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Custom: XS650 – A Yamaha on the Right Track

A currently super-hot trend has major manufacturers and custom builders alike scrambling to fill demand. Here a Calgary shop paints its own portrayal of the trend with a Yamaha XS650 custom.


Given this season’s swing toward both vintage and off-road inspired styling, the flashy custom street tracker seen on these pages couldn’t be timelier. The XS650 build is from Calgary’s Old Motorcycle Shop and, consciously or otherwise, it’s about as trend-specific as they come, fitting nicely into the larger scrambler category, which has become super-heated in the current model year. Indeed, anyone in the market for a scrambler during 2016 faces an embarrassment of riches. Major manufacturers and custom builders alike are now tempering their new designs with retro styling of an altogether different sort even as the café and bobber trends of the last few years begin to ebb. In their place: a newfound enthusiasm for the off-road inspired styling of 1960s and ‘70s scramblers with their Steve McQueen-like vision of cool proving irresistible. 

Calgary Old Motorcycle Shop custom Yamaha xs650 streettracker beauty shot right side

BMW has joined the fray while keeping elements of their traditional styling by adapting the highly successful RnineT to create the RnineT Scrambler. Ducati has fully embraced the trend with a Scrambler bonanza in its 2016 line, rolling out six models (Sixty2, Icon, Urban Enduro, Classic, Full Throttle, and Flat Track Pro) and updating its vision of the Scrambler with a boldly graphic and youthful design. 

Moto Guzzi, too, has announced its own addition with the V7II Stornello, paying homage to the brand’s roots with both its name (a throwback to the original Stornello line produced 1960 to 1974), and its slick paint scheme (which mirrors that of the 1972 model). 

And Moto Guzzi certainly isn’t alone in this tipping of its hat to the past in 2016—the return to scramblers is part of a larger nostalgia that’s been hitting the market and builders for years now. Triumph is no stranger to this trend of imbuing their bikes with old school styling, having rekindled the Bonneville line for a new generation back in 2001—following a 13-year absence—and using it as the base for their hugely popular Thruxton and Scrambler models. 

But the minds at Yamaha have been leading the charge in this resurgence of blending old and new, emphasizing a design philosophy that uses past builds and successes as a jumping-off point, and encouraging the same of the innovative customs builders the Tuning Fork company is fortunate to count as fans. 

Yamaha’s most recent involvement with custom builders was kicked off in 2012 with its Yard Built competition, which saw it challenge some of the world’s most talented builders —Wrenchmonkees, Deus Ex Machina, and Numbnut Motorcycles, among others—to create customs using Yamaha engines and chassis as their framework. 

This newfound relationship with the custom community paid off in spades when Yamaha announced the Faster Sons philosophy that would serve as the new inspiration for their Sports Heritage line: a design sensibility based on showing respect to the past by injecting modern production models (the MT series in particular) with vintage character and design. 

It was this philosophy that guided legendary builder Shinya Kimura in his contribution to the Yard Built series. Kimura’s Faster Son is a wicked looking machine with the MT-07 as its base. Its aggressive curves and chromed out retro appearance—complete with fin accents, rivets and styling reminiscent of a vintage prop plane—pay homage to Yamaha’s “Fathers” (classic bikes from the factory’s past) as well as to Kimura’s own father, who was a pilot. Kimura’s standout work on the Faster Son led to a partnership with Yamaha to create a production model for 2016: the XSR900, another retro inspired beauty whose design is, in part, a tribute to the classic (and now highly sought-after) Yamaha XS650.

Calgary Old Motorcycle Shop custom Yamaha xs650 streettracker beauty shot front quarter

This fondness for retro Yamahas is a stark contrast to the reception some of these classics received with their initial release. The XS650 in particular was greeted coolly by British bike enthusiasts who saw its styling and lines as clearly aping those of the beloved Bonneville, while lacking the T120’s characteristic thump. 

But these purists couldn’t deny that the Yamaha XS650 had an enviable reliability. With fewer electrical issues, oil leaks and breakdowns, it was perhaps only an excess of brand loyalty that kept British aficionados from giving the Yamaha real consideration. 

Now, with a dearth of available vintage Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs as collectors drive up prices the Yamaha XS650 is a highly attractive option for custom builders of all skill levels and budgets.

Acquired by Old Motorcycle Shop’s Phil Bunton as an incomplete street tracker project, this 1970 Yamaha XS650 custom has been given a sleek new lease on life. Just as with the scramblers hitting the market this year, the dirt track and off-road elements of the street tracker make it another rugged looking hybrid. 

It needs to be said here that there’s some subjectivity to the terms “street tracker” and “scrambler.” Arguably, the scrambler is a road bike converted to handle marginally rougher terrain, whereas a tracker is originally more dirt-biased but modified to be street legal. Both have off-road-inspired styling/elements as a result of their similar hybridized nature.

The addition of a Trackmaster fuel tank and tailpiece from Omar’s Fiberglass Company in Minnesota lends to the bike’s fluid lines, and the frame behind the seat was modified to accommodate the new fender. 

Both ends sport 19-inch wheels with Dunlop TT100 tires, another front wheel having been modified to fit on the rear. The front disc brake has a six-piston caliper, while the rear is a standard disc setup.

Calgary Old Motorcycle Shop custom Yamaha xs650 streettracker beauty shot muffler and kickstart Calgary Old Motorcycle Shop custom Yamaha xs650 streettracker beauty shot tank close-up

Fitted with ever-reliable Mikuni carbs, the bike has been completely rewired and plumbed with an extensive engine rebuild done by Andrew Horning.  

Flat track handlebars offset by chrome mini instruments, a braced swingarm, and Redwing Hammerhead rear shocks all add interest to the XS650 custom bike’s look. These details, combined with Top Gun powdercoated wheels and Yamaha racing colour reversal paint on the tank and frame—a fitting tribute for Yamaha’s 60th anniversary—make for an immediately eye-catching, slick looking custom that’s ahead of the curve for 2016. 

By Robin Despins Canadian Biker Issue #319


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