Parts donor to reborn roadster, with Romania’s Bandisca…
The Yamaha XS650 is one of our favorite vintage Japanese motorcycles. Sometimes known, tongue in cheek, as the “greatest British bike never built,” the straight-twin machine combined the style, nostalgia, and general blueprint of the classic Triumph twins with the oil-tight precision, unit construction, and reliability of Japanese engineering.
As time goes on, however, it seems unspoiled examples of the XS650 become ever rarer and more expensive, and these machines remain a rarity in certain countries. One location is Romania, home of our friends Alf and Mihaela at Bandisca, whose varied and exquisite builds have long graced the pages of BikeBound. Alf reckons there are no more than five XS650s in the country, and this ’74 is the only one with the first-generation frame!
A friend of theirs bought this ’74 model as a (very incomplete) parts donor, but was surprised to find that it would still crank:
“The paradox was that even though the bike was very incomplete (no body parts except the tank, no pipes…), the engine looked good and once our friend tried to fire it up, it cranked fine, so why use it as a parts donor?”
The owner asked Alf and Mihaela to give “this old grandma a new life,” but Alf admits he was uncomfortable with the idea at first, not wanting to customize (“kill”) a vintage machine already so rare, but as always seems the case, Mihaela had the answer:
“Mihaela’s idea was to rebuild it keeping its 1974 essence, not making any crazy mods on it, trying to keep as many original parts as possible, and what we needed to build, build keeping the original vibe.”
We love how the completed machine, nicknamed “Violet” (the bike’s original color, updated to a “Signal Violet” hue), preserves the nostalgic silhouette and vibe of the original, while offering the owner a number of modern upgrades, amenities, and subtle details. Below, we get the full story from Alf on the build, and more photos from Mihaela, who had to take them in the subzero rain of a Romanian winter!
Yamaha XS650: In the Builder’s Words…
The history of this bike is quite interesting, because I guess here in Romania, there no more than five of these models, and this is the only early one with the first-generation frame. This bike was bought by a friend of ours in 2011 as a parts donor for another complete one he owns, but after buying it, he noticed that it was an early model and didn’t match so much the last gen he owns, so the bike languished for a long while.
The paradox was that even though the bike was very incomplete (no body parts except the tank, no pipes…), the engine looked good and once our friend tried to fire it up, it cranked fine, so why use it as a parts donor?
He asked us if we were interested in giving this old grandma a new life. We couldn’t say no even though the scenario was so dark… This guy is a good friend, old rider, and one of our students at our mechanics courses. I should admit that I wasn’t very confy with this project; I like the XS650 as it is and never wanted to “kill” one… Mihaela, as always, came to the fore and said, “Why not? Let’s do it!”
Mihaela’s idea was to rebuild it keeping its 1974 essence, not making any crazy mods on it, trying to keep as many original parts as possible, and what we needed to build, build keeping the original vibe.
I started to make some light mods on the frame. We lacked the original side panels and airbox, so we cleaned the area and adapted a pair of DNA filter pods with the proper jetting on the carbs. The electrics were almost gone — just the ignition wire existed and was old — and also the points didn’t look so good. So we decided to upgrade the ignition with an Elektronik Sache one. These electronic ignitions work great and have multiple ways of being set up.
The engine instead looked pretty fine for its age and just needed fresh gaskets and seals. This unit is kickstart only — sometime in its long life, someone eliminated the electric starter (not uncommon in these early ones because the electric starter was crap). We spent a while sealing the case properly in place of the electric starter in order to avoid oil leaks, and we paid a lot of attention to the torque of all the bolts, as you know these bikes vibrate a lot….
After the engine was rebuilt, we made a new wire loom — Motogadget based — and all electrics were placed in a small box under the seat pan. We only needed a small battery for feeding the ignition, as we no longer had an electric starter.
Meanwhile Mihaela started to design the paint pattern. We based it on the “Signal Violet” color, because this bike was classified as Violet in the paperwork — a very rare color at the time — so we decide to keep it. The silver frame and black fenders give it a cool contrast that takes us back to the ’74 vibe.
We also tried to match all the controls and switches with the ’70s era, using a silver four-button Motone switch for the lighting and an old “on-off” kill switch for stopping the bike, all complemented by an 80mm Velona dash with speedo and tacho integrated, which looks very proper.
The headlight is a brand new yellow lens (still possible to find easily in the EU), housed in a refurbished old Triumph headlight bucket, and the taillight is made by Motone, matching the “star” style of the exhaust clamps.
The exhausts were a bit of a headache…. We lacked them and needed to build something clean to match the vibe, so we made some stainless headers and added two pretty cool Spark Exhaust Custom Series mufflers, which match perfectly the classic style of the bike and sound really nice, with acceptable noise levels.
Wheels are the original ones refurbished. Spent a whole week polishing, trueing, balancing, but the result is worth it!
About tyres, we liked the “Firestone” style profile, but we didn’t want to mount the bloody Chinese replicas that, as everybody knows, have no grip at all, so we went with some Victory TT Classic ones. These UK-produced tyres at least have some grip. The best we could obtain over the Firestone old design, and yes, you can handle the bike with some trust in them.
The bike has plenty of other small details that we prefer leaving the reader to discover in the pics.
The photo shooting is a bit weird in the rain, but winter in Romania is hard and Mihaela doesn’t like indoor studio shots — she always wants the bikes outside, so she had some fun taking these shots at -1 celsius degrees under a freeze light rain….
The conclusion: we had a lot of fun building this old grandma and honestly, never expected it to turn out looking so fine. But it’s a great bike, looks pretty fine, and even with the kickstarter, it always fires up easily!
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Photo credits: Mihaela Lopez