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’82 Yamaha Virago XV 920

Posted on May 14, 2012 by Andrew in Bobber. 58 comments

I figure it’s best, in the interests of being fair and open, that I disclose a shocking and personal fact. I own a Virago. Oh yes, very funny. Laugh it up, ladies. Say what you will, but you know what? I’m an XV owner and proud. Now mine’s not an 920 jobbie like you see here – she’s a MY 1980 XV 750. But let’s not spilt hairs here, a Virago’s a Virago. Every piss weak, Harley Davidson copyin’ inch of them. So just how does such a seemingly lame-ass no-hoper bike suddenly become the darling of the custom scene? Through a series of sow’s ears into silk purses by Classified Moto, Doc Chops and Zero Cafe Racer – do some Google image searching if you are drawing a blank. And it might well be time to add another name to that list. Meet the Virago that Shed-built, um, built.

Here’s Michiel. “I run a site called and I built the Virago together with a friend of mine, Vincent Verdouw. He is at this moment building a Ducati cafe racer for himself, and we bought an SR500 together since the Virago – it is now finished and we want to continue building bikes.”

Yes, yes. It has pipe wrap. Can we all just pretend the flame war has already happened and ignore it?

It all started for us years and years ago. We both had sportsbikes, he had a ZX9r and I had a YZF750R. We bought a Honda CX500 to see if we could turn the ugly, very rough, little bike into something decent. The end result was pretty cool – but that’s another story. After the CX we bought the Virago with the sole purpose of doing something wild. I think we succeeded…”

It’s a 1982 XV920. We left the wheels stock, we changed everything else. It’s an ultra-low budget build, so we had to be creative.”


“The seat is off of a bicycle.
The seat spring is made of an old
MGB leaf spring my brother had lying around”


Here’s a list of changes. We obviously made our own exhausts. We bought clip-ons and did a lot of work to those, too. We made the rear light 100% ourselves on a crappy lathe. The rear fender used to be the front fender. The big box on the side is for the battery, a XV needs a healthy battery (I hear you – Andrew), so we decided to use the original one and put it in an easy, accessible place. The seat is off of a bicycle. The seat spring is made of an old MGB (car) leaf spring my brother had lying around. The inlet is made of old car exhausts that we got for free at our local car shop. The carburettor is a Solex downdraft carburettor of an Opel Kadet B (again, a car). The headlight is a fog light of a tractor. We raked the frame, as you can see.”

The brake pump is a cable driven BMW brake pump, allowing us to use a reversed (and adapted) brake and clutch handles form some classic bike – a Solex, I think. The speedo off a Suzuki SP370. We made the side covers behind the tank from 3mm steel we got at a local salvage yard. It took quite some hours to hammer that into shape…”

The side mount is made form a bearing puller tool and the forward controls are 100% home made. The hand grips are made of tape for tennis rackets. The wiring loom is 100% home made and uses a Honda CX500 regulator. We had to use a fuel pump and we bought a cheap one for a rally car.”

And there you have it – one of the most original and inspiring Viragos you’re ever likely to see. Michiel has sent us plenty more bikes that he has, or is, customising – including a CX Honda that literally made me say “wow” out loud. Stay tuned for more right here.

  • Guitarslinger

    # 1 Full disclosure – I like this bike . The Drag Bike influence – the angry Pit Bull stance …. the whole enchilada ! A top ten ? No ! But I like it 

    #2 Much as it pains me as a Yank to have to admit this … the Virago motor makes even the newest H-D big twins look like the unreliable Dinosaurs that they are ( including the V-Rod … which is built just N of me BTW) So nerd bike by reputation … maybe … but the  reality is the Virago is a sleeper just waiting for a good kick in the pants like these guys have given it 

    So … for the love of … who ever ….. get the tools to your Virago Andrew and come up with something cool ….. and errr …….. quit yer dad burned whinging ! 😉

    • Richard Brandt

      The reliability of this motor from ’81 to ’84 was minus the atrocious starter design. I just sold a 750 that was worth an extra couple hundred bucks because I had a spare starter and starter clutch to go with it. 🙂

      • Michiel

        Yep. The started has been, and is, giving us major headaches. Unbelievable that a serious manufacturer like Yamaha designed such a system and kept it in production.

        • GuitarSlinger

          Yeah but it’d be ten times worse at the very least ( reliability problems ) if’n it were a H-D motor . This from one who’s until recently had H-D’s in the family since 1926 . Got the photos to prove it ..

          • Interesting to note that the XV 750 was the bike largely responsible for HD lobbying the US government (and succeeding) to put a 700cc and over imported bike tariff in place to protect jobs etc.

          • GuitarSlinger

            Yup ! you got that one right on the nose !

          • Curious…what’s your source on that little historical tidbit? I thought it was the “Japanese Motorcycle Industry flooding the market with big bikes”. Never heard it was because of the Virago.

          • Maybe not solely responsible, but it def. led the charge…

            “That year (1984), Harley-Davidson, fearful of the inroads in the US market made by the Virago and other new Japanese cruiser-style motorcycles, pushed for a tariff on imported bikes over 700 cc. Yamaha replaced the 750 cc engine with a 699 cc version to avoid the tariff.”

          • Guitarslinger

            I was there . Read the news as it happened . Read the books after the fact .  Andrew’s got it spot on . Though to be fair the Japs were flooding the market with their big bikes at a loss in order to push H-D aside .

            And had H-D learned their lessons . gotten their quality control up to par and moved forward with their engineering etc I’d of said the Japanese bit was a good thing . But ….. after about 6 years they went right on back to their bad old ways …. rested on their laurels and their profits and stopped once again giving a Rats behind about their customers 

            Until till now of course that sales are way down , lifelong customers are walking away and the Motor Company is in deep $4iT

            So sad …. too bad …. we’re gone  

          • Harley Davidson kind of reminds me of Royal Enfield. Holding on to old styling and tradition is cool, but not at the expense of quality.

          • Alyn

             Except Royal Enfield are made in India now and the Bullet is pretty much, by a long shot, the best bike on the South Asian market within the budget of the layman.  I say this as someone who has been living in South Asia the last two years.

  • MotoTrooper

    Look I’ll say right off that I like the direction this bike is going, BUT it isn’t there yet. There appears to be a vision behind it and some solid skill and fabrication but it needs finishing. (Isn’t there supposed to be a brake caliper on the left front rotor?) I looked at the website and saw some good projects. I am interested in seeing the further development of this 920 and I don’t mean throwing more money at it, just time and effort…(well maybe buy a left front caliper and not spray them yellow).

    Andrew, if you want to see my Virago build (and others) then let me know.

    • GuitarSlinger

      After that snarky assed comment I want to see your Virago ! Lets see what you got mate that gives you the right to come across with a comment like ” do you wipe your … ” 

      So put up or shut up ! Add Image function is on the lower left ( I’ll do one to show you how ) Or better yet ….. put up a Link . 

      Consider this a good ole Yank ” I’m callin yer ass on the carpet ” smack down challenge

      • GuitarSlinger

        Heck !!!! Hey Andrew the image thingy aint a workin today 

        • As for my Virago, it’s stock standard atm. All I have so far is the bike, a set of R1 forks, and a shim and clip kit for the crappy starter.

          That said, the project is about to begin – it’s in the safe hands of Paul at Evolution. Do a Pipeburn search if yr not familiar with his work.

          We’ll probably feature it as a Pipeburn project bike, so you’ll all be able to follow my trials and tribulations.

      • MotoTrooper

        Hey sweetheart, you may notice that I amended my post about fifteen minutes after I posted it and then went to shedbuilt’s site.  Yeah, you were right about callin’ me out on those remarks, but I didn’t amend them because of you.  The coffee started to kick in and I was feeling less ‘grumpy.’  But fair is fair you wanna see my Virago here you go.  It’s a 535 from ’87 so you look and try to figure out all the mods I engineered.  Hand built baby! I’ve since removed the top mount mirrors and went with underslung bar mount type which cleans the profile even more and I can see better fellow Yank.

        • GuitarSlinger

          #1 Yup all I ever saw was the original 
          #2 So HTH did you amend the post on this site ? You got some magic button I don’t got ? 
          #3 And WTH isn’t the image thingy working for moi ?

          • MotoTrooper

            Well child there’s these buttons on the screen that aren’t like the buttons you forgot to do up on yer shirt.  Ones marked ‘Edit’ next to ‘Reply’ and for your reference here’s a pic of a stock 535 Virago you can force into yer eyeholes.  If you can’t figure it, I underslung the rear suspension, created a rising rate linkage of my own design which reverses the forces on the swingarm from compression into tension, locates all that mass below the ‘center of mass’ as well as concentrating the center.  Raises the ground clearance for more fun in the corners and makes the front end geometry a bit more acute. It works amazing. That is only one of the things I changed.  Where are you slinging those geetars anyway -into a Walmart dumpster?

          • anon

            That is SWEET!

          • Image posting & comment editing only works on particular platforms. Won’t work on iPhone etc.

          • Very nice!

          • GuitarSlinger

            HEY ! ANDREW ! Yeah I’m talkin ta you ya little %$&%#$ Antipode ( :o) )

            Hows about givin this here MotoTrooper fella and his mighty fine Virago a bit of a feature so’s we can all see and read the details about his little beast ? 

          • GuitarSlinger

            Betcha ya thought I forgot about your Virago didn’t ya . I figured after the Sweetheart and then the Child comments ( I’m well over 50 and old enough to have brought most here into the World : yet still in more than  good enough shape to take most of them out of it ) I’d leave you hangin fer a fair piece 

            And yeah , like Andrew said , on my Mac they aint no dad burned stinkin EDIT function …. wise acre . The IMAGE function has ceased to work as well for me this week  

            So to the bike ; 

            First off … its not exactly my cup of tea ( coffee actually ) But having said that a Solid Two Thumbs Up on the build . I may not like the aesthetics ,but there’s no denying the build quality . So a matter of recognizing talent despite  personal tastes …. Kind of like the difference between PEETs and StumpTown coffee . PEETs is my personal coffee of choice … don’t like StumpTowns roasts … but no denying StumpTown is a quality coffee ….. Rosebud 

            ( after the Child and Sweetheart cracks I should of been my usual vindictive SOB self and torn into the bike full force … but looking and the photo i didn’t have the heart to follow thru )

          • MotoTrooper

            Sir, your heart is pumping larger than mine as of late.  I know I shouldn’t have made those cracks at all and I should’ve edited them as soon as I typed ’em.  I have seen your other comments and from them I know you are not a jerk.  I of course can act like a splendid ass at the drop of a hat.  Need more self reflection and less Major Dickason blend of PEETS.  I apologize unconditionally.

          • GuitarSlinger

            Ahhhhh you’re just fine . Actually I got a good laugh out of the comments … so no worries ( to borrow the Antipode idiom ) Nice to meet a fellow Peetnik as well . MD was our fav till we recently switched to  Guatemala San Sebastian . Highly recommended by a par ( wife & I ) of going on 15 year Peetniks 

        • That’s a nice looking ride. You do good work. I’m changing up an unremarkable 87 VT700 Shadow right now and I love seeing bikes that (originally) have swoopy tanks and low back ends. Since this is my first build, seeing mods like this article, your post, Doc’s build and so on really helps me figure out ways to get rid of some of the wannabe chopper swoopy-ness. Thanks for posting the pic.

          Andy, I think you may have another article here.

    • Michiel

      I didn’t see your editing before 🙂
      The caliper was sprayed yellow by the previous owner, we made it black again after the photos in front of the green door weer taken, because you are completely right about that yellow color.

      • MotoTrooper

        Michiel, let me personally apologize to you about those acerbic comments I made early on.  I am sorry.  I was/am struck by the stance and lines of your creation.  That said, the roughness and potential were screaming to me, “I need to be refined and finished!”  And as a builder that gets caught up in the minutiae of a creation while trying to ignore the machine’s screaming, “Dude forget about all the little crap, let’s go ride,” it’s a point of pride that I ignore the machine and keep at it until it is ‘proper’ in my vision.  It all comes down to hubris which is how I got into trouble with GuitarSlinger.  Really though, for me and my creations they never are finished absolutely and ‘Ratbikes’ more often than not SEEM an expression of laziness that can inspire the truly lazy to create some incredibly unsafe contraptions that have all the qualities of a Jerry Springer episode.  Namely they are hard not to look at and you just know and feel that impending doom is one corner away.  I am trying to push things in the opposite direction (Hubris, I know).  I wouldn’t have such a strong reaction if I was indifferent to your build, which I guess means I like your bike.

        • Michiel

          No worries mate 🙂 

  • Michiel

    Let me respond to that (I am Michiel, the builder). I should have made it more clear to Andrew/pipeburn: But the photos showing a black fuel tank are from a very late stage of the build, but not from the finished bike. The photos with the metal-colored tank show the bike as it is.

    But next time, please be more elaborate and tell us what it is exactly that you don’t like.

    • GuitarSlinger

      If the black tank photos are of the bike yet finished I can’t wait to see it once its truly in your minds done . IMHO I thought you were going for a bit of the ‘ Rat Bike ‘ look which in light of its Drag Bike nature would fit it quite well . Honestly I’m wondering if you should consider leaving it as it is , with maybe only a detail or two ( for functionality ) being ‘ finished ‘ 

      • Michiel

        The photo’s with the silver/metal tank show the finished bike. We are not going to change it any further. We very deliberately went for a rough (ratty is the word some others would use) look.

        The bike functions very well by the way. 

        • Midway32345

          Errrrr ….. I think I like it better in black . Just one mans opinion mind you but ..

          Wasn’t questioning whether it ran or not BTW was only suggesting not changing any of the aesthetics . Well ….. except now ………. I’d say ” Paint it Black ”

          Sorry . couldn’t resist the link  8 )

          • GuitarSlinger

            Apologies . messed up the email address which threw the system a fit 

            Its GuitarSlinger here Mea Culpa 

  • arnold

    I like the work at the rear of the tank………. seat and top/ side covers. Ride position looks terrible, but it is a style and on that, to each his own.  Forward foot controls look functional and sturdy, control bars seem too wide (TEHO) reverse levers look good. You’ve got the Solex sorted out, a fire screen would be in order to keep your arm and soup strainer intact during hard deceleration. Pretty good effort. I’d borrow it for the weekend.

    • Michiel

      Ride position might look terrible, but it’s actually a really comfortable bike to ride!

      You’re welcome to come over and borrow it 😉

  • Davidabl2

    The last 2 pictures make it look like some gigantic undersea creature…Not that that’s a BAD thing.
    In the others,it’s steampunk meet chopper, chopper meet steampunk.

    And that homebuilt cover on the left is the only thing I’ve EVER seen that makes a shaftdrive look good.

    I did a search to see what a STOCK Virago actually looks like (WTF!) The transformations achieved by these folks building them are astounding.

  • jlgace

    I remember seeing this bike being built on dotheton.  At first, around the mention of going with that single downdraft carb, I thought they were just effing around and hacking up a bike.  Then they changed my mind.  And I agree, making this bike look ‘finished’ would actually detract from it in my opinion.  Love those pipes.  Only thing I would change is to have them as they were before in the raw steel complete with semi-dressed welds, maybe coated to keep the rust at bay or something.  Sweet ride guys.  Nice and bold.

  • PGearbox

    Love the down draft carby + the fat pipes. The whole bike looks tough and as mentioned the raw unfinished product is part of the appeal.

  • Michiel, what have you done to fix the starter, and what successes have you had?

    • Michiel

      Well…. we tried a few of the internet-found options (stiffer slip-springs, an extra shim behind the sprockets and gluing the insides to the housing), but apparently we haven’t done enough, the starter broke again last week :S. I’ll keep you posted on any solutions!

      The best thing we did so far: weld a piece on the forward controls so the starter can’t twist. The front is held to the back by 2 long bolts and as you might expect: it tends to twist and that makes matter a lot worse.

      • Have you tried welding the planetary ring?

        • Michiel

          We glued it, but it didn’t hold up. I don’t know what material the housing is made of though, so not sure we can weld it. Next Tuesday we’re going to have a look at it again.

          • MotoTrooper

            I might have an article from an old magazine that outlines the fix for those starters.  Someone back in the day created a little cottage industry to deal with that problem.  Sounds like their renewed appeal will revive it.  I’ll see if I can find it…

          • MotoTrooper

            Found it, it’s a 1988 Motorcyclist Magazine article titled ‘Vitalized Virago’ here’s the addendum about the starters…  Also possibly clean where the starter mounts into the engine and use some (not a lot) locktite to keep it from spinning in situ.  OR machine a keyway or weld a key onto the starter and cut a keyway into the receiver so that the bolts don’t have to take all of the stresses.  Just ideas off the top of the head…

          • Michiel


          • Likewise.

    • Davidabl2

      This starter question is suddenly relevant ..because a guy on the local CL is selling an ’82
      cheap because he’s tired of bump-starting it 🙂

  • Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Get those lines and cables under control. As for the discussion up top about HD, they kind of remind me of Royal Enfield. Holding on to old styling and tradition is cool, but not at the expense of quality.

    • GuitarSlinger

      Not a bad analogy , excepting Royal Enfield’s build quality may be a little better than H-D’s these days ( you should hear what the factory workers say about that …. eeesh )

      Actually as a professional GuitarSlinger ( hence the moniker ) for some 40 odd years now , H-D reminds me of both Gibson and Fender who’ll all gladly  over  charge you up the yin yang for a substandard product they could no longer care less about . 

      Hint ! 99.999% of those Gibson and Fender ‘ labeled ; guitars you see in the stars hands are either re-badged customs or completely and thoroughly modified stock guitars . Hardly any of us would touch a new Gibson or a Fender off the shelf . I won’t even play a re-badged one anymore despite the $$ either might offer me . I stick with the small makers these days 

      Hmmmn . Damnedest  thing . No H-D , no Fender or Gibson , definitely no American car …… sheesh Its gettin to the point here where being an American gets harder by the day 

      • true

      • Davidabl2

        Pretty soon it’s gonna be just movies,software, music,and weapon systems.

  • Zoran Holtkamp

    Love it! But the B&W pictures just don’t do it justice. At least not entirely cause they are nice but it’s hareder to spot the details.
    I would opt to remove or reduce the first color pictures, since they show the bike in an “unfinished” state  and add that (or an other) color pic in which it is. If that is possible.
    Plus i would like to see Michiel’s other bikes here too 😉

  • Z1Rider

    Yeah, sorry, XV’s are gay no matter how much lipstick you put on the pig. Yet everybody loves them until they quit starting or you have to take the carbs off. And then the CDI box blows up because it gets drenched by the back tire and you can’t get a new one. Then you are forced to throw it away and buy a real bike.

    Next, ask me how I feel about CB360’s and CM400’s!

  • arnold

    This bike should be revisited, not because it is the BEST EVA, but there is some serious engineering going on, and thought to redesign on a factory model.ald

  • noob

    is there like a stigma for viragos? kind of like how people hate on ninjas in the sport bike scene?

  • Pete Brogdon Nickoma

    Heres my 84 xv700 bob.what u think? All home grown garage built.on a 1200 $ budget.

  • Jwils

    What kind of handlebars are those?