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’91 Yamaha XV 1100 – “No. 13”

Posted on July 17, 2012 by Andrew in Bobber. 84 comments

Before we get too far into this post, and in the interests of openness and honesty, I feel it’s best to be straight with you all. I have a Virago. No, I’m not too sure why either. Blame it on Doc Chops and the Classified Moto guys. Or blame it on one too many old bike searches on eBay. Whatever the case, I went on holidays at the end of last year and somehow or other I came back the proud and slightly confused owner of an ’81 XV750. Now I know that some just don’t get it, but for me the real appeal is the breath-taking transformation that these bikes can make with some seemingly simple mods. A few parts dropped here and a few minor mods there and suddenly you’ve gone from lardy Japanese Harley wanna-be to busting some pretty cool custom moves. And the Virago you see here, owned by one Ben Rowe, is definitely no exception. Those Transformers ain’t got nothing on us guys.

Here’s Ben. “I’ve been riding/building/repairing dirt bikes since I was 16. This is my very first bike build ever! I hate the name “Virago”, to me it sounds like some fancy fashion boutique store where you would get your wife a nice dress. My goal was to murder every little bit of the “Virago” out of this thing with the aim of it’s name being changed to “Umm …what is that??”

Started by cutting off the rear end and the upper suspension mounts and relocating them 50mm higher to lower the rear. Lowered the fork also 50mm. The forks on these things are ridiculously long, but once lowered it gave it a lot less of a “nose bleed” stance.

The bobtail rear fender is the stock fender, sectioned, hammer formed, all the holes shaved up and the radius re-cut. Also rolled up some radius floating fender struts that bolted to the lower shock mounts on the swing arm with a side mount tail light/number plate setup.

Pipes were made from a mix from the stock exhaust and mandrel bends with stainless steel dump tips. The rear exhaust exits to the right compared to stock it snaked through the frame. Slip-ons have small baffles to keep the “authorities” in check and a sneaky cross-over pipe to equalize head pressures due to the uneven header lengths. It still has a fat bark, which causes broken necks and miscarriages when you twist that throttle in a populated area.”

“Air filter is off a V-star to replace the ugly pod things they came with as standard. I’m not sure what acid Yamaha was on when they designed these. Fabbed up some stays and an adapter flange to fit it. Rebuilt the carbs and gave it a tune. Battery box was the biggest headache out of everything. Trying to get everything electrical to fit where it wasn’t originally supposed to really sucked. But I won in the end.  It turned out to be easy to get to all the relays and battery removal is a tool-less breeze.

Fuel tank was a King sporty tank. It took a fair bit of time to pull it off. The frame backbones on these bikes are ridiculously wide since the induction system runs through it. I cut the tunnel out, hammer formed up a new tunnel and stitched it back in. Tank also uses the existing frame mounts for easy install/removal.

Painted scheme was in 3 contrasts of black. Gloss, satin and matt. I didn’t want the bike to look like a bland BBQ hot plate so I mixed it up giving it a few different “brews” of black to break it up. I then proceeded waving my arms in a series of motions with the spray gun and an airbrush with some simple stencils. The fuel tank gloss over satin black Meat Cleaver “SKC” logo (Street Kleaver Customs) along with a white air brushed “13” each side since I’m heavily influenced by Kustom Kulture and Hot Rods.”

“Wheels, forks, triple clamps and everything else was painted gloss black. The cockpit was fitted with some Biltwell Keystone bars. New GT style grips, nice small 2″ speedo and a mix of bullet indicators all round. On the comfort side of things is a La-Rosa leather 15″ seat with a handmade seat mount panel that covers the fuses and relays. Utilizes all the stock seat mounts for ease of removal to get to the electrical brain stuff.”

“It’s fun to ride, and it has enough torque to pull out trees. The very first outing on it, I pulled into the service station to top it up with fuel to check how much the tank capacity it holds. I ducked inside to pay for fuel, came back outside to find a dozen Harley riders all standing around it asking “what” it was… They were astounded that it was an 1100 Virago, shook my hand patted me on the back with a “job well done mate”. Proud!”

  • GuitarSlinger

    This one does nothing for me . The rake is all wrong – the work around the neck is a bit shoddy – the ammo case thing … well been there / done that / leave it already …… Naahhhhh. Not bad really , but not good either . Just absolutely not my thing . Virago’s as customs though ? Methinks the potential’s barely been tapped . Some major talent needs to get a hold of one and work his/her magic on it to see what really can be done with the little monsters .

    • I’m sure you’ve seen what Doc’s Chops has done with one. But I agree, there is more to be tapped here.

  • Scary, brutal, Thunderdome – move over Mad Max, the end times are here! I can see me riding across west Texas on that thing.

    • GuitarSlinger

      Really manzman ….. you wouldn’t want to do that ( ride this bike across Texas ) Them good ol’ boys i’d have your hide for riding a Rice Burning Harley Wanna Be in their home State .

      But as to this bike …. WTH does every half baked custom builder who decides to use a bike out of the ordinary as the basis for his/her custom always wind up with one kind of a Harley wanna be custom Clone or another ? Its like going to a Vegetarian Restaurant that serves you Veggie Burger wanna be’s rather than something tasty and original made from vegetables . Its a fraud .. plain and simple … yet the perp of the fraud and all his/her supporters will clam foul and prejudice when you call them on the carpet for having committed a fraud .

      In other words Gentlemen ( and I use that word loosely ) If you’re gonna use some odd or previously unused/unique platform to build your custom on ….. Don’t come up with just another freaking Harley Custom Clone bike ….DO SOMETHING ORIGINAL goram it !

      Oh wait . This is the era of NOT doing anything original : hoping no one else will catch on ….. and if they do just get enough people behind you to deny it and that’ll make it OK Zeitgeist . e.g. The Freaking Story is more important than the Facts . BS overcomes genuine talent . And ” No Brow ” is the theme for the day

      • You crack me up, GS, and I mean that in a good way. I enjoy the point-counter point that your posts give to the moto blogs. Other wise things would be quite dull around the net. The trick to riding across west Texas is to actually be a bad-ass good ol’ boy and to carry a .357 magnum in a shoulder holster. (I have a carry permit). Plus, this bike is so ugly (in a good way) it looks menacing – like a psychotic pit bull (the state dog of Texas). The ammo can is an extra good touch for carrying extra ammo, brass knuckles and grenades to throw at armadillos and jack rabbits. But seriously, I’ve ridden from Austin to El Paso many times on various bikes including rice burners, eye-talian L-twins, and 4th Reich air heads and found that my fellow citizens of the western part of our fair (but bad-ass) state can be very hospitable. Just remember that when you’re in Silver City in Navarro County don’t ask for a brioche to go with your carne guisada and never, never order Perrier-Jouet. Have a good one.

        • BigPeeWee

          As much as it hertz me, I agree with th G-swinger. This bike izn’t original, izn’t pretty, is a Virago and itz tryin’ to be a wanna-be Harley. Why bother?

          • Alex

            The day I take advice on looking cool from someone who spells “is” with a Z…

      • Just because it has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done again. Things don’t ALWAYS have to be original. Besides, that’s the thing about Viragos; they ARE (or were) Harley wannabes, so I would say this build is right on track. Also, the Virago is a bike that gets turned into all sorts of styles (good, bad, or ugly,) so I don’t know if it fits any style in particular or if maybe there is going to be the “quintessential” Virago yet to be discovered. Whatever the case, a wannabe Harley turned into a wannabe Harley custom makes sense.

        • BigPeeWee

          The more I look at this hillbilly custom, the more I’m thinkin’ it was probably better looking stock. At least back then the tank fit the bike.

          • lol

          • Oldschoolmachinist

            Stock Viragos are hideous. The more I look at stock Viragos the more I think people should do builds like this.

          • Swivel

            Stripping and hacking stuff of and then bolting bits on is not “a build”.Whether you like the Virago in any form is a bit like women talking about shoes that go with what handbag.When did bike customs become a sad fashion accessory to be discussed like drapes?

          • Oldschoolmachinist

            Well I guess it becomes a custome when the parts you are bolting on have to be modified with a torch and a hammer, and welded back together. I’m thinking maybe you didn’t read the article…..

          • Swivel

            Quote:”A few parts dropped here and a few minor mods there and suddenly you’ve gone from lardy Japanese Harley wanna-be to busting some pretty cool custom moves.” A little bit of cutting and a small amount of welding does not a custom bike make.
            I’m thinking maybe you didn’t read the article…..

          • twistedchild

            Lol! How custom is custom anyway? Can we measure it in terms of money spent? Time spent on a build? Percentage of the bike left original? Should we say that if a bike only has 50% of it left original/stock then it is a custom? Maybe the experts should come up with an Empirical Scale for this… but if we did that I probably wouldn’t have any fun reading the different comments regarding bikes in this site!

          • BigPeeWee

            I guess hideous is in the eye of the bee-holder. This bike is what’s know as a hack-job. Painted all black. I don’t like stock Viragos all that much, but all the parts fit pretty good together.

          • Diggy

            True,but Virago’s are good to rebuild.

          • I like the sound of “Hillbilly Custom”. Maybe it could be the title of a new reality show on Speed.

          • guest


      • Swivel

        Harleys are Harley clone bikes,mostly sad and formulaeic,Viragos can look better than any H-D because the motor is entirely exposed.Sad but true…..Swivel has spoken…..

        • Oldschoolmachinist


  • SmokeyTheBear

    Sexy bike from behind. The huge gap between the tank and the fork ruin the side profile for me. As for Viragos in general, I would love them so much more if they had a kickstart! (Dont get me wrong though, Ive got an xv750 tucked in the back of the garage awaiting love…)

    • I’m with you on the kickstart thing. The fact that their starter motor design is a load of pants just ads fuel to the fire too.

      • SmokeyTheBear

        F***ing shims… The only solution is to leave it at the top of a hill when you park!

        • I had a Velocette a long time ago that had a kickstarter and I still had to park it at the top of a hill!

  • HammerheadFistpunch

    Speaking of Harley wanna-be. I love most custom Viragos – just not this one.

  • Norrimac

    A 90º V2 aircooled is a pretty thing. Is it just me or is the wiring/plumbing on the left kinda messy?

  • $30724656

    Please throw away your pipe wrap…

  • Guitarslinger you know your stuff. These bike aren’t your thing but somehow your an expert. Its a nice looking bike and a lot of time and work has gone into it. Can’t wait for the next adventure.

    Props to the builder.

    • GuitarSlinger

      Scuse me but exactly where did I Claim to be an ‘ expert ‘ ? If you don’t mind I was simply expressing an O-P-I-N-I-O- N on the bikes looks … not making any claims as to my expertise . And smart acre its THIS particular bike … not all Virago customs .. I’m expressing my Opinion on ( in case accurate reading is not one of your fortes )And in case you missed this as well I did clearly state I’m hoping for someone to really do a Virago right in the future as I think the bike is fertile ground for a top notch custom . I’d go on further but I’m guessing you’re hardly worth the time so I’ll simply borrow a friends personalized license plate moniker and say …… KSMYS ! ….. assuming you can suss that out 😉

  • Motardus

    Gdamn thats a fugly bike!

  • Ben

    Jeesus! Some picky pricks on this (everyone is an expert I spose) man I love this build and respect all the work that’s gone into it. Good on ya and thanks for sharing the pics and story with the world. Thumbs up man.

  • JeCo

    Minus the peanut tank and exposed tank its pretty well done. Im just not into that look and its squared off neck does not help its case.. Probably not the best bike for the genre.. Different tank and this would be a win.

  • Jared

    Sweet build, I really like the different blacks you decided to go with. Gave me some more inspiration for my first 650NH build.

  • Ridgy

    This bike is badass regardless of some of the comments here. There is a wide area of styles in bobber builds, from japan to america, uk to Australia and every style is different. This is a common mule turned into a midnight mauler.
    I love it Ben, i would like to see more builds from you.

    • “This bike is badass regardless of some of the comments here.” Or the bike is average regardless of your comment. Kinda works both ways.

  • Jon

    This build is sick as fuck! Brands snobs are always gonna hate and this bike is still gonna be cool

    • It’s not about brands. I think most people posting would agree that a Harley is nothing to aspire to. The Japanese have “always” tried to reproduce all things American. The Virago is just another example of that. I don’t think taking a wannabe Harley (i.e. Virago) and making it a wannabe Harley Custom (i.e. this bike) is nearly as interesting as taking it in another direction. Don’t get me wrong, I think the build is fine. However, making lemonade out of lemons is nothing amazing. As I said in my other post, a build doesn’t have to be original EVERY single time. But since the Virago is fairly new as a custom bike base, I’d like to see more builders turn this into something that isn’t an obvious choice.

  • Matt1050

    Fuck the haters and armchair experts. Nice work mate.

  • King

    rethinking the bar and tank choice would go a very, very long way with this bike.

  • futronix

    to be honest where that bike falls down is the mix match of ideas , frisco tank on a brat style bobber for me just doesn`t work..too much of that boxy frame showing up front…..its like me standing out the front of a primary school with my cock hanging out while playing the banjo…..

    actually that happened yesturday… i can`t go within 500 meters of that school……

    • Dude, you worry me…

    • charles freeman

      i know, i was there… i could see why your “no show” was a misdemeanor instead of a felony…

  • Oldnbroken

    Now there is an individual and you obviously take great pleasure in the finished build Ben. Pipe wrap seems very popular but what are the pros and cons. I assume it keeps your leg a bit cooler but a mate of mine has it on a Ducati Monster and it is looking a bit furry with age. A local exhaust builder showed me a example of cracked weld seams which he thought was due to the wrap keeping all the heat in the pipe, anyone else got any long term experience with it?


  • I’m kinda on the fence with this one. I hate the gap between the tank and forks, but it was an obvious design choice. There’s also just an excess of plumbing with bikes like this.

    On the bright side, Viragos will sometimes feel tank/engine heavy visually once extra bits are stripped off. This one looks to hold its balance better.

    I’m currently working on an 87 Shadow, which was another wannabe Harley. I’ve discovered firsthand it’s a challenge keeping the flow going, especially with everything going on (e.g. my Shadow has all your standard motor parts plus a radiator and California emissions.)

  • Makes me want to lob grenades at bunnies in the desert ! Bad-Ass.

  • Jacob Speis

    I can’t say I hate it, but that said, it’s definitely not even in the top 10 of Virago builds I’ve seen.

    • That’s where I’m at. It’s a cool enough bike. I’d ride it. But the fact that it feels so very “standard” in the design department makes it “fine,’ but certainly not “wow.”

  • kevineleven

    Please try to make your Virago look a little different than everyone else’s. Here’s mine. I think I’ve succeeded.

    • BigPeeWee

      Silly question. Where does the pilot sit? On the fuze box thingy? Pipe wrap really saves this from looking like all the bobber builds. Great one!

      • kevineleven

        The technical name for the “fuze box thingy” is seat. The fuse box is right there on the frame, with the red wires attached. You’re right though, with the pipe wrap, I can hardly find my bike in a parking lot full of bikes, it makes it blend right in! Great observation!

    • Please tell me those tanks are weaponised…

    • All I want ro know is where’s the machine gun mount?

    • That’s cool. I had a similar idea using old oxygen tanks for fuel tanks. Decided just to go with a tank off the same model (Honda Shadow) but different year.

      Is the seat a modified sissy bar? If so, you may have given me an idea…

      • BigPeeWee

        Howz bout a toilet tank painted flat black with a skull on it and firestone tires and entomb all the plumbing with mummy like wrappings. Who’s cares the motor brand? Long as it’s got all the trend bits yur good to fly! Skill needed? Not any more.

        • Or here’s another idea; shut your pie hole.

  • coop

    This looks like it should be in a Good Charlotte video.
    Or in a Hot Topic display window.

  • BenjaminMorgan

    Doesn’t matter the bike or the builder, there is something about a tank that pulls up short and leaves a gap (is it known as Frisco style? not sure) that leaves me cold, other than that I recon its a cool bike. I prefer the look of the virago v-twin than all the modern Harley donks out there. Id love to custom one myself one day.

  • P

    Nice bike, but the peanut tank is ugly. it looks like ….. no, not this ugly peanut!

  • skidder

    howdi. i guess with enough money you could take a chicken and fill it with jibletts served with cranberry sauce on thanksgiving but that’s just not cricket is it. this bike is a platypus. i totally hate it, just a lame bike and sad because the guy has the tools and skill to do much more imaginative work. like american chopper but on Quaalude.

    • Swivel

      Reality check:This guy hacks stuff off and bolts easy bits on, it is not “a build”.Viragos have plenty of potential as cafes or custom bikes but people do not put much effort or time in the design or manufacture of custom parts for them……I hope you don’t really think “american chopper” has anything of value to add to motorcycle custom design.It is a soap opera for fat bored yanks who will never ride a bike,to watch while stuffing their gullets with corn chips.

      • Well, the guy did say it was his first build, so maybe the “safe” route was the best way to start.

  • Robbie

    I like the matte black and gloss black, looks cool. I’d personally mount the tank higher up the frame and have the gap between the seat and tank instead. I agree with tony stark, why not make something that is a Harley copy into a custom Harley copy.

  • Here’s a Virago of a different color – I didn’t build it but it’s an example how far you can take a XV.

    • BigPeeWee

      He took it pretty far for sure. Question is, where???

  • mookie

    have something very similar in a 93 750V.
    used Seca 2 forks/wheel brake same tube diameter as the Virago 38mm.
    steers better to what i’m used to.

  • mookie
  • OK, Andrew, I think it’s time for a Virago build off. Winner gets a Pipeburn t-shirt and a coupon to Outback Steakhouse.

  • This is a picture of Chris Steward riding a factory team XV920 in 1982 in the AMA Battle Of the Twins series – to my knowledge he won the production class in 1982.

  • bones1918

    why you jerks gotta hate? this is a fantastic build and the builder deserves all kinds of credit. Anyone can be a keyboard warrior but I’d like to see how you do with a mig welder or even an angle grinder.

    • naspc

      I totally agree. What have you done/ created that’s makes you an expert? There’s criticism and there’s being a jerk. If you’re gonna be a critic then make some constructive criticism. Don’t be a jack ass because you can’t create one and got suckered into buying an over priced bike?

      • Swivel

        I love the assumptions of fools who have never met me:It makes you quite stupid in fact.I have not said I hate the bike,I have merely pointed out minor modifications do not a “custom build” make.I have done more MC race engineering and custom work than you are ever likely to get the opportunity to tackle honestly.I love how people online who don’t like someones opinions often assume the poster is a liar or just engaging in abrupt criticism just to be a bastard for their own entertainment.Have you actually read my posts,or just reacted like a child,because that is your habit in life? Try reading my posts again.

    • Swivel

      You will sometime and you will be amazed.The custom bike world is not a love-fest it is a place of vigorous debate and definition as far as I am concerned.I am a warrior both online and with tools or in the flesh,honestly.They do exist you know…..or have you never met one? I know and have met plenty.

    • BigPeeWee

      A fantastic build?????? Compared to what? Wat-ju-smokin’ bro?

  • Oldschoolmachinist

    It’s easy and safe to appreciate something beautiful, but there are other things in the world worth appreciating. I like this build not because it’s beautiful or even original. I like it because someone took the time to build it, ride it and share it. Yes it’s a worthog of a bike, but it’s a cool fricking warthog. I hope to see more builds like this on Pipeburn if only to piss off the fashion police.

  • NorthofNowhere

    You guys crack me up. I think its been too long since you have been on a good ride.

  • Anders

    This is now one of my all time favorite bikes. Well done sir.

  • Pete Brogdon Nickoma

    Was one of 2 bikes I used as inspiration to build my 84 xv700 bobber.

  • Jordan Sauro

    Hey dude, im working on an 85 xv750 and i cant manage to a frisco tank(like yours) online with a wide enough channel… where did you get your tank from???


  • Troy

    Awesome! I have an 1100 Virago and would love to have a go at this – although I do most maintenance jobs I’ve never tackled any kind of re fabricating etc – that’s the bit that worries me !