Like all aesthetic pursuits, customizing motorcycles is mostly an exercise in personal taste. So when we told Philippe Lagente that his Yamaha XS650 might get less than favorable comments, his response was: “I don’t mind—and I love to ride it.”
Based in Toulouse, France, Philippe builds bikes as Soyouz Cycles—an after-hours hobby which he describes as “just a bunch of friends sharing a garage.” And while his build might tick all the wrong boxes for some folks, we dig it for reasons that we can’t explain. (Just like some people prefer selvedge denim and Red Wings over an Aerostich onesie.)
The 76-model XS650 was in quite a state when Philippe got his hands on it though—due to it being crashed and stashed away for five years. So, with the help of François at Self Moto Service, he tore it down and began bringing it up to muster.
“I didn’t want a clean, restored bike, with new parts and epoxy coatings,” he explains. “I wanted to keep the general line, especially the 40-year-old patina, the chopper spirit and the way it’s aged with the years.”
Aiming for a minimal, bobbed vibe, Philippe set about stripping off as much as he could from the frame—in the process cutting-and-looping the tail. He also rebuilt and shortened the forks, and fitted shorter Harley Sportster shocks, dropping the ride height by roughly four inches.
The fuel tank’s off a different XS650 model, similar in shape to the SR500 of the time. Philippe ‘aged’ it using a chemical mix. The seat’s custom, upholstered by the girls of the Soyouz Cycles crew.
Beyond the battered exterior lie a number of neat touches. Note the drilled pattern on the sprocket cover, and the intriguing front wheel security system that utilizes an antique lock.
The headlight’s a vintage Marchal unit (upgraded with an H4 bulb) and there’s a side-mounted tail light and plate bracket.
The handlebars are Philippe’s own creation too—which he bent from 22mm tubing when he “couldn’t find a handlebar with the perfect shape.” The grips are from Posh, and the ignition’s been moved to the right of the bike, with a universal speedo mounted low on the left.
Even though the exhaust system (complete with pipe wrap) looks aged, it’s brand new—made by Gordon Scott Engineering. And that strange aluminum ‘bubble’ near the right rear shock? “It’s an old ashtray, apparently from a bus—because when you go to the countryside, where do you throw your cigarette?”
Sure, it’s another in a long line of ‘brat-style’ bikes, complete with narrow saddle and Firestone Deluxe Champions. But it’s also downright charming and, as Philippe puts it, “a bike I really like to ride.”
And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?