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The Yamaha Virago: From Cruiser To Cafe Racer

They may have been aimed at the Cruiser market, but the Yamaha Virago sure makes a sexy Café Racer.

One of the first production bikes to boast a mono-shock rear end, the Yamaha Virago appeared in the dealer showrooms in 750cc form in 1981. Well before the term was even conceived, the Virago was the first traditionally mounted V-twin engined metric Cruiser and aimed specifically at the Harley Davidson Sportster market.

Boasting a 5-speed box and pumping out the same horsepower as Harley’s outdated 1000cc Ironhead, the popularity of the Yamaha saw Harley Davidson push for protective tariffs, which effectively added a 45% import duty on Japanese motorcycles over 700cc. This may have given HD a serious competitive edge, but the writing was on the wall and apart from Yamaha launching a whole range of Virago’s from 250cc to 1100cc, before long all the Japanese manufacturers jumped on the Cruiser wagon, not to mention Ducati and BMW as well.

But hey, you didn’t come here for a history lesson, you came here to see examples of some of the world’s hottest customized Virago’s. Ironically even though originally sold as a Cruiser, Viragos make the most amazing Café Racers.

Built by Frenchman Jean Pierre Lagarde, this stunning 1982 XV750 took over two years to build. It features a custom-fabricated tubular steel subframe and Kawasaki ZX10R inverted forks in one-off triple trees. Dumping the Yamaha’s cast wheels in favor of retro looking laced rims, the Café Racer look was completed with a set of clip-ons, bar end mirrors and a humped racing seat from Nevada based Tuffside.

Providing just the right lines for the sleek V- twin, is a heavily modified RD350 petrol tank, which was finished off with a candy red and gold paint job tying up its classic lines with classic looks.

I get to see a lot of custom motorcycles in my job, but every now and then I see one that stops me in my tracks, and for me, the Vinago is one. Built by bike builder extraordinaire Greg Hageman for musician Billy Joel, the Vinago, mirrors the look of that ultimate Café Racer, the Vincent HRD. Built around an XV1100, Hageman has combined many subtle modern upgrades with vintage looking cycle parts. The finished bike looks every inch the modern-day classic it is.

Just to prove that size doesn’t always matter, here’s a Virago Café Racer based on the humble Yamaha 535. Built by Alec Sharp of Old Empire Motorcycles in Great Britain, the bike which they call the ‘Bristol Bulldog’’ (named after the WW1 biplane), features upside down forks and custom rear struts. Front and back wheels are laced and shod with Avon Mk11 Speed Masters for that real retro look.

Photos by: Owner/Eric Runyon/Old Empire Motorcycles

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