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.
Being on the receiving end of many custom bike submissions, you tend to get a pretty good idea of just how prolific a bike shop really is. Some we hear from once a year. Some twice. And then there’s France’s Motomax Metz. Believe it or not, this here bike hit our inboxes little more than two weeks after their previous build. At this rate, we’ll be featuring another 26 of their bikes in 2017, and by 2020 France will be nothing but an army of cool Yamaha trackers and a load of fresh mud. But before that happens, please meet the rad-to-the-bone ‘Dirty Smoke’ XSR700 that will have caused it all.
You never forget your first motorbike, no matter how good or bad it was, that machine opened up your life to a whole new world. For most a limited budget and a young age means riding something that looks terrible, breaks down often and leaves oil up your leg. So you save your pennies for something better. Or maybe you have a little more cash to play with for your first ride. Sure you could buy one of the many characterless, learner legal “sportsbikes” offered new by any of the manufacturers. But there is another option and the UK’s Auto Fabrica have got it just right; a Yamaha SR250 known as ‘Type 4A’ that’s custom cool, a perfect first motorcycle and means nobody else on learner plates will be rolling just like you.
Headed by racer and motorcycle builder Dirk Oehlerking, Kingston Customs is a small workshop running out of Hanover, Germany. For this build, Dirk decided to take on two surprisingly young starters – a new Yamaha MT-03 and a 12-year-old by the name of Moritz Bree.
If motorcycles have earned the reputation as “widow-makers” then two motorcycles in particular can lay claim to being the most lethal assassins. Both are ’70s Japanese bikes from the golden age of two-strokes; the Kawasaki H2 750 is the Ivan Drago-style killer that will get right in your face and club you to death. But it’s the Yamaha RD400 that takes on the true Assassin’s creed, dispatching of its kill in a millisecond without the prey ever having seen what was coming. In Argentina, the land of bike builder extraordinaire and founder of Lucky Custom, Lucas Layum, the RD400 has been known since its birth as “la Mata Hombre”, quite literally “the Man Killer”. But such is the allure of the RD and its intoxicating two-stroke engine, that men will risk death to ride them and when they look this good it’s easy to see why.
Ed Burke and “Hap” Ueno. There’s two names that I’m pretty sure mean absolutely nothing to you, despite them being responsible for creating this, the Yamaha Virago. It’s because in the world of automotive design, most never get to see the limelight. Besides, the original Yamaha Virago range was not exactly the Brough Superior of it’s time. But over the 40-odd years that the bike has been in existence, it’s never been more popular than it is right now. And it’s all thanks to the insight and talent of Ed, Yamaha America’s Manager of Motorcycle Product Planning and Yamaha Japan Engine Designer, Hap. The engine-as-stressed-member design, the box frame as airbox, the single rear shock and the shaft drive – it’s all theirs. And this? This is what their vision, and that of Colorado’s 485 Designs owner Nick, has created. Meet an XV920 that ups the bar for Virago customisers everywhere.
It’s amazing how much the big motorcycle manufacturers have changed in the past ten years. Up until very recently, bike customisers were little more than pariahs to the factories. All their hard engineering work, undone in the fell swoop of an errant oxy torch or angle grinder. You could almost hear the engineers in Japan and Europe weeping in pain. And as for a factory dealer that might dare to try and make a few changes to the merchandise? If they were lucky, they’d find themselves selling second-hand Dneprs in Siberia… in winter. But my, what a difference a decade makes. Suddenly it’s raining factory customs. And for Yamaha, that means throwing money behind their ‘Faster Sons’ custom shop collaboration project. And the latest star of the decidedly successful program is this here XSR700 from French shop Motomax Metz. A French shop that just happens to be a dealer, too.
A polymath is defined as a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. And naturally, if such a person is set a complex task to perform, it would be easy for them to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve the specific problems they might encounter. Turn a mind like that to the act of customising a bike, and you’re bound to get some pretty interesting results. Today’s bike is the result the hard work of just one man – namely Pierre from French shop Freeride Motos. Paint, leather, fibreglass, leatherwork, metalwork, electrics – you name it, he probably did it. And by the looks of it, he did it damn well.
Karma, the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence viewed as deciding their fate in future existences, is an idea that is shared to varying degrees across many of the world’s religions, philosophies and the basics we teach our children. Do good in the world and eventually the seeds you sow will bear fruit for all to enjoy, you included. The owner of this custom creation is a man who lives by that very philosophy and sold his motorcycle so that he could pay for disadvantaged children to go to school and have a brighter future. But it appears his Karma was nearly as instant as John Lennon describes, for his friend is none other than Bandung, Indonesia’s Ram Ram Januar from White Collar Bikes. Who decided his friend’s good deeds deserved a tasty reward and the Indonesian bike building wizard has created this delicious piece of fruit, a Yamaha XS650 powered custom known as “Mishka”.
Written by Martin Hodgson
Running a custom bike shop can be a bit like being a real estate agent, no not being the brunt of everyone’s jokes, but dealing with a public whose eyes are often bigger than their wallets. We’ve all heard about the guy who walks into an agent’s office looking for a large five bedroom home, ensuite and spa bath, on a large block of land with water views and only $100k to spend; tell him he’s dreaming! But the requests are often along similar lines at custom shops; however they hold an ace the agent doesn’t, they can actually create something to satisfy the outlandish request.