Lurch Reborn: Yamaha XV920RJ Vintage Superbike

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Jesse Davis builds a tribute to his father’s famous “Lurch” — Kevin Schwantz’s first pro ride!

Here’s a piece of motorcycle racing trivia for you. Did you know the bike that Kevin Schwantz rode in his first-ever professional race was also the first Japanese V-twin ever raced in AMA Superbike? That’s right, and do you know what bike it was? The answer is “Lurch,” a Yamaha XV920 built by Vernon Davis, which has become a near-mythical creature in Texas racing lore:

“The bike was affectionately nicknamed ‘Lurch’, not in honor of the Frankenstein-styled character in TV’s The Addams Family (although that might have been just as appropriate), but for the way the big, torquey V-Twin Yamaha blasted off the starting line. In 1984 Davis asked Schwantz if he’d like to race ‘Lurch’ in the AMA Superbike round at Laguna Seca and Schwantz, who’d just gotten his Superbike license, jumped at the chance.” –Larry Lawrence, Cycle News

Yamaha XV920 Superbike
The original “Lurch” in BOTT trim.

Schwantz finished 5th in the first Superbike heat race behind four HRC Interceptors, qualifying on the second row of the grid, which turned a whole lot of heads — suddenly, everyone wanted to know who this young Texan rider was and what the hell he was riding.

“Not only was it somebody that no one had ever heard of but it was on a machine that no one had ever heard of, seen, or dreamt of in their darkest moments.” –Vernon Davis

Yamaha XV920 Superbike
Kevin trying not to lose his hearing…

What was the story behind this machine? Years later, Vernon Davis provided some background on the machine:

“Lurch was kind of special, unique is the word that comes to mind though it has been called other names. We took a Yamaha XV920RJ, ’82 model, and we built a superbike out of it, or a pro twins bike to be exact, back then it was Battle of the Twins.”

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Vernon says it seemed like a good idea at the time, as 1) the AMA had just gone to a 750cc Superbike capacity for fours, 2) as a twin, they could race it in the Battle of the Twins, and 3) they could also run the Superbike class, thereby getting themselves “into twice as much trouble.”

“It got its name of Lurch because of the way it would evacuate the start line. It was running against four cylinders most of the time in club races and it would out accelerate anything off the start. You could have first place…for a while.” –Vernon Davis

Yamaha XV920 Superbike
“Son of Lurch” by Jesse Davis, Vernon’s son.

In the Superbike main at Laguna Seca, Schwantz was running sixth behind the likes of Wes Cooley and Fred Merkel, among others, when it unfortunately spun a rod bearing and put him out of the race. Still, Vernon went on to race the bike for several years in the Battle of the Twins class…

Enter Jesse Davis, Vernon’s son and the owner of JD Moto Service in Long Beach, California. Back in 2017, we featured Jesse’s quite insane YZ250-powered Honda Grom (six times the horsepower!), and Jesse, during his stint with RSD, was the main man behind the Suzuki GT750 Water Buffalo flat tracker that Travis Pastrana rode in the Super Hooligans short track race at Daytona.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Now Jesse is back with one very special build — a recreation of the original Lurch his father built:

1155cc.
Over 100hp.
Under 400 lbs.
R6 geometry.
Built for AHRMA Vintage Superbike Heavyweight.
Built as a tribute to my dad’s famous ‘Lurch,’ which Kevin Schwantz rode in his first ever pro race.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Just like the original, the bike is based on an ’82 Yamaha XV920RJ, but it’s been heavily modified. The rake has been adjusted from 28 to 24 degrees, swingarm is a modified lightweight Ducati 900SS unit, and the dyno-tuned engine now displaces 1155cc with custom Carrillo rods, CP pistons, and a crank lightened and balanced by Fox Performance.

What’s more, nearly everything else on the bike was hand-built in-house: brackets, spacers, cam sprockets, fork brace, exhaust, seat unit, and more:

“Nothing on the bike has been untouched by the mill, lathe, or welder.” –Jesse Davis

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

As you might imagine, it’s a very sentimental build for Jesse — a tribute to his father, who loves the bike — and it’s no show pony either:

“I was able to win the CSRA Superbike race at Thunderhill on the bike’s debut. With over 100 hp and 85 ft lbs, and 375 wet weight, the acceleration and handling are extremely surprising for a 40 year old motorcycle…” –Jesse Davis

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Below, we get the full story on this incredible tribute to one of the legendary beasts of American racing lore.

“Son of Lurch” Yamaha XV920: Builder Interview

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

I’m Jesse Davis. I’ve been racing and building motorcycles for over 20 years. My shop is JD Moto service in Long Beach, CA.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

The bike is a 1982 Yamaha XV920RJ (not a Virago!).

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• Why was this bike built?

This was a very sentimental build for me, as a tribute to the bike my dad built and raced in the 1980s. That bike was simply known as “Lurch.”

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

The design is closely based on the original Lurch, with some modern improvements.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• What custom work was done to the bike?

The custom work involved with this bike is extensive. the frame was shortened and the rake adjusted from 28 to 24 degrees, with 1.5 inches removed. The swingarm is a Ducati 900SS unit, modified to fit, and is also shorter and 9 lbs lighter than the original.

The engine features custom Carrillo rods and CP pistons, with a lightened and balanced crank by Fox Performance. Also custom-made in-house are the brake brackets, wheel spacers, fork brace, throttle bell cranks, adjustable cam sprockets, subframe, seat unit, exhaust system etc. It’s a long list. Nothing on the bike has been untouched by the mill, lathe, or welder.

• Does the bike have a nickname?

Son of Lurch?

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?

I was able to win the CSRA Superbike race at Thunderhill on the bike’s debut. With over 100 hp and 85 ft lbs, and 375 wet weight, the acceleration and handling are extremely surprising for a 40 year old motorcycle…

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

I’m particularly proud that I built a bike that performs as good as it looks, and that my dad is really excited about it.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

Many thanks for help with the build from Mike Worshum, Mikey Castro, Vernon Davis.

Yamaha XV920 Superbike

Follow the Builder @JDMoto37

8 Comments

  1. Lawrence of Suburbia

    Great story here. The Battle of the Twins era from the 80’s to early 90’s were really the salad days of road-racing in the USA from an enthusiast standpoint. I remember seeing these XV920RJ and Virago twin specials at Daytona competing against Guzzi’s, bevel Ducatis, old Norton and Triumphs and of course, Harley Davidsons such as Lucifer’s Hammer.
    Later, the first 4 valve Ducatis, the Britten, the Dr. John MotoGuzzis, the Two Brothers Hawk and the fantastic creations from Over Japan and Sundance put the final exclamation point on the uniqueness of the class. Great racing between interesting, often home engineered machines. This was, for me, the best period and the best class ever.

  2. Having owned 6 of these over the years, including brand new in ’81, I know all about the “lurch”!
    I’ve left many sport bikes at traffic lights! Next light, same thing! Ha Ha, lots of fun!

  3. Having owned 6 of these over the years, including brand new in ’81, I know all about the “lurch”!
    I’ve left many sport bikes at traffic lights! Next light, same thing! Ha Ha, lots of fun!

  4. Fantastic story and even better build! Well done.

  5. Wheelz270

    Wow, this thing really puts out! While I’m not super enamored with the look of the engine, there are two aesthetic items I like on this bike that are usually duds on other XV’s: the chain drive looks great in lieu of the original shaft, and the routing of the rear header is a relief. Most builds the rear header runs forward on the right side of the engine, then down and back. Usually that, and the shaft drive, are major eyesores on these things for me. This one is a distinctive, unique build and quite the winner!

  6. Not sure why Vernon said they came with shaft drive they had a fully enclosed chain running in an oil bath. Unfortunately most of the enclosed chain components wound up in the trash because they didn’t stay ok l tight for long. The leaky oil containers proximity to the rear tire convinced most riders that an oring chain was the way to go. I remember this bike from BOTT races from that era as well as a 550 vision based racer from western Tennessee.

  7. William Click

    a bar tender and color commentator from austin used to show up at texas world for the club races ,,on a bike like this,,, always fun to watch,,

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