1977 Yamaha XS650D

  Summer 2010 and the economy is looking rather grim. Fortunately RetroTours’ price structure is such that I am still filling all the tours I can book. In fact I could use another reliable bike but it has to be a Big Twin from the Seventies, and it has to be cheap. The process of elimination brings me to an obvious choice: the XS650. Yamaha built these single overhead cam vertical twins from 1968 through 1985, selling over ¼ million of them. The basic design and layout originated with the Horex twin from the early 50’s which was copied by the Japanese Hosk company as a 500cc bike in 1955. This evolved into a 650 around the time that Hosk was bought out by Showa who was in turn acquired by Yamaha in 1960. Thus was four stroke expertise instantly acquired through a business merger.

 Similarities to British twins exist more with regards to the vertical twin architecture, and perhaps market segment targeting than actual engineering practice. The all aluminum unit construction 5 speed overhead camshaft horizontally split engine exudes Japanese precision. It enjoys a reputation for reliability that can only be gleaned from decades of refinement during a long production run. To me, the 1977 D model represents one of the best years. To many this is the quintessential ‘better-than-a-British-vertical-twin’ vertical twin.

 Perhaps it was cabin fever induced boredom during the long Utica, NY winter, but something drove the previous owner to bring the bike into his basement and begin ‘deconstructing’ it into a home made low dollar “café racer”. The foot pegs and foot controls were discarded along with the air boxes, air cleaners and electric starter. New rear set pegs and controls were bent and welded up using any bits of scrap metal at hand. The exhaust mufflers were simply cut off, leaving straight short headers. Rather than endure the expense of clip on handlebars, the stock bars were simply turned upside down. When they were found to hit the gas tank at full lock, they were heated and bent to clear. When this discolored the chrome finish they were painted flat black. I think you are getting the picture.

 Spring always arrives, followed by summer and when some cold cash was needed this sorry piece of equipment inevitably found it’s way onto eBay. The text supporting the unflattering picture included a disclaimer: “Don’t bid on this. You will be dissatisfied with this bike. EBay buyers always have unrealistic expectations.” You can’t say I wasn’t warned.

 This superior marketing strategy worked on me of course. Luckily, not many other eBay-ers were willing to bid, but I reasoned (OK, rationalized) that the motor trans and frame seemed unmolested, and the rest could surely be put right with used parts that are readily available due to this model’s unusually high production numbers. In the end I made an unrealistically low bid and ‘surprise’: the bike was mine. Lynn and I spent 15 quality hours together in the pickup truck driving up to fetch it.  It has sat untouched in the back of the RetroTours garage since August.

 Perhaps it’s cabin fever induced boredom brought on by the long Kennett Square, PA winter but something has driven me down to the shop to begin reconstructing the XS650. Slowly it is returning to nearly stock with (right side up) supersport type handlebars and IKON rear shocks being the only obvious modifications. Thus far I am impressed with how solid the frame is: what a ton of metal and a bigillion gussets and welds: this thing is a veritable tank. Spring always arrives, and when it does, this bike will be ready after final road testing to take place of honor in the RetroTours fleet.