Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1992 Yamaha TDM 850

Learn (a lot) more about this bike

94trip2The TDM and I had a long and profitable love affair. The above picture is of my bike on the way back from Steamboat Springs, CO. Sorry the clarity is so mediocre. This photo shows every accessory I had on the bike.

I bought my first TDM in March of 1994, in Denver, Colorado. I first rode a TDM during a Yamaha promotional tour, also in Colorado, in 1992. It was love at first sight and lust after that first ride. The TDM’s cost about $9,000 out the door, in 1992. That was so far out of my price range that it might as well been a custom bike. But by 1994, Yamaha dealers were blowing out TDM’s (along with a couple of other badly marketed flops) for as little as $4,000, new with full warranty. I bought mine, used with about 3,000 miles, at the beginning of the price reduction cycle for $4,200 with a set of Kerker pipes and a Corbin seat. It seemed like a good deal at the time, but the collapse of the TDM’s dealer value put a bit of bite into my usual buyer’s-remorse.

stdmI put ninety-some thousand miles on that bike in six years. Most of those miles came in the first two years. I did two extended trips on the TDM. Obviously, my days of using motorcycles as primary transportation were coming to an end. After moving to Minnesota, the “adventure touring” aspect of the TDM’s design became less a part of my motorcycling activity. Between becoming a grandfather and the long Minnesota winters, most of my motorcycling was limited to commuting to work and short weekend morning trips into the country-side.

I bought my second TDM in the spring of 1999. It had less than 8,000 miles and I’d hoped to start over with a less “seasoned” TDM. The problem is that this bike had been whipped long and put up wet. It had been treated with considerably less than loving care and, by the time I’d gone through the bike fixing abuse and neglect, I was less confident of this bike than I was of my original TDM. I sold it in early spring, 2000, and had planned to stay with my original bike . . . until the SV distracted me. I sold my original TDM, yesterday (as of this writing, June 4, 2000).

Weird tale of karma. The guy who bought my old bike managed to dump it in the road in front of my house. He bought it, anyway, which saved us both a lot of hassle. The next day, I dumped my new SV650 on a turn that I’ve made a few dozen times, with no effort or stress. I think I broke my foot in that wreak, which makes me wonder what happened when the TDM went away. Did I catch that guy’s karma or did mine infect us both when I let my old, dependable, bike go away? A ghost in the machine?

The “TDM List’s Website” (the reference above the picture) was a great resource for prospective TDM users. They’ve hung on to an unabbreviated article I wrote (Steamboat Springs 1997) for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (the short version), practically, since I wrote it. The list provided me with technical information, advice on repairs and parts, and friends. It must be one of the oldest motorcycling on-line groups around. The bike hasn’t been imported into the US since 1993, but these guys keep the memory of Yamaha’s great bike as alive as if Yamaha still thought Americans rode motorcycles for fun and practical transportation.

The TDM is a weird combination of a sport bike and a big bore dual-purpose motorcycle.  The bike has a much longer than typical suspension travel, both front and rear, a tall upright seating position, extremely stable handling, and a very narrow profile.  I rode my TDM down one of the sections of a Colorado regional observed trials and managed to get it between the rocks and trees with about as much trouble as some of the intermediate riders had with their trials bikes. That was one of my proudest moments on a motorcycle. The TDM gets fair mileage, about 46-50 mpg, and with it’s big tank you can get very close to 300 miles per tank on a long, moderate speed ride. I think I made a terrible mistake selling my TDM.

Post-Mortem: Seven years later, I’m still sorry I sold my TDM. I own a 2004 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 now. The V-Strom is close to the TDM, but it is not a TDM. The Yamaha is still the best street bike I’ve ever owned. A friend recently bought a 1992 TDM and, after considerable wrangling with the carburetion due to the bike’s having suffered improper long-term storage, is demonstrating what a great motorcycle the bike is/was. I’m jealous. The TDM is more fun to ride than the V-Strom. It’s quicker, skinnier, has a better suspension, a lower seat height, more ground clearance, is no harder to service, and is more stable on dirt roads.

The TDM had a reputation for being “weird looking.” Today, dozens of motorcycles from Japan to Europe are imitating the look of the TDM. An extreme example of this is the 2008 Benelli Tre K which is an absolutely knockoff of the TDM’s styling. Goes to show, what’s cool now was “weird” yesterday.

TDM Modifications and Accessories

Five-Star Centerstand
One of the dumbest things that’s happened to motorcycles in the last decade is the disappearance of centerstands. The Five-Star is/was made in Germany. Apparently, Europeans aren’t any more interested in centerstands than Americans. Five-Star quit making this part in the late 90’s and people have been digging for a substitute ever since. Some folks thought it lowered the ground clearance too much, especially on peg-dragging turns. I didn’t ever have a problem with that, but I’m not that adventurous, either. My experience with a pair of these stands was good enough that I wouldn’t be anywhere without one.

ClearShield Windshield
I bought the very first one of these ever built. I wrote it up in an article I did for Rider Magazine and I thought it did a good job for what it was intended. It provides decent weather protection from the neck down. However, it doesn’t decrease the wind noise for the rider.

Kerker Exhaust System
This came with my first TDM. The pipes are light and noisy as hell. I, eventually, sold them and went back to stock. I got tired of the evil looks I was getting from my neighbors.

Supertrapp Exhaust System
This came with the second TDM I owned. The Supertrapps were a lot less irritating than the Kerkers and equally light. For what that’s worth. Still, I’d rather have the stock pipes and be able to ride into my driveway with the motor on, late at night. I seriously doubt that any aftermarket company can improve a modern Japanese motorcycle manufacturer’s performance. But the weight is a big deal, for racers. Either the Kerkers or Supertrapps probably weigh a fifth of the stock pipes.

Carburetor Modifications
I did both the shim correction and the Factory carb kit to the two TDM’s I owned. Unfortunately, neither of the bikes were very similar when the job was done, so I can’t give you a report of which was the best setup. The TDM is a miserably difficult bike to work on, in some ways. The fairing, side covers, tank, and aircleaner have to come off to get to the carbs. I wasted most of a winter doing the Factory setup on my second TDM and I’m not convinced I saw any improvement. The shim correction, on the other hand, is well worth doing. Replace the emulsion tubes while you’re in there and you’ll see an improvement in mileage and low end performance.

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1 Response to Bikes I’ve Owned and Loved (a lot or a little): 1992 Yamaha TDM 850

  1. Pingback: There Are Tires and There Are Tires | Geezer with A Grudge

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