Back Street Heroes
MY dad got me into customs in the ’60s - he worked nights on the telephone exchange in a hospital and, to fend off boredom, he’d buy American bike and car mags (like Chopper and Hot Rod!), and pass them on to me. This was the start of a very long obsession!
I bought a new pushbike at age 14, had 12-inch apehangers fitted, and sprayed it with metalflake and candy from rattle-cans. Then I moved to 125s and then 250s, and all were either cut down in some way or custom painted. One of my mates had an XS650 and, as he worked in a chroming place, everything he could get chromed he did. I loved the way it looked, and sounded, and one was always on my to-get-one-day list.
Fast forward a few years and, after playing with cars, I wanted to get back into bikes. In 2018 I sold my last custom/drag car, and started looking for a good base for a chop or bobber. After searches on fleaBay, etc., I got it down to three in my price range - an 883 Harley bobber, and two XS650s. The Harley sold quickly, and the XSs were a choice of a hardtail or a softail and, as I’m not getting any younger, I decided to go for the softail, arranged to go and see it, and three hours later the bike was mine. I had to leave it here for a while until I could pick it up but, a few weeks later, a mate took me up in his van to collect it.
I’d already decided I wanted to make it mine so over the next few months I changed a good few parts. The seat and rear ’guard supports went when I made a new sissy-bar (and altered the ’guard to suit), and I also put a side-mount ’plate on. I bought a new King Sportster tank from B&H Motorcycles, and they threw in a set of T-bars (it had wide beach-bars that I wanted to change) which weren’t a straight swap as the mounting holes in the slabs didn’t line up. I dropped the top ’un off at my friend’s machine shop, and he plugged the old holes and drilled new ones. The headlight had a few dings so I changed that, and the speedo cover looked like a bean tin so I bought a small one to replace that.
The frame’s a Santee gooseneck with a Harley Softail rear end, and a Sportster front. I tried getting some 4-inch over forks, but couldn’t, so opted for 4-inch slugs with a good inch going into the tube, clamped top and bottom. They’ve never moved! I bought some stainless tube, polished it, and slid it between the yokes to hide the join.
Engine-wise, it’s a standard ’79 XS650, and had standard BS34 carbs, but also an aftermarket PMA and ignition system and, to be honest, it was a killer – not only on the back of my leg, but it also took the teeth off first gear when it kicked back. The lights were rubbish as well, and it was a nightmare to ride in the dark with only 55 watts to play with – I had to use LED bulbs. I tried a single-carb manifold and a new VM34 Mikuni, but it’d still take sometimes half-an-hour to start and, being kicker-only, I was worn out by the time it did. Thinking it was the carb and inlet, I bought twin VM34s – same problem. I was about to give up when Ant Beynon (Pipes and Stuff on Facebook) started selling his own PMA and ignition system. I knew him from car shows, so I bought a 200 watt PMA, and his CDI unit (which fits in the old points cover – no other box to find a place for), and now not only does the bike start first time every time, but I can see in the dark, too!
To everyone’s amazement I scuffed the brand new tank with a flap wheel, masked off some scallops, and a 55, and with the help of my mate Jon laid first gold flake, then about 10 coats of candy apple red, and another 20 odd coats of clear. Once done, and with new tulip exhausts, it was starting to look how I wanted it, but a couple days later my underbar mirror came loose and, the first time I did a tight right turn, took a chunk out of the new paint. Then a few weeks later, while closing the gate while going for a ride, the bike fell over and took out another chunk (and snapped the clutch lever). Fast forward a year and, after seeing the paintwork on my mate Steve’s dragster in the style of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, I had an idea – I wanted mine to be black-based, though, so I swapped the colours around. It took three attempts to do (so much went
wrong!), but it was worth it – it has about 10 coats of lacquer, and’s never been mopped or polished, but has a great shine and ‘feel’ to it.
In the meantime I bought a new trailer ’guard for the rear and, getting fed up with getting soaked/a face full of grit when it wasn’t raining, bought a wideglide front face-full ’guard, too, and arranged with another mate to get them powder-coated. I did buy a pad (seat) for the back, but it doesn’t really fit so I bought a little rack so that, when I’m allowed to start going away again, I have something to hang a couple of bags off.
I’ve always said the XS’ll never be a show bike and, now that lockdown’s over, I intend to ride it around the country as much as I can, and not worry about polishing it all the time!