James “The Eggman” Eckman recreates the bike he sold 50 years ago…
Motocross arrived on American shores quite a bit later than some folks realize. Though the first European FIM championship was held in 1952, it wasn’t until the 1960s that figures like Edison Dye, Torsten Hallman, and Roger DeCoster brought the sport to the United States, and the first AMA Motocross Championship was held in 1972.
Recently we heard from Pennsylvania’s James “The Eggman” Eckman, a long-time racer who was there for the early days of the sport. In 1969, at the age of 14, he talked his parents into letting him buy an ancient BSA Bantam — and the rest was history:
“Soon, I was working at the Kawasaki Penton Husqvarna shop for $1.25 an hour and racing motocross in the very earliest days of the sport in America. Then I was a local champion for a couple years until a TM400 ate my knees and racing career.”
At that same shop, a couple of the mechanics had built their Triumphs and BSA’s into early versions of what we now call street trackers:
“Before street trackers were a thing, occasionally us old guys would put a headlight and taillight on a scrambler or TT racer and skirt the law for a bit. It was great fun.”
James had to have one for himself, so he picked up a wrecked Yamaha XS650 and built himself one. He rode that bike until his body was healed up enough to go racing, and that XS650 scrambler / street tracker became a pure dirt tracker:
“I bought a Champion frame from Gary Nixon and built the Yamaha into a storming 750 and went dirt track racing until more crashes made that not so much fun anymore.”
He sold the bike when he was 17, and he’s regretted it ever since:
“I thought about that street bike for 50 years, wishing I had kept it.”
So last year he picked up a $200 1970 XS650 basket case and got to work recreating the 650 scrambler / tracker of his youth, tracking down hard-to-find items like original Ceriani GP forks, Bates solo seat, Bates dirt track pegs, a Trackmaster-style tank, and more:
“I was shooting for 1970 period-correct vintage authentic goodness and the best fit and finish that I could accomplish myself.”
The result is the gorgeous XS650 you see here, nicknamed “Bugsy” after James’s late, great Basset Hound, whose memory rides with him (check the handlebar sticker). James says riding the bike is like turning back the clock to a different era:
“It was made for me to keep and cruise my back roads and just remember when I was young and fearless. It is a very analog experience with a hard clutch pull and the drum brakes. A step back in time, but it is comfortable and agile. A little loud. But that is what we used to get away with.”
While the bike may look like a street tracker to some of us, James says it’s from a time before the term was in common parlance. Instead, they called these bikes scramblers after the off-road racing of the era:
“I call this bike a Scrambler. It has 18″ raised edge rims front and back and the TT pipes etc. In the old days before Motocross, the off-road closed course races were Scrambles.”
All in all, The Eggman’s XS650 scrambler is a stunning example of a bygone era, and one of our favorite stories we’ve ever featured. Hopefully it will inspire a few of the old-timers to recreate the machines of their youth, and our younger readers to lean into their own builds. Below, The Eggman himself gives us the full background of the build.
Yamaha XS650 Scrambler: In the Builder’s Words
I talked my parents into letting me buy an ancient 175 BSA Bantam two-stroke in 1969 when I was 14 years old. Soon, I was working at the Kawasaki Penton Husqvarna shop for $1.25 an hour and racing motocross in the very earliest days of the sport in America. Then I was a local champion for a couple years until a TM400 ate my knees and racing career.
At the Suzuki shop — all the way up to $1.75 an hour — the service manager had a Triumph and another mechanic had a BSA, both built into the earliest versions of what would eventually be called Street Trackers. I thought they were the coolest thing ever, so I found a freshly wrecked Yamaha XS650 and built my own.
It was great fun and a nice bike but soon enough I was healed up enough to want to go racing again. So I bought a Champion frame from Gary Nixon and built the Yamaha into a storming 750 and went dirt track racing until more crashes made that not so much fun anymore.
So — I thought about that street bike for 50 years, wishing I had kept it. Last year I found a basket case pile of scrap for $200 and began the long process of finding the vintage things I knew I would need. I was shooting for 1970 period-correct vintage authentic goodness and the best fit and finish that I could accomplish myself. Great pains to find an ancient Bates solo seat and the Ceriani GP forks and such.
I carefully massaged the frame and found a Trackmaster type tank. The tank took a ton of work to put the old fashioned “Rib” down the middle and then carefully make it fit to the frame perfectly.
I grafted the old Bates dirt track pegs to the stock mounts, polished and nickel-plated all the controls with vintage rubber covers.
Found the old Donkey (dong) grips and Magura levers etc.
The motor was rebuilt and every piece of aluminum was massaged and polished. It made no sense to me to build a monster motor because I have no intention of storming around on this thing. It was made for me to keep and cruise my back roads and just remember when I was young and fearless.
It is a very analog experience with a hard clutch pull and the drum brakes. A step back in time, but it is comfortable and agile. A little loud. But that is what we used to get away with.
I want to mention the yellow stitching on the upholstery and carefully hidden wiring and electrics and no visible zip ties as some of the subtle details — the things that are not seen are important too.
I’m really happy with this build. Every nut and bolt, every detail, every styling cue and decision. I did everything myself except spray the paint and the nickel-plating. I’m pretty sure it is the last big build for me. It was a long time coming but very satisfying.
Bugsy is my old Basset Hound whose memory rides with me via a sticker on the handlebars. He was low and surprisingly agile and named after Dick Mann.
Back at the Suzuki shop, the guys with the cool British builds — everybody really — always had trouble with my last name: Eckman. If you recall, in the early 70’s, the Beatles were pretty big, so they labeled me Jimmy Eggman. And it certainly stuck like glue. To this day whenever I see the old timers, it’s “Hey Eggman!”
I call this bike a Scrambler. It has 18″ raised edge rims front and back and the TT pipes etc. In the old days before Motocross, the off-road closed course races were Scrambles. Nowadays Scramblers seem to be some kind of dual purpose street / farm road bikes. That’s not what I am talking about. (I also have a pet peeve with folks that put a fiberglass seat pan on these bikes and call it a street tracker, but I keep that to myself!)
So I mashed up The Eggman and the Scramblers and came up with my little shop logo and gave T-shirts to all my old buddies — to great delight!
I’ve also included a photo of a very young Kenny Roberts on his Junior bike. This was an inspiration for sure. He absolutely put these bikes on the map. In my youth, he was certainly a hero figure.
Thanks very much for your time and interest.