Polish engineer builds one unique Virago 750…
In Latin, the phrase nosce te ipsum means to “know thyself.” This maxim was inscribed on the ancient Temple of Apollo, and writers, philosophers, poets, and luminaries over the ages have used the phrase, from Plato and Socrates to Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the makers of the Matrix films.
Recently, we got to know Przemyslaw “Przemek” Swidlinski, a 45-year-old Polish mechanical engineer with a passion for custom motorcycles. Przemek, who works out of his home workshop, holds the nosce te ipsum maxim in high regard:
“I think that it is important for one’s well-being to understand him/herself. To know what your values are, priorities, what drives you.”
For Przemek, who builds customs as a small part of his business (versor.com.pl), the work itself is what drives him:
“These days I try to get up at 4:30 AM and go straight to the workshop. It gives me positive kick of energy for the entire day. Return home and do my main job from 8 to 4. If I feel like it, I can go back to the workshop, or spend time with my family — wife, two boys, two dogs.”
What’s more, Przemek knows his own values when it comes to custom bike building:
“One: A motorcycle is not a Christmas tree. There is no need for excessive bling; it should be lean…. Two: Handmade parts are worth more than off-shelf ‘custom’ parts. I prefer to spend time making something one-off, rather than buy an expensive piece machined…in a factory.”
The bike you see here is a 1981 Yamaha XV750 Virago — a common donor in recent years. But Przemek wanted to take a different path, challenging himself to build a unique XV:
“Over the last couple of years I have seen so many XVs, all modified in the same way (most of the time even with unmatching wheels!), that I wanted to prove that it can be done differently, so I challenged myself. The bike was supposed to be different than other XVs.”
Some of the unique, one-off solutions include the chrome-plated tank, whose Nosce Te Ipsum side lettering has a frosted glass effect, as well as the integrated silencer / rear cowl section.
Though the bike gave him his share of headaches, as custom bikes like to do, Przemek has no regrets.
“Was it worth all the hassle, money, and backache? It damn well was!”
In fact, the bike took home an award at the 2022 Polish Custom Show — Przemek’s first time bringing a bike to the event. Congratulations, man! We look forward to seeing what you build next!
Yamaha Virago 750 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I am 45, a mechanical engineer, and have worked occasionally on my mopeds and motorcycles for 30 years now. There were mopeds at first, restoration projects later — to have money for holidays. Finally I got very passionate about customs. As we’ve been renting, I struggled to work on a bike for several years. We bought a house with a garage three years ago and I managed to get back to building bikes since.
About two and a half years ago, I started the first build in the workshop. I have learned the hard way what I need to make bike building comfortable for me. Over a year ago, I refurbished the workshop and got a few additional tools and aids. Do not get me wrong, I did not spend a fortune on the workshop. I have designed and had built for me things like a bike lift and bike stand. Now working on any bike is a pure joy — well, almost always. In the meantime I had to get self employed, so included bike building in my business. It is the significantly smaller part of the business. My website: versor.com.pl.
There are two main aspects, which I try to follow while building a bike. One: a motorcycle is not a Christmas tree. There is no need for excessive bling; it should be lean. It should show the individuality of the owner. Two: handmade parts are worth more than off-shelf “custom” parts. I prefer to spend time making something one-off, rather than buy an expensive piece machined by a CNC machine in a factory.
I prefer to cooperate with people who are good at what they do. As an example, I am terrible welder, I can just about make two pieces of metal to hang on each other, so I just tack them together and take things to an experienced welder. In the course of the two completed projects, I met a bunch of good and competent local specialists and I hope to work with them in years to come. It is incredible how cooperation and discussion can develop the vision of one person into something special.
Building bikes is my passion. Now it is also part of my business – the smaller part. I did ask myself a question: would I like to build bikes for living, making it my sole source of income? To be honest, I am not sure. If it was my job, would I still be so passionate about it, or would stress come into play?
These days I try to get up at 4:30 AM and go straight to the workshop. It gives me positive kick of energy for the entire day. Return home and do my main job from 8 to 4. If I feel like it, I can go back to the workshop, or spend time with my family — wife, two boys, two dogs.
The next build is already well under way. It is a 2000, Ducati 750 SS based café racer. It will also feature couple of unusual solutions.
• What’s the meaning of the nickname Nosce Te Ipsum?
“Nosce te ipsum” comes from ancient Greek and you can read a lot about it on Wikipedia. For me it means “get to know yourself.” I think that it is important for one’s well-being to understand him/herself. To know what your values are, priorities, what drives you. Once you understand them, it is easier.
The long name also came in handy to showcase the chrome-plated finish of the tank. Talking about the chrome-plated tank – when you read it, you can see your reflection too, so it is like being introduced to yourself.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride the completed bike?
The bike is a pleasure to ride. The engine sound is cool, the torque is nicely delivered. The engine is powerful enough to my liking when I need it.
The bike’s handling can be adjusted easily. I kept the original front fork, which allows to make spring force adjustments by air pressure. Its damping can also be changed by changing the oil viscosity. The rear suspension is also original. Air pressure can be adjusted to change the spring force and there is a damping adjustment dial on the left-hand side of the bike. Everything works as it should.
The single front disc does not provide an impressive stopping power. I did not use the skinny tires on their limit. It is not the bike I would recommend for riding fast and hard. This one is about style, the best piece of jewelry a man can have.
I think that I have a strange relationship with motorcycles. I do not like riding fast, I do not like cornering fast. I like the sound of a good exhaust and to have a short, nice, occasional ride on a custom, good looking bike. In summary, I enjoy building more than riding.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I rode the same model about 25 years ago. Over the last couple of years I have seen so many XVs, all modified in the same way (most of the time even with unmatching wheels!), that I wanted to prove that it can be done differently, so I challenged myself. The bike was supposed to be different than other XVs.
There were three main thoughts behind the design:
- It should have a 60s Cafe Racer style.
- Should have some unique solutions.
- It should pay tribute to the Yamaha brand.
The old Cafe Racer look is achieved through the stance and spoked wheels, 19-inch front and rear.
The unique solutions are: the silencer as the rear cowl and the surface finish. See the tank — it is all chrome-plated and there is a stripe on top and lettering on the sides with a frosted glass like effect. I have never seen this kind of finish before.
I did not try to hide that this is a Yamaha. The base is over 40 years old (1981, XV750) and it should not pretend to be a new bike; it must be consistent. There are quite a lot of parts finished in bare metal, not polished. The zinc-plated parts will get covered in patina, so the bike should age nicely.
The bike took part in the Polish Custom Show 2022 and was awarded.
Was it worth all the hassle, money and backache? It damn well was!
- It was very rewarding for me to see it come together, despite the occasional F#@k. It was a challenging build.
- It was awarded at the most important custom bike event in the country and it was the first bike I exhibited.
- I used a finish that I have never seen before.
- I have never seen an exhaust like this one and it works.
I would also like to thank few supporters:
- Przemek Kasperski for the great pictures: www.przemyslawkasperski.pl
- Muzeum Śląskie in Katowice for enabling me to use their grounds for the photoshoot: www.muzeumslaskie.pl
- Thanks to my wife for the inspiration she provided and patience.
- Thanks to my sons for the help.
- Thanks to all the experts who are willing to take a challenge on and do not say things cannot be done. I work with quite a few outstanding specialists.