Custom Yamaha V-Star 650

White lightning

Yamaha V-Star
This custom Yamaha V-Star ain't just moonshine from the factory.Dean Groover

This article was originally published in the December 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Laughlin, Nevada. For a sadomasochistic motorcycle rally, you'd be hard pressed to beat the Laughlin River Run. And not for the stilted, obscene reasons you're thinking (shame on you). It's more because of the region's sizzling weather and the dearth of scenic riding possibilities. Yet there we were this past spring, sweltering under the desert sun in the downtown vendor area—searching for singularly customized metric cruisers. No, it's not our usual modus operandi to scope out brand-specific hootenannies, but strangely enough, this foray into Harleydom paid off. And the custom we bagged was not one individual's hand-crafted labor of love; this showstopper impressed us because it was a Japanese factory job.

Hold the Pickle, Hold the Lettuce

Factory custom. Despite the oxymoronic ring of the term, it's an accurate description of this bike; the White Lightning Custom V-Star 650 is a product emanating from the corporate stables of Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. Custom used to mean a bike built to individual specifications, made to personal order—but the definition of "custom" in the motorcycle parlance is being stretched to new boundaries of vagueness.

The logic is flawless—manufacturers have deduced that customers will pay more for a model perceived to be unique from the rest of the assembly line. And in a world where a one-off handbuilt custom can easily run upward of 30K, motorcycle makers have figured out a way to offer a one-stop shop approach to the time-consuming customizing mess—and pocket a nice chunk of change in the process. A stock bike, perhaps with subtly massaged internals, can be outfitted with what are essentially the marque’s own higher end parts, or parts from an accessory catalog that are not available as options for that particular model. True, you won’t get the mold-breaking radical designs you might from an individual artiste, and your options might be limited, but also you won’t experience an un­bearable lightness in your wallet—the usual result of dishing out for an artiste’s pricey art. And with a factory custom, you’re still amply rewarded with a unique creation; it just happens to come from a Big Company. It’s akin to ordering a Big Mac stuffed with chateaubriand and shitake mushrooms rather than ground beef and wilted lettuce—the bun is still the same.

Drag Pipe slip-ons
Drag Pipe slip-ons from Jardine make the bike seem longer and lower. All that chrome in the engine bay injects lightness. All accessories are from Yamaha.Dean Groover

If We Billet, They Will Come

This kind of custom option is becoming a popular one. In these heady days of the bullish motor-cycle market, factory customs are sprouting up faster than Krispy Kreme franchises (but with more choices). When Yamaha’s Dave Pooler, Product Line Manager of Accessory Marketing, commissioned a custom bike, he wanted to showcase the bike’s extensive, yet tasteful use of the Star accessories line. He also wanted to provide customers with a glimpse of the results easily obtained with a stock bike and a few add-ons, instead of a ground-up solo undertaking.

Per Pooler, all of the aftermarket items on this bike come from Yamaha's Star accessories line. Of the major metric OEMs, only Kawasaki has a fatter in-house catalog; both companies have recognized that it's more convenient for the customer (and more lucrative for the manufacturer) to have ready access to a full line of custom parts at the dealership. The cruiser masses are interested in pieces they can bolt-on for instant results.

Chrome grips
Chrome grips are ribbed for your pleasure. The teardrop mirrors and stalks are billet and ball-milled, for a wildly custom texture.Dean Groover

The impressive list of accessories on the White Lightning bike begins at the fenders, with chrome fender tips encasing the edges of the bodywork at the front and back. The front fender gets an additional, separate tip at the back, near the bottom. A chrome battery side cover lightens up the traditionally shadowy spots below the seat. Chrome-ribbed handlebar grips add a uniquely sculpted sheen where you’d least expect it, and a chrome master cylinder cover further cleans up the front controls. Passing lamps installed on either side of the headlight add a classic look to the front end, and triple chrome-plated visors on all forward lights give the normally amiable V-Star a meaner demeanor. A clean chrome taillight cover brings up the rear.

And whatever’s not chrome on this cruiser is probably billet. There’s a requisite billet air cleaner insert to punch up the center of the engine bay, and you’ll find a billet handlebar clamp with a distinctive, engraved Yamaha logo in the center—so there’s no mistaking this bike’s pedigree. An easily installed billet choke knob cover allows for foolproof plunger access, and makes the mundane area look sharp. There is a multitude of other billet minutia, such as mirrors and nut covers, contributing to the polished look of this bike, that also found their way from the Yamaha catalog. No detail was left untouched, and the overall result is a classy, but aggressive boulevard troller.

chrome lamp visors
Chrome lamp visors distinguish the White Lightning from the rest of the herd. Passing lamps next to the headlight are a nice classic touch as well as an important safety measure.Dean Groover

Functional touches abound. Engine guards were added to ward off any external blows to the spruced-up motor, and rider floorboards with rubber inserts were installed, for solid footing. A rear fender luggage rack adds space enough to carry a miniature poodle, and the high-density foam solo seat comes complete with conchos, a skirt and studs. (Throw in a pair of heels and maybe we could get Feature Editor Brasfield interested.)

Some of the work done off-campus included extra chroming and polishing of the front forks. The crowning glory of White Lightning was a simple, classy paint job from Southwest Cycles, to complement the metallic add-ons with well-balanced blue and white graphics. The plan was to make the graphics a light color that could be repeated elsewhere in the bike's design. And that wrapped it up. Check, please.

dual-density foam solo seat
Don't tell us this dual-density foam solo seat's not big enough for you. A chrome seat rail adds contrast, and a rear fender luggage rack gives you a place to strap your boulevard gear.Dean Groover

That's Chrome, Not Silicone

White Lightning started out as a stock black 2000 V-Star 650 Classic, attractively priced at a $5,899.00 MSRP. Humble origins, indeed, but now we’ve witnessed how a nip here, a tuck there, and a chrome bath and billet enhancement there has dressed up the plain-Jane cruiser spectacularly. The total tab of $9,558.57 (an additional $3659.57), give or take a metal stud or two, sounds suspiciously close to the cost of a breast enhancement, no? We’re inclined to think this bike is a better value in the long run, though—plus, it won’t take you for half of your net worth when times get tough.

And a factory custom will still get you the attention you crave on the boulevard.