Ever since man first discovered the wonder of riding a motorised bicycle, he has been modifying motorcycles to perform better than original. The first racing machines were merely stripped down and performance tuned standard models. It was after WWII that the returning US servicemen began buying up Harleys and stripping them of anything that added unnecessary weight that may slow the motorcycle down. These motorcycles became known as “bobbers” and were the symbol of the restlessness of many of the veterans. The trend also caught on in Britain where the Triumph became the motorcycle to bob. These bobbers were the first motorcycles to be modified not only for performance but also to reflect the owner’s personal style and personality. They were the original custom motorcycles. Bobbers are currently very popular. Many of these new generation bobbers are being built from a variety of Japanese made motorcycles but nothing comes close to a Yamaha XS650 as the model to use if an old school bobber is what you are after.
Our featured Yamaha XS650 bobber looks older than old school, more vintage than veteran. It was built to customer specification by Tiago from OneOne Customs in Germiston. Although he builds all sorts of custom cars and bikes, the XS650 remains his favourite and he is known for building some of the best XS650 bobbers out there. We have been fortunate enough to feature two of these bobbers previously. To give the bobber the correct look and feel of a 1950s bobber, Tiago fits a weld-on rigid rear section to the original frame, eliminating the original subframe, swingarm and suspension. The rear section is manufactured by OneOne themselves. The original XS650 rear wheel with its drum brake is retained. The imported taillight is fitted to a OneOne made side mount number plate holder. Early model XS650s were kickstart models, with electric start only being added in 1972. Unfortunately, because these starters were added as an afterthought, the position they were installed meant that a complicated system of gears was required for the starter to crank the motor. This required a lot of amps from the battery and was prone to breaking gears. Tiago overcomes this problem by disconnecting the electric starter. As he says,”Real men kickstart a motorcycle”. Not having to feed a current hungry starter means that a smaller battery can be installed. The low slung battery box contains the battery, fuses and all the other electrical components. Even the ignition is mounted there, as can be seen by the keys dangling out of the switch.
A springer front end has been installed to make this XS650 even more authentic looking. When Tiago originally built this bobber, a front wheel without any brakes was installed. Back in the day, this is what the builders did to keep the front wheel’s look clean and to avoid having to run unsightly cables down the fork legs. What would have been the front brake lever on the right side of the handlebar, became the throttle control. No twistgrip was thus fitted. The stopping power of the rear drum brake was found to be inefficient and so a conventional throttle and front brake set up was installed. To avoid using the glaringly modern disc brake of the original wheel, Tiago sourced the front wheel with its drum brake from the Classic Motorcycle Club and suspects it is of British origin. The wide beach bar type handlebars were specially imported and give this bobber amazing posture.
The control levers on the XS650 are from an era even older than bobbers themselves. These Bowden type inverted levers went out of usage before WWII started in 1939. Tiago imported them from India where they are sold as a Royal Enfield accessory. Having the pivot point for pulling the cable at the end of the bar meant that the cable could run neatly inside the bar, out of harm’s way. However, what this design does put in harm’s way are the rider’s fingers should the bar ends impact anything. Nevertheless they are a really cool feature.
Everything on this bobber is painted black. The copper plated elements serve to break the blackness and somehow add a further vintage dimension to this bobber. Tiago normally replaces the original XS650 petrol tanks but this donor bike was a XS650 Custom which had a different tank style to the standard XS650 and was suitable to be used. An automobile leaf spring serves as the support strut for the seat which was upholstered by Dion the Leatherman. The rear mudguard is the chopped and modified original front mudguard. Although this motorcycle was in shabby condition, the engine was sound and did not require a rebuild. Mikuni slide carbs were fitted which greatly improve the responsiveness of the engine. Those open headers are sure to remind you that Yamaha were a musical instrument manufacturer long before they began building motorcycles.
Tiago puts soul into the XS650 which was never there originally. No glitz, no glamour, just presence and attitude. If old school is your middle name, then this bobber must surely blow your hair back.