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bpeckm 01-27-2013 12:04 PM

XS650 Special becomes a Vermont Backroader
Yes, it probably is an odd place to start a Yamaha XS650 thread.... but what a great bike!

My previous wrenching experience had all been with BMW's of various vintages, so the UMJ thing was a little daunting.

Back story: my son and I had done a cafe R60/6 a couple of years ago when he got his first endorsement. He is off to college, and came to me last winter with a "craigslist find" that he thought I would enjoy working on.... Deal was, he would buy the bike and pay for parts, I would do the enjoyable part, i.e. working on the bike :eek1

So, December a year ago I drove my trailer out to western MA and took a look at this bike for $500.... it had been sitting for years, unknown problems, but it did have good compression when I turned it over. Figuring it could be TOO bad, I brought 'er home...

1981 Yamaha XS650SG.... the "S" stands for Special, the "G" is the year code, in YamaLingo.

For you non-XS'rs, the Special is the Heritage Special, which was all the rage back in the '80's: sorta chopper/bobber style. Note the cutoff at the back of the seat which was undoubtedly a sissy bar.....

I am not a fan of choppers (to put it mildly!), so a major re-do was in the works. Somehow use the bullet-proof motor and drivetrain, frame and do something mo-bettah.

The Special rear tire is a sixteen-incher (choppah!), and that would have to go. be continued......


bpeckm 01-27-2013 02:47 PM

Made it back to RI without incident... photos at her/his/its new home:

Admittedly there were some things missing, like exhausts.....

...and alternator cover....

.....and chain......

But it DID have original MIKUNI carbs.....

....and a right side (clutch) cover

and two spark plugs in place, plus (4) four! other spark plugs....

plus front disk brake (freeking frozen, of course!)


...what really sold the bike.......


bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:05 PM

And so it began....

Got 'er pulled into the womb-room:

The "room" is about the width of an abandoned 175 gallon heating-oil tank (with a slight leak to keep the smell going....) and has just about enough room to walk around the front and back of the bike with front/ and back/ends on it.....:eek1

BUT, it IS insulated, I have an nice old Army blanket that I hang on the doorway, and I installed a double-element radiant electric heater above one of the windows that acts like a broiler. Comfort, on a January day!

The dismantling begins... these bikes have an ungodly wiring harness: there is turn-signal cancelling, an idiot-proof (idiot designed!) thing that turns on the low beam when your high beam goes out, another thing that turns on a light when your light goes out (like you wouldn't know?), etc etc. Japanese engineering, we alll remember the early eighties when cars started talking to us... jeeeeezum.....:eek1

That black thing is the battery box!

Wiring .....


bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:08 PM

On the surface the bike was scruffy, but as I tore into it I realized that it had never really been abused and the guts and internals were actually in pretty durn good condition! :clap Gotta love GOOD surprises!


The wiring, for all of its crap-appearances, was actually in good condition inside, and the connections (typical japanese bullet-receptor) was quite nicely done. In the end, the harness got put on a weight-reduction program, pulling a lot of un-necessary and redundant wires, but using the basic system that was built thirty some years ago.

bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:12 PM

and so, about a year ago, in January, Will (the afore-mentioned benefactor of this project) comes for a visit, and we dig in....

Inspector Will:

This was in anticipation of his going back to school, and the old man spending cold winter nights with a cutoff wheel and a grinder.... just WHAT has to stay, and what can we cut off.....


bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:16 PM

Some of the dis-membering....

...aaaahhhh... yessss..... the Sawzall-tire-removal technique......:wink:


bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:39 PM

There is an excellent XS650 site with answers to a bootload of stupid questions, which has been a real help in learning and understanding the ins and outs of the XS650.... Kudos to the guys who do these bikes, be they choppers, trackers, revivals, customs, etc. They are a good source of help, parts, advice and camaraderie.... sort of like ADV.... sort of.... they ARE chopper freaks, a lot of them.....:lol3

I ran into a real puzzle with the electronic ignition system later in the program, which, without their expert advice, woulda been a real hair-puller.... so in spite of my sarcastic half-wit, I owe them a LOT.....:clap


Went there, and to our friend Google, for inspiration on what we were going for: looking for a back-roads runner, a lot of gravel, twisties, exploring to be done in Vuhmont.....dontchaknow.....

There are a lot of damn-good-looking XS650's out there, here are a few that inspired Will and me:


Lots of nicely-done bikes out there, with the "look" that we wanted: not a street tracker, not really a tracker, not stock, just something for bombing back roads.... dual sport tires, old-style wide bars, simple styling.

So, that was where we started.....


bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:46 PM

There is a very active thread here on Old's Cool called XS650 APPRESH that has been "inspiring" to say the least....

one of our inmates in Australia does onehellluvalotta adventure riding on his XS650:

Hunter Greyghost aka BAZA on his very-trusty-indeed XS650:

You gotta love a bike than can run hundres of thousands of km in OZ with that kind of load... a monumental tribute to the essential ruggedness of the bike....!!

...yeah...he rides the thing LOADED!!!!

bpeckm 01-27-2013 03:55 PM

more BazaBike....


bpeckm 01-27-2013 04:02 PM

So, got the engine out of the bike....

and started cleaning....

Unfortunately, no "before" shots, but this area is usually "well lubed" with chain grease caked on, and this bike was no exception... but it did clean up rather nicely!


bpeckm 01-27-2013 04:05 PM

Ended up cutting off a lot of ugly shit off the frame....

This is the back/bottom of the frame after removal:

bpeckm 01-27-2013 04:08 PM


Will found a $40 tank on eBay, from a DT250 iirc.... trial fit?

The tank tunnel is much smaller than the XS650, as is the tank capacity, so it would take some "creativity" but it's what we decided to run with.


bpeckm 01-27-2013 04:18 PM

This was all last winter, January 2012, so a lot of cleaning/polishing was undertaken on those cold wintah nights....

Side covers were wet-sanded and polished, but not to a mirror finish:

bpeckm 01-27-2013 04:24 PM

We wanted an 18" rear wheel, and came up with a solution.... I took the wheel apart and sold the 16" rim, then found an inexpensive whole-wheel from a TX750, which, after some research, I found used the same 40-spoke rim.

Here is the cleaned hub from the XS650, compared to the as-found TX wheel:

Test assembly prior to decision to powder coat hubs and rims.....

Different hubs:

And this is when we ran into "supply" problems... we wanted to re-spoke with stainless steel spokes, and there wasn't a set for the rear wheel to be had....front wheel spoke set WAS available:

Cleaned-up hub:


Drilldogger 01-27-2013 05:53 PM

:clap I was reading your thread, PITA wiring check, 16" rear wheel check, swingarm bushings check, and I get down to your inspirations and there was my 79 XS650 Special II. Mine was the one with the yellow tank. It was a fun bike that I modified over several years. The goal was to make as light, and fun to ride as possible.

I used the wheels off of a xs650 standard to get my spoked rims in the sizes I wanted. Cost me about 50$ but took a little searching around to find. I had lots of homemade bits that looked fine from 20' away. I really wanted a brat style seat, and a 750 rephased motor with a Pamco, but it got to the point where I wanted to move onto something else so I sold it.

As part of the project, do yourself a favor and replace the clutch pullrod seal and the bushing as well as replace the 2 piece pushrod with a 1 piece from Mikes XS. It sucks to put all this work into a bike and have it start leaking incessantly.
I can't wait to see what you do with it. These are great old bikes because there is so much you can do with them.

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