experience: bought from a dealer c &a superbikes great place about 3000 years ago,

4 out of 5 Oldie but goodie
03 April 2020 by Nick

Year: 1993

Annual servicing cost: £100

Very good cheap run around. Low maintenance due to shaft drive. I use mine for 50 mile round trip commute on A roads. Struggles a bit on the short stretch of dual carriageway. Bike is great at 60 but not much beyond that. I has one of these brand new in 1991, liked it so much I recently brought a 25 year old one.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

Seat is not the most comfortable, wouldn't want ot spend too long without a break. Brakes are pretty good for the time it was made, but poor compared to modern bikes.

Engine 4 out of 5

Simple, reliable and tough engine. One of the best things about the bike, that and the shaft drive.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Bike is well put together and has never let me down.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Does about 64 mpg under normal non-motorway driving.driving

Equipment 4 out of 5

Only very basic even at the time it was made. But that means everything is simple to fix.

Buying experience: Brought privately.

4 out of 5 Easy going baby cruiser
11 February 2010 by DrVibrafly

As a first bike it's great, not enough power to scare you but it'll get you about. It's easy to get used to the handling of the machine but also easy to outgrow. Great as the base for your first chopper conversion though, easy to work on and a good winter hack. The ride is soft though the riding position is more upright than cruiser. It's a doddle to ride and for something to get you around the traffic it's low centre of gravity allows you to filter with confidence. On twisty country roads it make an easy Sunday ride but try and give it some welly and things become scary. Soft and easy is the way to go. Equipment is basic but it all works fine, a rev counter would be wasted on this motorcycle. Quality wise it's all well built but on account of mine being stood outside for two years by the previous owner mine is somewhat neglected and I am having reliability issues - which is something you don't want from a winter hack. Though I have a mate who has one and he's never had a problem with it. It's probably a good idea to give it a quick rinse after every commute to get rid of the road salt. Virago's are expensive for what they are but then they also hold their value when you re-sell them, so in the value stakes that's a big plus. Engine is the only thing that really lets it down, you'd be lucky to get 100mph from it and struggles at motorway speeds (70-80mph). Ok for town riding but if you need to ride fast two or three lane carriageway every day get something with more oomph.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5 Good Bike for Newbies
31 August 2009 by MrRock

I've owned an XV535 now for just under a year and love the little blighter, even though it struggles to keep up with the bigger boys. Engine: The engine has enough grunt at low revs to make town riding a breeze, but lacks top end. It's solid and reliable enough, although you have to keep it running for a while on cold damp mornings to stop it stalling on tick over. The clutch also has a habit of slipping in the damp, but it's easily fixed by adjusting the tension. Ride and Handling: It's very comfy on short trips or long tours thanks to it's soft seat and upright riding position. The low centre of gravity makes for rewardable in-town and traffic riding but it struggles two up. Equipment: What's there works well but it could do with a fuel warning light. A rev counter wouldn't really be needed because you get good feedback from the engine. As long as it still burbles along the road you know you don't need to change up. The sissy-bar is stylish and handy for shopping. Quality and Reliabilty: Touch wood it's not left me in any dark spots yet, and I hope it never will. Like I mentioned before the only issue is the slipping clutch and cold morning starts. Value: This is a great bike for new riders with £1500 or under to spend. Overall: I love my little Viagra, although I'm now looking to upgrade to something with a little more grunt, while still sticking to the cruiser style. I'm planning on holding on to it for use as a 2nd bike if I can afford to.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5 Great 1st Bike
31 August 2009 by

After passing my Direct Access I bought a 1985 Honda VT500 Shadow. 25 miles from picking it up the engine cut out and I had to wait to be recovered. Anyway to cut a long story short the dealer eventually relented and gave me my money back. So with £1000 in my pocket I started looking for something else, now I like the cruiser style and wanted to stick with that. Eventually I found an 'N' reg XV535 in Gold, it had been stood for 12 months without cover so was a little tatty and the front disc was jammed but the engine ticked over fine. For £300 I took a gamble and got a local bike shop to pick it up and bring it up to speed. It needed a new exaust, front calipers and battery but £700 later it was a road worthy bike. Once I got it on the road I found it very easy to get to grips with. It's well balanced around town and it's biggest downfall is also it's biggest blessing - it's lack of grunt. For a big bike newbie it manages to pull through traffic and do chavs in Corsa's at lights but doesn't go nearly quick enough to leave a brown stain in your pants. It's smooth power delivery in low revs make if feel like a bigger cruiser around town, especially if you stick it in 5th at 30mph. It's low gurgle makes non-bikers turn their heads and many think it's a Harley (oh yes indeed they do!) and it can pull away nicely from 30mph to 70mph in 5th without changing gear. There isn't much equipment to talk about but what is there works fine. You don't really need a rev counter because you can hear and feel what the engine is doing, but a fuel gauge (or even warning light) would have been a welcome addition. Comfort wise I'm 5' 8" and find it perfectly suited to my stature, the riding position is really comfy on short or long rides and the seat isn't too hard or soft (I've just got back from covering 200 miles and I have no aches or pains). I do have a little reliabilty issue, don't get me wrong it starts fine in all weather, but you have to get the engine warmed up in the cold or damp to keep it going on tick-over. Also the clutch tends to slip a bit in the wet weather, but that's easily fixed with a little adjustment. Over all it's a great 1st big bike - especially if you like cruisers. I'm already saving for my next bike (thinking brand new Kawasaki VN90 or 2nd hand V-Max, Triumph Speedster or Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 - any thoughts?) but I really want to keep this one as my run-around or winter bike if I can afford to. After a shakey start (with all the work I needed done) I'm really starting to fall in love with it, but with moving further from my job I could do with something a little newer and a little more grunty for motorway riding now.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5 40 years on
30 May 2008 by buzz49

grate bike comfey smooth and reliable.its my first bike after 40 years off,and my first jap;so reliability is a bonus fuel consumpcion if you take it easey is not bad i recently did a 200ml trip mostley m/way and returnd 57mpg.ihave ownd this bike 11months and so far have coverd 6000mls comuting/touring all trouble free. the bike is a 2000 model thats coverd 19000mls total so far i totaly recomend this bike to any one

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
5 out of 5 Nice little bike
05 June 2007 by Lightning Boy

I had one of the second generation models of XV535 Virago with the larger, real fuel tank. Before this I had a Kawasaki ZX10, then a Yamaha TDR 250, then this... so a slightly varied collection of bikes, but I really am pretty open minded and happy to get into the riding style of different bikes. On the XV, you need to chill out, kick back and let the gentle wave of torque carry you along. Although I didn't get a chance to do so, replacing the exhaust can be very rewarding. For such a small bike, I have heard them producing a very satisfying burble. The shocking thing about the XV is just how useable it is, with its shaft drive, relaxed riding, acceptable handling (for a cruiser) and decent brakes it really does make a satisfying bike to own. I didn't get the chance to clock up amazing miles on it, probably only 10k in 18 months, but I remember enjoying the experience.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
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