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‘83 Yamaha XV500 – One-Up Moto Garage


Posted on January 13, 2017 by Andrew in Café Racer, Racer. 35 comments

Written by Marlon Slack.

The 80’s yielded more horrors than just Thatcher, the Iran-Iraq war and permed hair – it also introduced Yamaha’s Virago line of motorcycles. Porky, uninspiring to ride and with styling verging on the offensive, they’ve become a favourite of the custom scene over the last ten years. And now Arkansas’ One-Up Moto Garage have turned their hand to the most forgettable of the forgettable line up, the little known Virago 500.

The 500 was only in production for a single year before it was surpassed by similarly awkward XV535. But that rarity was part of the appeal for head protagonist at the shop, Taylor Art. “I’m a sucker for uncommon bikes,” he says, “so when the opportunity arrived I couldn’t pass it up.” That opportunity was a shed find XV500 with only 2,200 miles on the odometer. It’s no Brough Superior stashed away, but that’s what our generation’s barn finds are going to look like.

Without any overarching plan for the motorcycle, the first thing to get crafted for the Yamaha was the headlight and faceplate arrangement by friend of One-Up, Will Height. And it’s a tidy little number and not just for looks, with the faceplate concealing a storage area and USB socket. The socket is practical and necessary, with the bike running a phone-mounted speedo.

Underneath the headlight things get trickier, with Taylor stating the front end was the most challenging part of the build. “It’s a culmination of several different bikes,” he says, “GSXR forks and triple, CB750 hub, Harley rim, ZRX12 rotors, custom rotor and wheel spacers, triple and wheel bearings.” Phew. The rear wasn’t much easier, with the shaft drive limiting choices to make both ends match up. They swapped out final drives and hubs and got a spoked rear from a XV535 to fit.

I, for one, welcome our new Virago overlords

Behind the front, the subframe was cut and altered under a new single seat pan, while the wiring was shifted up and under the fuel tank. Keeping the Virago thumping along is a one-off stainless steel system and single carburettor setup replacing the standard clumsy twin carb arrangement.

“A beautifully demure blue and black number, with the drop shadow and pinstriping reminiscent of a 50’s hot rod.”

It’s all topped off with an understated paint scheme by Eric Snodgrass, Taylor’s go-to guy for automotive paint. ”He’s been my artist for several builds now,” Taylor says. “And this one I gave him free rein to play with his trade and make something that he loved.” The result is a beautifully demure blue and black number, with the drop shadow and pinstriping reminiscent of a 50’s hot rod.

Understandably, Taylor is proud of the build “This bike was inspired by the self-perpetuating drive I have to always produce the cleanest, smoothest, yet sharpest bike to roll out of our shop,” He says. And think he’s outdone himself.

Note the iPhone as speedo

In my opinion the only thing worse than 1980’s Harley Davidsons are fake 80’s Harley Davidsons. But builders like One-Up Moto Garage help prove me wrong. They’ve managed to cut, shut and fabricate the little Yamaha 500 into a beautiful little custom that seems effortlessly good-looking. Check your barns.

[One-Up Moto Garage: Web – Facebook – Instagram | Photos by Keith Baskett]








  • JayJay

    First motorelic transformed it into something spectacular, but this is equally good. The proportions are superb and it looks like a lot of fun!

  • brownroundtown

    I love how they’ve worked with, rather than resisted, the slightly awkward aesthetic of the bike with that quirky headlamp At the same time the tank flows beautifully into the subframe giving the whole arrangement a wonderfully well balanced look.

    • The headlamp will soon be liberated from the bike if it’s actually ridden on real roads. Even if it manages to stay attached it surely will be quickly rendered inoperative by vibration.
      An elegant but flawed solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

      • brownroundtown

        True enough. I took my dog for a walk the other day but neglected to swap out my nearly new trainers for my walking boots. I discovered that a pair of New Balance are utterly impractical for tromping through damp woodland with a Husky, but man did I look good (if slightly awkward) while doing it. Just sayin’

      • JayJay

        Don’t see the problem with the headlamp. Vespa made fender mounted headlamp in the 50’s and they worked.

        • Well where I live (Toronto, a modern, wealthy city) the roads are so chopped up that light wouldn’t last a month. So my views are clearly coloured by my surroundings.

        • Jim Stuart

          Having to go back to the 50’s to find a suitable bike to support your point is somewhat reaching wouldn’t you say? Try finding any automobile that has their headlights attached to the front wheels. Headlight are mounted on the part of the vehicle that is suspended to assure a level beam of light. This has to be perhaps one of the most stupid modifications I’ve ever seen bar none. Anyone who thinks this is acceptable should study basic engineering principles.

          • JayJay

            No need to give such a reply. Just saying that it has been done before and I had such a Vespa for a couple of years and it worked fine. I don’t even say I like the modification, i’m just saying that it can work.

      • It’s mere speculation until you see it in person. It might actually be quite ok…

      • Artem Terekhov

        And don’t forget about the unsprung mass, flying so high and so heavy(-looking?). Not good for handling. Other than that, awesome bike.

        • JayJay

          That is a valid Point.

  • the watcher

    It was all going nicely (if not ground-breakingly) until they went all “talking-pointy” in front of the yokes. Silly, just silly.

  • Greybeard1

    Mesmerizing.
    It’s like that “strange guy” in town who makes the sculptures with junkyard finds.
    Even as you recognize a washing machine tub and wrench collection “tropical flower” you’re secretly wishing you had his vision.
    I love it!

  • TruthBringer

    “face plate for storage” . . .great, how about you store a headlight there?!

    • yeah! creativity, who needs it? /s

      • Exactly.

        • Sean

          This is why manufacturers hardly ever launch something innovative. We motorcyclists are a pretty conservative bunch.

        • Greybeard1

          Guess they never had a basket on their bicycles.
          They WERE useful…but, yes, we yanked ’em right off too!
          Had to go FAST!

  • Duke Fan

    The headlight looks great and looks to be mounted securely now days LED’s are able to withstand lots of rough treatment doubt this one will last quite a while! Even if it breaks which I for one don’t think it will it can be fixed.

    • Duke Fan, the headlight is mounted to the hoop over the hoop by one little bolt. That is not secure. Also, would you enjoy riding at night and trying not to get dizzy as hell with the light flashing down the road like a strobe?
      When it snaps off, will it go under the front wheel or over it? It’s just a bad idea.
      Other than that and the exhaust pipes leaving the rider stinking and gassed out, there is lots to like about this bike. I just got caught up in the details.

  • Jim Roberts

    well…it IS a motorcycle. but to argue about whether or not the way that headlight is mounted, makes sense, well that’s a “flat earth” argument.
    it almost makes the pipe wrap seem reasonable….almost
    paint job’s ok

  • waterengineer

    I like it. I really like it. However, bad concept on the headlight mounting. Terrible idea.

  • I know it’s function following form, but I can’t help but think what it would look like to have the headlight mounted on a scissor hinge with an extra arm attached to the bottom triple. That way the headlight would be cushioned from vibration. Thoughts?

    • Exactly! There’s a lot of sprung areas to do something clever with the light. And keep the neat storage compartment too.

  • Interesting. The headlight is getting a lot of comments here but it does give the bike a unique look. Can’t be any worse than the way headlights were mounted on Broughs and Vincents (or Harleys) back in the day of girder and springer forks. Be that as it may the bike looks like fun.

  • AB

    I really like this silly mix of parts – love the eyeball headlight bouncing along out front too.

  • Bultaco Metralla

    Love it to bits. So happy to see something original from a virago. Never thought I’d ever consider one of them attractive.

    • guvnor67

      True. However, my misses has a 535 which I’ve done a few mods to, which I occasionaly take to work, and they’re quite capable little bikes, reasonably light, shaft drive, comfy, easy to maintain and reliable. And we got hers cheap! I like this little custom, It’s quirky, and doesn’t need a six figure cheque to play with! Having said that, I guess like Pugs and Citroën 2 CVs, they either attract love, or bring forth the disdain!! Now, Google “Custom 2CV” …..

      • Greybeard1

        First one up; a track roadster.
        Gotta’ love it!

        • guvnor67

          Hee hee!! Yup, sometimes a “What can I do with that?” moment leads to some almost genius creation. Find a cheap, maybe unloved, maybe ugly vehicle and transform it into something else, and let the fun begin. I can feel a Trabant comin on!

      • Marlon

        The 535 isn’t my kind of bike but I have to say they’ve surprised me when I’ve ridden them. Pretty light, handled okay but it was reliable as all get out.

        Bloody strange fuel tank arrangement though.

        • guvnor67

          That’s for sure.

  • No comprendez “Drop Shadow”. What is that?

  • Charlie Allnut

    We shall never know the outcome of the headlight controversy unless given a chance to ride the bike at night for awhile. The end.

  • AB

    Headlight saga. Here’s my take – it’s designed as a cool bike to fat around on. At night? Who cares – probably not – no one can see how cool it is at night. Heck no one can see how cool YOU are at night.

    So assume as I do it’s mainly used Sunday mornings.

    Now applying this train of thought the bobbing headlight is actually a very good safety feature as on-coming traffic will notice you.