Weekend Motorcycle Project: Yamaha Virago 750 Tourer Conversion

A couple of weeks spent browsing motorcycle-accessory websites and catalogs and a day or so spinning wrenches lengthened the legs of our Yamaha Virago 750. By Evans Brafield

We recently had fun turning our Yamaha Virago 750 into a bike we'd enjoy owning (see "Intake Manifesto" in the February '98 Motorcycle Cruiser). To further the process we decided to see what we could do to transform it into a more touring-oriented machine. We approached the project like most cruiser owners by consulting accessory catalogs, talking to other owners, and making some phone calls. Once we had all the accessories assembled, we swept out the garage, tuned the radio to our favorite public radio station, chilled a couple of cans of our preferred carbonated beverage, and settled in for a Saturday afternoon of wrenching.

Looking at all of the boxes and trying to devise a plan of attack proved difficult, so we simply started at the front of the bike and worked our way back. Targa shipped the National Cycle Ranger Heavy-Duty Windshield (say that three times quickly) in two boxes. The first contained the windshield ($135), while the second contained the Virago-specific bracketry ($67). Even though we laid out all of the parts and read the directions carefully, we discovered that we had mounted the turn signal relocation brackets incorrectly, causing the windshield to contact the turn signals when we slipped it into position. With the signals in the proper location, the windshield fit into place easily and could be adjusted over a 2.5-inch range. The windshield provided good wind protection while being low enough to not enter our field of vision. The Lexan had nary a swirl. The chrome parts were exceptional, and the brackets featured snazzy gold National Cycle badges.

Yamaha's Accessories Division provided many of the Virago's shiny additions. The Chrome Grips ($55) with ribs match the oval, ribbed-chrome rider and passenger pegs ($63 per pair). Although the chrome grips and pegs look great, be aware that chrome doesn't offer the same wet weather grip that rubber OE items do. The pegs, in particular, annoyed us in the rain. Rounding out the Yamaha chrome controls is a $24 Billet Shift Peg Cover that slips over the stocker and is held in place by a set screw. The $87 Engine Guards bolted on easily, added some flash to the engine, and will protect the engine in a tip-over.

Cobra's Billet Reservoir Cover ($30) and bar clamp ($70) also dress up the cockpit. We would consider the addition of a wider handlebar from Cobra to give larger sized riders a bit more breathing room on long rides. Jardine's Billet Turn Signal Visors ($34) dress up the signals and simply screw into place, between the signal's lens and housing.

Rider and passenger gluteal concerns are addressed by Corbin's Dual-Touring Saddle ($259). The rider receives the full bucket treatment, while the passenger gets a half bucket. The seat mounted in place of the stock seat in minutes — with most of the installation time spent removing and replacing the stock bolts. The seat shape and padding rated well on long rides with passengers and riders alike. However, the slippery vinyl seat cover caused riders to slide forward while braking. We ordered Corbin's optional rider's backrest ($179), but it arrived with the wrong bracket -- annoying but easy to remedy. Our positive experiences with other Corbin backrests should hold true for the Virago. Virago 1000 and 1100 owners can also replace the passenger's backrest with a bolt-on Corbin item ($69).

Works Performance helped us improve both the Virago's long-distance and local performance with a pair of its Street Trackers chrome shocks. By employing Works Performance's Adjustable Rate Suspension (ARS) system, the shocks allow riders to alter the spring rates for loads varying from solo riding to two-up with baggage. Each shock utilizes two springs. The soft initial rate comes from the short spring which stops compressing at a preset mechanical point, then the longer, stiffer spring takes over the job. The ARS system adjusts the mechanical stop point, giving the shock the ability to go from a full-soft, boulevard mode to a stiffer high-performance or load-carrying setting. Preload, compression damping, and rebound damping are all set at the factory, and are based on the rider's weight and riding style. Street Trackers with optional chrome springs and billet ARS system retail for $489, direct from Works Performance.

All of our touring Virago's leather hails from Dowco's Iron Horse Leather Company. While we opted for the clean Midnight Rider Collection of accessories, Iron Horse also offers two additional styles. The Silverado Collection sports chrome studs, while a rich, textured leather differentiates the Durango Collection. The detachable slant saddlebags ($290) took a little while to mount just right, but the payoff of a stable cargo load made the extra attention to detail worth the effort. To remove the bags, simply unhook the reusable zip-tie from the required saddlebag support (available from Yamaha Accessories or aftermarket companies like Cobra and Jardine) and then unbuckle the two buckles securing the top of each bag. The leather yoke stays behind, held in position by the seat.

The leather tank panel ($100) fits easily into place once the seat is removed, allowing access to the gas tank mounting bolt. The back of the panel has a non-marring material that should minimize damage to the tank's finish over the long haul (though a thick coat of hard wax under such accessories is always a good idea). The panel's two pockets gave easy access to the little essentials we take everywhere. The small pocket accepts a garage remote, and the larger pocket will hold sunglasses or a small cell phone. The narrow fork bag ($79) zip-tied into place and provided us with a perfect place to carry cleaner and a small shop towel for the windshield. Dowco's Iron Horse Leather Company luggage comes with a lifetime guarantee for material and workmanship.

A few weeks of patience and an afternoon in the garage changed our Virago 750 from basically stock to a personalized ride we'd want to be seen astride at our favorite gathering place. If we were to continue, we'd add braided stainless steel cables and hoses next. Race Tech's Gold Value Cartridge Emulators would be high on our list, too. And then? Maybe custom paint or chrome wheels.


Cobra Engineering
4915 E. Hunter
Anaheim, CA 92807
(714) 779-7798

2360 Technology Way
Hollister, CA 95023
(800) 223-4332, (800) 538-7035

Dowco, Inc.
4230 Clipper Dr.
Manitowoc, WI 54220
(800) 558-7755, (920) 682-7796

Jardine Performance Products
1220 W. Railroad St.
Corona, CA 91720
(909) 371-1744

National Cycle
POB 158
Maywood, IL 60153-0158
(708) 343-0400, (877)972-7336

Targa Accessories Inc.
21 Journey
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
(949) 362-2505, (800) 521-7945

Works Performance
21045 Osborne St.
Canoga Park, CA 91304
(818) 701-1010

Yamaha Accessories
See your local Yamaha dealer

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

National Cycle's Ranger windshield offers 2.5 inches of vertical adjustment to fit a variety of riders. Dowco's fork bag dresses up the front end and provides a space to carry extra supplies on a long ride.
Yamaha's engine guards look good, protect the cases, and give the rider a way to stretch his legs on a long ride. The ribbed peg and billet shifter cover, also from Yamaha, dress up the engine and follow the grips' motif.
Jardine's turn signal visors add a subtle touch to our touring Virago and will fit many Yamaha and Honda models. Even when in the lowest position, the National Cycle windshield doesn't contact the turn signal stalks.
The Street Trackers (with optional chrome springs and billet ARS system) look so good we hated to cover them with the bags. The lever and notches used in adjusting the ARS system are located on the top of the shock.
Dowco's Midnight Rider Slant Saddlebags provide ample storage with a simple, clean style. Both riders and passengers will appreciate the comfortable perch provided by Corbin's Dual-Touring Saddle.
Dowco's tank panel looks good and gives riders an easy-to-reach place to carry items frequently needed on the road. Yamaha's ribbed grips, and Cobra's reservoir covers and bar clamp, add shine to the Virago's cockpit.