Losing and Finding a Yamaha XS650
The first bike I ever rode was a 1976 Yamaha RD400 two-stroke Twin. It belonged to a close friend of mine who lived down the street and was a pretty fast bike for a teenaged boy growing up in Ottawa.
Like most kids who love motorcycles, my parents were not that fond of them, especially my mother, who forbade me to own one or even ride one for that matter.
There was not much for an active teenager growing up in Ottawa back in 1976 to do. Most stores closed around 10 p.m. and the only places open on Sundays were a few family restaurants and the Dairy Queen. You might recall a time when retail stores in Ontario were not allowed to open on Sundays. My mother used to go to church on Sundays with my dad, who would end up doing things around the house afterwards while my mom made supper. I would steal this quiet time to borrow my friend’s bike and go for a ride. At some point my mom found out about it and all hell broke loose.
I honestly to this day cannot recall how I ended up talking my father into buying me my first bike, a 1980 Yamaha XS650 Special. It was a two cylinder four-stroke and could really go. I got it from a guy I worked with who “said” he could no longer afford the payments—but I remember that, really, he was just afraid to ride it.
It was only a few months old when I took possession. It was a beautiful dark red model with lots of chrome. I still remember to this day how much I enjoyed riding that bike.
But a few months later I came out one night to go for a ride only to find the bike was gone! I mean, GONE! I looked everywhere for the bike, which did not make much sense as I knew exactly where I had parked it. I slowly came to the grim conclusion that it had been stolen and I quickly contacted the police and my insurance company. Unfortunately, as in most cases, the bike was never recovered.
The years went by and I owned and rode other bikes, from 1100s, to 600s, to 750s. I enjoyed riding all of them , but in the back of my mind, I always missed my first Yamaha XS650.
It was 26 years later, while viewing a motorcycle ad in the Auto Trader, that I saw a bike for sale in St. Catherines, which was just like the one I used to own back in 1980. It was the same year make and model and in fairly good condition. The only difference was that this bike was black, not red like my original. It would also require some work, but the price was right and I set out to go for a test ride on it. Since the bike was only a two-hour drive from where I lived at the time, I closed the deal that day and brought it home.
It is hard to describe how exhilarated I felt riding that 1980 Yamaha XS650 again. It was as if I had gone back in time and had my bike back. The feel of the grips, the shine of the chrome, the sound of the engine, all reminded me of the past and how much I really missed the Yamaha all these years. It also felt strange to me in a way, as I fantasized that this was actually my old bike. But there was small chance of that. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.
Yamaha Specials had small gas tanks, which meant I had to pull over for fuel at some point during the ride back home. But when I popped open the gas tank to pump in some 87 proof I looked down on the tank filler neck lip. To my amazement I could see that this bike had actually been painted black—and a good job at that. Pulling the bike backwards into the light so I could see better, I observed a different colour around the filler neck, where the gas cap had rubbed away the black paint. The original colour was red. I stepped back, my heart skipping a beat. Had my old bike come back to me?
That was three years ago, yet I still struggle every year at sticker renewal time over whether or not to check the serial number with the MTO to see if this is actually my old bike that my father bought for me in Ottawa when I was a kid. I still haven’t done so, but every time I think about my father who has long since passed, and look at this bike, I smile.
By Shawn Rodie, Canadian Biker #253