The Yamaha XS650 could easily be labelled as the greatest British motorcycle ever built outside of Britain. Powered by a parallel twin akin to those found in Triumph’s Bonneville or BSA’s A65 the Yamaha XS650 was everything those bikes aspired to be. The main reason for this was the XS650’s superior engineering. The XS650 engine in particular was vastly superior to its British rivals. It was also more reliable and, most importantly, didn’t leak a single drop of oil. It was, in many ways, the final nail in the coffin for the great British motorcycle manufacturers of the late sixties.
The XS650 fell into the standard motorcycle or UJM category. Released in 1969 it remained in production for 16 years and during that time very little changed aside from a handful of technical updates. At the time of its release, the XS650 engine was the most advanced engine on the market and represented Yamaha’s first foray into four strokes. That undertaking clearly paid off. Legendary flat track racer ‘King’ Kenny Roberts used the XS650 motor in his race dominating OW72 track bike which made it a huge hit in the USA. All up Yamaha sold around half a million XS650s globally and even today the bike has a strong following.
For a while, the Yamaha XS650 was also the poster child of the custom scene. People transformed the XS650 platform into anything from cafe racers to choppers and everything in between. In recent years though XS customs seem to be few and far between which is surprising since Yamaha sold so many of them. Maybe it’s due to the fact they are becoming collectable or that they’ve simply slipped out of fashion, regardless of why we were very happy to see this bike submitted to our site for consideration.
Built by Austrian workshop Ace Motorcycles this ’76 Yamaha XS650 was put together for an anglophilic customer by the name of Andreas Pilz. Along with loving all things Anglo-Saxon Andreas, who also happens to be an avid motorcyclist, was enamoured with cafe racer culture. Since he wanted a motorcycle that looked the part but offered everyday reliability, he was drawn to Yamaha’s XS650 and entrusted Ace Motorcycles with transforming it.
For this project, Ace Motorcycles frontman Herbert Lanner opted for a classic approach. This meant giving the bike a look that would be right at home in the fifties and limiting the use of modern components. But before any design changes were made, they focused their attention on increasing the output of their donors parallel twin.
To hop up the 650 twins’ power its capacity has been bumped up to 680cc. Although the bike still inhales through an airbox it now exhales via a set of stainless steel headers and Zard mufflers. To get the most out of the new arrangement the carbs have been re-tuned and a larger oil filter keeps temperatures in check. While they were at it the engine also received a clean-up, but not to a trophy-winning level of finish. Since this bike was built to be ridden the alloy cases were given a light brush finish rather than a high-maintenance mirror shine. The cylinders wear fresh high-temp black paint and the edges of the top fins were shaved back to bare metal to add a bit of visual interest.
In keeping with the owner’s goal of this bike being a reliable daily, Ace also completely revised its electrics. To replace the bike’s electrical Achilles heel, the ignition points and condensers, they installed a Powerdynamo ignition system by German XS experts, Laden. To eliminate the chance of any random electrical gremlins the bike is also running an all new custom wiring harness.
Next Ace directed their attention to getting the bike to sit right for its cafe conversion. They achieved this by lowering the XS forks which balanced out the bike’s bone line. A set of cafe racer-appropriate clip-on handlebars and Raask rear-set footpegs established the revised riding position.
The most significant changes to the XS came with the addition of its new bodywork. The fuel tank hails from a close XS650 relative the Yamaha XS750. The new tank has a sportier profile than the standard XS unit and the knee indents are perfectly suited to the cafe theme. As for the front fairing, it is of Laverda lineage. To complete the transformation Ace Motorcycles managed to source an original 1970s Giuliari seat. The wasps tail style saddle sits neatly over the unmodified subframe, which was left untouched so the bike could be converted back to original should the owner ever want. To give it a unique look the seat now features perforated alloy panels at the back baring number 76 livery.
Sitting inside the revised cockpit you’ll find the original XS650 twin gauge cluster which is perfectly suited to this classic build approach. All the switch gear and the top clamp are original too, stripped bare to reveal the aluminium beneath. In fact, the only new addition you’ll find here is in the form of a convenient charging port that’s sitting neatly within one of the original handlebar mount holes.
As for modern upgrades Ace has limited them to the lighting. All the turn signals are tiny LED units from Motogadget and the tail light is an LED strip attached to the tip of the tail unit. The headlight is an LED unit too with a DRL halo which looks right at home in the Laverda fairing.
When it came to choosing a paint scheme for this project, Ace kept it simple. To match the look of the engine they’ve opted to keep some areas of the bodywork bare. The stripped panels have been given a light brush to add some texture prior to a lick of clear coat for longevity. To complete the look the rest of the body wears befitting British Racing Green paint bordered with white pinstripes. Period-correct Yamaha and XS650 emblems and ghosted tuning fork emblems complete the look.
As we said it’s been a while since we’ve hosted a custom Yamaha XS650 on these pages. This bike, although it’s not a show stopper is a great example of how well the XS is suited to modification. Let’s hope we’ll be seeing more of these reliable Japanese classics in the not-too-distant future.