This article was originally published in the June 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

At its peak, the Virago line of cruisers was a force to be reckoned with in metric cruiserland. Ah, but times change, and cruiser fashions have stepped away from the Virago and toward the Stars.

2001 Yamaha Virago
The 2001 Yamaha Virago carries on the family tradition with its major features from the chrome intake pods to its big front wheel to its pullback bar to its stepped seat.Dean Groover

Looking at this 250 is a trip down memory lane. All of its major features bear the Virago family resemblance. From the chrome intake pods to its big front wheel to its pullback bar to its stepped seat—even the drum rear brake—this bike could only be a Virago. Supporting all these reminiscences is a double cradle frame with the front raked out (chopper-style) to 32 degrees. Holding the 1.6-inch by 18-inch wheel in place, the 33mm fork transfers steering inputs from the buckhorn bar to the Cheng Shin rubber on the pavement. The 58.7-inch wheelbase is the longest of the gang assembled for this test. Twin shocks with dual rate springs keep the swingarm attached to the chassis. A 130/90-15 Cheng Shin tire mounts to the 15-inch spoked rear wheel.

The bodywork is pure custom styling. A plastic front fender hugs the rubber on the big hoop while the metal rear fender draws its inspiration from bob-jobs of the 1940s. Side panels tuck neatly away inside of frame members for a clean style. A teardrop tank holds a mere 2.5 gallons of petrol. The famed Virago pods—love ’em or hate ’em—house nothing on the left side and the intake on the right. On the other end of the combustion equation, staggered dualies are standard Virago fare. The minimalist instrumentation resides above the triple clamp. The biggest fashion faux-pas are the ugly black plastic mirrors, which only redeem themselves by offering the most adjustability and the best rear view of our pack o’ lightweights.

2001 Yamaha Virago
An air-cooled V-twin, what could be more classic? The increased complexity of manufacturing the engine is most likely the explanation for the Virago's class leading price.Dean Groover

The engine is also pure Virago. The air-cooled 60 degree V-twin displaces 249cc thanks to its bore and stroke of 49 x 66mm. Each of the cylinders is topped with its own single overhead cam driving two valves. One 26mm Mikuni handles the carburetion, and a digital TCI controls the spark. A five-speed transmission feeds the power to the chain drive.

Depending on who was doing the ranking, the Virago finished either second or third in the power department, so we’ll call it a tie with the Suzuki. Some of the Virago’s power probably comes from sporting the highest compression ratio of the class (10.0:1). Regardless, the Virago was quick off the line, delivering pleasant power whether in the urban jungle or on country back roads. Keeping up with interstate traffic was easy until on the high side of 70 mph. Cruising power was good and only occasionally required downshifts for hills. The exhaust note left the others in the dust.

2001 Yamaha Virago
If you question this budget-conscious construction, take a look at the stamped steel brake linkage, drum brake and chain drive.Dean Groover

The Yamaha’s brakes were a topic of much discussion. First, the long reach to the lever wasn’t a problem since there was an easy method to adjust it. However, the 11.1-inch front brake was the grabbiest of the test. Despite being touchy at low speeds, the binders were the most powerful of the bunch, yet they still required a firm pull. The rear brake was strong, but offered little feel for how much it could be applied before lockup.

Some of the riders found the riding position to be a bit cramped. One felt it was caused by the angle of the grips, which required his arms to be held close to his body. The left controls also drew comments about the turn signal and horn button placement. When riders first rode the Virago, they would invariably hit the horn when trying to signal. This was most likely caused by the grip position, too. Riders who are long in inseam may find that the curve at the rear of the seat is uncomfortable on the ol’ coccyx after awhile.

Despite these quibbles, two testers chose the Virago as their pick for best all-around lightweight, and a third ranked it second. Clearly, this bike has a lot going for it. Although it is the most expensive of our quartet, the $3399 price is easy to swallow. For the additional $400, Virago owners will enjoy the only V-twin of the class. And we all know how cruisers feel about V-twins….