Barry Johnson’s 650 is proof that desirable doesn’t mean expensive
Out on your prides and joys, including a Yam 650 built for peanuts
This is my 1979 Yamaha XS650 Special, imported from the US. The original title document shows it had done 6000 miles when it left Japan for the US, and only 13,200 when it came here.
It was a mess: parts missing, bits hanging off, stuff that wasn’t original and a rusty tank. But all the chrome – forks, pipes, rims – was lovely, which was important. If wheels are rusty and spokes have had it you might as well buy new wheels, and that loses the character. Go too far and it’s a new bike, not a 1979 model. That’s why I’ve not overcustomised it – you still see a ’70s Yam.
I cut the subframe, removed a section, fitted steel tube inside the ends and refitted the loop; with the inner sections, I’m not relying on welds for strength. I cut the rear mudguard in half and rotated it round, and shortened the front one – so I’ve got custom parts right for the bike, but that haven’t cost anything.
The seat was trimmed by a local fella, after I sorted the shape using the foam from the non-standard seat that came on the bike; I used the same leather to make the grips. The tail light and indicators are parts I’ve bought before. They use bulbs, not LEDS – I’ve had problems before with
LEDS causing havoc with old wiring.
My engine is standard with Keihin carbs, which make a big difference – it’s punchy, but quite revvy too. It had these pipes when it arrived and I told my son they’d go... but once we’d started it we had to keep them. It sounds fantastic. The XS had a rev counter, speedo and a large idiot-light panel that didn’t look good. I’ve just kept the speedo, painted black along with the headlight – paint makes such a difference to looks. I use an etch primer, good base coat and then lacquer, even though it’s a matt finish.
I think that finished and ready to ride, it only owes me around £2500. BARRY JOHNSON
Avon tyres are modern compound, but have old-style dimensions and tread pattern
Gentle custom work means the XS retains plenty of its character
Changes are subtle, not garish
Carb update makes big difference
Stubby pipes sound fabulous