Franco's Cafe Virago

Docile cruiser turned lean and clean XV920 racer

Virago cafe racer
Christopher Franco's 1983 Yamaha Virago cafe racerSusan Bryan

What makes a custom motorcycle stand out? It's not the amount of time you put into it or the amount of parts you throw at it. It's not how much money you spend putting the thing together or even the bike that you start with and build around. It's a combination of style and performance. The best paint in a room full of show bikes could be plain black, if that's what works with the build the best. Franco's Virago is clean. It is simple, and it is just about perfect.

Virago cafe racer
Christopher Franco's 1983 Yamaha Virago cafe racerSusan Bryan

The attitude and manner in which a builder approaches a new project determines just about everything. We asked Christopher Franco to describe his build style in three words, and he gave one of the best answers we've heard: "Patina, Character, Spirit. The way I see it when I'm building bikes is that I'm resurrecting something that someone has given up on or forgotten. I have never built a bike from something running. So I don't like to make everything perfect when I build, because that removes all the original character. When you look at something I build, the frame isn't usually powder coated, but just buffed back to it's glossy original, scratches and all. When I see a bike that has had all it's pitted chrome replaced, the powder coated frames and forks, and perfect paint, I think it looks good, but I don't see it's past life or the abuse it went through to become the shiny bike it is today. It just lacks the character I like to see and appreciate." We see that character, too, and we love it.

Stock, the XV920 is not an impressive bike. It is smack-dab in the middle of the road as an approachable and relatively docile cruiser, with a few nice touches. The V-twin engine, tubular frame, and monoshock suspension have made it the sweetheart of many custom builders, namely Doc Chop and his XV750 from a few years back, from which Franco drew a lot of his inspiration. The rest of his inspiration came from somewhere a little... more far-out. "When I was piecing it together, it had a Kawasaki tank on it that had about 3 different paint colors (along with rust) that really made me think Boba Fett or Retro Futurism a la 1940's. Once I was able to get the chromed tank, the idea of a retro spaceship, like Buck Rogers, stuck and I loved where it was headed."

virago cafe racer
Christopher Franco's 1983 Yamaha Virago cafe racerSusan Bryan

The Kawi gas tank was canned to make way for the new Benelli tank, straight off of eBay from India, but the motivation from that original style stuck. A custom subframe and battery box were fabbed up in house, as well as rearset linkages, the entire wiring harness, and multiple cables/ carb mods and little fixes. Clip-on handlebars, a seat by MotoLanna, headlight, progressive suspension, and other parts were bought and added to the build to tie in what couldn't be done by hand. The look and the handling are pretty much there, but in the coming months, Chris Franco will be installing a big-bore kit and a "fancy cam" to up those ponies.

The devil is in the details, and on a bike this clean, you can bet there's more that you'll find when you look closely. Chris's good friend Josh Griego and himself have been working on the concept of starting up their own custom shop called Ridgeback Customs, named after Franco's main partner in crime: his dog Abbey. Looking closely at the gas tank, you will notice the small ridgeback design, paying tribute to man's best friend. The Virago is one of the first customs to come from their new endeavor and if it's any indication of what we'll see from the new shop, you'll be seeing them on here much more often.

Virago Cafe Racer
Christopher Franco's 1983 Yamaha Virago cafe racerSusan Bryan

The bike was originally put together as an entrant in the Duke City Rockers': Attack of the Cafe Racer Build Off, and was awarded third (we think it was robbed). Luckily, the people attending had better taste than the judges and awarded this wicked build the Peoples' Choice Award. Coming up, Franco is looking at breaking into a Honda Sabre V4, the very concept of which has us smiling ear-to-ear. We love his unique approach and even more unique builds and can't wait to see more from him and Ridgeback Customs.

Virago cafe racer
Christopher Franco's 1983 Yamaha Virago cafe racerSusan Bryan