The Yamaha XS650 is one of the world’s most beloved vintage Japanese motorcycles, a 650cc parallel-twin originally inspired by the British twins of the era — Triumphs, Nortons, BSA’s, etc. The XS was affordable, reliable, and quite sophisticated for its day, boasting unit construction and a horizontally split crankcase. By the late 1970s, however, the bike had morphed into the XS650 Special, a “cruiser” model featuring mini-ape bars, a teardrop tank, and a 16-inch rear wheel. No longer did the bike resemble a classic British machine — in stock trim, it looked more like a shrunken Harley wannabe.
Enter the UK’s Hoxton Moto, who make films for their dedicated Youtube channel, featuring events like the Malle Mile and Race The Waves, builders like Storik and Shaw Speed & Custom, and much more. Somehow, headman Shaun Fenton also finds time to build custom bikes like their Ironhead Beach Racer and Honda “Street Cracker”. Recently, they got their hands on a 1981 XS650 Special, which had already been given a ratty, bratty “scare the children” treatment:
“Our intention was to take a reverse-engineering approach for this build by re-styling a Japanese 80’s bike to look like a British 60’s machine, namely a Bonneville.”
They proceeded to create one of the classiest, snazziest XS650 roadsters we’ve seen — a bike that does justice to the original XS design, while harking back to the British twins of yesteryear. Perhaps our favorite bit of bling are the stainless steel slash air intakes, mounted through the side panels with metal trim!
Below, we get the full story on this reborn XS650.
Hoxton Moto XS650 (HM007): In the Builder’s Words
We always had a desire to build a custom bike from the classic Yamaha XS650. The appeal was its old-school looks and its famed robust parallel twin engine. Our intention was to take a reverse-engineering approach for this build by re-styling a Japanese 80’s bike to look like a British 60’s machine, namely a Bonneville.
We found a 1981 donor bike, which had already been ravished. Its previous incarnation was a Ratty Brat bike, so this wasn’t going to be its first rodeo. Firstly, we needed to lose the sinister, gnarly matte black, “scare the children” look and create
a handsome, glossy, “mother would approve” ride.
During the initial strip-down we removed the mandatory tombstone seat, Howitzer exhaust and broomstick handlebars and began to imagine the design specifics. To streamline the exhaust system, we purchased a pair of Enfield Bullet silencers and had
new headers and downpipes fabricated by Kevin at Zero Exhausts.
After much deliberation and an eye on costs, we decided to keep the original ally non-valanced rims, rear drum and twin disc front brakes. We sourced a chrome rear mudguard at an auto-jumble – which we adapted to fit. Then, we fabricated the brackets for a pork-pie rear light and number plate mount. Fortunately, the original chrome front mudguard was in good condition and suited our design.
For the bars, we mounted a Triumph US-spec chrome handlebar, tidied and polished the ally cast switch gear, hid the wiring through the bars and fitted old-school grips. After discarding the large headlight and instrumentation panel, we fitted a small chrome headlight, fabricated stainless steel side mounts and sourced a small speedometer.
The subframe had already been looped, so with a fair amount of shaping with modelling foam, we fashioned a snug pillion seat and made the seat pan. We then despatched the seat to the talented Glenn Moger to be upholstered in black with white piping.
The airbox had already been removed and was running pod type filters. For a bit of fabrication bling, we made a pair of stainless steel slash air intakes and mounted them through the side panels with riveted hand-whittled metal trims.
The colour scheme is all important and we settled on a traditional striped white and red, with a slight nod to a 60’s Bonneville. The tank and side panels were masked and sprayed by the mastery of Matt at Alchemy Paint.
Finally, we re-wired the complete bike, removing the unused ancillary devices and re-locating the ignition switch, fuse box and regulator.
So far so good. Until it came time to fire it up. During the road test we noticed the motor was burning oil. Gutted. We had no choice but to dismantle the entire build. We reluctantly removed the engine, stripped the top-end and recommissioned with new rings, valve seals and gaskets. With the motor reinstalled, the machine was once again a healthy non-smoker.
Overall, we are really pleased with this build. Apart from a few inspired deviations, it is very close to our original design. The ride feels nostalgic, hearty and laid-back – yet, at times, encourages a respectful spanking.
Donor: Yamaha XS650 1981
Original: Frame, Forks, Tank, Motor, Brakes
- Pork Pie rear light. Rear light bracket and number plate mount, fabricated in-house
- Triumph 1960’s US spec handlebars, reconditioned switch gear and old school grips
- Enfield Bullet silencers and fabricated down pipes
- Seat shaping and pan fabrication in-house, upholstered by Glenn Moger
- Chrome 5.75’’ front light
- Venhill front brake hoses
- 3’’ Speedometer
- Slash air intakes, mounts and trims fabricated in-house
- Tank and side panel painting by Alchemy Paint
- New loom built in-house