If you have followed BikeBound for long, you know we have big love for the Yamaha XS650. This punchy parallel twin lends itself to tracker and scrambler builds. In fact, our senior correspondent Rick Brown is building one as we speak.
For this reason, we leapt at the chance to feature Joe Ruppenthal’s ’79 Yamaha XS650 street tracker. Built in a barn in the small town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, this is one of the purest street tracker builds we have come across — a no-nonsense weapon built to be Joe’s main street bike.
Below, we get the full story on this barn-built machine.
Yamaha XS650 Tracker: Builder Interview
(Answers by Joe Ruppenthal. Highlights by us.)
Please tell us about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your shop.
My name is Joe Ruppenthal. I come from a small town in Wisconsin that goes by the name of Oconomowoc. I’m a machinist by trade and have always been very hands on. And have had a love for anything with a motor as long as I can remember. My history with motorcycles goes way back to both of my grandfathers. They both grew up with a love for motorcycles and owned, maintained, and customized many bikes. Next comes my father — he too grew up with a love for bikes and owned many that he regrets selling. He rode regularly until while dating my mom, they were involved in a motorcycle accident when someone pulled out in front of them. After that my mom wouldn’t ride, so my dad gave up street riding but continued to ride on the frozen lakes of WI. This is where some of my first memories of being on a bike come from. On the back of my dad’s Honda XL500S, tearing up the lake and almost falling off when he would do random wheelies without warning.
After college, once I finally had some money in the bank, I purchased and began riding dirt bikes. I have a great group of friends I was dirt-biking with and they all rode street bikes as well. So naturally that was my next progression. Spring of 2016 I started looking for a bike and purchased my XS650. I began to modify it enough to get it street ready and rode it that summer. Then came spring of 2017. I wasn’t completely happy with the looks of the bike so I put it under the knife. Most of the work I did was out at a couple of buddies’ farm that they rent. They have a shop set up in one of the old farm outbuildings. The floors not the best and the roof leaks in spots but somethings always going on in the shop! It’s nothing fancy but it’s got everything you need to build anything you want!
So this spring I would get done with my day job and head out to the farm, work on the bike and hang out with my friends while we all worked on our projects. This kept it fun and interesting in those frustrating moments. If I needed a second opinion, a helping hand or just to put the tools down for the night and have some fun, they were right there to help!
What’s the make model and year of bike?
1979 Yamaha XS650
Why was this bike built?
I built this bike for my personal enjoyment and main street bike.
What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design concept for this bike was pretty simple. It was to build a bitching street tracker that I could ride anywhere. I was influenced by watching flat track races and always loving the look of tracker bikes.
What custom work was done to the bike?
There are a lot of little things done to the bike. I purchased the bike as a very basic flat track bike with most of the excess removed and the Omar’s tracker tail/seat was on it along with the custom aluminum side plates which I kept on the bike. I began cleaning up the rest of the unneeded tabs and brackets on the frame.
Then installed the 2008 gsxr 600 front forks using Cognito Moto conversion steering stem and upper tripple tree with bar mounts bored for 1 1/8 mx bars. I added gold pro-tapper mx bars, pro-tapper clutch perch and lever and an RCS-19 brembo front brake master. And aftermarket front rotors. I threw a bicycle Garmin GPS on so I know general speed.
It has a Cognito Moto front fender and brackets. I made custom brackets and mounted my number plate (still have to finish the top mount haha) and made brackets to mount and hold a Baja Designs Squadron 2 led light for a headlight that I mounted protruding through the number plate. That tied the front end up.
Then I went with custom conversion front and rear black hubs from Cognito Moto and laced them up with stainless spokes to black Sun rims. With a Ducati monster rear caliper and rotor. And monza piggy back black and gold rear shocks. And new sprockets with a smaller “overdrive” rear sprocket for highway riding and a gold chain. Its got Analog Motorsports billet valve covers and pegs. Purpose Built Moto slip on stainless highball muffler. That looks and sounds amazing! With a custom stainless mount added by my buddy Chris. He also turned up on his lathe a tach block off plug and some nice rear shock washers, made spacers for the front and rear wheels, and helped with the front end install.
I added a led tail light under the fender. And made custom billet plate mounts in the place I felt it fit best, way up under the tail section! It now has a Hughs Hand Built oil cooler (not on in pictures).
I also went through the wiring on the bike and cleaned-up/removed/added what I needed/wanted. Also went through and did maintenance and checked over the motor and replaced seals. Most of those parts came from Mikes XS, TC Bros and Dime City Cycles.
And like all projects it’s never done. Hopefully this winter I’ll have time for a 750 big bore, cams, pma ignition, a custom stainless header and some new paint! And who knows what else I’ll come up with over the Wisconsin winter!
Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
It;s hard to pick out just one part. But i am just extremely happy with how it all came together!!
What is the back story on the GSXR front end? How were you able to find it? It certainly makes the Yamaha a serious contender. Nice job.
Craig, eBay is loaded with GSXR front ends, though they’re getting more expensive as such swaps become more popular. I bought one last year for my own XS650 for around $350, not including front wheel and brakes. Cognito Moto of Richmond, Virginia, are the ones you want to talk to about this setup — they make tons of parts that help with the swap.
Nice build very clean
Beautiful build! Brutish yet artistic. I just purchased a 79 XS 650 to do the same
Thanks for parts and company list! Very helpful
Best point you made is these builds are never really done!!!