BMW Motorrad Spezial

Yamaha Virago custom

Yamaha Virago custom
One of the most underrated custom platforms has got to be Yamaha’s Virago. It first appeared as the XV750 in 1981, and made an immediate impact—to the point where it was one of the bikes that prompted a US tariff on imported motorcycles over 700 cc, arguably to protect Milwaukee. The Virago sub-brand was soon spread thin with subsequent models going down to 250 cc, but the 80s big-bangers are still held in high regard. The custom shown here is a 1981 model, rebuilt in Haaksbergen in the Netherlands as a tribute to the Zero Engineering style. I’d be happy to have this one in my garage. [Thanks to Anthony Lukas.]

Yamaha Virago custom
Yamaha Virago custom
Yamaha Virago custom

  • When I saw the link on Twitter “Virago Custom” I nearly hit the delete button – which would have been a mistake as this is a really nice bike – super cool in fact.

  • Lovely – such a thin line between cafe & bobber, sometimes. Nice example!

  • mack-o-matic

    hell yeah! rockin’ and rollin, very inspired working there. thumbs up

  • Nice bike! I’ve never been a big Virago fan as they just don’t “flow” to me. However, this takes an otherwise UJM and puts a twist to it. Well done. =) Squirts

  • Aindriú

    I’ve liked this bike since I first saw well over a year ago while searching for things to do to my XV750MK. Lately I’ve seen the Zero Cafe around a lot more on the internet with several people are building cafes (loosely) based off this bike. The one thing I’ve always thought this bike was missing, to pull off both Cafe & Zero styles, is spoke wheels.

    @Squirts: The XV750 is definitely not a UJM (Universal Japanese motorcycle), aside from being manufactured in Japan & being a motorcycle the earlier VXs have very, very little in common with any example of a UJM I can find. The two biggest differences being the XVs don’t have a cradle-frame, and they have v-twin engines.

  • Viv

    I have to admit I am pretty surprised as to just how well that works! I would never have taken a Virago as a starting point for a cafe bike but today I leraned some thing

  • Buzz

    This is a reminder that almost any bike can be reimagined into something very different and clever. Makes me wish I’d kept mine, but the Virago only sounded good with a helmet on.

  • rob

    is this a hard tail…no evidence of suspension

  • jollyroger234

    Rob, If you’ll take a very close look at the two bikes in the last picture, I believe you can see the base of a shock on the top part of the swingarm on the Blue bike. The shock runs up under the gastank.

  • D.

    I like it, though the engine does look like it’s about to fall out in the second picture.

  • ben

    I like the use of the back wheel up front–it serves the meaty front end look that’s so popular, and it minimizes the swirly spoke design that I never liked about Yamahas of that era. Also, the stressed 90° engine/no downtubes look never looked right on the laid back custom, or even the XV920, but it works wonderfully here.

  • AJ

    Amazing – the Virago has officially been removed from my “I’d rather be dead than own that” list…

  • DnA

    Those are nice. Anyone know what gas tank they’re using? Viragos are plentiful and relatively cheap in the States. I see clean VX750s all the time for $1000 – $1500. I just saw a Yamaha factory blacked-out one called a Midnight Virago. Might make an excellent cafe project.

    BTW, Kneeslider had a recent article on a 920 Virago engine in a Featherbed frame:

  • Jonathan


  • johnly

    i’m very suprise.. this is very sub-zero Virago

  • ulf

    one of the most perfect bikes i’ve seen! wow.

  • Aindriú

    @rob: The early Viragos (81-83) have a mono-shock rear suspension; like most modern Sportbikes.

    @DnA: They’re using slightly modified Virago tanks actually. I have an XV750MK (Midnight Virago), once you get rid of the ugly gold trim they look real nice.

  • THANK YOU! I built a café Virago similar to the above in 1982, and it has always been my guilty secret that I owned an XV at all! But now I don’t have to be ashamed any longer.

    Yamaha built a vertical twin (XS) and a classic thumper (SR) inspired by Brit bikes. But do you see their inspiration for the Virago? Look past the styling: it was the Vincent! Similar monoshock, similar stressed engine frame, v-twin. All unusual features for a road bike when the XV was introduced, but all used on the Vincent.

  • Ogre

    Want. That is bloody brilliant!

  • Yes! – Vincent is exactly what came to my mind when I saw this.

  • WRXr

    I have to say that I can’t get these bikes out of my mind. I keep coming back to the site for a look.

    Are there any more details on the build? Any custom parts?

  • Neil

    Have you seen what these bikes go for? They have a better resale than NC45’s! Surprisingly and disappointingly not a bargin donor bike for a cafe racer custom job.

  • Buzz

    The rear is a De Dion style shock/arm linkage. It handled well without alot of air or other period corrections. It really sounded awful though, very tinny. I sold mine for $150(US) a little over ten years ago, They guy I got it from originally wanted $500 but took $350. The starters are crap and cost $300 to replace from Yamaha. Not suprisingly because of thier failure rate, you can still buy them new. You can also get NOS tanks from Yamaha. Virago’s were made for a very long time. I kind of think the 535 would benefit from a similiar treatment and that should be a very cheap custom/special/rod/whatever..

  • Woody

    Dunno what country you’re posting from Neil, but in the U.S. you can get an early 80’s virago for less than $1,000 US. I couldn’t even find an RC45 for sale on craigslist or ebay.

  • Neil

    Woody, in Australia. There are mid ’80s models asking $6-8k! I would have expected $1k. Interestingly they are pretty well all very low milage bikes. That has to be a statement in itself.

    Perhaps there’s a market in importing US Viragos and selling them for heaps in Oz?

    They tend to be popular here with non-confident riders (they get touch the ground) and those that can’t afford Harleys.

  • Troy

    I really like this bike, Its clean, stout and looks like you could just ride it all day long.

  • powermatic


    It probably would be rideable all day, as long as you rode in a straight line. Go to the link, scroll about 3/4 down, and look at the (lack of) ground clearance in the photo of a very mild turn. Scary. Plus, the wide front tire does nothing for real-world riding.

    Still, the bike does look great, the ground clearance issue could be easily solved with closer-to-stock suspension, and there’s no need to put a rear wheel on the front, so this could easily be a motorcycle one could actually ride. Win/win.

  • Bob

    I bought my 82 XV920J for $800 in 2009, with 13K miles. Spent time sorting the exhaust and carbs, and learning the air suspension adjustments. A new starter cost $104 online. Also, plan on replacing the idler gear and return spring, so there is another $100. You can do it yourself, with a few tools and some mechanical skill. I ride mine hard, on narrow roads, and do not have any problem with grinding parts down, but it is not a road racer. It could be an all day ride, but the seat will make you get off on a regular basis.
    I love the cafe’s look, and have blacked out my rear suspension also, along with the chrome fenders.

  • Pete

    could you please tell me where you got those wheels? I’m having a very hard time finding custom rims for my 98 virago. Or are those stock for an older model?