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Virago 535 Bobber Build

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Rich is an amateur custom motorcycle enthusiast and loves nothing better than resurrecting an old-skool bike.

virago-535-bobber-build

Customizing a Virago XV535

I've always wanted to try my hand at customizing an XV535. It's a simple, pretty reliable v-twin. Not too heavy with no water system to worry about.

This bike is quite small, so it's not going to be for everyone, but it's a great starter bike, and an ideal custom project.

Here's the transformation of a standard(ish) Virago 535 into a nice looking custom bobber.

The Original Bike

This is what the bike looked like before I started working on it.

This is what the bike looked like before I started working on it.

How to Buy a Good XV535

Unless you want get involved in rebuilding everything on the bike, always try to start with a half decent, running and road worthy XV535.

Fixing all the mechanicals can turn into a money pit; you'd be much better off paying a bit more for a "runner" and saving your money for the customization side of things. (Been there, done that.)

This particular bike had a few issues: it didn't run very well—carbs cleaned and new jets helped with that—the throttle cable was toast and the clutch needed adjustment, but apart from that and a few electrical gremlins it was pretty ship shape.

The thing I liked most about this bike was that the previous owner had spent a fair bit on the aftermarket "gunfighter" seat ($300 second hand on eBay, he said) and he had added a custom rear fender.

With all that in mind, I decided this bike was perfect for what I had in mind.

Custom Ideas for the Virago 535

Although the shape of the Virago XV535 lends itself to a traditional single-seat bobber design, the "gunfighter" style seat really suits the bike, so I decided to base the style of the bike around the seat. If you wanted to find a similar seat, just do a search for "gunfighter motorcycle seat" on eBay and you should get plenty of options.

I decided I would shorten the fender, and add drag-style handlebars with lowered risers to give it more of a street racer look. The rest would be paint and polish.

Making a Start

I started by removing the speedo and the headlight assembly. I was going to dismantle the whole front end to spray the triple tree, but decided to go for the mask-up instead.

I sprayed the speedo and headlight bodies (not the bezels) gloss black while the speedo and the headlight were off the bike.

I also disassembled, cleaned and sprayed both sets of handlebar switch gear.

Masking up the triple tree

Masking up the triple tree

Triple tree sprayed black

Triple tree sprayed black

Drag Bars on an XV535

I wasn't really sure what drag bars would look like on a Virago 535, but I do like the look.

The original Virago risers are quite high, so I bought a set of lower ones to complement the bars. I was a bit worried that the bars might hit the tank if you turned the front wheel on full lock, but I messed about with angle of the levers and they were fine (just).

I had a set of motocross grips given to me; I wasn't sure on the colour at first, but they're growing on me.

I also bought a set of aftermarket spear-shaped black indicaters. I opted for the regular incandescent bulbs to save having to install resistors, or find the right LED relay. The indicators have a clear lens and an orange bulb.

Drag bars on, with newly sprayed switch gear and headlight

Drag bars on, with newly sprayed switch gear and headlight

Drag bars from the front

Drag bars from the front

Painting an XV535 Engine

I've painted a few engines over the years. The degree of success I've had has always been down to the amount of effort I've put in.

This engine had previously been painted black but not very well. Purists would remove the engine, but I'm not a purist.

I started with some epic masking up. Thin plastic sheeting makes life a lot easier.

Once the engine is masked up, it's time to clean it. Small wire brushes, big wire brushes, toothbrushes and wire brush drill attachments are all stuff you will need. Neat acetone and brake cleaner are all excellent at cleaning dirty engines. A small amount of petrol works wonders on old oil, but obviously, when using petrol on anything, you need to be careful and always have a small fire extinguisher handy.

Spend some time on this part, it'll be worth it. Once the engine is as clean as you can get it, it's time for spraying.

Masking Up for Spraying the Engine

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Engine finished in satin black

Engine finished in satin black

Finished Engine in Satin Black

I sprayed the engine in satin black as it's a nice contrast to the gloss black on the rest of the bike. I polished the carbs up as I took them off to clean them when I sprayed the engine.

I bought a stainless steel engine bolt kit and replaced all the old engine bolts; it makes such a difference. I also took a wet-and-dry sanding block and polished up the fins. I sprayed the front plastic pod covers gloss black as well.

The end result is a really nice-looking engine.

Fender Shortened and Sprayed

The rear fender is an aftermarket one that the previous owner fitted, and one that's easily obtainable on Amazon or eBay.

I shortened it and followed the line of the back of the seat. About 20mm is showing from the back of the seat. I then primed it and sprayed it metallic silver. I did the side panels in the same color. I also fitted the new rear indicators.

I took off the rear wheel and spray-painted the swingarm and brake plate gloss black, and I also started playing around with a side-mounted rear licence plate along with a vintage-style rear brake light.

Fender shortened and sprayed

Fender shortened and sprayed

Spraying And Pinstriping A Virago 535 Fuel Tank

The fuel tank was in pretty good shape to start with, no leaks or rust, which always makes life easier.

First job was to give the tank a really good rubdown with some 280-grit sandpaper, followed by a coat of primer filler spray, more filling, then another coat of primer filler. After lots more rubbing down with various grades of wet-and-dry, it was time for the top coat.

High build primer and filler

High build primer and filler

I thought I'd go for a nice metallic flake silver. It's quite a hard color to spray right because of the metal flake, but I'd seen it on another bike and I really liked it.

I messed up the first coat by putting it on too thick and not getting an even pattern, but three coats later I was happy with the result.

I'd picked out a star decal that I liked, along with a roll of four-line pinstriping, and set to work lining it all up and playing around with the pinstriping. I managed to get the stars in the right place first time, but it took around four attempts to get the pinstriping how I wanted it. I also added a Yamaha badge in the centre of the tank.

Finally I gave the completed tank three good coats of clear petrol-resistant lacquer.

Tank sprayed silver with star decal on

Tank sprayed silver with star decal on

Tank with pinstriping on

Tank with pinstriping on

Tank from the top

Tank from the top

Preparing The Wheels

If you want a good result, there's no getting around it: preparing and spraying spoked wheels is a lengthy process.

A drill attachment wire wheel makes the job easier, but you'll still have to put in plenty of elbow grease. Get the wheel as clean as you possibly can.

Masked up the wheel bearings

Masked up the wheel bearings

Wire wheel and scotch pad

Wire wheel and scotch pad

Virago XV535 White Wall Tyres

I really wanted white wall tyres as I thought they would go well with the silver and black on the rest of the bike.

It took a fair bit of ground work to find a set of white walls to fit a Virago 535, but I finally tracked some down.

Brand: Maxxis

Rear tyre size: 140/90-15 Front tyre size: 100/90-19

I had the tyres fitted and set about masking them up. A lot of patience and a sharp blade...

White wall tyres fitted

White wall tyres fitted

Masking the new tyre

Masking the new tyre

Ready for primer

Ready for primer

Front wheel primed with etch primer

Front wheel primed with etch primer

Same again for the rear wheel

Same again for the rear wheel

Always use an etch primer before spraying on any kind of smooth metal.

Never try and spray a top coat straight onto smooth bare metal, it's not going to last very long at all.

Finishing The Wheel

To finish the wheel I applied two coats of gloss black, and most importantly, two coats of clear lacquer. The lacquer will protect your paint. If you don't use lacquer, the paint's going to chip up pretty quickly.

I also masked up and sprayed the brake disc inner with the same gloss black.

Finished wheel with brake disc mounted

Finished wheel with brake disc mounted

Finished Wheels Back On

Before I put the front wheel back on, I sprayed the fork lowers and the brake caliper in the same gloss black as the wheels.

I mounted the front wheel and installed the brake caliper with new stainless steel bolts.

I wasn't happy with the original shocks, so I purchased a pair of second hand Hagon shocks (on eBay) and sprayed them black.

Front wheel back on the bike

Front wheel back on the bike

Rear wheel on with new shocks

Rear wheel on with new shocks

Wrapping The Exhaust

I was pretty fortunate with the exhaust system. The previous owner said the guy he bought it from had installed it: a full stainless-steel Motad system for the Virago 535.

It was too long for the style of the bike, so I shortened it and sprayed it black.

To finish it off, I wrapped it with titanium exhaust wrap. I was really happy with the result.

When wrapping an exhaust, always start from the back and work to the front. The overlap looks much better. Soak the wrap in water before you start; it's much easier to work with.


This link will take you to a great little tool to work out how much wrap you need for the length of exhaust you want to wrap. There's nothing worse than spending ages wrapping only to be 6 inches short of the end of the pipe. Ask me how I know this . . .

Exhaust shortened, sprayed black and wrapped

Exhaust shortened, sprayed black and wrapped

Yamaha XV535 Bobber Finished!

Overall, the bike turned out a lot better than I imagined.

All told, the bike took about a year to complete (weekends, and when free time allowed).

virago-535-bobber-build

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