Mr  Visser, my PT teacher in high school, bought a brand new Yamaha XS650 in 1977.  The reason that this is memorable is because it was the only new XS650 that I  ever saw on the West Rand. South African motorcyclists have always been power  hungry and the parallel twin 650cc did not stand a chance against the four  cylinder 750cc and 1000cc  models which were selling like hot cakes. It  just did not make sense to buy a basic low performance motorcycle when a buffet  of high performance motorcycles was on offer to be savoured. And then I heard  it! A XS650 being ridden hard with open exhaust pipes. The bike belonged to  Chris, my cousin Dana’s future husband. Being a Brit by birth, he had grabbed a  second hand alternative to the beloved Bonneville, changed the paint job, stuck  on some clubmans and gutted the pipes. He must have been one of the first guys  internationally to start customising what was to become the most customised  Japanese motorcycle model.
The XS650 is used as the platform for some of the best bobbers, choppers  and cafe racers on our planet. Because it looks so British, the 650cc parallel  twin is a natural choice when building a reliable retro custom. After all the  Japanese did copy the British design, did they not? No! They copied the Germans!  In 1955 a Japanese manufacturer by the name of Hosk launched a motorcycle  powered by a 500cc parallel twin engine which was a copy of the German  manufacturer Horex’s 500cc engine. The Hosk engineers had developed a 650cc  version of the engine by the time Yamaha acquired the designs as part of a  buy-out in 1960. In what turned out to be a marketing blunder, Yamaha did not  use the design immediately and persisted with their two stroke technology. When  Yamaha launched the engine in the XS650 in 1968, it was just in time to meet the  better performing Honda 750 Four and the Triumph and BSA 750 triples head  on.
Nevertheless, with its oil tight, horizontally split crankcase, 50 hp  single over head cam engine and five speed gearbox within the engine casings  (unit construction), the XS650 was still more advanced than other manufacturer’s  parallel twins of this time. In 1972 an electric start was added to the original  kickstart only system. The motorcycle’s styling is typical of the conservative  styling of the late 60s and early 70s British made motorcycles. The XS650  retained these looks until 1979, with only subtle cosmetic changes and  improvements to the brakes and electrics. After 1979 only the more cruiserlike  “Special” models were manufactured until production ceased in 1985. I do not  think Yamaha officially imported any of these later models into South  Africa.
The lean and mean XS650 featured here was the first ever motorcycle built  by Tiago from OneOne Customs situated in Germiston. Tiago’s first contribution  on Retro Write Up was the poular Honda CB175 cafe racer with the whitewall  tyres. He loves building XS650 bobbers and would focus on them if only there  were more donor bikes available in South Africa. This bobber is a no nonsense,  no frills attached,  minimalist creation. The rear subframe, swingarm and  rear suspension have been replaced with a rigid weld on section.   The  sprung saddle is now the only pothole protection provided for the rider’s  backside. A triumph styled petrol tank and a bobbed rear fender are the only  brightwork, a small headlight and taillight the only lighting. Tiago gives his  bobbers a low look and feel by inverting the standard handlebars and using a  bar-end mirror. As for the silencers, with an engine that sounds as good as a  XS650,  who needs them?
The current international demand for XS650s is huge. In South Africa, where  they were always rare, you would probably have a better chance of finding a  Horex 500. It was a very different situation thirty years ago. The last model  year in the USA was 1983. Yet, due to lack of demand and over production, brand  new 1982 and 1983 models were still available on some dealer’s floors in 1987.  Unbelievable how times change!