Motorcycle Therapy with a Yamaha Santa Barbara

Author John L. Stein spends $50 on a 1964 Yamaha Santa Barbara and a dream that won’t quit.


| September/October 2017


It’s possible that I may need a therapist, and I am hoping someone can recommend one.

You see, I am prone to acting on impulse, most recently squandering a perfectly good $50 bill to rescue the 1964 Yamaha 125 Santa Barbara YA6 seen here, spending untold hours working on it with little guarantee of any return, and then taking it on a nearly impossible ride.

The embarrassing thing is, I had the money for a better motorcycle. I knew this castoff would be needier than a snubbed Yorkie. And I assumed the ride would be long and painful. And yet, knowing all this in advance, I did it anyway. To frame my admission, it seems fitting to quote a line from a catchy Dierks Bentley tune: “I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?” That about sums up this one-year saga. So please, let me get it off my chest.

Once upon a sweet ride

What I was feeling one innocent afternoon last year was that I just needed a new spark plug or fuel line or something as I wandered through the back door of Sport Cycle Pacific, my local Californian mom-and-pop motorcycle shop. But what I saw shoved up against a workbench was something else entirely — the forlorn, rusty, dingy Yamaha YA6 Santa Barbara a patron had dropped off. Or more like, abandoned. “Huh,” I thought. “A Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, California.”

Yamaha’s YA6 was actually a pretty sophisticated little bike for 1964. It’s a 125cc 2-stroke with the first application of oil injection in lieu of labor-intensive premix, a robust 12-volt electrical system instead of 6-volt, the luxury of both electric and kickstarting, and racy rotary-valve induction, which maximized the small engine’s powerband and output. Downsides to the model were small 16-inch wheels and frumpy styling that, although typical for the day, has not aged particularly well.

The machine had apparently been used for just eight years, as evidenced by its 1971 registration sticker and just 761 miles showing on the odometer. Although clearly worse for wear, for the money it did seem like a compelling barn find. And I was the perfect dupe to adopt it. The rust and crust, a broken front brake cable and multiple other issues including a frozen engine didn’t faze me. Although they rightly should have.





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