1980 Yamaha XS650

1980 Yamaha XS650

Queenslander Andrew Parcell is a big fan of Yamaha’s venerable SOHC vertical twin, with no less than three custom examples — a cafe racer, a bobber and a dirt tracker — already sharing space with a couple of Harley-Davidsons in his shed before he embarked on the build before you now.

“I’ve customised a few XS650s,” he says. “They are a great platform to start with. I purchased this one two years ago as an unfinished bobber project from Gumtree. It was a basket case, in a very bad state with a lot of things missing, which didn’t matter as I didn’t need or use many original parts. I just made them instead.”

Andrew’s initial inspiration came from the flat-tank Triumph motorcycles of a century ago. “I love the style of 1920s bikes, so thought I would pay tribute to the time when motorcycling really took off ,” he says. “And since we have just hit the 2020s, I thought it would be a great time to build a tribute bike. It’s my take on a 1920 bike built in 2020.

“I spent many hours scratching my head working out how it would come together, but the time spent designing and fabricating was worth it in the end. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I’m happy with the result.”

A lifelong customiser, Andrew knows his grinders from his welders and set about radically modifying the 1980 XS650 chassis to the extent that the original frame is all but unrecognisable. This included removing the seat sub-frame entirely, fabricating custom mounting brackets for the laid-forward Harley shock absorbers and making substantial changes to the spine. The stock swingarm was lengthened by 75mm to accommodate a 21-inch rear wheel, which we’ll come back to shortly, while up front a rare girder fork manufactured by 1970s chopper accessories manufacturer P&P in Michigan was cut down and modified to fit the XS650 headstock. The handlebar was bent up in Andrew’s shed from a combination of dirt bike and XS650 Special ’bars and is clasped by 7/8th-inch Flanders-style risers.

Vintage Triumphs from the 1920s sported rim and tyre sizes as large as 26 inches, although Andrew has achieved a similar look with 21 x 1.6-inch rims fore and aft, as originally fitted to the front end of a Kawasaki KDX250 enduro bike. The front rim is laced to a twin-leading-shoe drumbrake hub from a Yamaha XS400, and the rear rim to a single-leading-shoe drum from a 1976 XS650. Spokes are stainlesssteel with rims and hubs powder-coated black for that period-correct appearance. Tyres are Pirelli MT43 trials hoops.

Moving onto the bodywork, Andrew fabricated the fuel tank from 1.2mm sheet metal left over from some benchtops he’d made for the workshop, while the mudguards were rolled from aftermarket 23-inch Harley bagger fenders to perfectly match the curvature of the 21-inch wheels. A dummy oil tank (XS650s have wet sump motors) is located behind the seat and houses the flasher can, starter relay and fuse box, with switches for the indicators and high/low beam mounted eternally alongside the starter button. The seat itself is actually a genuine sprung leather saddle from a vintage Triumph. The headlight is of unknown origin, sourced from a garage sale, and has been modified to house a small speedo. The black-finished horn sitting above it is a vintage Klaxon.

Andrew built the bike himself in his shed, as well as rebuilding the engine which is stock apart from a Pamco electronic ignition, a Heiden oil filter and a Hugh’s Hand Built oil cooler, all wellknown international XS650 specialists. Heiden also provided upgraded clutch plates and springs, while Andrew beefed up the final drive with a 520 chain conversion. Custom fishtail exhausts accent the lovely Britbike-like note from the traditional 360-degree engine.

Two things Andrew didn’t do himself were the electrical wiring and paint. “A big shout out to Two Tones Autorefinish in Ipswich. Tony did a great job and took a lot of time making everything just right, including getting the pinstripes exactly how I wanted them,” he says. “And also to Cameron’s Auto Electrics in Kalbar, who wired the whole thing very neatly.”

Andrew says the 10-month build all happened pretty seamlessly, which he puts down to experience and planning ahead. He’s justifiably stoked with the result. “I thoroughly enjoyed building it and have already started on my next bike,” which he describes as a “stupidly long chopper”. And why the hell not?

“I’ve never owned a bike that I haven’t ‘remodelled’, ever since I was a kid. I even chopped my dragster,” Andrew says. “It’s almost like a form of escapism. Once I’m in my shed, any daily problems and work stresses disappear. Building bikes is great for your mental health.”

ENGINE Air-cooled four-stroke vertical twin, with 360-degree crankshaft; chain-driven SOHC, two valves per cylinder; 75 x 74mm for 653cc; wet sump; 2 x 34mm Mikuni carburettors; Pamco electronic ignition; custom fishtail exhausts; gear primary drive to Heiden clutch and five-speed gearbox; 520 chain final drive; 53hp at 7200rpm (stock)

CHASSIS Much modified XS650 Special mainframe; modified P&P girder fork, XS400 TLS drum brake laced to 21 x 1.6in rim; extended swingarm, twin Harley shocks, XS650 SLS drum laced to 21 x 1.6in rim; all fabrication by owner; Pirelli MT43 tyres

BODYWORK Custom fuel tank in 1.2mm sheet metal; cut-down aftermarket Harley fenders; vintage Triumph seat; all fabrication by owner; paint and graphics by Two Tones Autorefinish 

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