It feels like the Yamaha XS650 has been around forever, and that’s not far from the truth: it was offered in various guises from 1968 until 1985. But the air-cooled, parallel-twin engine has an even longer history—it was based on a 500cc German Horex copied by the now-defunct Hosk Motorcycles.
The XS was conceived as an alternative to the classic British twins, and the original XS ‘Standard’ was styled in the vein of contemporaries such as the Triumph Bonneville T120. Riders of a more relaxed persuasion could choose the cruiser-styled ‘Special,’ which had a teardrop tank and high, swept back bars.
The XS was popular among racers, with Kenny Roberts piloting it to victory in the 1973 AMA National dirt track series. It’s since become even more popular on the custom scene, probably due to its familiar engine and natural good looks. Here we’ve picked five of our favorite Yamaha XS650 customs, showcasing its versatility and potential.
An-Bu ‘Skull Tiger’ It’s always refreshing to see a bike that bucks trends—such as this extreme XS from An-Bu of Japan. It was built for the 2013 Yokohama custom show in An-Bu’s signature style—part Mad Max, part Tokyo street culture. The mostly-black colour scheme is punctuated only by the red Hinomaru dot on the ’60s style fairing, and the camouflage-style tank paint. There’s also a full custom exhaust system, and the engine’s been bored out, had its compression raised and been tuned for maximum torque. As if it wasn’t punk-rock enough already, the words printed on either side of the fairing are lyrics from Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. [More about this bike | An-Bu Custom Motors]
Classified Moto ‘Ripper’ Very few builders could get away with painting a bike’s frame powder blue—but Classified Moto’s John Ryland is one of them. What started out as a client project eventually became a BMX-inspired homage to SE’s legendary P.K. Ripper pushbike. It’s a little more playful than Classified’s usual fare, but Ryland’s signature touches are still there—such as the nickel-plated tank and perforated panels on the tail. The kick start lever has a BMW pedal attached to it, and the Classified Moto logo on the tank uses Thrasher magazine’s font. While building the XS, Ryland simultaneously tore down and rebuilt a 2010 P.K. Ripper to match it, complete with a set of iconic Skyway Tuff II mag wheels. [More about this bike | Classified Moto]
Mule Motorcycles ‘MLAV’ Street Tracker This is the third Mule build that we’ve featured in a ‘Top 5’—with good reason. Richard Pollock has a penchant for building über-clean trackers, with a level of attention to detail that borders on obsessive. This XS is built around a custom chromoly steel frame, with billet triple clamps housing the forks from a Honda CBR900RR. Engine mods abound—the most noticeable being a 750cc big-bore kit. The tail unit has a classic flat tracker shape, but is made from carbon fibre. It’s a perfect match for the British racing green Storz tank. [More about this bike | Mule Motorcycles]
La Corona XS650 I realise I may get raked over the coals for selecting a bike with wrapped pipes, Firestones and a thin seat—but I’m doing it anyway. Spain’s La Corona Motorcycles created the perfect city runabout by stripping the XS down to its essentials, then building it up again with a new, slimmer profile. The tank is from a Suzuki DS, finished in a tasteful two-tone paint scheme. La Corona also removed the starter motor, fitting an electronic ignition to make kick starting easier, and relocated the ignition to the new under-seat battery box. Without an electric start, switchgear on the flat track bars could be kept to a minimum, adding to the bike’s overall air of simplicity. [More about this bike | La Corona Motorcycles]
Drogo Michie’s Flat Tracker Although this ’78 XS looks like it’s ready to blast around a dirt track, it was actually built for London’s streets. It belongs to Drogo Michie, who turned to various shops to execute his vision. Flat track specialists Red Max Speed Shop supplied a Champion seat, Trackmaster tank and Koni rear shocks, and took care of the frame mods and powder coating. Co-Built built the bespoke exhaust system—complete with removable baffles. The paint was done by Kevin Hooper, and was inspired by a ’70s BSA flat tracker. Despite being destined for urban use, Michie ended up taking to the track after all, racing in the UK novice class. [More about this bike | Red Max Speed Shop]
That’s our pick of the best Yamaha XS650s. What’s yours?
Our previous Top 5 covered the Harley Sportster.