Yamaha dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
Is there any racing livery more evocative than Yamaha’s classic ‘speed block’ pattern? Put it on a dirt tracker, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

Jeff Palhegyi’s uncompromising XS650 was one of the stars of the recent Quail Gathering, but Jeff refused all offers from potential buyers. It’s not hard to see the appeal of the bike: with a seriously hot-rodded motor nestling in a Mule Motorcycles frame, it’s got the go to match the show.

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
“After building almost 70 cruisers and concept bikes, I struggled with my first tracker,” Jeff admits. His biggest headache was how to keep the vibe of the original race bikes, while staying road-legal.

“So I visited my friend Richard Pollock for inspiration. He hooked me up with a stock engine plus a frame he’d designed, built by J&M Racing.”

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
Jeff sent the motor to Chris Thomas at Ohio-based Mototech USA for a high performance makeover. With a 750cc big bore kit from Mike’s XS, Dell’Orto carbs and K&N filters, this lightweight tracker is now registering well north of 65hp at the rear wheel.

The exhaust system proved critical for performance as well as looks. Jeff splashed out on tubing and mufflers from Burns Stainless, using them to fabricate a stepped system with the first section being double-wall. “Tricky to do, but the power and sound is very good,” he says.

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
To keep the bike securely planted, Jeff installed Yamaha YZF-R6 sportbike forks (with custom-made carbon fiber guards) and custom Racetech shocks. “I can’t stand the idea of stacking up a lot of adapters to make specific calipers work, so I was set on using the R6 forks and the factory caliper. The front rotor and vintage TZ-style carrier were designed to fit this caliper.”

The wheels are 19” Jupiter items, shod with Goodyear dirt track rubber. Brembo supplied the master cylinders and rear caliper.

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
“After I put it all together, I realized it looked like too many other dirt trackers,” says Jeff. “Then a friend at Yamaha talked me out of using polished aluminum.” So Jeff black-anodized everything he could, including the custom foot controls and over 30 one-off billet components. He also bead-blasted the engine for a low-key matte look.

The low profile, gently curving bodywork is the literal icing on the cake. The squared-off tank unit is from First Klass Glass and matched to a custom-molded tail section. Jeff then hand-made the side covers from aluminum sheet, adding internal panels to house the battery and electrics.

The ultra-compact headlight is from Baja Designs and the LED taillights are Hitec. The paint, so perfect for this style of bike, was applied by San Diego-based Benny’s Customs.

Yamaha XS650 dirt tracker by Jeff Palhegyi Design
“The biggest challenge on this project was hiding all the ‘streetable’ components, and keeping it looking simple,” says Jeff. “It would have been easier to buy one of Richard Pollock’s trackers, but a builder can’t buy another builder’s bike! Richard was a great help, and the build was fun. It’s easy to see why so many people build trackers.”

And the good news? “We’re already working on the next one,” says Jeff.

Maybe this time he’ll be persuaded to sell it.

Previously, we’ve covered Jeff’s smart 2015-model Yamaha SR400 custom. You’ll find his traditional chopper work on his website. Images by Ryan Hagel.