Custom: The Virago Café

David  returned from the Isle of Man TT stoked by the action and the machinery. The next step was to get his very own Virago café racer.

The Long Rider’s Café

We hung around David’s garage at the end of a quiet lane in Langley, BC, waiting for the rain to quit doing that. This day had been ear marked for a photo shoot of his 1982 Yamaha XV920R that only a practised eye can now recognize as a Virago. There’s not much Virago left in the old girl, but there is a soulful café racer, which is a cross-generational look that’s doing it for old bikers, young hipsters and even committed long-haulers like David, whose workshop space is jammed with all the usual accoutrements of the road including his wife Holly’s 2004 Honda ST1300 and his own 2011 Concours 14 that’s been retro-fitted with a fuel-on-the-fly slip tank mounted where a top box might otherwise sit. He likes the extra capacity because it now matches Holly’s. Long miles are their style, and the Iron Butt Association licence plate back hanging on the Kawasaki’s rear fender declares their intent: Four Corners, Three Flags, the grind of the Iron Butt events, for them, all good.

On one shelf inside the garage is a pair of brown calf-high RCMP Strathcona boots that David would have had to earn the hard way when he was a young Mountie in training at Depot. His grad days from that legendary facility in Regina are well behind him now but his career includes a six-year stint as police motorcycle instructor. This guy is a rider, no question, though he comes clean about the de rigeur café clip-ons. “Man, they’re hard on the wrists,” says David, who reckons that ‘Café racers’ are aptly named. No one sane is planning a cross-country café racer ride any time soon; it’s a style of bike best sampled in small doses. So, what’s the deal? Why would a sport-touring rider like David make a 180-switch to the dark side? Simple.

virago cafe custom tank“We made a trip to the Isle of Man TT in 2013 and 2011,” says David. “This bike is a homage to what we’d seen.” Stoked by the classic Irish Seaside race that practically invented the café racer look, David sourced out a bike and a builder, Chappell Customs in Ontario.

The more or less stock Virago was already in the hands of the Chappell brothers, Rob and Chris, who had intended to customize the bike sooner or later, but had not yet gotten round to it. When David contacted them with his vision and criteria (a V-Twin had to be in the mix) the Chappell crew set to work cutting down some parts such as the stock front fender and (quirky) chain enclosure, and fabricating others like the sub-frame and cowled rear tail section that hides a lithium battery. The clip-ons and humped leather seat lend the bike its definitive café look, but the front forks have been rebuilt with new seals and Progressive springs to attack the road. “The shock pre-load adjuster was relocated to the right side on a custom bracket and the left side of the frame, normally reserved for an air box, was blocked off entirely,” Rob Chappell writes in a bike build blog.

Shinko rubber was brought into the mix as well as new pegs, controls, levers and a mini chrome speedo. 

The old Virago’s 920cc V-Twin hits some beautiful notes through its new ceramic-coated MAC header with custom-made titanium canister. “Kind of a cross between Harley and Ducati, isn’t it?” says David, wicking the throttle to open the KJS throttle body that now replaces the OEM twin carbs.

Powder-coated cases and rims, a cool headlight bucket treatment and a gold D.I.D. chain are among the fine points, but there was some debate about what colour the body paint should be.

virago cafe custom air cleaner“Based on the amount of silver and black overall I … convinced [David] to move in the new direction,” says Chappell. “The red pinstripe was just the right amount of accent and the customer still got some of his colour after all.” 

And what colour choice did the Mountie have in mind? Red. Of course!

By John Campbell, Canadian Biker #302, June 2014

virago cafe custom side