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Could two years under 33bhp be fun? Bob Pickett tests the theory on Yamaha's baby cruiser

Why go for a mini-cruiser like the XV250? Put aside any prejudices you may have and think about it for a moment. They have a low saddle height, their relaxed nature means you won't be buying a bike that has been thrashed and are quite eye-catching (as long as you're prepared to put in the hours with the chrome cleaner). And as you're restricted to 33bhp, then there aren't that many other options open to you - CB250 anybody?

Another thing about Yamaha's cruisers, they build them in 'family' groups. If you really want you can, in the case of the Virago, start off at a learner legal 125cc and work your way up the range, through 250 to 535 to 750 (or 920 if you can find a really early one) culminating with the 1175cc big brother. But as a newly-qualified rider, it is the XV250 that will be your mount for the next couple of years before moving on to the rightly-praised 535.

XV250 - small, sweet & shiny The Virago "family" ran in various guises from the early 1980's until their replacement in recent years by the more Harley-lookalike 'Dragstar' range (has anyone else noticed how the Japanese cruisers have all started looking much more like Harleys over the last few years?) - the exception was the 535, which continued to be built alongside it's 650cc successor - again, tribute to just how right Yamaha got this model - however, like so many others, the 535 has been killed off by those accursed emission regulations.

But back to the XV250 (which is supposed to be the point of this test). Around for a long time in Japan before being imported to these isles in 1995, the development work on the baby Virago was finished years ago. So you know you're getting a package that has stood the test of time and is sorted (well as sorted as the factory are prepared to go anyway).

With a saddle height of only 685mm (that's 27 inches in English), this is a bike even the shortest legged rider can tackle with confidence that they can get their feet down. At a mere 137kg (302lbs) it is very easy to push around as well. The bars look wide, strange and rather over the top and you wonder why Yamaha felt it necessary to put what seem like cowhorns on the little bike.

The riding position places you far more forward on the bike than a first look suggests. But it is way more comfortable than you would imagine - once you've located the footpegs which caught me out the first few times I set off. Add this to the superb plush saddle and those wide bars which mean no pressure on your shoulders and you feel like you could ride the bike forever, way further than the 9.5 litre tank will allow.

Wide, wide bars - look odd, make sense But onto the road! Start it up (electric start, so none of that annoying kicking it into life nonsense), clunk the five-speed box down into first, open the throttle and… sluggish is perhaps the most accurate term to describe how you launch/shuffle out onto the road. It doesn't help that the clutch seems snatchy to begin with. Under way it is fine. But don't expect to win any prizes at the 'Traffic Light GP' with this bike. Pulling away is a sedate pass-time at best.

Underway however, things change. On a decent dual-carriageway I got the Virago up to 65mph with ease. Working the box a little saw it reach its top speed of 75. To keep up the pace at this level it does mean keeping your left foot in full employment. But in reality the little Virago is happy trundling along at 50 -though I have pursued the bike tested here (now owned by my wife) at 60 down the country roads which it handled with aplomb!

The XV250 doesn't accellerate as much as build up speed. So if you are planning any overtaking moves, get yourself up to speed in the midrange, then make your move. But when you do so, you can do it with 100% confidence in the handling. On the test route used, there is a downhill, off-camber right-hander that I found myself taking at the same speed as I would on a bigger, supposedly better handling bike (like my previous Fazer or current SV650S). OK, it was quiet on the road, but I was confident enough in how it handles to pitch in at 'normal' speeds. There was also a patch of cement dust in the middle of the lane on the way home, covering who knows what - just a slight nudge of those wide bars and it was despatched with no concern. This is one nimble, sweet handling little bike.

The suspension is just about good enough to cope with the demands put upon it by the performance. I'd not really want to take it out on truly poor surfaces though - hitting one very bumpy section at about 55, I could feel the rear suspension grounding.

Shiny, shiny tank - no clue there that this is a tiddler The brakes could be better though. The first time I squeezed on the 282mm front disc was like squeezing on nothing at all. It needed a firm application of the rear drum to get any feeling that we were going to stop! However, after a thorough strip down and replacing the pads, the front was transformed (by the way, this was only done after complaint to the dealers - surely this is something that should have been picked up and sorted at the supposed "full service" given after purchase?) You still don't want to put the brakes under any really heavy braking if it can be avoided, but then this is a cruiser (albeit a small one) and this isn't what a bike like this is all about.

Other little niggles? The lights aren't all that powerful and it is really hard to see the difference between full and dipped beam. Also, there is no underseat storage, so the best bet is to fit a sissy bar with additional rack, as in the case of our test bike.

The lack of a rev counter (why not have a cheap one fitted as standard?) is also annoying, but it is probably well overdue for a change up when the view from the mirrors is lost to vibration! When they are not vibrating, the view from the mirrors is pretty decent - those wide bars ensure the view is of the road behind, rather than your shoulders.

And don't even think about taking out a pillion, unless it is Kate Moss. The so-called pillion seat is about the width of a gymnast's beam and adding the weight of a second person is going to make the pull away from the lights even more of a struggle.

So where to ride the little Virago? Motorway riding for any sustained period would be a pain. Holding the throttle wide open angles your wrist backwards - ally this to the lack of protection from wind-buffeting and sustained motorway riding would soon become an uncomfortable experience. Far better to cruise down the old A-roads, which is the real playground for a bike like this. The nimble handling makes for a very enjoyable A-and-B road experience. Take your time, revel in the fact that when you get off you'll be feeling as fresh as when you started out and enjoy the experience.

The XV250 handling the commuter run... Leisure riding is the best home for the XV250, but it will handle the commuter run well enough, as long as you don't need any great bursts of speed. For such a small bike. it gives off a definite presence. Since buying the bike following the road test, quite a few people have been genuinely surprised to find out it is only a 250

Overall? Well I got off with a grin on my face as broad as those cowhorn bars and wanted to go out and play with… I mean ride it again! There are definitely much worse ways of spending your 33bhp years…

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