The Yamaha XS650 is one of our favorite vintage motorcycles. While it was styled after the British twins of the era, the bike was properly modern, featuring unit construction (engine and gearbox in same casing), a horizontally split crankcase, and SOHC valve operation. The 53-hp engine offered solid punch for the street, and Kenny Roberts’s highly-modified XS650-powered flat trackers quickly made a name for the engine on dirt tracks across the country.
Enter Pete Chase of Rhode Island’s Café Cycles, who opened shop more than eleven years ago after spending a year in California, building off-road race cars and discovering his love of aluminum work:
“When I moved back to Rhode Island I started building aluminum café racer seats and various aluminum parts for people to customize their own bikes, and Café Cycles was born.”
We find it especially neat how Pete’s handmade work has spread to far corners of the planet, becoming an integral part of so many different custom bikes:
“I have made well over a hundred hand-formed seats that are around the world and I love knowing that some of them will outlast me.”
Today, Pete spends the riding months keeping his hometown’s vintage motorcycles on the road, then takes on 2-3 custom builds or restorations during the colder months. Previously, we’ve showcased Pete’s gorgeous Suzuki GT380 cafe racer, and his stunning Gilera was featured in the 2019 Handbuilt Show.
Today, we’re thrilled to feature what might be our favorite XS650 build ever — an aluminum-clad street tracker that gleams like a P-51 Mustang, sporting a built 750cc motor with a 277-degree rephased crankshaft and Shell #1 race cam. Below, we get the full story on this little monster from Pete himself, along with some stunning photos from Matt Francis (@mattfrancisphotos).
Yamaha XS650 Street Tracker: In the Builder’s Words
I started Café Cycles back in 2008 after I returned from living and working in California for a year. I worked in a small shop out there along with two other guys who built sand cars and competition off-road race cars. We built the entire car start to finish in-house. I started off there doing chassis work and final assembly but soon took an interest in the aluminum work side of things. I started building consoles, dashboards and eventually hoods and side panels.
When I moved back to Rhode Island I started building aluminum café racer seats and various aluminum parts for people to customize their own bikes, and Café Cycles was born. I have made well over a hundred hand-formed seats that are around the world and I love knowing that some of them will outlast me. I have a small workshop in the town I grew up in. Between May and November I keep all the vintage bikes in town well maintained and between November and May I take on two to three custom builds and/or restorations to keep me busy along with a bunch of smaller jobs that will trickle in.
This bike here was originally a 1979 Yamaha XS650. The story of how it came to be, is a common one for me. I was actually in a coffee shop with my Café Cycles sweatshirt on and another customer came up and asked me about Café Cycles. I explained that I built and restored bikes. He then went on about this XS650 that he tore down ten years ago. He had built a set of Excel rims and he had a fiberglass tracker tail for it, so I told him to bring it by.
One thing that was missing was the tank and he mentioned that when he was a teenager he had a ’76 Suzuki RM125 that had an aluminum tank and he would love to incorporate one in this build if possible. I found a few on ebay and picked one with the least dents. I modified the tank and frame to accept each other.
Since the tank was so small I clearly had to make a custom seat. I wanted something that flowed with the tank, and also went with the tracker style of the rims and tires he wanted. The customer was really excited to see this coming together and from that point he started going for nicer parts and thinking more power. Instead of re-gasketing the original low mile motor, he decided to send it to Dan at Pandemonium Cycles in Ohio. Dan built a monster 750cc hi-compression motor with a 277 deg rephased crankshaft and shell 1 race cam. The motor came to me in a crate with carburetors on it, and a throttle cable coming out of them hooked up to a throttle, all adjusted and synchronized.
The front suspension has Progressive springs and the rear were put together by Worx Shocks. I stripped a pair of Pro Taper flat track bars to go with all the aluminum. I built the rear inner fender and a custom wire harness and spent a lot of time making wires and cables hidden and functional. The exhaust header is built by Delkevic from stainless steel. We got a carbon fiber slip on muffler for a Ducati 750 and I grafted it onto the header.
All of the remainder of the hardware was nickel plated to tie in the stainless and polished aluminum components. It is a pure joy to tear up the streets or a dirt road on this monster.
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Photos: Matt Francis (@mattfrancisphotos)