I first noticed XS-650s in around 1982 when a fellow with a 1978 model moved into a house across the street. I was 22, had an ’81 Honda CB-750, and although the XS had been around since I was 9, I honstly don’t recall taking any notice of them but this ’78 really caught my eye but he only stayed six months and moved on and I soon forgot about his bike.
Around 1990, I was looking for a new bike and after much thought, remembered that gorgeous thing across the road, but what was it? Oh yeah, a Yamaha XS-650. I knew nothing about them at the time and bought a ’77 model.
Only one year earlier but a very different bike. No matter. I now own five 650s but this was my first. It was very weather beaten, but I rode it for a year or so like that and then took it apart for a total rebuild that you’d call a ‘restomod’ – restored to stock (or very near) appearance but with a few modern touches to make it nicer to ride and easier to maintain.
I did all the usual things like paint and chrome and the upgrades included tapered steering bearings, needler bearings in the swingarm, new shocks, and Boyer-Bransden electronic ignition – the stuff most people would do but then, and I don’t know how, I got a little carried away.
She got the forks off a 1987 Suzuki GSXR-750 converted to cartridge, 10″ wide triple trees, Special rear wheels at both ends, a homemade swingarm, fenders and sidecovers made by me in fibreglass, and a thousand other handmade parts. Then, there’s the engine.
It’s 750cc with JE pistons designed by me on Carrillo rods 140mm long on a 90° crank (the first in the world, as far as I know), high-ratio primary-drive, high-volume oil-pump, remote oil-filter, oil cooler, hydraulic clutch, Megacycle 250-30 cam with Kibblewhite valve gear in a Lillie head (as used by Kenny Roberts back in the day), fed by 36mm Mikuni flat-slide cabs.
I’m not fond of chains so I took the timing chain out and made a belt drive for the cam, with just the belt being an off-the-shelf item. The alternator is a pernenant-magnet type from an RZ-250 for two reasons – 1; because I prefer that type on a bike and 2; because the rotor is external which gives the cam drive something to mount to.
Because of this, I had to move the ignition to the other side and because no-one made one for a 90, I used two Boyer-Bransden units – one for each cylinder. Even more than I dislike chains inside an engine, I despise them going from trans to wheel. I can’t see why, in this day and age, riders put up with constant maintenance and oiling of the final drive so I made a belt drive with (you guessed it) only the belt being an off-the-shelf item.
Later, I put a cush-drive in there to save the shock-absorber springs in the clutch. Almost every other bike in the world has one and I’ll never understand why the XS-650 (and TX-750) didn’t get them. She goes like a missile (for an XS-650), handles like it’s on rails and thanks to the 90° crank, it’s as smooth as silk.
At 100km/h, I can read the plate on the car behind me in the mirror. It’s been like this for many years but the model I actually fell in love was a ’78-79 Special. I only liked custom bikes so it didn’t matter that this wasn’t a Special as I ended up customizing it as much as a Special could’ve been but over the time I’ve had it, I’ve developed a liking for stock bikes.
And about a year ago, I came across a ’78 in a wrecking yard so I bought it for a song and have been converting the ’77 back to the original plan of being stock to look at, but with several upgrades to make it nicer to ride and easier to maintain. The last pics were taken partway through that process.
She now has the forks off an XS-110 (same looking as 650 but with 37mm tubes), and the fancy paint, pipes, Suzuki forks, and most of the other custom stuff will go to the ’78. The engine will stay as is minus the cam-drive, as will the belt and cush-drive. The new bodywork will have a more ‘Yamaha’ colour scheme. It’s not finished yet but when it is, I’ll submit more pics. I’ll also send pics of the ’78 when it’s done. You’ll recognise many of the parts on it but I have a few tricks still up my sleeve that you wouldn’t have seen before.
Submitted by David Rayner
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