Scramblers are everywhere these days. But how many aficionados actually need a do-it-all bike—and how many just dig the scrambler vibe?
This Yamaha XS650 is a ‘city scrambler’ in the most literal sense. Its owner lives in Kansas City, and wanted a new ride for messing around in the West Bottoms—an industrial area teeming with abandoned dirt parking lots and back alleys.
So he sourced a 1981-model, ex-flat track XS650, and shipped it off to Kevin McAllister in Austin, Texas. Kevin works in commercial construction, but he’s also a total moto-nut—so he spends most evenings in the garage.
He had his work cut out with the old Yamaha. “It had a broken steering stem, burnt valves, a shattered clutch basket and bent wheels,” he says. “This bike took the phrase ‘rode hard’ to another level.”
Kevin started by tearing down the engine, and rebuilding it with .75 over pistons. Everything was either polished or given a new coat of paint. He also tossed the stock wiring, in favor of a full Hugh’s HandBuilt PMA system.
With a more reliable base to work from, the heavy lifting could start. The client wanted a scrambler with a factory look—so Kevin channeled the mighty XT500.
The most obvious cue is the fuel tank: It’s an actual XT500 unit that’s been tweaked to fit the frame. It took Kevin a while to settle on it though: “This project added another three fuel tanks to my ever growing collection.”
“Sometimes you have to try on a few tanks to get that vision correct. The XT500 seems to be the ideal fit—it slims the bike, and makes for a smooth transition to the seat.”
A friend recreated the original XT500 graphics digitally, and then modified them to read ‘650.’ Another friend (a gun machinist by trade) spent countless hours turning out that fetching gas cap.
Kevin kept the late-70s aesthetic out back, with a custom-made seat that’s unashamedly chunky. “Too many custom motos have thin seats to achieve a certain aesthetic,” he says, “and then end up killing you after five minutes down the road.”
He used aluminum for the pan to keep the weight down, and sent the final unit off to Working Man’s Customs to handle the leatherwork. Underneath the seat, the frame’s been cut, looped, de-tabbed and powder coated.
The front forks were treated to stiffer springs and a Tarozzi brace, with Redwing shocks fitted at the rear. The stock wheels were restored with stainless steel spokes and new bearings. They’re wrapped in Dunlop K70s to strike a balance between vintage looks and performance—both on and off-road.
Completing the bodywork is a heavy-duty, custom-made skid-plate. Everything’s been mounted on dampeners to quell any rattles. Then a couple of Hondas were raided for their fenders. The front is an aluminum SL350 unit, with a CB750 front fender was repurposed for the rear.
Obvious changes aside, Kevin clearly poured a lot of energy into the tiny details. He converted a Hella 500 spot to LED for the headlight, and installed tiny Supernova LEDs against the shock mounts to act as taillights.
And he tucked all the electronics away under the fuel tank tunnel, to keep everything as tidy as possible. “A personal pet peeve of mine has been peeking under a clean build, only to find a rat’s nest of wiring,” he says.
A set of Renthal bars, Oury grips and an Acewell speedo (tucked into the tank’s neck) complete the cockpit. Above the headlight is a small, canvas tool roll—stitched by Kevin himself.
It all hangs together superbly—like the twin-cylinder big brother the XT500 never had.
But the crown in the jewel is undoubtedly the exhaust system. It took many sketches and emails back and forth with the client to figure out the final routing.
“I knew he wanted something that was just ‘dirty,’ and would make the bike stand out,” explains Kevin. With a box of 1.5-inch stainless pieces and a couple of Cone Engineering mufflers, he built the new system up from scratch.
“It changed the stance of the entire bike and made it scream. This bike is a blast to ride, and one that I’m sad to see go.”