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