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Return of the Cafe Racers - $5k Cafe Racer – XS650 Engine clean up

$5k Cafe Racer – XS650 Engine clean up

The $5k Cafe Racer project is in full swing. Stage 1 has begun and the engine is now half dismantled. I'm not sure if I'm going to completely pull it all apart at this stage as it will require the purchase of a heap more tools and so far the XS650's internals…


The $5k Cafe Racer project is in full swing. Stage 1 has begun and the engine is now half dismantled. I’m not sure if I’m going to completely pull it all apart at this stage as it will require the purchase of a heap more tools and so far the XS650’s internals are looking pretty good.

I started by building a stand to mount the engine on. I purchased a length of steel which I cut up and bolted together (I don’t have any welding tools…or skills so bolts had to do). I found a couple of images online of stands other people had constructed and used them as a guide. Once I had the engine up off the ground I was able to start stripping it down.

I removed the head cover which I then cleaned with degreaser and wire brushes to get as much of the oxidisation and dirt off as possible. I also used a load of carb cleaner to get rid of any other grime/grease. I masked the whole thing using tape and newspaper and gave it a liberal coating of wrinkle finish paint. The paint doesn’t dry with the exact finish I was hoping for (looks a bit velvety in some light) but I’m happy.

I then moved on to the head which was a bit harder to get off. By undoing the Cam Chain tensioner you can get enough slack to lift the cam chain off it’s sprocket with out having to break the chain. This is really handy cause the cam chain still looks new. You can then slide the 4 bearing sleeves off the cam shaft and pull the shaft out from under the chain. Be careful not to drop the chain in to the engine as retreival could mean pulling the entire engine apart!

Next I had to get the valve springs off. I read a great little trick for doing this which was to use a tall socket, place it on the top of the spring and give it a swift whack with a hammer. This will knock the keepers out and the springs will come away. I will need a spring compressor to put them back on (unless I figure out another trick) but it will be a while before I’m at that stage. Once all the springs were off there were 3 more bolts to remove and I was able to lift the head up and off, still being careful not to drop the cam chain. I found the easiest way to ensure I don’t drop the chain was to place a long screwdriver through the chain and rest it on the engine casing. I then proceeded to clean and mask the head in much the same way as I did the head cover. I also lapped the valves and cleaned the valve stems as a bit of a “while I’m here task”.

The head has now had a few coats of high temp satin black engine paint and I have begun shaving the edges of the fins to a brilliant silver shine. I bought a dremmel a while back and it’s the perfect tool for this job. This is a look you see on a lot of Harley engines.


I have also started polishing the side covers. I have one side 90% done. As you can see it’s a huge improvement. There are some deep scratches in the covers which I am choosing to keep. This bike is 30 years old and I like them…it’s a bit of a “chicks dig scars type thing”, it will add character and give the bike some personality.

Next I will be cleaning the lower half of the engine and painting it before I fit all new gaskets (from Mikes XS), remove the elecrtic starter gear and start putting the XS650’s engine back together. I’m not going in to incredible detail with the photos and text on the engine strip and build. If you are going to attempt this buy a manual. They are worth their weight in gold and go in to much more detail than I ever would in a blog post. I have the Clymer Yamaha 650cc Twin, 1970-1982, service-repair-performance guide and it’s amazing. I started with not knowing anything and I’m amazed at how much this manual has taught me.

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