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‘81 Yamaha XV1000 – Plan B Motorcycles


Posted on June 19, 2015 by Scott in Café Racer. 51 comments

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Written by Martin Hodgson.

I’ve been on a journey with this bike, not one that allowed me to twist the throttle and tip it into a bend, but a journey of discovery as to what makes ‘Fireball’ tick and how it was put together. It’s a journey that started with a love of the custom tank and over many hours grew to an appreciation of how a once failed attempt by a multi-national to do something new became a one off custom by a lone builder that blows away everything a billion dollar company attempted to achieve.

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‘Fireball’ is the creation of Plan B Motorcycles in Northern Italy and described by its owner and sole employee Christian as being a “Neo-Café” workshop that builds one off motorcycles tailored strictly to their owner’s requirements, mixing technology with tradition to improve performance and create Italian like good looks. It is this philosophy that absolutely sums up ‘Fireball’ a 1981 Yamaha XV1000/TR1 that is now a high tech café custom with classic looks and a killer ride.

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The TR1 was a good idea at the time, create a V-twin sports commuter that catered to those in the US and European markets that still hadn’t bought into the 4 cylinder “fad”. But unlike its cruiser styled big Brother the Virago, the TR1 was a failure for Yamaha and it was soon ditched. But it did have some strong points and Christian has taken great use of them and crafted the rest of the bike from scratch to achieve the desired result.

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I say crafted, because this build is not a collection of bought pieces, many of the major components are made by hand, hammers, English wheel and blood sweat and tears. The tank is simply a thing of beauty, hammered out from sheets of aluminium it sets the tone of the whole build. The top is curved to create the high point of the build before flowing gently down to either end, the sides are recessed at the back for easy tuck in while extended front halves add extra fuel capacity and give a muscular feel from any angle.

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Just like the tank the front fender was created by Christian with a hammer and a sheet of aluminium, bashed into shape and then rolled smooth on an ole English, before cutting out and shaping the legs to match. The lightweight aluminium work doesn’t stop there, good thing too as the TR1 starts life at a weighty 220kg, but for purposes of form and function the alloy is cleverly used to create a shortened subframe that supports the hand shaped neoprene seat that is then leather covered.

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The final aluminium masterpiece is the upper triple tree, crafted from a billet block, it not only looks incredible all polished up, it neatly houses the TR1’s controls. That tree clamps onto the definitely not standard front forks that give a hint as to how serious Christian is about handling. They are a set of black anodized Showa items, 43mm upside down and fully adjustable, held in place at the bottom with a Ducati 916 lower tree.

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The standard swing arm is ugly and that’s being kind, it also does nothing for the handling, so in its place is a Ducati 999 unit that supports a Showa R1 mono shock. But you can’t simply bolt a modern Ducati item to an early 80’s Yamaha frame, so extensive work was carried out to make it all work together. I highly recommend you checkout the build blog at Plan B motorcycles to gain further appreciation and understanding of how the build was done.

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One of the big positives of the TR1 is the Yamaha V-twin that has been a staple of many of its more successful models. Its slim profile is something that Christian has honoured and helps improve the handling, the 75 degree and offset layout drastically improves cooling and unlike most big bore V-Twins it revs and does it smoothly. To gain some more power a custom made full stainless steel exhaust system was meticulously put together with a modified “Q-D ex-box ” silencer maintaining the slimline profile.

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With the weight now down a whopping 60kg and the suspension sorted it would have been criminal to not upgrade the brakes, Christian made no such error with a 320mm floating disc with Brembo 4-piston caliper taking care of the front end and a 200mm disc with two-piston upside down Brembo caliper out the back. 1980’s Yamaha wheels were not exactly pretty at the time, now that the 21st century has rolled around they look even worse, but the decision to do a spoke conversion makes all the difference and with a 110/80 18inch tyre up front and a masculine 160 section 17 inch item out back putting the power to the ground and grip in all situations now matches the capabilities of the thoroughly transformed TR1.

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Approach Fireball and you’ll see the hand tooled sider cover that wears the bikes name, you’ll see the lovingly formed headlight cover polished to perfection and the raw aluminium rearsets that like so much of this bike were made by Christian from scratch. Climb aboard and turn the key and the big V-twin rumbles to life, the sounds from the low slung box muffler echoing off the nearby mountains. Then crack the throttle and fire it into the nearest corner, trusting the handling of the Showa shocks and the Brembo’s should you over cook it. It’s been a hell of a journey today with Fireball, I didn’t get to ride it, but thanks to Christian’s imagination and skill we can all look at the photos and dream.

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[Photos by N-Drew Photography]








  • John Wanninger

    Hell yes. Thank you for ending my week like this. AAAAND its doesn’t have pipe wrap (!)

    NOW we’re fabricating… Brutal looking, obviously Plan B has their shit together. Damn.

    Edit: Bike of the Year?

    • It has my vote!

    • guvnor67

      DEFINITELY!!!! The details, the craftsmanship, wow. Can just imagine caning this through the mountains or along the coast road, get home- eventually, wheel it inside, crack a cold 1, put on some tunes, polish it back to perfection and stare, smiling like Garfield on Crack!!!

  • Bultaco Metralla

    Absolutely gorgeous, a real take on sixties cafe racer with an ethereal touch of italian style. The exhaust is masterful, the seat is a masterstroke, the bike is a masterpiece. Best thing I’ve seen so far this year.

  • SWEET BABY JESUS

    • TH_Stokes

      Zakly what I mumbled…..

  • Ass Ripper

    Excellent build

  • yamahappy

    Love that cockpit, especially the speedo pod. Not really feeling the “muffler,” but otherwise it’s gorgeous.

    • TH_Stokes

      I think the Speedo pod is an IKEA creamer from a tea set. They quit selling them in ‘Murica so I am SOL on setting mine up that way. I keep scouring ebay but no luck.

  • whytaylorwhy

    Angry bike looks angry. Love it.

  • Michael Kork.

    It’s like a Norton meets Ducati mix. Absolutely gorgeous result! Perfect in every way.

  • martin hodgson

    Really glad to see so many people appreciating this great build. It was an absolute pleasure to write the article and it’s one of those bikes that the more you look at it the more you appreciate it! The exhaust I loved straight away, but the muffler at first I thought maybe a small GP pipe would have looked good. But if you study the bike you start to appreciate why the box muffler is such a good choice, it stays true to the build of the bike, it’s function that creates a beautiful form. Nowhere on the bike is there a compromise on keeping it narrow and streamlined, a side mounted can would have been an easy way out, but he didn’t take it and literally thought outside the box… or in it lol. Christian has a great future ahead of him as a builder and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Fireball is one bike I’d love to have in my garage!

    • MotoTrooper

      One thing: Christian mentions in his blog that he didn’t build the tank. He, “repaired and modified an old Norton aluminum tank.” Still a gorgeous build though.

  • MotoTrooper

    THIS. Always thought that the seat needed some altitude on these XV builds. True inspiration and deliberative process illustrated in metal here. Constant discovery and internal dialogue of question and answer as you live with it is what this art is all about. Would love to see a HD documentary of this build! This is why you don’t take the easy road.

    BUT…it ain’t done. As this rolling sculpture is destined for the road, I want to see the rest of it. I want to see his take on the taillight, the mount for the plate, etc. All those mundane details that can clutter and distract from form.

  • Tyler Horne

    That header is a work of art.

  • James Torrey

    Wow, really well done.

  • Anthony Briganti

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Perfection.

  • Darrick B

    Hands-down one of the best looking bikes I’ve ever seen. Love all the raw metal parts. And those pipes! As if I needed another reason to want to do a Virago for my next project.

  • Joe Marietta

    It might have been “criminal not to upgrade the brakes” but that comes along pretty cheaply & easily with the switch to USD forks, so I don’t know how much credit I’d give anybody for that. That aside, a killer looking bike with a lot of craftmanship. Is it street-legal, where’s the taillight?

    • in the UK you can be legal with no lights, daytime only but you do need a number plate

  • Lollapalooza

    Absolutely perfect tank. Love it. Throw back nod to Manx style tank with a little Triton thrown in but with style all of its own. This is a bike to be proud of. Extremely well done.

  • Hamish Lamont

    I know when I saw WOW! twice, that a bike is truly special. It’s engineered and organic and retro and futuristic all in one beautifully judged and crafted package. There’s an almost steampunk quality to it, but it transcends that and pretty much everything really. While being absolutely original it almost has a ‘XV/MV bastard love child’ quality to it. Which I mean as the highest compliment. Because this deserves the highest praise. It is a masterpiece. All it needs is a teardrop shaped addition to the Air filter. Gets my vote for Bike of the Year too. Well done Christian.

  • Hardley T Whipsnade III

    Very fine build with the sole exception of the over complicated pipes and collector . So bike of the year ? Not really . A solid top ten though ? Definitely . Until that is another ten show up seeing as how its still only June

  • Grendel Medlord

    This is the first custom XV that I have actually liked and I really love this one!

  • GarbanzoBean

    Now that’s what we crave. Stainless steel linguini w/ aluminium alfredo sauce, all handmade and served angry hot. But why did they stop by slapping on a oval shaped pod intake filter? A chrome one from an internet catalog no less! Missed an great opportunity to shape some more sheet metal. They are obviously very good at it.

  • I can’t believe this started out as a TR1. This has the best center of mass of just about any bike I’ve seen. This is what a modern Brough would look like – take a big V-twin and add the best components – and then use the best craftsmanship to put it all together.

    • BoxerFanatic

      Not nearly as horizontal as a Brough Superior.

      make that tank black or black-chrome finish somehow, and I am thinking it could easily make a worthy successor to Vincent Black Shadow, though.

      It is clear that Yamaha was riffing off of Vincent when this was designed, just as Honda riffed off Moto Guzzi for the CX-series flying-vee bikes. Take a theme from a known, established or historic european bike, and re-design it for reliability and affordability, and that makes for the hallmark of many 70’s and 80’s era Japanese bikes.

      • arnold

        Motors were good, accessories, in the aircraft sense, were not.

        • BoxerFanatic

          I have heard about starter gear and engagement arrangements becoming problematic… but also lots of information online about servicing the system, and with this amount of aftermarket attention, I can imagine that aftermarket support and upgrades are becoming an option, and a knowledge base about how to perform maintenance or upgrades for better reliability.

          There aren’t a lot of other semi-stressed-member overhead-mounted, air-cooled, wide-angle, over-head-cam v-twin engines out there, otherwise… and Vincents are EXPENSIVE.

          • Pete M

            Nope, little to no aftermarket for the Gen 1 starter situation, aside from a 4 brush starter and a big ass Li battery. The best solution is to upgrade to the solenoid starter like what has been done on this bike.

          • BoxerFanatic

            I stand corrected/informed.

  • BoxerFanatic

    Greg Hageman builds some of the nicest XVs… but this might even edge out some of his bikes.

    The tank is glorious, and the seat flows from it so nicely. It looks fantastic with the canted headlight, but I could just as easily see it fitting with a bullet style half-fairing, wrapping back to the bottom edge of the tank, just above the front cylinder head.

    The under-gearbox exhaust silencer is cool on this bike, or on a Ducati, but the chin fairing is a bit squarer than the tank, headlight and seat form is… and the upstream part of the exhaust looks like plumbing pipe from a Nintendo video game or something… a sweeping, curvaceous Vincent-esque exhaust wrapping down along the bottom to that exhaust box fitted to the bottom, would have been nicer. The craftsmanship is fantastic, but the lines and angles sort of fight with the rest of the bike being rounded and arched, from the wheels to the tank, and the arch of the spine frame over the engine vee-angle, there aren’t an abundance of straight lines on that sort of XV, so the lines and rectangular layout of the exhaust work just stick out.

    It is interesting that the yamaha uses the frame as an air intake tract, with a common filter just under the rider’s left leg… but unfortunately, the options for an attractive air cleaner that fits that location are slim, unless they are modified from something else, or completely custom fabricated. If the bike had been 15-20 years newer, the intake tract may have otherwise come from the front, around the headstock for ram-air, or something.

    TR1/XV920R is a great bike to start from, simply for one factor. Chain drive.
    That chain drive transmission output, instead of shaft-drive, allows for much more flexibility in upgrading the rear swing arm, and fitting a wider or alternate rear wheel, which the narrow yamaha shaft drive often makes difficult.

    I love XV spine-frame builds, and as I said, this one is going to the top region of my list.

    • MotoTrooper

      Found this on another forum, this guy converted his shaft drive Virago to chain drive, redesigned the frame, etc. Amazing work but hasn’t finished it yet.

      http://www.customfighters.com/forums/showthread.php?t=51288

      • BoxerFanatic

        I have seen that XVR build thread before, and it looks to be a very interesting project, but has been more than a year since it’s most recent update.

        That bike had some serious mechanical fabrication and attention, but it mostly looks like a modern, high-tech renovation of a TR1.

        The fabricated norton-esque tank, flowing seat form, and canted headlight, as well as the chin-fairing and exhaust box flattening the bottom line, this bike has ALL the looks, even if I still say it needs a bit more Vincent-esque exhaust head pipes.

        Later XV engine (cruiser style, dare I say it…) rounded stator and clutch side covers could look cool, too.

  • Suddenly, the plans for my own XV750 seem totally inadequate…

    • i doubt they ever were even adequate

  • think it is the mixture of old and new that works here, very subtle to the point where it plays tricks on your mind, cool

  • Jeff

    Outstanding. Is there a taillight?

  • arnold

    Pipeburn internecine Virago build -off shot all to pieces.

    Gorgeous.

  • Mgmue mgmu

    Absolutely stunning. Wow.

  • Every single detail, every single part, angle, interface, design, overall stance and attitude (relative to ground level, not a psychological problem), have taken bike building to a new level. Superb. No knobbies with clip-ons, no stupid pipewrap, no Flintstone tires, perfect! Not sure I would have put all this effort into a Virago, but this is for sure the absolute best one ever built by anyone! Hats off!! The bar HAS been raised.

    • lemieuxmc

      As usual, Richard has the definitive take on style and design. “Not sure I would have put all this effort into a Virago”. Boy ain’t that the truth, but this is really amazing. The only thing I could see different would be a form fitting rear fender like the front one and I happen to like megaphones more than a box muffler. Damn amazing workmanship!

      • I would have done a way different exhaust which is what I’ll do if I ever get to build one of these, but I like this bike as it is a lot.

  • cab305

    Awesome!

  • The Bike Breaker

    As an XV920 owner who has scratched, bashed and toured on one as well as modding it for gravel road fun and learned to appreciate the big mellow twin, I approve this bike.
    When they came out back in the olden times my buddies and I who cared refered to them as Japanese Vincents. It’s nice to see that we were right.

    • Gotta say though, having worked on many of the originals starting with their release in 1981, this is light-years from an original Virago of any vintage.

  • Luke

    I want to see someone do that same style of exhaust (which is awesome) with a Red and Blue colored pipes so it looks like the Tron bike-game…

    Seriously though, great custom work. Best triple tree I’ve seen in a long long time – and as that’s what you see when you’re on the bike, it seems appropriate for it to get special attention. Kudos!

  • metricwrench

    wow! just incredible!

  • Randy Moran

    Full On Robot Chubby.

  • Chris Saddler Sam

    minkia quanto e’ bella….
    grande christian! 😉
    vai avanti cosi!!!