“We don’t build custom Yamahas, Hondas, etc. We build Jacksons.”
The XV750 Virago, launched in 1981, was Yamaha’s first entry into the V-twin cruiser arena. It was a slightly funky machine, with an air-cooled 75° V-twin, shaft-drive, and a steel backbone frame that used the engine as a stressed member. Who would have thought that, nearly forty years later, custom bike builders would be transforming the humble Virago into such wild and beautiful rolling art?
One such builder is Craig Jackson of Texas, along with his sons Sam and Max. Craig, who’s an engineer in the semiconductor industry, has been riding and racing since he was a boy, and his motocross career took him to the Astrodome to compete in the Grand National Championship three times. Some six years ago, he caught the custom bike-building bug:
“I told by boys (15 and 19 years old at the time) that I was about to attempt to build a custom motorcycle. I asked them if they wanted to build their own with me. We bought built our first three custom bikes. That’s how it all started.”
The bike you see here was one of those first three builds, the “5AM” — a play on the name of his youngest son, Sam, and a family Christmas story. More than half a decade after the initial build, father and son decided it was time to rebuild and revamp the original 5AM before the 2019 Handbuilt Show, bringing it on par with current Jackson builds:
“Six years later, with better tools, more building experience, frustrating engine trouble, constant starter issues, terrible foot position (as with most Virago builds, you feet are behind you) and sick of the crappy old suspension, we decided to tear it apart and start all over.”
We especially like Craig’s approach and philosophy to bike-building, which involves a good deal of contemplation and listening to the machine, trying to learn what it wants to become. In this era of Photoshop and computer modeling, this approach strikes us as refreshingly old-school:
“I start with an inspiration bike, a design or an idea, but I let the bike talk to me, tell me what she wants. I spend more time sitting across the room looking at every angle than I do building.”
What’s more, Craig doesn’t overlook the all-important sound of the machine, which he strives to get just right:
“I like ‘em loud! Not just loud, but that tone, that bark, that growl that gives you chills, makes you excited to ride it. The exhaust is the voice of the bike, a big part of its personality.”
In order to transform the original 5AM into the “5AM V2.0,” Craig and son would strip the machine down to the bare bones and rebuild from the ground up, swapping a newer ’88 engine into the ’83 frame, retrofitting a 2003 R1 front end, hand-building a rear subframe and headlight brackets, and adding a snaking, pie-cut custom exhaust with discolored welds à la Criag’s 2-stroke motocross bikes. One of our favorite elements is the tank, a Virago piece lifted four inches, with handmade coves and chrome Jackson emblems. Says Craig:
“I like it…when folks ask ‘What kind of bike is that?’ or simply ‘What the [insert your favorite expletive] is that?’ With the new logo, they know. It is a Jackson.”
Behind the name is a deep family pride and a powerful teaching moment Craig has had with his boys, which we encourage you to read below. All in all, this is one of the most meaningful stories we’ve had the honor of sharing — a build that demonstrates the power of the custom bike to transcend the garage and teach us lessons about life, family, respect, and love. Thank you to Craig for being this kind of father, and for sharing this story.
Below, we get more details on the build from the man himself.
Jackson 5AM V2.0: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’ll be 51 in November of this year. I am a Software and Electrical Engineer for the Semiconductor Industry. I also invest in real estate with my two sons. (I make a lot more money with this than my regular job.) As a kid, I started out riding mini bikes. Tore those up. Moved to a Suzuki DS80. At 10 years old, I had my first motocross race. Good Lord! This is for me! For the next 30+ years I raced motocross. Raced all over Texas. Went to the Grand National Championship in the Houston Astrodome three times. Motocross is in my blood. Riding, racing and driving things with growling Internal Combustion Engines are a part of my daily life.
I started building six years ago because I couldn’t find a bike that looked exactly the way I wanted. After nine months of searching, I came across a build by the name of Roland Sands (didn’t know him at the time). It was a Virago XV750. I told by boys (15 and 19 years old at the time) that I was about to attempt to build a custom motorcycle. I asked them if they wanted to build their own with me. We bought built our first three custom bikes. That’s how it all started.
I have a sickness I share with most other bike builders I have met over the years. I can’t stop buying, building and riding motorcycles. The creative process is what I like the most. I start with an inspiration bike, a design or an idea, but I let the bike talk to me, tell me what she wants. I spend more time sitting across the room looking at every angle than I do building. If she doesn’t like what I wanted, the exhaust to look like, for example, I’ll cut it off and start again. I honestly don’t care at all if it is not comfortable to ride. I want it to look good sitting still and look good while riding it. When it’s done, I want my natural response to be: “I wanna ride that!!” The sound is also important. I like ‘em loud! Not just loud, but that tone, that bark, that growl that gives you chills, makes you excited to ride it. The exhaust is the voice of the bike, a big part of its personality.
I will do commissioned builds and build custom parts on a word of mouth basis.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
5AM is a mix. The frame is from a 1983 Virago XV750. The engine and rear wheel are from a 1988. The 1988 has a better starter, less miles, and the rear wheel looks a little more modern.
• Why was this bike built?
5AM V2.0, as the name implies, is the second rebuild of 5AM. My youngest son, Sam, and I built 5AM V1.0 as part of the bikes we bought and built together. Six years later, with better tools, more building experience, frustrating engine trouble, constant starter issues, terrible foot position (as with most Virago builds, you feet are behind you) and sick of the crappy old suspension, we decided to tear it apart and start all over.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The initial drivers for the build were to fix the suspension and engine issues, better paintwork, and bring it up to the level of my current builds. Influential inflection points that drove the bike to what it is today are things like:
a) The raised white letters on the tires to give it that NASCAR race inspired wheel motion… I started driving a car back in the ‘70’s when this was the only thing that gave cars that cool “motion” element when the car was moving. Especially when moving slowly. Back then we didn’t have the custom wheels of today.
b) The tank was another. When it came back from fab with those coves, man… awesome! Now, what paint color? That is a very important choice. It sets the mood of the bike, the personality… We walked around and stared at the bike for about a week. Sam chose black. Good call!
c) The Jackson logo. We don’t build custom Yamahas, Hondas, etc… We build Jacksons. This is the first bike to carry the logo. This and the exhaust are my favorite.
d) The exhaust. From my days of racing motocross, my mechanic would hand-build the 2-stroke pipes for my bike. I always loved the “custom-ness” look of the discoloration in the welds.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The bike is fitted with:
a) A stock Virago tank lifted four inches in the back with handmade coves and new chrome-plated Jackson logos.
b) Removed the troublesome 1983 engine and replaced with a new-er 1988 engine and wire harness. Cleaned, prepped and painted the engine and added a full set of stainless steel screws.
c) Handbuilt pie-cut stainless steel custom exhaust snaking around the engine to two staggered exhaust tips for a loud and proud V-twin thunder.
d) Upgraded the sloppy handling stock front end with a complete 2003 R1 USD front end.
e) A set of Mikuni VM34-275 carbs with modified TC Brothers XS650 intake manifolds.
f) Handmade under frame battery box.
g) Dime City Cycles rear sets mounted on hand made brackets to move the foot position forward, and up, to a much more comfortable riding position.
h) Handbuilt rear subframe. Built from the steel of the original subframe with a flush mount multifunction LED tail light and turn signal light bar.
i) Handbuilt headlight bracket holding a 7” projector HID LED Headlamp bulb. Drilled holes in the bulb’s heat sink so we could ditch the bucket and get the headlight tucked in closer to the forks for a cleaner look.
j) Ditched the front brake fluid reservoir for a race inspired clear tube and stainless steel stabilizing mounting bracket.
k) Seeing that the bike was heading to a “black and chrome” color scheme, we went for a high gloss black paint so that every edge would catch the light and bring out the details.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
5AM V2.0 – This is my youngest son’s bike. His name is SAM. You can see here how closely his name resembles 5AM when written in capital letters. Here’s the story:
My two sons are four years minus one day apart in age. We usually have their birthdays on the same day. When they were very young, my oldest, Max, was very concerned about making sure the gifts didn’t get mixed up. One year, he took black electrical tape and marked off two boxes on the floor to put the toys in. One marked with MAX. The other marked with SAM. When you use electrical tape to make an S. It most definitely looks like a 5. I came into the room a short time later and asked. What does MAX and 5AM mean…?
So, when thoughts turned to the name of the bike. It had to be 5AM, but Version 2.
• How would you classify this bike?
Man… that’s a good question. I just build. I don’t set out to make a scrambler, or a this or a that… It has been classified by others talking about it as a Café Racer, and other times as a bobber. I don’t think it quite fits either of those, or any of the other classifications. Dunno man… It’s a custom… It’s a “Jackson”.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
1. Taking the stock “peanut” looking tank and making something cool about it. Lots of positive responses on the tank.
2. The exhaust gets even more attention than the tank. It turned out really nice.
3. The Jackson logos are a first. I’m really happy with those. I’ve put years of thought into the right logo for those 2 tiny screws on either side of most gas tanks. I’ve never been really happy putting the old manufacturer logos back on there. On many occasions I have had talks with my two sons about, maybe a particularly hard time they were having with kids at school or with how someone looked at them at a restaurant, etc… I wanted them to feel good about who they are and their many talents.
(My kids are very talented: singing, playing guitar and drums, photography, videography, treating people with respect and dignity, empathy, sense of humor.) So, I would tell them: Look, it is not easy being a “Jackson” sometimes. You are good-looking with so many talents and loved by many! You are special. You are unique! You are loved. This can intimidate some kids who aren’t strongly centered and grounded and don’t quite clearly know their personal identity, or are not comfortable with who they are at the moment. Some of them will lash out. They will make fun of you in front of other and treat you badly. You need to understand their frustration. Try to understand how they feel. The jealousy they might feel. They are not like you. They are not a “Jackson”. Feel empathy for them. Pray for them to find their gift and not feel like they have to take their frustrations out on other. Everyone has a gift. They just need to find it. Not every one can be a Jackson.
So, when we finally hit on the idea that these bikes are different, unique, special. Not the same as other. The similarities were too strong to ignore my teaching moments with my boys. These bikes are Jackson’s.
I like it when the bikes get looks. And when folks ask “What kind of bike is that?” or simply “What the [insert your favorite expletive] is that?” With the new logo, they know. It is a Jackson.
A little background about the pics. We live in Bryan/College Station, Texas. Home of Texas A&M. Our downtown Bryan is a great place. I wanted pictures highlighting some of my favorite places.
You may not be able to see which building is which, but they are:
- Brazos County Cotton Exchange a great wedding and party venue
- Papa Perez Mexican Food
- LaSalle Hotel
- Palace outdoor amphitheater on Main Street
- Our local Bryan police officers (there to make sure we were not just riding around town without a license plate…)
- The Queen Movie Theater
- Blackwater Draw Brewing Company
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