Halloween Horror: Willy’s Virago

Back in 1989, I was the 22-year old night manager of the Norlander Inn, a South Winnipeg hotel that was home to Scandals Fun Club, a local watering hole with a radio jingle that promised: “Scandals, everything you hear is true.” One of the doormen in the bar, a muscle man named Ray who was studying nursing, had a new girlfriend who lived on the other side of town.

The story went that Ray’s girlfriend’s father had packed up one day and moved to California, leaving a motorcycle behind in the garage. Never one to pass up a good deal, me and my buddy Mario went to check it out.

What we found was a basically brand-new 1982 Yamaha Virago 920. Despite a thick layer of dust, it was in pristine condition with only about 650 kilometres on the clock. A deal was quickly struck for the grand sum of $900. A virtual steal. Later that night my brother, Allen, and I borrowed the hotel’s beer delivery truck and grabbed the bike. Since I was living in an apartment at the time it was taken to my dad’s place, where I would do a bit of work to get it road-ready.

On Monday morning my dad called. “Hey junior,” he bellowed into the phone. “Get over here, that bike you bought fell over on my driveway and it’s too heavy for me to pick up.”

As I rolled up to his place there was my new/old Virago laying on its side. The fresh asphalt driveway in front of my dad’s garage had given way under the weight of the beefy Virago and the bike had not only fallen over, but suffered a broken clutch lever and a dented fuel tank. No worries. I went to the local Yamaha shop and picked up a new lever, and a battery. I could live with the dent. After draining the ancient gas and installing the new battery, fresh fuel was carefully poured in the tank with crossed fingers.

I was all alone the first time I heard it. The dull, buzzing sound of a fried Yamaha starter motor. Crap!

After pricing out a new starter and discovering it cost about $275, I called my dad and he sent me to see a guy he knew who rebuilt starters and alternators out of his home garage. Wilf Colins was a retired railroader and about 85 years old. He rebuilt the starter for $30 with the advice I should probably buy a new one.

Finally, with little ceremony, about five days after I’d bought it, or a lifetime to a kid like me, the Virago finally roared to life.

I had a decent helmet but crappy gloves, so my first trip from my dad’s place was over to Canadian Motorcycle on Main Street to see legendary local biker Joe Sawtus and buy a new pair of riding gloves. Joe nodded in approval and grinned when I showed him the bike. I’m pretty sure he laughed out loud when I told him it looked like a Harley. With my fresh new gloves on, I rode away happy with Joe’s approval and the fact I was finally back on two wheels again.

On the way home, I pulled into a 7-Eleven store on Main Street to grab a pack of smokes. As I was wheeling in, a rusty white AMC 4×4 station wagon lurched at me in reverse, smashing into my right leg and knocking me and the bike onto the pavement. I stood there in amazement, with this piece-of-shit car now basically parked on top of my shiny Yamaha.

I can still hear the chrome screaming as he slowly pulled forward and off my bike. “Nice bike,” the guy said as I picked it up. Turns out the dude was delivering The Globe and Mail newspaper, and he had the papers stacked so high he couldn’t see his rear-view mirror. He was all sorts of sorry. He also didn’t have a driver’s licence. My bike now had matching dents on both sides of the gas tank and a sizeable scrape and dent on the chrome exhaust pipe. I figured about $300 should cover it, and followed the guy to his bank. He was happy to settle, and although my leg hurt a bit, I was $300 richer. Which it turned out, was a good thing.

The next morning, all suited up for a ride in the basement parkade of the apartment building I lived in, I heard that familiar grinding sound of a dead Yamaha starter again. My newfound riches were handed over later that afternoon in exchange for a new starter at the parts counter of the Yamaha dealer. Seems he had a few in stock.

Starter issues aside, the bike actually turned out to be pretty good. I rode it about 10,000 kilometres over the next couple of years and sold it to a kid who looked like me, dents and all, for $1,000.
I used $300 of that money to buy a minty 1981 Yamaha Virago with a dead starter. Fool me once…



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