Classic Motorcycle Mechanics


Not a bike you see every day… but still, our own Andy Bolas displays his zeal for the Yamaha Zeal!


Andy Bolas rides this rare little rev-monster.

Now here’s a bike we don’t see very often at all, in fact I don’t think there were many about in the UK back in the day due to it being a grey import and I’m talking about when such imports to the UK from the Land of the Rising Sun were very popular.

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that even in the early to mid-1990s, the Yamaha Zeal still wasn’t that popular when it came to container space from the likes of BAT Motorcycle­s or the like. I guess when you can sell all the two-stroke 250 race replicas and 400cc four-cylinder sportsbike­s you can get, then perhaps you’re better off playing it safe?

But I digress. Instead let me introduce to you the Yamaha Zeal: a feisty little four-stroke, four cylinder, retro-styled screamer. The Zeal was produced from 1991-1999, utilising the engine from the screaming FZR250 sports bike in a twin-spar steel frame.

Back in Japan the FZX250 Zeal would be competing for sales against the Suzuki Bandit, Kawasaki Balius and the Honda Hornet all in 250cc form. All the bikes previously mentioned seemed to use the same formula of a screaming four-cylinder motor suspended in a cheap, low-tech frame and budget running gear, and all were limited to a claimed 40bhp for the home market in Japan. It wasn’t just the 250s that did this as many manufactur­ers did the same with their 400cc powerplant­s, making such quirky and funky two- wheelers as the Kawasaki Xanthus (ZXR400 power) and many Honda CBS, Suzuki Bandits and Impulses, etc.

Spec-wise, the Zeal doesn’t stand out as any better than the other 250cc naked bikes actually, although it is the lightest out of this group of bikes weighing in at 145kg dry. I’m not a huge fan of small capacity four-strokes to be fair, but the little Zeal has a certain charm

and cuteness to it. looking around the bike, and its standard Yamaha 1990s fare for switch-gear, etc. The finish on the bodywork seems good, as does the plating, and the twin stack exhausts are lovely looking. One thing though, the polished rims are a little tarnished, but let’s not forget this is a 20-odd-year-old motorcycle that has gone through several owners in the UK and who knows how many in Japan before it was imported. There are a few cool touches like the cubby hole at the front of the fuel tank and also a bag which can be strapped to the back seat which also has its own waterproof cover, all of which are genuine Yamaha! Nice touches, eh?

I spoke with CMM reader and the owner of this test bike Andy Greenwood about various aspects of ownership. He says: “I first set eyes on the Zeal when its previous owner was exhibiting the bike on a VJMC stand at the Sywell Pistons and Props event.

“Nothing really prepares you for the sound that the Zeal makes: it's a sweet, high-revving melody. Once you realise that you're riding a 'two-stroke four-stroke', you get the hang of the power delivery. This bike sings sweetly right up to its 14,500rpm redline!”

Basically, I instantly fell in love with its quirky looks and after asking to sit on the bike I knew it was a bike I would love to own. All of this was reinforced when he started the bike to load it up in his van: the noise it made was just intoxicati­ng and that was it, I was sold! Since I have owned the bike I have done a few runs on it and really enjoy riding the bike, I find it very easy to get on with and it gets lots of comments from both motorcycli­sts and nonmotorcy­clists alike. I think it was extremely good value for money for such a rarely seen model as I got the bike for a very good price!

“I don’t think I can find anything negative to say about the Zeal, I even prefer this to my 350 YPVS, which may shock some folks! I would thoroughly recommend a Zeal as I just love it; if you get the opportunit­y take it, you won’t regret it!”

On hearing Andy’s glowing reference to the Zeal, this Andy was more than looking forward to giving the little Yamaha a good revving! He was so right. Firing the bike up and you’re greeted with a sound you wouldn’t expect from such a low-spec, low-level (I guess we’d say ‘learner’) machine: the noise emitted from the twin stack system sounds like a racing car! Not quite what I was expecting, but a pleasant surprise.

I start off by putting a good few kilometres on it mainly around town, and here’s when you realise it’s a small-capacity four-stroke. I found that you need at least 4000 revs to get away from the lights. Other than this it seemed to ride nicely, with no nasty shocks or surprises. The whole chassis is delicately balanced and easy to throw around, although you never seem to get the four-cylinder 250 above 6-7000 revs when tootling along in the urban sprawl. But it’s flexible enough.

For the pictures we ventured out on to some fast A and B roads and to be honest I thought the little Zeal may have been a little out of its depth, but I was pleasantly surprised once more! The motor is rather hard work and you have to keep it spinning well above 8000rpm to get any real progress, but

the cacophony of sound from that twin stack system above 12,000 was something you don’t hear very often and let me tell you this sweet melody is absolutely awesome! Riding along at 60mph in top gear, should you want to pass the vehicle in front you’re going to need to drop a couple of gears and then the bike is happy to sing all the way up to its 14,500 redline, although the power understand­ably tails off at around 14,000rpm.

Riding around the lanes showed up the suspension a little, but I guess the bike wasn’t designed for an enthusiast­ic 18-stone ‘big lad’ rider. Also, unfortunat­ely the front forks are non-adjustable and the twin rear shocks are only adjustable for spring pre-load, and they’re old! I have to keep reminding myself that this is a ‘budget’-type bike. Worth a mention is the lovely slick clutch and gearbox which is great, especially as you’re forever up and down the ’box to ensure good forward momentum. Oh, and the brakes are pretty good too, especially the front considerin­g it is a low-tech ‘of the time’ twin-piston sliding affair!

For me, the Zeal performs a neat ‘sleight of hand’ really… Because of the sound it emits, it really gives you the illusion of high-speed thrills when in reality you are more than likely just on the speed limit. That’s a typical, but very neat small-capacity bike trick and one which often keeps our licences safe. The handling of the Zeal was pretty solid, but (I found out later) if pushed too hard the bike could be tied in knots if you had a couple of sharp bends in quick succession and with an uneven surface. As said, this is partly down to the cheap suspension components, but also its short wheelbase. I wonder how a Zeal with decent/upgraded suspension would handle? Could be a mouth-watering prospect, when allied to that screaming, saucy, banshee wail…

I must admit that I enjoyed my time with the Zeal and didn’t really want to hand it back to its owner as I was just starting to get to grips with its almost two-stroke nature! This is an ideal bike for those of short stature (of which I’m one), or for those who don’t want a big, heavy, imposing machine it’s an ideal choice if you can find one. It really got me wondering why they didn’t produce a 400cc Zeal. I know they (Yamaha) built an XJR400, but they look a little more traditiona­l in comparison… Shame, a 400 would be lovely!

“If your riding gets a little 'spirited' then this can show up the non-adjustable forks and pre-load only twin rear shocks, but I'm imagining what one with sorted suspenders would feel like. The single disc and twin-sliding caliper do well!”

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 ??  ?? TOP: If only you could hear the sound!
TOP: If only you could hear the sound!
 ??  ?? ABOVE: FZR250deri­ved mill gives sound and oomph up to around 14,000rpm.
ABOVE: FZR250deri­ved mill gives sound and oomph up to around 14,000rpm.

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