If you had no deadline and a blank check, what sort of motorcycle would you build? For Bill Becker, the answer is this perfectly proportioned Yamaha XS 650.
Based in Philadelphia, Bill is a retired architect who’s spent the last several years working on customs and restorations. His bikes draw aesthetic inspiration from the 60s and 70s, with improved functionality.
A friend of Bill’s son caught wind of his work, and twisted his arm to take on the project (Bill never takes commissions). Relatively new to motorcycles, the client’s only requirement was that the bike have a vintage vibe—leaving the choices wide open.
It sounds like a dream brief, but as Bill points out, “Working with carte blanche is not as easy as it seems.” Like most of us, he’s used to boundaries. “In my architectural practice I was accustomed to budgets and constraints.”
To narrow things down, Bill and his client visited the Barber Vintage Festival. The donor would have to be robust yet attractive, and easy to work on and find parts for. So they settled on the Yamaha XS 650.
Ironically, there’s not much left of the original XS (besides the fuel tank and engine). Instead, Bill’s reworked the bike with a smorgasbord of desirable upgrades.
With the owner preferring the upright ergonomics of a street tracker to a café-style tuck, the direction for the build became clearer. First on the list was an all-new, custom-made frame and swingarm from Trackmaster.
Bill then headed further down the rabbit hole with a set of Yamaha R6 forks, mounted via triple trees from Lazer Racing. Out back is a set of Öhlins shocks.
The wheels (19 inches at the front and 18 at the rear) are equally trick: Talon hubs laced to Excel rims with stainless spokes. With so much emphasis on performance, modern Avon Distanzia tires made sense.
With so much fettling to the Yamaha’s chassis, suspension and geometry, Bill needed to set up an all-new, one-off braking system. Enter ISR of Sweden—who fabricated a set of bespoke rotors to his measurements, supplying all the parts needed to build up a quality system.
The engine’s naturally been given the once-over as well. Mikes XS supplied a pair of XS Performance carbs, stainless steel exhaust headers, reverse cone mufflers and sundry other hop-up parts. The exhaust system’s been ceramic coated, and the velocity stacks are from CycleSmith.
“One of the important goals for me when building a bike is to improve on the original equipment,” says Bill.
So the electrical system has been modernized with a 220W, three-phase Sparx alternator and regulator/rectifier from 650 Central, plus LED lighting. It’s also running a speedo and tacho combo from Speed Hut. Bill decided to mount it—and the 7-inch LED headlight—in custom aluminum bezels to show them off.
The bezels are works of art in themselves, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Bill estimates that he fabricated close to a hundred aluminum and chromoly fittings to complete the bike. (What we wouldn’t give to pore over this bike in person).
The finishes are equally considered—nickel-plating on the frame, a repaint of the engine and a full complement of stainless steel fasteners. Then there’s the sublime vintage green paint on the restored stock fuel tank and XR-style flat track seat from Hotwing Glass. (Look closely: the seat’s been wrapped in the same color leather.)
Bill’s customer has a truly one-off, classy, 300lb. thoroughbred on his hands. Yes, we’re jealous.