Yamaha XS650 cafe racer

A few months ago, one of the leading Australian motorcycling magazines was redesigned. (I shall avoid naming it to protect the guilty.) It was admittedly looking a little staid and nondescript, but now it’s worse—it’s virtually unreadable. Every page and every gaudy little detail is overcooked, clamoring for attention. So I now leave it on the newsagent’s shelf. I was reminded of this principle when I saw this lovely café racer, because form over function applies to motorcycles as well as the magazines that feature them. Unless you’re a fan of Harley full-dresser aesthetics, bikes invariably look better when they’re pared back to the bone. And so it is with this lovely Yamaha XS 650.

Built by Chris from Limey Bikes, a Texas-based builder, it’s nicknamed ‘The Hornet’. The stripped-down parallel twin weighs less than 160 kg—about 350 lbs—and packs an engine boosted from 53 to 70 hp. The spec sheet reveals that the bike is running superlight Excel 18” rims, progressive rate springs, an alloy swing arm and Brembo brakes. To upgrade the motor, Chris used a 750 cc kit and a Shell No.1 race cam; stainless steel and titanium valves are set into a gas-flowed head, and drink through Mikuni RS36 flatslide carbs. Everything that does not have a purpose has been removed, from frame tabs to miscellaneous wiring, and the bike is all the better for it. I used to think it was Colin Chapman who said, “Simplicate, and add lightness” and although he wasn’t the first—it was Ed Heinemann, creator of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk—there’s a small-scale builder just north of Austin who knows more about design than a certain publishing company. [With thanks to Ted of xs650chopper.com.]

  • http://www.roelscheffers.nl Scheffers

    That’s a HOTTY!!!

  • charles

    Considering the ridiculous pull-back handlebars and dumb cruiser rear tire the XS650 Special starts with, I might not have thought such a good looking bike could be hiding in there.

  • The Phantom

    Bloody hell, that’s one of the best yet. I’d love to build something like that one day…

    BTW I couldn’t agree more, Chris – said magazine was trumpeting its new look back in the Dec 09 issue, so I bought Jan 10 – what a waste of effort on their part! It was like reading the worst of the Brit bike magazines, but without the cheeky wit that they have. What they should have done instead is retired a few of the tired old columnists (don’t get me wrong, those guys have done some great things over the years) and get some new blood in.

  • http://www.limeybikes.com The Limey

    Thanks for all the great feedback guys… I didn’t know my bike was on this blog.
    I totally agree with you Charles… I hate that stupid cruiser crap they insist on doing in the US… it makes a good bike (eg: the XS650 standard, which I have a stock 76 model) into a bike that handles like a plate of sick.
    There is one thing I would like to point out though… I have no idea of the power output yet… it’s yet to go on a dyno. The stock XS Special puts out 48 HP and I was HOPING to be near 70 now, but I am sure it’ll be over 65. I’ll keep everyone posted when I get dyno time.
    After removing the nail in the rear tire… it handles a lot better now. In fact, it feels like a very tight RD350 (which isn’t that odd, as it now weighs the same as one). I just have to get that NOS Yamaha fork brace from my friend and all will be good.
    I have now also bought another 1980 Special (which looks as crappy as this one did to start), so, I will be building a sister bike which will be a hard-tail racer (and no, it won’t be a weld on hard tail… I will design a shorter loop frame and get my friend who is better than me with a TIG to weld it))… sort of 1940’s Isle of Man TT thingy with modern brakes and other stuff that makes it less dangerous to ride.

    Anyway… thank you all for the nice words… it makes me want to build more.

  • http://www.limeybikes.com The Limey

    Oh… FYI, my cut down wiring diagram for any post 1980 XS650 is available on my site: http://www.limeybikes.com on the current projects page. It’s a PDF which will download when clicked on.
    I thought it might be of use to others… and it has blinkers too (which I do have on the bike… they are just very well hidden).

  • Kozzy

    Great bike! I love the shape of that Suzuki tank. Nice choice.

  • jnheath

    Wow. There’s more art and discretion in this build than in a warehouse full of Tritons and ELRs.

  • Greg

    Very nice job! I have an XS650 sitting in parts in my basement, seeing this one gives me the motivation I needed to get back at it again.

  • Greg

    Oh question for you… did you just leave the engine cases with the walnut blasted finish? Or is there anything else on them?

  • http://www.limeybikes.com The Limey

    I’m flattered… a warehouse full of Tritons eh? High praise indeed!
    I actually had a T120 Triton in a slimline frame years back… sex on wheels… oily sex on wheels.

    To answer Greg… the covers on this one were glass bead blasted and then scrubbed with a nylon sponge to smooth it a little.

    I now also have padding on my seat, using a 1/2 inch high density foam with adhesive backing, which also has little holes cut out so I can remove the seat easily. It’s a lot kinder on my bottom now.

  • http://www.limeybikes.com The Limey

    Oh… one more thing. What’s an ELR?
    I figures it’s either ‘Everybody loves Raymond’, ‘The East Lancashire Railway’ or the ‘Environmental Law Review’… I can’t decide.

  • jnheath

    ELR = Eddie Lawson Replica, those noisy green superbikes that even Ducati riders thought were cool.

    It would have been enough to restore my faith in humanity that a person somewhere on Earth dispensed with the mental and physical clutter and built this bike. But that he also had the decency and generosity to post a PDF of the minimalist wiring diagram makes me feel the burden of becoming a better person myself . . . Limeybike, the moto-sattva . . .

  • http://www.limeybikes.com The Limey

    Argh. I remember now, those KZ1000’s that always seemed to have a Kerker exhaust on them. Wow… that’s a flashback to the 80’s. I had an RD350LC back then… oh, and a BSA SS80.
    I have never been referred to in Latin before… it’s quite an honor. Thank you.

    I’m glad that people are downloading my wiring diagram… I spent ages in Illustrator trying to make it simple to read. Anyway, I have seen enough diagrams that simply don’t work on the web, that I had to make at least one that did. By the way, the switch I used on the bars was from a 1972 Yamaha CS3 I think… but all Yamaha switches follow the same color coding.

    People keep asking me “where’s the battery?” Well, it’s in the tail hump, and yes, it’s a full size XS battery as I don’t have a kick start any more.

    I was going to take it out again for more carb jetting runs, but it’s pissing with rain and my Mac widget has a picture of lightning today… so I will return to the garage and sit on it, pretend I’m riding it and make some appropriate ‘vroom vroom’ noises to give me a sense of actually riding it. Sigh… Texas in spring… it’s a tad unpredictable.

  • jnheath

    Eddie’s Muzzey-built Kawasaki race bike had a Kerker, so the factory replicas got them. Too heavy and sketchy handling compared to our Ducks, but somehow the aesthetic was good and inspired many builds.
    I rode a Ducati 900SSD streetfighter back then, also a Metralla and TR6R and other now-classics, which were just old bikes then so I drove and modified and drove even harder.

    Now about all I’ve got left is a W650 that needs 50lbs removed, plus all the wiring . . . gads, wires going in and out of the *carburetors*. I’ll keep the Hornet in mind as I work.

    BTW the reference is to Sanskrit “Boddhisattva,” an enlightened being who continues to wallow about in the muck with the rest of us benighted knuckle-draggers just to help us find the way. I think it applies here.

  • The Phantom

    Back for another look : ) That machine is truly beautiful. OK, I’ll be honest, I needed to restore my faith in gorgeous motorcycles after that retina-burning ‘Sheene’ memorial bike that Chris posted today…

    Now I’m off to trawl the classifieds for an XS650.

  • Dick

    Hey I love this bike – I m actually inspired to give one a crack myself – I look at yours and can’t think of anything i would change [apart from padding the seat of course] and that does not happen often if at all. I love its simplicity and the careful choice of components.

    I am a rank amateur – but you have motivated me to risk a few bucks on something similar!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Zylstra/637027226 Christopher Zylstra

    wow Limey, points on the primo build, more points for the wiring diagram you’ve pdf’d for the rest of custom-motorcycledom to cheat off of and just points isn’t enough reward for your admission of not having any dyno figures when the article was making you into a demigod by telling us your XS was putting out 70 ponies. I am saving this page, having it PDF’d and sending to my mother, sister, girlfriend, and Aunt Doris as rebuttal for their, “only immature, irresponsible young hooligans ride motorcycles”, statements over the last few weeks. There’s no way a young hooligan would have done those three things and so we must assume that you are at least a middle-aged hooligan. Cheers mate. CZ in Canada.

  • SierraAir

    Does anybody know what tank is on this bike?