’72 Yamaha XS650
“It doesn’t leak, it doesn’t break, it doesn’t require much attention and it doesn’t cost much”, Cycle Guide magazine. That was forty years ago and today, three out of four ain’t bad. They still don’t leak, break or require much attention but they have gotten to be rather expensive.
I love the XS650, Yamaha almost out-Britted the Brits with this one. The XS650 is very traditional looking with the big vertical twin motor, nicely shaped gas tank and stylish mufflers… that is where the comparison to the British twins ends. To start with, Yamaha built the motor differently from their English cousins; horizontally split cases for easier assembly, service and best of all…no leaks. Overhead cams instead of pushrods, sturdy unit construction and, it was smoother than a Triumph or BSA of the time. Still, some riders consider the XS650 a shaker, and, they’re right, it is…to a point. The motor shook like a vertical twin should, which is one of the romances of this bike. One of my favorite visions of a Yamaha XS650 is, at idle, watching the whole front end moving up and down in this beautiful dance. So yeah, at idle, it shakes, but from there up to around 5000 RPM it’s really quite smooth, after 5000 RPM (which is around 80MPH) it does get a bit vibey again, oh well…a CB750 it ain’t.
The XS650 is a perfect platform for customizing. Chop it. Cafe it, Street-Tracker it, or, throw some saddlebags on it and go look for an old girlfriend two time zones away. The Yamaha 650 is a truly classic motorcycle without all the ‘classic bike’ headaches.
The XS650 is not perfect, no Japanese motorcycle of the era was. Yamaha was after the Triumph buyer and like I said at the beginning here, they almost out-did themselves. The person that is going to buy a classic vertical twin powered motorcycle is looking for a certain look (the Yamaha has that), good power (Yamaha again), and handling…Ok, the XS650 fell a bit short in that department…but not by much. Here’s what you do to put any British twin to shame on a twisty road…replace the steering head bearings (they were crap to begin with and a few hundred miles later, worthless), replace the ‘even worse’ plastic swingarm bushings with bronze bushings (what engineer thought plastic would be good enough for a swingarm???..I hope he committed hari-kari), rebuild the forks using better springs and proper fork oil and lastly, a good set of rear shocks. Honestly, those few changes will transform the XS650 into a fantastic corner carver that, if you have the skills, will leave most Brit bikes a vision in your bar end mirrors. Forthose of you that go the chopper route…you have a gorgeous motor to build a piece of art around and who cares how it handles. As an a old friend of mine uses to say, “it’s all about style”. That motor rates right up there in the top 10, as one of the most beautiful engines ever put between two wheels.
So, there I was sipping my morning tea, cruising ebay, and low and behold a nice (?) ’72 Yamaha XS650 is there. I have written before about choosing between an XS650 and another bike…the other bike won, but, to this day, that Yamaha is still on my shortlist of bikes I want to have and ride. This particular XS has fairly low miles but needs some love…what old bike that has been sitting outside for a few years doesn’t? To me, this one needs all the basics…tires, battery, brakes, oil change, fork rebuild (refer back to my list of upgrades…), carb rebuild and lot of elbow grease on the whole bike. Is it worth it?? OH YEAH. Buy it, don’t even try to start it…do all the work and then one beautiful evening, in your garage, you can look at it, be proud of what you have done and what the bike has become…then, push the starter button. As all 650 angels are singing and you have a ear to ear grin, put on your helmet and…hope you did everything right. Enjoy your ride.
Click on the pic’s below for more info on getting a really cool classic bike.