Aug 13, 2009

My Top Ten Bike List #9: Yamaha XT350

Now we are getting down to it. The first 8 picks in this list of ten were easy. The last two will be hard, mostly because they are the last two. Once I've made this choice, I only have one pick left and I'm done. No more flexibility. No going back. I'm on record until the record disappears. I'm, of course, tempted to pick something really flaky, like a 1979 Rokon Scout, one of the ugliest, most practical off-road vehicles ever made. But it really isn't one of my favorites. It would be cool if it was, but it isn't. This is hard. I might not have ten favorite bikes. What do I do then?

Aw hell, I know one of the last two has to be the most reliable, fun, versitle, comfortable, useful, easy to service motorcycles I've ever owned; the Yamaha XT350. For many, this will seem like a boring, predictable, common pick for a "favorite motorcycle." You're right. Of all the bikes I've owned and sold, my 1986 XT350 is really the only bike I wish I'd never sold and the only bike I ever owned that I'd like to have back.

From 1981 until 2000, Yamaha made this little enduro over and over again. Sometimes, it got a new paint job, usually it was white and red or white and blue. It's a brick of a bike and it handles well on and off road.

I bought my 1986 XT350 in 1989. I had two years left to get my degree and escape from California. That meant I would be commuting via side streets between Huntington Beach and via PCH to Long Beach 5-7 days a week. The 405 was not an option because it had long since become a parking lot. Commuting via PCH means that you are either splitting lanes during rush periods or you are parked. It also means that you might find yourself squashed between a dozen cars in one of California's famous multi-car pile-ups. Riding a little 350cc enduro meant I could escape traffic easily finding room to split lanes and I could escape being squashed by jumping curbs and hiding from the multi-car events sitting on a sidewalk or in someone's flower bed. I did both, often.

I put 35,000 miles on my XT between 1989 and 1995, when I decided, foolishly, to sell it. My life was overly busy during those last couple of years and I couldn't seem to find the time to get the jetting right for Denver's mile high atmosphere. My bike was dead on for the California beach, but always too rich in Denver. Today, it would be a snap for me to figure out that simple problem, but in 1995 I was so disconnected that I couldn't have fixed a toaster. Bad timing, bad thinking, and a bad decision. I've watched for another XT for more than a decade, but people don't sell those things. It took me four years to snag one in LA. In Minnesota, I probably won't live long enough to get lucky again.

This is a mildly emotional pick. The XT saved my ass dozens of times. It took me places I wanted and needed to go. I burned about a thimble of gas every zillion miles. It always started on the first kick. I have nothing but good memories for that motorcycle.

Here's the rest of the list, with only one bike left to pick:

  1. 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk
  2. All versions of the Montesa Cota trials bike
  3. All models of the Honda Transalp XL600V
  4. Yamaha's SRX Series (250, 400, & 600cc)
  5. 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM
  6. 1977 Yamaha IT175D
  7. BMW R 80GS Paris-Dakar Special
  8. Honda EXP-2


Anonymous said...

You have been looking for a XT350?
I have been trying to sell my 86' Xt350 for a year locally here but this isnt a big motorcycle area. Everybody wants a quad.
To bad your at the other end of the country from AZ. i love the bike but have hip problems and cant kick it over much anymore.
If you come around AZ. shoot me a line.

chadwick70 said...

People don't sell them, but I traded a 78 Honda CB550 for an 89 Xt350 a week ago...It ROCKS on the frozen lakes here in Wisconsin!

Anonymous said...

I have a 1992 XT350 Yamaha Enduro with 370 original miles...the bike is almost mint....I need to sell it and I am located in the Chicago Area. Asking $2600.00 or Best Offer...Again only 370 original miles!! 1-630-709-7592 (ask for Otto)

Hunsberger said...

I was looking for information on the Yamaha XT350 and I found this list (I can't seem to find #10).

I have two bikes that are on your list:
* 1990 Hawk GT (red)
* 1989 Honda Transalp

Plus a 2004 Yamaha XT225 that I bought last year with only 250 miles on it.

Thomas Day said...

#10 is here:

#10 was/is the 650 V-Strom, my current "big bike." I still love it, too.

Larry Hendren said...

My name is Larry Iam 66 years old I have a 1988 Yamaha XT 350 in ment condition with under 1900 miles on it I would like to keep it but I only have 1 leg my right one is the one I lost so I can't kick it plus my wife won't let me on it. If interested and would like pictures email me at and Iwill send them. THANK YOU LARRY

Thomas Day said...

Guys, I'd love to have an XT back in the garage, but my garage is in the process of being sold. In fact, I might not have room for anything other than a couple changes of clothing when this downsizing is finished. We're moving from a 3-5 bedroom house (depending on how you count the rooms) to an apartment or a much smaller house. My 4 car garage could be the last work space I ever own. Tools, hobbies, equipment, and everything else we own is up for sale and I'm just hanging on hoping for a positive outcome. Sorry. No new stuff for Tommy in the foreseeable future.

Faysal Shovon said...

One of the best articles here so far. I can totally vouch for all of it. As a motorcyclist, I've loved every single second spent on my bike.

See more for details @

Αρένιος Αρεφενίτσας said...

I live in Greece and I own an XT-350 imported from US since 1997. Model's year is 1995. It's the most reliable bike ever owned, 50.000 miles on it and I've replaced once only the engine gaskets. It's reliability is phenomenal over time.

Do not hesitate to buy one if you find it in good condition. You're never going to regret it. It's a war tank in its class.

Thomas Day said...

Agreed. You clearly rock, Αρένιος.

Big, fat, and on the East coast said...

I live in the Dom Rep and, after much searching, bought a brand new Honda XR250 last year. I loved the bike, although it was a bit overpriced in my opinion (about $5,200 for a leftover '12 model) and lacked disc brakes in the rear. It was happily reliable - frankly a given for Hondas, although it was my first Brazilian-made bike so I was unsure whether the legendary Honda reliability would extend to this model. Sadly, the thieves loved my bike too and it was stolen a few weeks ago. A friend of a friend is selling his XT350 and your thread pretty much answered all of my questions (reliability, fuel economy, fun factor). I'm hoping to go check it out on Monday and, if everything goes well, bring it back with me too. Thanks again!

Thomas Day said...

Good luck with the new bike. I hope you like yours as much as I did mine.

Dominic Bauer said...

I am currently looking for an XT 350. Anyone have a lead on later model ~2000ish. I will be leaving PDX, OR heading South to Anza Borrego in mid December. Cheers

Thomas Day said...

I am SOOOOOO jealous. I hope you have a great trip.

Anonymous said...

i have a mint 1986 XT350 with only 8,000km. I have had it for 9 years, put in only maybe 3000 km since ive owned it. I have too many toys to keep riding the xt. but i never can find a place in my heart to sell the bike.. its there everytime I need it and everytime i ride it, i say this is why i dont sell it.

Repo Dan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Repo Dan said...

I bought a 1996 XT350 a while ago in PERFECT CONDITION with 12,5?? Miles. Both tires were just replaced, And runs like Brand New, The asking price was $2500, But I had CASH and talked him down to $900. I'm 6'1 & 280 pounds and originally bought it for my Girlfriend, But after riding it, I realized it was WAY too much bike for a woman with only a little riding experience. So I took it instead of buying a KLR650 like I wanted to. And I'm PERFECTLY HAPPY with this little bike !!. It's Awesome off-road and great on the highway. We ride every other day and live in the Ocala National Forest, So we have plenty of Dirt/Sand trails. I bought my Girlfriend a Suzuki DR200SE for $1200 with 3800 miles. It's also Like Brand New!!!!. She loves it, And I love my XT350.. They both weight less than my Street Bike and fit on my carrier on my 1988 Range Rover Classic. Talk about getting some looks when we pull up to the Trailhead !!! Lol. We love the attention. Everyone that See's me ride the XT can't believe how peppy it is. I keep up with all the Dirt Bikes. And leave them Cussing when I take off down the Diet Road towards the Local Store for Soda pops. They putt putt back to there trailers and load up just to make a store run. Myself and my girlfriend put 300 miles on our bikes one day, And 100 of those were on the Interstate !!!;. Both bike did great but kept us in the Slow lane. 60mph was about all we pushed them to. But I'd ride them across the country as long as we didn't have a time schedule !!!. And I also carry 100 pounds of Camping gear on mine... I will NEVER sell these two bikes. They may not be very fast, But I haven't ridden a better bike !!!. I'm so glad I didn't get the KLR 650. I don't care where you ride, Or who you are. A XT350 is a very good bike to have and ride daily !!!!.

Thomas Day said...

You are clearly a wise man and someone who should get some points for trying to keep his girlfriend alive.

James Hunsinger said...

I bought a 2000 xt 350 in Socal for $1500 with a little over 10,000 all freeway miles bike was in great condition and ran really good slight oil leak but I kept on the leak so the oil was always clean but it did always have a tap noise so I put one some miles on it and about 200 of the thousand miles I put on it were on the dirt very pleased with it but one day riding on the freeway between Santa ana California to Anaheim California I heard a clang with a little studder but it only happened once real quick but a few miles down the road the bike died out and oil was going up in the air box and out a hose from the air box so we trucked it to my house it sat for a couple days but it started back up no oil leaking so I started to ride it again not far only 4 miles away and back it ran great it has speed and power no smoke but I didn't push it so I just got from point A to point B but again this time it made like a quick clanging noise and died right out can you give me a idea what might have happened maybe a push rod and someone told me it could be a timing chain???

Thomas Day said...

First guess would be a misadjusted valve that stuck and broke. Could be timing chain, but your earlier symptoms don't seem right for that.