The Ugly Duckling: The 1982 Yamaha Virago 920 Custom
Custom builder Greg Hageman of Doc’s Chops in Tampa, Fla., builds the coolest Yamaha Virago ever.
1982 Yamaha Virago 920 Custom
Photo by Erick Runyon/choppershotz.com
1982 Yamaha Virago 920 Custom
Claimed power: 65hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 108mph (period test)
Engine: 920cc air-cooled OHC 75-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 463lb (210kg)
Fuel capacity: 2.3gal (8.7ltr)
Here’s a fairy tale for the motorcycle set. In Hans Christian Andersen’s fable The Ugly Duckling, a homely duck is born in a barnyard where the other animals tease him about his appearance. He wanders off, suffering hardship and ridicule until he matures, transforming into a beautiful swan.
In our revamped tale for gearheads, custom builder Greg Hageman of Doc’s Chops in Tampa, Fla., takes a humble shaft drive Yamaha Virago — the ugly duckling, if you will — and completely transforms the machine into something beautiful, a bike Yamaha never could have imagined.
Introduced in 1981 and built in the tens of thousands, the V-twin Virago — or XV, to use the bike’s official model designation — was the first cruiser-style street bike to feature a single shock rear suspension.
For many, the Virago performed its duty faultlessly, if not glamorously. The Virago was quite successful, selling well even though Yamaha’s XV lineup consisted of bikes blessed with really good mechanicals, yet cursed with what one might call banal aesthetics.
Why the Yamaha Virago
Born in Iowa and now living in Florida, Greg jokes that he was using and losing his dad’s tools when he was four, and stick welding at 10. He became a Harley-Davidson technician, logging hundreds of training hours to perfect his skills. For 11 years he worked at Wiebler’s Harley-Davidson in Davenport, Iowa, where he made contacts with motorcycle racers who liked going fast around dirt tracks. The flat track influence followed him home, where he’d tinker with classic Japanese motorcycles, imbuing rather pedestrian Yamaha XS650s and Honda CX500s with a café racer/dirt tracker flair. Along the way, he built a reputation as a gifted, creative builder of unique specials, and he’s attracted the attention of more than a few people in motorcycling circles.
Greg’s always had an affinity for V-twins, a not especially surprising fact given his background with Harleys. But when asked to perform a build for the second season of Café Racer TV, Greg chose a Yamaha Virago instead of Milwaukee iron. “I’d really been wanting to build a Yamaha café racer out of any V-twin Japanese bike for quite some time,” Greg says. “But when the show contacted me to do a build, I said ‘now I’ve got to do one.’”
Greg first chased down a dual shock XV535 (Yamaha switched to a more traditional twin shock in 1984). Turns out the seller really had an XV250, which Greg didn’t want. So Greg found a 1983 XV750. “I’m really glad the first bike was wrongly listed on Craigslist,” Greg says today, “I ended up with a much better bike for the Café Racer TV build.”
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