Written by Tim Huber.
Over the last few years Yamaha’s venerable Virago has become an increasingly popular platform for customization, trumped by the likes of the CX500, CB750, and Dominator. And while it’s difficult to pin-down the first shop to treat the Japanese V-Twin to a bob-job, Colorado’s 485 Designs has undeniably played a pivotal role in demonstrating the merits of the XV. In fact, to say 485 specializes in Virago builds would be one hell of an understatement, with the two-man operation’s portfolio brimming with all manner of stellar bobbed Virago builds including turbocharged examples and specimens sporting single-sided swing-arms, just to name a few.
We wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to Yamaha’s good ol’ Virago Vee. We bloody well love ‘em. But boy, we’ve seen a heap of them. So needless to say that it takes something a little special for us to notice them. Enter Denver’s 485 Designs and their rather unique chain-driven XV920…
It seems pretty clear to us that there’s something weird going on with the Polish water. Forget fluoride or vapour trails; this conspiracy seems to make entire countries fall in love with certain bikes. Poland’s fate is undying love of Yamaha’s XV…
If you’ve wondered why second-hand Yamaha Viragos are demanding ridiculous money these days I know who you can blame. Greg Hageman. As head of Hageman motorcycles in Iowa, he’s near single-handedly turned a daggy 90’s cruiser into a favourite of the custom scene with his incredible builds. This time around Hageman have knocked another one out of the park with this amazing Vincent-inspired 1981 Yamaha XV920.
Having owned Viragos ourselves, we know all too well that customising them without treading on anyone’s toes can be a tricky endeavour. With some of the industry’s best builders all making their mark on Yamaha’s innovative stressed-member v-twin, it’s damn hard to do anything that people haven’t seen a million times before. But with this thought in mind, Sergei from Dutch grinders Ruthless Customz took up tools and created this rather cool and decidedly unique XV interpretation. He calls it ‘The Beast’.
When the Japanese custom car culture really began to boom in the early ’90s those heading to the land of the rising sun to witness it all were given a simple instruction. Don’t look for big showrooms with flashing lights, head to an industrial area of any of the country’s big cities and go down the smallest of alleys. Here in cramped garages, 1000hp beast were being turned out in spaces so small you could barely spin a spanner. Now Poland’s Ugly Motors is taking it to extremes, with a 1st floor workshop that sees bikes lifted into place by a homemade crane. It’s here that Jakub Beker has crafted Ugly #08, a power cruiser come cafe racer from a 1983 Yamaha XV920 Virago.
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.
Stuck in an office cubical with phones ringing, people yelling and a boss standing over your shoulder it seems a strange time to daydream. But it takes you away to a different place, a once abandoned warehouse in the industrial part of town where the enormous doors and the shop truck both sport the logo of your custom bike shop. Here you wrench on the kind of machines that fuel your passion, share a bourbon or beer with a customer to discuss their next project before picking up the tools again to finish off your latest creation. This is the world of Daan Borsje, the main man at Moto Adonis in the Dutch city of Roosendaal, that bizarrely enough is also home to the official ABBA fan club and hosts an annual festival in honour of the Swedish super group. But there’s no Fernando, Mamma Mia or White jumpsuits here, just quality custom creations and Daan’s latest is a red-hot 1982 Yamaha XV920.
Most custom bike shops would gnaw off an arm to build a ride for biking royalty like Billy Joel. It’s the kind of job that can really put a shop on the map. So it says a lot about a builder when they not only complete such a feat, but then set themselves the task of going one better – just because they can. Welcome to the mind of Greg Hageman; one of the world’s greatest Yamaha customisers and builder of today’s gobsmackingly classy XV920R.
I figure it’s best, in the interests of being fair and open, that I disclose a shocking and personal fact. I own a Virago. Oh yes, very funny. Laugh it up, ladies. Say what you will, but you know what? I’m an XV owner and proud. Now mine’s not an 920 jobbie like you see here – she’s a MY 1980 XV 750. But let’s not spilt hairs here, a Virago’s a Virago. Every piss weak, Harley Davidson copyin’ inch of them. So just how does such a seemingly lame-ass no-hoper bike suddenly become the darling of the custom scene? Through a series of sow’s ears into silk purses by Classified Moto, Doc Chops and Zero Cafe Racer – do some Google image searching if you are drawing a blank. And it might well be time to add another name to that list. Meet the Virago that Shed-built, um, built.
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