The Yamaha Virago might once have been a dime a dozen and perhaps it is for that reason you don’t see many around anymore – they were just too common to be collected. But times have changed and the Virago deserves a second look – and a second life.
The once-ubiquitous Yamaha Virago has fallen on lean times; its place on the streets usurped by its successors, Yamaha’s V-Star 650 and 1100, elite members of the Star family of cruisers. Still, for riders such as John Racine the very name, Virago, conjures boyhood dreams.
“In my teen years I wanted a Yamaha Virago, I loved its style; I found it had charisma; and for the price you got a lot of bang for your buck,” says Racine, who has owned numerous motorcycles since precocious youth but for whatever reason, never a Virago.
Recently he embarked on a course of action recommended by few and undertaken by still fewer.
“After seeing so many Viragos chopped beyond recognition I thought it appropriate to take the original Japanese cruiser and bring one to its natural All-Virago state (with a slight touch of custom) but using only Virago parts,” says Racine. “I wanted to take this Virago and build a sort of custom/tribute to all Viragos.”
The Virago in question is a 1982 XV750 Racine purchased for $1,000 in the spring of 2003. “My father bought it from a friend (who was the first owner) and sold it to me a week after. I then found out that this bike was bought new at the same dealer where I had first seen a Virago. Who knows? Maybe it’s the same one …”
He began the two-year restoration process by stripping the bike to its frame, which was found to be perfectly sound, in need of nothing more than a good cleaning to remove the dust and road grime. The mods the first winter were fairly straightforward—the tach and exhaust were replaced, the tank and side panels painted and rebadged, the wheels and engine polished.
“I replaced the tach with a NOS from ebay and replaced the exhaust with MAC black ceramic coated pipes. I know that’s not original but at the price of the NOS exhaust I can’t afford it.” As well, a set of carb kits, a K&N filter and a clutch were fitted to the Virago, along with a Mustang seat and a pair of shiny new mirrors. The bike was good to go, for the time being.
But in the winter of 2004-05, “phase two” of the project was underway in earnest. This time the motor and swingarm came apart and more detail work was on the way.
“I removed the swingarm to replace the badly seized bearing and bushings and get it painted silver. And the engine got a full top end rebuild,” says Racine, who found a new set of cylinders, pistons, rings, heads and valves on ebay. “These were from a Euro XV edition engine that had never been installed on a bike,” says Racine. “The owner bought the engine in 1983 to build a flat track racer but never got to it. The complete top end is brand new save for the cam shafts.”
After the top end and electrical work was complete, (“The lower end is tight as can be.”) the engine was painted and powder coated, the tank and panels were repainted blue and purple pearl and anything aluminum was polished.
Steel braid lines were added during the Virago rebuild to complement new brake components, a Progressive Suspension rear coil was mounted to bolster the ride quality, and the intake ducts were replaced in favour of items from a 1983 Yamaha Virago 920 because of their aluminum covers. A new windshield and a Midnight Virago gold sissy bar finished off the work. The total cost of the rebuild was $3,600, which includes the initial purchase price.
by John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #216