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Vinago: Billy Joel’s Vincent-Inspired Yamaha Virago

The Vinago, Greg Hageman of Doc’s Chops’ custom Yamaha Virago Vincent built for Billy Joel.

| May/June 2013

  • Vinago
    Combine Vincent and Virago and you get Vinago. It's a marriage of old and new.
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Front Vinago
    Greg’s long been aware of the Virago’s similarities to the English-built Vincent motorcycle.
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Vinago Rear
    “I wanted to keep the best of the Virago pieces, and make the rest of it look like a Vincent,” Greg says.
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Billy Joel's Vinago
    “My Rapide is a beautiful bike,” Billy says. “But it’s old, and it’s valuable, and I’m a little bit worried about anything happening to it. What I like to do is take newer bikes with modern technology and make them look old; they’re safer and generally more reliable.”
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Vinago-6
    The Grimeca four-leading-shoe hub looks right at home on the Vinago.
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Vinago Right View
    Builder Greg Hageman made the primary side look a little more retro with a flat clutch cover machined from billet.
    Photo By Erick Runyon
  • Vinago Exhaust
    Reproduction Triumph mufflers finish off the exhaust system.
    Photo By Erick Runyon

  • Vinago
  • Front Vinago
  • Vinago Rear
  • Billy Joel's Vinago
  • Vinago-6
  • Vinago Right View
  • Vinago Exhaust

The Vinago
Claimed power:
62hp @ 6,000rpm, 62.7 ft/lb torque @ 3,000rpm (1998 Virago)
Top speed: 112mph
Engine: 1,063cc air-cooled OHC 75-degree V-twin, 95mm x 75mm bore and stroke
Weight (dry, stock 1982 Virago): 467lb (212kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.2 gal (12ltr)

Combine Vincent and Virago and you get Vinago. It’s a marriage of old and new — homage to one of the most sought after classic machines of all time built on the humble bones of a much more modern cruiser.

From his Florida-based shop Doc’s Chops, custom bike builder Greg Hageman has turned the clock back some 60 years on the venerable Yamaha Virago. Greg’s been making a name for himself building café racers based on a variety of Japanese machines, but he’s taken a particular liking to the Yamaha XV Virago, and custom builds based on the V-twin model have become something of his hallmark.

Greg’s long been aware of the Virago’s similarities to the English-built Vincent motorcycle — most notably the big V-twin engine hanging down below the gas tank and, in the case of the early Viragos (1981 to 1983), an under-the-seat rear suspension system. In 2012, Greg built a Virago custom for a customer in Tallahassee. While Greg wanted to go in a full-on Vincent direction for that build, the client had other plans. “That one doesn’t have as much of the Vincent’s lines,” Greg explains. “For that build, I drew from a bunch of different British bikes, including both Vincent and Norton.” But that nod to British design is all it took for Greg to come to the attention of Billy Joel — yes, that Billy Joel, the Piano Man — and Alex Puls of 20th Century Cycles, the company Billy founded to build, store and service his growing collection of vintage and specialty motorcycles.



Billy Joel’s Vinago 

“I’d recently bought a Yamaha 750 Virago, but I didn’t like the mag wheels on it,” Billy says. “I thought it would look much nicer with wire wheels. So my mechanic, Alex, started to do some research and he found Greg. At the same time, I was looking closely at the Virago and noticed similarities to the Vincent — and I thought it would be cool to do an homage to Vincent with a Virago.”

Alex is head mechanic and curator of Billy’s collection of more than 90 motorcycles. While they have a 1952 Vincent Rapide among the machines, Greg was asked to interpret the classic Vincent with modern running gear.

Mike's Old VirAGO
5/5/2020 9:47:25 PM

Simple correction on the starter system. Took many years to find.(No, it ain't the spring.) Final starter fix- MIKE MILLER MOD Mike Miller·Thursday, June 6, 2019· Mike Miller·Wednesday, April 3, 2019 -revised 18AUG19 (See original post below- HISTORY) Okay, let me put it this way. The 'starter problem' is an electrical problem FIRST and a mechanical problem SECOND. The TCI needs stable voltage to work. The many actions inherent in cranking a big v-twin causes a wildly varying load on a battery, especially a battery that is not strong and fresh. This load variation translates to a VOLTAGE FLUCTUATION...which can switch off the TCI while cranking. Result: NO SPARK! The stabilizer- a simple $15 piece- makes sure the TCI gets clean voltage. So, with the stabilizer, if the battery is strong enough to get the piston over Top Dead Center on compression stroke, you will get spark. BOOM! (Did you ever let off the start button and suddenly fire up strong? Like a kick-start? It can happen that you let off just as the piston if flying upward on the compression stroke fast enough to get over the top, and the voltage is there right as the TCI needs it, so the engine starts! That is what caused me to use an OSCILLOSCOPE to chart the voltage while cranking. The voltage swings wildly! Then, I separated the TCI from the rest of the harness, used a SEPARATE battery to feed it, and the engine started cleanly EVERY TIME, verifying the cause. The stabilizer is like a small separate battery for the TCI.) Yes, a big new battery will get a good strong start. So will jump-starting from a diesel truck! Yes, renewing the gears will likely keep you cranking and MAYBE start...until the gears again disengage, as explained in my post -"Final Fix for Starters". Yes, removing the disengagement spring will give you a little more engagement. It can also allow the gear to hang up on the flywheel and wear out other parts of the starter drive. (It sounds like something still buzzing in the case.) So, I'll say this- GET the stabilizer. Put it in. If you have EVER had a start problem on the old-style starter designs, just get the stabilizer. ALL OTHER FIXES are fixes of the EFFECTS of bad, dirty, fluctuating voltage. Strong batteries and sharp gears will always help. Michael J. Miller Austin, Texas Original owner of a 1981 Virago 750 138,000 miles and still using the original factory designed starter system. HISTORY- MY ORIGINAL POST The final "fix" to starters, carbs, and weak spark. Many years back, I posted to DR. PISTON about getting a hotter spark by using the ACCEL HARLEY SINGLE-FIRE COIL. Many of you followed that advice based on my finding that the spark-during-crank was sometimes too weak to fire the rich mix. It IS a good upgrade, but I wondered WHY the spark was weak on start. So, I hooked up a dual-trace oscilloscope to get a real-time look at the action. What I found was that the juice needed to crank that big piston to top-dead-center for the fire could drop the voltage momentarily to as low as EIGHT VOLTS! The TCI will not work with less than TEN VOLTS, so, as the piston was getting ready to fire, THE TCI SHUT OFF! Further, I had noticed that sometimes, as I let off the start button, the bike would then fire. With the info from the trace on the scope, it made perfect sense. Once the voltage came back up, it fired just like kick-starting Next, I took a small separate battery and used it to juice only the TCI. This kept the voltage to the TCI stable at 12V. BINGO! It started right up! So, NOW, OFFICIALLY, I offer this final fix to the start question. https://www.ebay.com/i/311627034464?rt=nc Get this voltage stabilizer, hook it in between the wiring harness and the TCI on the R/W wire. And I will bet you that the bike starts just the way you always hoped. All the bikers I rode with would wait for me to get my cantankerous Viragosaurus '81 to start before they would touch their keys. Then, after this change, I was cranked and gone, and they had to CATCH UP! PS- The starter disengaging is mentioned in another post, but here is what happens- The starter can't keep up with the piston after it hits TDC in compression. The compression pushes the piston downward too fast to keep the gears engaged, so the starter gear partially disengages with each revolution until it jumps out and spins. IF THE PISTON FIRES ON THE FIRST OR SECOND TRY, the starter stays engaged long enough. SO, when I start my bike, I NEVER hold the start button longer than 2 revolutions. Then let off and do it again. In 130,000 miles, I have made NO CHANGES to my starter gears except to replace the starter with a 4-brush solid magnet starter. Mike Miller Austin, Texas DC Voltage Stabilizer 8-40V to 12V 6A 72W Car Power Supply Regulator Waterproof | eBay DC Voltage Stabilizer 8-40V to 12V 6A 72W Car Power Supply Regulator Waterproof ebay.com Video by Lui Ochoa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwFiIwM0Stg&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2WvfxN3dutphVwq6ELucBsdavNyNu3wTQjTgKeqTPx9x6g0AKlHTVktB4 Lui Ochoa📷 Tried it on my bike, and it turns on right away! 85 xv700 https://youtu.be/wwFiIwM0Stg


Tim Kern
6/27/2013 12:11:58 PM

Well, the modern 1100 engine system explains how he gets a 1982 Virago 750 to start. (Why oh why didn't they put a kick on those, or at least design a starter circuit that worked?) With the reliable engine, this is one nice bike!




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