We’re used to seeing gorgeous café racers roll out of Western European workshops, but today we’re venturing a little further east. This classy Yamaha comes straight out of Kiev, Ukraine.
Ukraine has been on television screens for all the wrong reasons lately, so it’s good to bring a little good news: there’s a thriving motorcycle scene, and it’s spawned this very neat café racer.
Nazar Poznyakovsky has been riding since he was fourteen, and wrenching since seventeen. Under the auspices of the Gazzz Garage name, he now repairs and customizes motorcycles.
There’s a bit of history with this 1979 Yamaha XJ400. Nazar bought it over ten years ago, repaired it and sold it, never expecting to see it again. Then it popped up on his radar again—after an accident—and was 250km away. After a long trip through snow-bound roads, Nazar squeezed the bike into the trunk of a friend’s small car and took it back home again.
Very little of the original bike remains. The frame is still there, but it’s been modified. The engine is now from a XJ600, upgraded with a XJ600 Diversion cylinder block, and ported and polished heads. It’s hooked up to a set of pod filters and a four-into-one Sebring exhaust system. Nazar repainted the engine himself, baking it in a home-made, foil-lined box.
Under the seat is a custom-made box to house the re-wired electrics—and just in front of it are covers for the filters. “A clear frame triangle and no front fender always look good,” explains Nazar, “but only before the first ride in rain. I’ve had thousands of miles under showers and hundreds under snow falls, and had that in mind.”
The suspension bears the hallmarks of a practical builder too. Up front is a 26mm FZ600 front fork with a modified air pressure system. It’s mated to the frame with XJ600 lower and FZ600 upper triple trees. The FZ also donated its braking system, linked via Hel braided steel hoses.
The rear shocks are fully adjustable Kawasaki Zephyr items, altered with Honda CB400 Super Four springs. They’re attached to a modified Honda XL600R swingarm.
Both wheels are 17-inch tubeless Honda XL600RM units. The front is laced to a Yamaha XV750 hub with custom spokes, while the rear retains the XL600’s drum brake. The tires are from Pirelli: a MT60 at the rear and a MT90 at the front. They’re classified as dual-sport rubber, but they’ve got excellent road manners.
The fuel tank is yet another interloper, taken from a Kawasaki KZ650. It’s been kitted with a Suzuki GS750 petcock, and a very classy fuel gauge tank cap from QSPS.
Off-the shelf parts include a 6¼-inch Bates-style headlight, Daytona turn signals and an Acewell ‘all-in-one’ digital dash. The grips are from Motomi and the fork gaitors from MotoLanna.
Nazar also hand made the front fender, footpegs, license plate bracket, chain guard, and turn signal and oil cooler mounts. The clips-ons and mirrors are his work too.
“I made many parts twice,” he admits. “Once just to check their functionality, and then to be better looking.”
When everything went off to the painter, Nazar suddenly realized he didn’t know what to put on the tank. So with the help from friends, he finally designed a Gazzz Garage logo. The cut-outs on the side are a reference to the bike’s name, ‘Eight Ball.’
It took Nazar a full two years to complete his XJ400, hampered by limited resources and political unrest in his country. But against all odds, he’s done a tremendous job.
What’s Ukrainian for “perseverance pays off”?
Gazzz Garage | Images by Nazar Poznyakovsky