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Yamaha XV 750 Virago “Reciprocity”

Posted on December 30, 2010 by Scott in Café Racer, Other. 54 comments

Imagine being asked to build a custom bike for a hitman. That’s what advertising creative John Ryland was commisioned to do by director Sunny Zhao. Although, the “hitman” in question was a fictional character starring in his new film called Reciprocity. It all sounded too good to be true for a ‘part-time builder’, so I asked John a few questions about the project:

So you were asked to build a motorcycle for a feature film. How did that come about? 

Sunny and I met about eight years ago when he directed some commercials for me, and we’ve remained friends since. Recently, he opened a restaurant in a historic section of Richmond, and I’d ride my modified XS 850 there quite a bit. Sunny loves that bike and asked me if I could build one kind of like it for his movie “Reciprocity.”

Did he give you a description of the hitman, or maybe show you some scenes?

We met at his studio and he showed me one of the shootout scenes. Amazing. The movie’s heroine is an assassin, her nemesis is a hit man who killed her dad when she was young. Sunny describes the antagonist as cool, calculated and ruthless. The only thing that he cares anything about is his motorcycle — which, ostensibly, he cares for and modifies when he’s not busy killing people. If there’s anything human or warm about the killer, it comes across in the attention he pays his bike.

I wanted it to look harsh and battle scarred, but very personal as well — like this guy forged it to fit him like a suit of armor. The other thing I was going for was to make it look modern and old at the same time — a futuristic antique, if that makes any sense.

Apart from Sunny being inspired by your XV 850, was it an open brief?

To Sunny, my 850 conjures up visions of old P-51 Mustang fighters from WWII, and he really liked that raw, weapon-like vibe. So he wanted me to run with that and come up with something that people would look at and say, “What the hell is that thing?”

Ok, now down to the business end. Can you give us some details about the build?

First of all the battery is mounted under the tank in a specially fabricated bracket. To charge or (heaven forbid) jumpstart the bike, I ran a positive lead to a special tab under the tail section. Simply clamp the positive clip to the isolated positive post on the tab, and the negative clip to the negative tab, and you’re good to go. No need to remove the tank. The wiring harness was shortened by about 70 percent and tucked under the tank as well.

Other than the hidden electrical system, the other major undertaking was the front end — a 2000 Yamaha R1 setup with triples carefully modified by the amazing machinists at Maxum Machine here in Richmond.

Your day job is advertising. When did you work out you had the skills to build bikes? Is it something you have always done?

I just started taking an interest in them over the past few years — modding them for maybe a year and a half. I’ve been into modifying and racing cars for 15 years or more, though. I actually convinced the agency to let me build a short track car and race it a few years back. That was ridiculous.

In the late ’90s I had a fixation with VW Sciroccos and did several engine swaps in those. Most recently I built an intercooled turbo minivan that is the ultimate sleeper. Fastest vehicle I’ve owned. That van taught me many new ways to break stuff.

The auto skills translate pretty well to bikes, but I spent all summer building bikes alongside my college buddy Greg Ownby who was a bike mechanic for 10 years. That was great because it basically pointed out all I don’t know. It’s more fun when I’m learning, I guess.

How long did it take to build the XV?

With my real job being so busy, it took me probably eight months to get it where it is. When it gets warmer, Sunny will shoot the bike scenes, so I’ll take it apart and go over everything again right before that. Once the bike shots are wrapped, I’ll make some adjustments so it’s a little more comfortable for Sunny to ride around town. I actually think the bike is very comfortable. Nice seating position, but I’ll probably lower the rearsets slightly for him.

Lastly, I have to ask, why did you choose a Virago as the donor bike?

Believe it or not, I actually sought out a Virago. Go figure. The early ones like this had a monoshock which gives me a lot of flexibility when determining the lines of the bike. I can drop a solo seat way down near the tire or keep it up high like a sport bike. I went for the latter because it seemed more purposeful and went with the new front end nicely.

Anything else?

That’s about it! If you don’t mind, please credit all photography to the talented Adam Ewing.

[Thanks to Cindy and BikeEXIF for putting us on to John]

  • Andrew

    Being a bit of a sports bike fan, I love the way this bike manages to be rat, sports, and cafe all at the same time. Amazing accomplishment when you stop to think about it…

  • Detlef
  • Detlef

    but better components

  • Motor

    shafties rule.

    I very much dislike the mixed wheels (the XV rear and yam front) though.

  • kik

    DAMMIT! i had one and got rid of it cause i thought it was ugly, now after seeing these i want it back!! cool looking thing

  • skillet

    HELLUVA bike, especially since it started life as a Virago!!!

  • Paddy

    I totally agree. Wish the wheels matched though. Virago? Who knew!

  • Thanks for posting, Scott! Detlef, regarding the other Virago, THAT one definitely came first. He built a sister bike to it that's also fantastic. For me, it's the bike that shed the light on a lowly Virago's potential. I love that thing. If I were to build one for non-movie use, it'd be more like that one. I love the tail section. Still, really happy with the way the Reciprocity bike came out. Serves its purpose well. Also, I hear you guys on the wheels. It was just one of those things that would have eaten up the budget for low gain on-screen. It's easy to shoot around that kind of thing, but hard to configure a modern wheel on the old shaft system. And I definitely didn't want to put a Virago front wheel on that sweet front end! Ahh, trade-offs. Thanks for the comments, guys.

  • Paddy

    Well that explains it. All is forgiven.Great looking unit no matter which way you cut it!!!

    Now let's see what you can do with a Yamaha XZ Vision. That thing is HIDEOUS! Photoshop anyone?

  • Greg

    Ah the Vision. Had more water pipes than a house (with many places to leak!) Now, if I could get my hands on another Suzuki RE-5 rotary….THAT would be a crazy custom!!!

  • Seth

    You should either learn how to produce better penetrating welds, or hire someone who knows the trade a little better.

  • cins79

    thanks for featuring John Ryland, it is great to show that people are not afraid to tackle new things, without him, i would not have my awesome xs650. The the negative comments: come on guys how do you think things evolve? it is quite easy to be a critical purist, it takes a little more to try things that may or may not work. step out of the safety zone, the norm; strive for the unexpected you may be surprised.
    i am sure i am asking for it with those comments, but my bike makes me happy. that is what matters.

  • Paddy

    Seth, why you such a dik?

    Show us yours with-out your magic welds.

  • Ha. I'm just glad someone said "penetration!" I think it boosts traffic.

  • Robert J. Ralph

    Absolutely nothing pretentious about this bike. That's what I like about it. Stripped Down Functionality. Zero BS. The functionality allows the aesthetic to speak for itself.

  • Devin

    I've seen this bike up close and have even ridden it. What is most amazing about this it and others John has built is that they have a soul. It reflects the movie character it was designed for perfectly. More like a trusty steed than just a vehicle. That is unique and something that cannot be taught. Talk all you want about welds and wheels but this thing lives and breaths.

  • Riotbike

    How do you treat the tank so that you can keep it raw without it rusting?

  • You gotta appreciate the "sow's ear into a silk purse" aspect of working with something like a Virago instead of a rare, valuable classic
    like a Pan or something…. Very much in the spirit of the originall Bobbers, many of which began as Army surplus bikes. Unwanted and
    bought cheap.

  • There's nothing on the tank at the moment. I'll keep it raw til after the the bike scenes are wrapped, then either have it plated and brush it or clear coat it. Definitely a chore keeping it rust-free in the meantime!

  • Love this bike!! Nice and raw.

    About the tank: Try to find a product called 'owatrol'. I painted the bare naked tank of my CB 750 with it and it's been holding up fine for months now.

  • Josh

    Amazing bike, on par with the cafe zero virago. I admire the overall aesthetic, and I also like this tail design a little better than the cafe zero.

    However, I disagree with Mr. Ralph about the "stripped down functionality." The streetfighter aesthetic can be just as pretentious and mannered as any other style. (For example, wouldn't it be much more functional to just paint the darn tank so it isn't always rusting? Raw steel is sexier, but quite impractical– the exact opposite of "zero BS.") In fact, I'm sure that Mr. Ryland's design is just as carefully calculated as that of any other object of high fashion. I think it's a big mistake to see this bike as either a work-in-progress or an equation of form and function.

    Cute solution to the tank badge problem! The maxim 650 tank has the same inset badge mounts as the virago tank, and it looks funny if you do bare steel (as on my bike). Did you mount the rearsets where the passenger footpegs used to be? And where is the battery box? Congrats on an awesome bike!

  • Thanks again, fellas. And thanks for the tip, MIOB. I'll check it out! Clearcoat works, but not long-term and doesn't always give the finish I want.

    Josh: Yep, rearsets are mounted where the back pegs would go. I used TC Bros. Choppers units that worked nicely.

    And yeah, this bike is a rolling contradiction of sorts — meticulously made to look like the owner doesn't care what it looks like. Haha. In the movie, I want it to come across more like Robert sees it — purpose-built, bare minimum — like a soldier's trusty Ka-Bar. On the streets of the real world, though, I must admit I feel a little over-prepared for battle sometimes!

  • Oh, sorry, Josh… Battery is under the tank. There's a quick description in Scott's article (above) and a little more on my blog if you snoop around. I don't think I can link you there directly from here.

  • I like this one. Has a lot of nice features while being part show/movie, part daily bike… But what about the seat and the rims mix? Exhaust? And I will remove the drum brake for better braking and matching with the other elements.

  • Andrew

    @JRyland Mucho thanks for taking the time to answer all those questions. Be sure to keep us updated with any new bikes – I'm sure I speak for most when I say I can't wait to see what you do next.

  • Norman

    What kind of controls are those?

  • Will do, Andrew. Got a few in the works now. Thanks!
    Norman, the levers are made by Pazzo (I'm pretty sure) and the rearsets are made by TC Bros. The handlebar controls are stock to the Virago.

  • J Luthenswaffer

    Once again you amaze mit overwhelming design and construction.
    Cudo's keep coming, and justifiably so!
    What's next, a calender with beautiful motos and haughty frauleins?
    Hope so.

  • Seth

    I am a dick for telling him to produce safer welds? Who will the dick be when the swing arm cracks and falls off when someone is rollin down the freeway at 65? For the haters, google my name and look at one of my bikes. Seth Tangen.

  • Come on, Seth.

    If the swingarm cracks and falls off, I'd suggest complaining to Yamaha. That setup is 100 percent factory.

    I leave the structural stuff to people who "know the trade a little better," like you suggested.

    What else can I do for you?

  • Seth

    Haha nothing for me. Great work man. No offense meant by any of my comments. Keep building, keep doin what you love.

  • Drake

    My brother and I did a XV920 Virago a few years back. It was a true down and dirty low buget. Bought the bike for $300 and added about $200 to get it road ready. It always seemed to get peoples attention.

  • Drake

    PS, I forgot to say great work. Keep it up.

  • Critic

    Cool bike, but doesnt quite meet the builders description of it.. Not really battle hardened, and doesnt resemble a "suit of armor" forged for anyone. When you break it down, it didnt really get a lot of modification. My personal opinion.

  • Haha. Copy that, critic. Seemed like a lot of modification at the time, but I guess she does kinda look like a stocker 🙂

  • Ricky

    I live in Richmond, and I have a cafe Vrago, I really need to see this thing in person!

    p.s. we're running the same controls.

    p.s.s. You can use a late 90's Triumph Daytona 999 (or something like that) rear mono shock as a replacement for the crappy Virago monoshock, the Triumph shock is also external canistered (with nitrogen) and adjustable.

  • JRyland

    Richmond, Virginia? Really? On a café XV? No way! I can't believe I haven't run into you around town. Small world. I'll have to look into the Triumph shock (if not one of their single-sided swing arms. oh yeah.) If you search RVA Cafe Moto on Facebook, you'll find a good group of locals. Hope to see you around. JR

  • Ricky

    I'm actually a member of that group, although I didn't realize it until just now. My friend Devin must have recommended it to me or something a while back. I'm sure I will see you around as soon as the weather warms back up. I might need your expertise with some front end changes in the near future.

  • shogun

    ryland you kick butt!! your vision for this lowly bike has transformed it into something, we in the visionary community would call, epic.

    We have a favorite in the car community:

    Man, you have inspired me to get a good cheap dead platform and make it something unique and E-famous!

    keep being blessed.

  • cafe racer001

    as soon as i saw this, it reminded me of cafe racer zero did you get any ideas or maybe might have seen this bike before? its a scary resemblance

  • @cafe racer 001: Yes, I've absolutely seen that bike before. I love it. I think it inspired me and a lot of other folks to try something with the Virago. We actually covered this earlier in the comments. I wouldn't say the resemblance is "scary". But the bikes have very similar silhouettes! Great bike and very influential. JR

  • Xombie

    Did you have to modify the gas tank to accommodate the battery? Were any parts other than the seat, and battery setup special "one off's" ? And the big question is, would you consider it flattery or forgery if I tried to reproduce this bike with my Virago?

  • Xombie: I had to relocate the front mounting points for the tank. I also welded a plate on the rear to cover up everything. I made an integrated battery holder/tank mount. Otherwise the one offs are what you can see. Clearly I'd rather you let me build you one, but I suppose imitation is the next best thing! Best of luck on the project. Should be a blast. JR

  • master painter

    i work for sever cycles i just got a verago its my first bike in the us. id love to talk to you in person how do i do that? can you send me a email with addres or number? love the bike its a impresive pice of art.If you can respond asap gota a show to go to for 1 month. gota bild a chopper in public speed. thanks

  • So, you're building a bike at a show or something? Like for an audience? Sounds fun. No pressure. haha. You can email me at john@classifiedmoto and I'll respond there so we can talk about what you have in mind. Looks like Severe Cycles is in Maryland. Not too far from here. JR

  • Manos

    Very very nice bike indeed!!!

    Three questions, if I may:
    1) Is that frame stock virago?
    2) Have you done anything to the engine to increase power? If so, what?
    3) What's the weight of the bike?

    Many thanks

  • andy

    what's the tires manufacture /model on this bike? Anyone have a clue ??

    Bike Exif = October 21, 2010 Ryland ~ 1982 XS650 Heritage Special

    • Interesting! Looks like the tank’s different/been painted, though…

  • Coldsunshine

    Seth, I Googled your name and if those are your choppers, they look like crap. Not nearly as good as this bike. So he has ugly welds. You have ugly builds. If you’re going to jab someone else, you better make sure you’re all that.

  • Mwakey

    Where did you hide the battery and all the other wiring?

  • jtads

    Quick question about the wiring! I know you shortened it and relocated it under the tank. I will be putting a custom subframe on shortly. Which means the rear fender will be tossed out of my garage at lightning speed. Of all those relays and wiring located on the rear fender what do I have to keep and what can I toss? the only wiring I want going to the rear fender is for the tail light. I will have a lot of room under the tank for anything I need to keep. My battery will be remaining in the stock location until I can afford a smaller lithium ion batter to stick under the seat. Thanks for your help! Bc I need it!

  • Mathew Davison

    I just came a cross a 81 KZ440 and I’m going to it “John Ryland Cafe” style. I dig all the fat raw welds, the tank and fork style. Def one of my inspirations for my build! Thanks John

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