A dragonfly built from a $150 box of parts…
Introduced in 1980, the Yamaha XT250 quickly became a popular workhorse on farms and ranches, earning a bit of notoriety in 1982 as Rambo’s getaway bike in First Blood. The 270-lb thumper made 22 hp, good for a top speed of around 75 mph. But the real beauty of the XT was the steady, never-say-die character.
Enter Francesco Tutino, an Italian-born motorcycle professional who moved to Australia about a decade ago, opening his shop, Francis Von Tuto Moto Works, in 2018. We featured his Honda CB400F scrambler a few weeks ago, and now he’s back with this 1983 Yamaha XT250, nicknamed “Dragonfly.” He found the bike as a $150 box of parts, missing a tank and pipe — it had been disassembled and left in the previous owner’s garage for some 30 years! Fortunately, the old XT was ready for a new life:
“It was a real surprise when I quickly put the roller back together, engine in, fresh oil, carbie cleaned, wiring attached, and it started at first kick!”
There’s the never-say-die attitude of the little XT! However, Francesco admits that the price did reflect the bike’s condition. Though it would run, it was in terrible shape, in need of a full restoration. He had a vision for a lightweight tracker:
“Staring at the bike to look for inspiration, I’ve realised how skinny it was, especially without tank and seat — its shape looked similar to an insect, and with those wide bars, I’ve pictured it as a dragonfly and that’s the origin of its name.”
He took some inspiration from old “agricultural bikes,” obtaining a Yamaha AG100 just for the handlebars, which he powder-coated white with black barkbusters. He totally rebuild the engine, with an oversized piston, decked and ported head, 12-volt electronic ignition, and much more, giving the bike some unexpected punch:
“First time I took it for a spin behind the shed I didn’t expect it to pick up revs so quickly, and while trying to reach for the choke lever I nearly launched it in the neighbour’s backyard — so definitely happy!”
Below, we get the full story and details on this custom XT!
Yamaha XT250 Street Tracker: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1983 Yamaha XT250.
• Why was this bike built?
Personal project. It was late at night and while surfing the net before going to sleep I found this ad: XT250 for sale, missing tank and pipe, everything else is there. In boxes. $150.
How could I leave it there? So I made an appointment with the seller and met him at his place. He used to ride the bike when he was a teenager in the family farm out west, then when he moved to the city he took the bike to his garage, pulled it apart, and left it there for nearly 30 years! Again it was missing tank and exhaust, but everything else was there, including chunks of mud from its long gone dirt days.
It was a real surprise when I quickly put the roller back together, engine in, fresh oil, carbie cleaned, wiring attached, and it started at first kick! But was pretty much it. The price really reflected the condition, so it was about time to search for some parts and start building!
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
A few elements were necessary for this build: keep the body as narrow as possible, widest bars available, tracker seat, and I wanted the rear wheel to look taller than the front. Well, due to the name “Dragonfly,” I initially thought about finding the right colours to resemble the appearance of the insect, but I got carried away after talking to my spraypainter, which is unusual, because I always like to follow my initial inspiration. But looking at the final result, I can’t really complain. The bike is painted in a very iconic Kerry Roberts Yamaha nostalgic livery, which is an evergreen…so classic it’s never boring.
Now, fair enough that the bike started very easily, at the end of the day it was still a shit-crate and still due for full resto. The search for the tank was surprisingly quick. I’ve found the best XT250 fuel tank I’ve ever seen from a private seller in Bendigo, Victoria, absolutely rut and dent free, already primed! It cost me as much as the bike but totally worth it!
The engine cases needed repair due to a snapped chain, which took a chunk of alloy off. The motor itself looked like it had had a hard life — same as rims, suspension, etc. On this particular build, I powder-coated pretty much everything. Frame, swingarm, yokes, rims, hubs, bars, fork legs, shock spring, handlebars, and the whole engine.
The engine part is interesting, I don’t think I will ever powder coat an engine again. I’d rather do vapour blasting (even if Roberto’s custom powder did an amazing job on it), especially on air cooled engines.
The rebuilding process has been a journey, with many discontinued parts coming from all over the globe and further two different project bikes, which I had to steal bits and pieces from to complete this one — like clutch basket, camshaft, and kickstart. These parts were impossible too find or stupidly expensive, but in the end it all came together very nicely with all genuine Yamaha components like an oversized piston, conrods, camchain, bearings, etc.
I wanted to get some power out of the little 250 but still wanted to keep it reliable so, while I had the top end at the engineering shop, we decided to deck and port the head, leaving the stock valves. We got rid of points and converted the ignition from 6 to 12 volts. Once the engine was in the frame, I quickly made a low profile exhaust using some bends and off-cuts off my damaged Harley pipes and one of those ebay megaphone mufflers. I fitted a Mikuni roundslide and it started first kick, but firstly sounded terrible — those mufflers are only worth what you pay for them, which is nothing! Then that carby was a bit difficult at midrange.
Found a good option with a carb tuning kit from the States, and for the exhaust I’ve decided to ditch the quickly recycled one and go full stainless on the headers and to reuse the side silencer out of my CBR600RR 4-into-2 Moriwaki project to complete the system.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Frame and fuel tank haven’t been modified from their original shape, but I surely wanted this build to look as sleek as possible once the airbox/battery tray was gone. So first I had to come up with the seat/tail and then hide all the electrical underneath it.
I’ve found a fiberglass tracker ducktail from a guy down in Victoria, and which really suited the rear end of the chassis; I only had to replicate the tab that slides under the tank and holds the tail in position and then secure it down to the frame with an alloy plate; pretty simple without any exposed bolts, under the seat the rectifier regulator found its place alongside a superlight 4 cell antigravity battery. Tailight and indicators, since the pictures, have been replaced with LED strips.
For the seat I laid some fiberglass on the ducktail and made my own base, then sent it to get upholstered from a local guy in southeast Brisbane. Once I converted the ignition to 12v and found a spot for the regulator, I had to r route the whole wiring loom and most of it got moved under the tank, where it can’t be seen.
Gauges were replaced with a smaller single unit. The original headlight was ditched and a tiny 4-inch Bates styled headlight took place instead. Lucas tail light and bullet indicators have been changed since the pictures with so much brighter and better quality LED strips.
Now, handlebars are pretty cool too… I already had a set of really low and wide dirt-bike bars, but this specific set I fitted in the end with those bark busters (or handlebar protectors as you prefer), it looked to me like a pair of wings — which was perfect for the dragonfly project! These tubular bars with protection is a common solution on agricultural bikes; in fact this set comes off a 1970s Yamaha AG100 that I exchanged for a Suzuki Stinger tank at a swap meet something like 3 years ago… Funny thing is that I didn’t want the bike — but I did notice the cool bars and I was ready to buy them off the owner, but he refused to take them off and instead swapped it with the tank previously mentioned.
I removed the bars and sold the AG100 in a week , then sent them to get powder coated in white to match the rear shock spring and the protector got coated in black. To finish the look, we’ve got the wheels, both original p.c. hubs with mirror polished backplates re-laced on 18-inch p.c. rims and fitted with 4.50 18 rear and 3.50 18 front Firestone champion deluxe rubbers, so to reach the original vision target of the rear wheel being bigger than the front. Definitely not much of tracker feature, but I personally believe that a custom bike doesn’t necessarily have to fit in a specific sub category. Otherwise what’s the point of customising? It’s personal taste and creativity applied to motorcycles, so mixing styles definitely fits in the custom bike definition itself!
Now let me spend a word on this last feature: Firestones are probably my favourite looking tyres and I had them already on one of my previous builds, a Kawasaki KZ650, and on my current personal ride Harley 1340 racer. Apart from what people say about them, they’re not too bad on heavy bikes (use to scrape the pegs on the KZ, and with some obvious effort, I still have plenty of fun on the Harley, come with me on a ride if you doubt my words!). But they actually show all their defects on lighter bikes like this XT.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Yes, Dragonfly! Staring at the bike to look for inspiration, I’ve realised how skinny it was, especially without tank and seat — its shape looked similar to an insect, and with those wide bars, I’ve pictured it as a dragonfly and that’s the origin of its name.
• Can you tell us what the bike is like to ride?
As I’ve explained above, tyres weren’t the best for the super light weight of the XT, not much at the back, but the front was pretty difficult to read in the corners especially in the first few ks, but geez she has got some grunt! That ported cylinder head really worked with exhaust and tune! First time I took it for a spin behind the shed I didn’t expect it to pick up revs so quickly, and while trying to reach for the choke lever I nearly launched it in the neighbour’s backyard — so definitely happy!
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
1980s frames can be ugly when left untouched, so I found it absolutely satisfying to see how chopping the subframe like we see on the majority of custom wasn’t necessary on this build to achieve a nice and well balanced look.