A red-tanked vagabonding machine, built for fire roads and the 405…
The Yamaha XS650 is one of our favorite vintage bikes — a British-style 650 twin available from 1970-1983. The engine’s unit construction and horizontally-split crankcase were ahead of the time, and the legendary King Kenny Roberts made the XS650 motor known on dirt tracks around the country. Says Jim Griner, founder of the Yamaha 650 Society:
“It had the phenomenon of the Model T or Model A, where just about the time you think it’s gone, things happen to make it pertinent and popular again. Vintage racing would be one example. They just keep being recycled, and that speaks to the bulletproof nature of them.”
Enter AdamJames Licari of Licari Co., whose maker mentality comes from his grandfather, a pre-WWII Italian immigrant and carpenter, and his father, a machinist and mechanic — men who handed down their skills, work ethic, and mindset:
“Licari Co. isn’t some big production facility, it’s just one man, his hands and skills in a workshop…My bikes are purpose built with lasting quality being the cornerstone.”
Licari does performance engine builds, complete restorations, one-off customs, and has also honed his skills as a professional photographer. Previously, we featured his Yamaha XS1100 cafe racer, “Il Corvino.” Now AdamJames is back with this 1983 Yamaha XS650, built for and with his good friend Luke, who bought the bike for $1100, got it running, customized it, moved from Philadelphia to LA, and met AdamJames at Motos in Moab. When parts starting coming off during a weekday rip together, the pair decided it was time to rebuild the bike from scratch, making it as nice as possible:
“The goal was to be a daily rider to work, and weekend ride, camp out/dirt ripper that could handle the fire roads and rough stuff we often found ourselves on.”
AdamJames credits Luke for envisioning the final shape of the bike, and the pair worked together on many aspects of the build:
“One of the more fun aspects of building a bike for/with a friend is that he would come over to work on it with me. We did the whole tear down together, lots of prep work for painting things like the engine and such.”
No nook or cranny of the XS was left untouched. Licari rebuilt the engine with a 277-degree rephase from Hughes Hand Built and lightweight 707cc pistons, along with a PamCo Pete’s electronic ignition, Barnett seven-puck clutch, one-off shotgun pipes, and much more. There’s a 16-inch front wheel, chopped GSX-R controls, and the seat is covered in black selvedge denim from our friends at Tobacco Motor Wear Co. Licari’s scratch-built minimalist wiring loom even includes a master kill switch for “full black out mode” — something he includes on all his builds — and the bike rolls on Bridgestone Trailwings:
“This little redhead could rip down the 405 just as easily as a central California fire road.”
Below, we get the full story on the build from AdamJames himself, as well as some stunning shots he captured!
Yamaha XS650 Street Scrambler: In the Builder’s Words
The bike is a 1983 Yamaha XS650. Not a single bolt was left untouched on this build. I did everything in house, minus the upholstery, powder coat and crank machining.
Originally the bike was purchased in Philly by my buddy Luke. He got it running, ripped around on it, brought it out to LA with him and started modifying it. The final shape of the bike was his brainchild. He started modifying it over the years from a stock
1983 XS650 heritage he picked up for 1,100 bucks in the spring of 2012. He had to do some typical XS stuff, replace the brushes, re-wind a rotor, trim out some electrical.
Once he got the bike running ok, he began chopping away at things he didn’t like, and was really inspired by Wes at Counter Balance Cycles and what he had been doing to XS’s at the time. He managed to get a rear rim laced up to a stock front hub (thanks for the spokes Buchannans). That’s what gives the bike the shorty flat look he wanted.
He made a simple seat, and a friend had an old XS400 tank that was just right. He traded the factory tank for it, I keep saying he stole that thing.
It was for the longest time a 20/20 bike — 20 feet at 20 mph, she looked great. If you really looked at it closely, it needed someone with a more refined touch and the mechanical knowhow to really get it looking right. Luke recalls, “Luckily I moved from Philly to LA and made friends with AdamJames. We had really hit it off after Motos In Moab.”
The two of us had went out for a weekday rip up in Angeles Crest, and the bike literally started shaking parts off itself. We were forced to zip tie the fender to the frame so he could make it back home. At that point he realized the timing was right to completely start over on it and make it mechanically sound and look as nice as possible. I just so happened to be looking
to get a fresh project going. So naturally this is where I came in to help point his vision down an achievable road.
The motor was tired, and there were just some bits that Luke wanted to complete in a more thorough manner, like that zip-tied fender that had been bouncing around. Luke and I sat down, set a budget, went over all the aspects he desired the bike to possess, and I got to work giving her a full overhaul and custom restoration. The goal was to be a daily rider to work, and weekend ride, camp out/dirt ripper that could handle the fire roads and rough stuff we often found ourselves on. He also wanted to up the performance and reliability of the 30+ year old bike.
One of the more fun aspects of building a bike for/with a friend is that he would come over to work on it with me. We did the whole tear down together, lots of prep work for painting things like the engine and such. Was great having a second set of hands, especially when it came time to put that boat anchor of a motor in the freshly powdercoated frame.
The first thing we did was rip the entire thing down to a pile of parts. The frame needed some love finishing the removal of all the old mounting tabs and straightening out the rear hoop. The down tubes on the front are a two piece design welded together at the factory, and not the easiest on the eyes. So I filled the weld channels with more welding rod to bring them up flush, then smoothed everything out with a grinder to give it a tighter finish. We were doing powder coat so all the filler work had to be done by welding and grinding. Next I handled all the basic fab stuff, little things on the frame that needed attaching and such
The motor started beckoning to me and I dove in. Hands down my favorite part of the build as it was a bit more technical and involved getting it up to speed with 21st century tech. Once I had the motor in enough pieces to cover the shop floor, I sent the crankshaft and cam out to Hughes Hand Built of North Carolina. Can’t recommend these guys enough, stellar work. I had them pull the crank apart, inspect the bearings, and rephase the connecting rod journals at 277 degrees. This basically changes the firing order of the parallel twin, making the pistons rise and fall in a manner that results in significantly less vibration, and generally a smoother powerband. The modern Triumph twins are set in this way actually. As this changes the timing of the pistons, the valves must be adjusted as well, and Hughes does the same for the camshaft. This also required me to run a dual ignition system to fire each cylinder at the appropriate new timing. A pair of PamCo Pete’s electronic ignition units and monster high output coils handle things on that end.
The motor castings all went to soda blasting to prep for paint. After the tedious task of masking off and painting the engine in a fresh coat of satin black, it came apart and I went to work on the rest. Intake ports got widened and polished, valves got lapped, big 707cc lightweight pistons got rings, all new seals and a full set of stainless hardware clamped it all together.
I fabbed up a set of dual side shotgun pipes to blow the exhaust away and wrapped them with heat insulation to keep the EGTs and scavenging speeds up. A Barnett carbon kevlar seven puck performance clutch helped get all the new power to the rear. A single piece clutch pushrod upgrade and fresh cables made that clutch easy to actuate at all temps. An aluminum starter motor delete shaved off a ton more weight and simplified things further.
The electrical system on this bike was fully updated as well. I built a complete wire loom from scratch with only the essential systems, ignition, lights, and charging. I put the entire lighting system on a master kill switch as well for full black out mode. I do this on all my builds. The charging systems was updated to a permanent magnet alternator from Hughes, with a LiPo4 battery and new Rick’s regulator rectifier from Revival Cycles to handle all the juice.
When it came time to set her on the ground, the rollers got some serious attention. Rebuilt the forks with one inch lowering spacers and cut progressive springs down to match. Some BellRay 15 weight fork oil gave the front end some firm dampening. Before assembly the fork tube housings got the powdercoat treatment with the rest of the frame and heavy bits. Progressive Suspension dual rate progressive shocks on the rear bumped the clearance on the back tire and provided the firmness needed to handle the rougher terrain this thing regularly finds. The front hub was laced to a 16″ rim to create that stance, and also allowed for the same rolling diameter tires to be used front and rear. Those just so happened to be Bridgestone Trailwing dual sport compounds so this little redhead could rip down the 405 just as easily as a central California fire road.
Final finishing touches subtly give the bike a really polished look while keeping things simple. The triple trees were factory re-envisioned, all the extra tabs and mounts were chopped and reshaped, along with grinding down all the casting lines to provide a custom feel. A bates style headlight and LED taillight with hand-shaped patterned steel grille light up the night. A custom trailer style chopper rear fender was adopted to fit underneath the hand formed fiberglass seat pan to hold the dual density foam to cushion the ride, all wrapped in black selvedge denim courtesy of Tobacco Motor Wear Co.
We fabbed up a custom underseat battery tray with flushed in ignition and lighting switches to keep the electrical bits off the front of the bike. Some Euro style bars, late model Suzuki GSXR controls, and a custom brake master cylinder reservoir helped keep things streamlined. I chopped and hand-sanded the factory GSXR levers down, and gave them a brushed aluminum finish to emulate a Moto GP style. Finally smaller diameter stainless steel braided brake lines matched up with the new master cylinder dynamics to provide a responsive feel on those thirty year old rebuilt calipers.
At one point into the build, we decided to get out of town for a couple days, I think it was the Lucky Wheels Garage White Lightning camp out, we go every year. While enjoying our coffee and pre-ride chow somewhere around North Hollywood, this redheaded girl came up to us as we sat on the sidewalk patio. It became quickly apparent she lived on the streets and was in a very altered state of mind. She asked for some money, and my buddy offered to buy here some food. She seemed chill at first, and out of nowhere she became very upset and yelled, “Don’t call me Minabear!” Then just as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. Right then and there we knew we had to name this red-tanked vagabonding machine after our new friend, the fire-haired streetwalker. The name stuck, and the bike currently resides in Los Angeles with my buddy Luke.