I’ve always liked the Yamaha XJR1300. It’s an uncomplicated bruiser of a bike, an unassuming retro-style naked powered by a air-cooled motor with a lineage over a quarter of a century long.
Yamaha knows that if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. But the XJR1300 is also ripe for a makeover, so the Japanese factory called in the Wrenchmonkees. The result is MonkeeFist, the first in a series of “Yard Built Specials” commissioned by Yamaha from leading custom builders.
A year ago, the Wrenchmonkees watched Yamaha’s “Hyper Modified” custom VMAX project with interest. “Generally we work on older bikes and have modified Yamaha SR500s and XS650s,” says Per Nielsen. “Working on a new bike raises its own unique set of challenges: The number of sensors, wires and emission controlling devices makes customizing very tricky. And when you take off a panel you need to relocate things such as cables and electrical items—it is very complicated.”
With the XJR1300, the Wrenchmonkees decided to aim for a cafe racer style. “We really wanted to push the boat out and make something inspirational for XJR fans.”
“Our first decision was how many parts to change. We wanted to keep the identity of the bike and make it easily recognisable as an XJR, so we left the tank, engine and major parts of the frame unmodified. We then looked at the bike and said ‘OK, what can we do around this base?’”
The first job was to change the front end. On went a set of YZF-R1 forks and custom-built spoked wheels. The front is a 19” and the rear an 18” for an old school look that contrasts with the R1 forks and six-piston radial calipers. Custom-fabricated rearsets increase the ground clearance and the Wrenchmonkees replaced the flat handlebars with clip-ons.
The exhaust is a hand-built stainless steel system that harks back to the twin muffler megaphone look of the older XJRs, but brought up to date in a modern MotoGP style.
To accentuate the cafe racer feel, the Wrenchmonkees built a completely new seat unit that sits on the existing sub-frame. They removed the XJR’s battery box and moved the wiring into the custom-built tail unit. A small lithium battery now nestles in the space behind the engine.
“Our universe does not involve bright, shiny colours so the paint is a matte dark olive green with a slight twist of metallic flake,” says Nielsen. “The XJR’s swingarm and engine have a similar black finish, but we wanted to make the frame stand out. So we sandblasted the paint off and then set fire to it, to create a raw-steel burnt effect.”
Treating this machine as a prototype, the Wrenchmonkees are now looking at creating aftermarket kits for the XJR1300. “The kits will not require any cutting of the frame or swingarm: they’ll be parts that will dramatically transform the look of the machine by simply bolting on or replacing the standard components.”
Top marks to Yamaha for dipping a toe into the murky waters of the alt-custom scene. And the XJR1300 just shifted up a few places on my list of desirable bikes.