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81 Special Newb Project

Discussion in 'The Garage' started by wesleyCrowbar, Jul 30, 2017.

  1. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    A week ago I purchased an 81 special and had it delivered to my place. Today was my first ride and I had some rather important learning experiences - some which are improvements I need to make to my riding and some which are improvements I want/need to make to the bike. This thread will be a journal of those improvements.

    First, a bit about me (in case anyone cares):
    I'm young enough to make mistakes, but certainly old enough to learn from them. I like to approach things methodically and carefully, but I'm prone to what I like to call "yeehaw bullshit" when the situation arises. My wife is moving out of state to go to school, and I'll be joining her in sunny California in about a year. She knows I hate having idle hands, so as my Subaru project comes to an end and the Miata is sold, she suggested I pick up a motorcycle to keep myself busy, so here I am. If I get everything done before I move, the bike comes with, otherwise I start over after I move. That's my motivation.

    Now, the bike:
    Like I said it's an 81 special. I'm not a fan of the quasi-chopper look. I'm blessed with height (I'm all torso) and a rather long wingspan. I can get away with clubman bars or maybe even clip ons without bending much at all. It has those foam handlebar grips that I'm not a huge fan of either, especially because they're rubbing and prevent the throttle from snapping closed on its own. In the short term, I'll likely just readjust them.
    Continuing with my distaste for the chopper look, I'll be changing the seat as well. I don't want to cut the frame, but I'm not against it 100% either. I want a cafe or brat style seat for sure. Budget would dictate that I make one myself using the snow skate method, but I can probably "splurge" if something caught my attention in the right way.
    It needs new brakes for sure. As I was leaving my street coming to the intersection, I had a mild code brown moment when stopping took much longer than I expected. I returned home immediately. I was able to push and pull the bike with the front brake fully engaged. I'm strong, but I don't think I'm that strong.
    Since the wheels will be coming off to do brakes, I figure I'll switch from mags to spokes while I'm down there. I've never laced a wheel before, but it looks fun, and I have all the time in the world to get it right. I'll likely have them powder coated in some way as well.
    I'm leaning toward a 2-1 exhaust, mostly because it'll flow differently enough from stock that it will force me to learn to adjust carbs. The extra grunt will be nice as well, I'm sure.

    That's all for now. Wish me luck!
     

    Attached Files:

    aliissari, YamadudeXS650C and Hyde like this.
  2. Hyde

    Hyde XS650 Addict

    Best of luck man! Any gremlins you find in the stock systems along the way make sure ya reach out here. These folks are fantastic at getting the OEM components back on their feet. Bike looks to be in great condition though and a perfect base to start from!
     
  3. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    Today I learned that a TX750 swingarm and both wheels will bolt on and are quite the upgrade. I'll be keeping an eye out for those...
     
  4. fredintoon

    fredintoon Fred Hill, S'toon. Top Contributor

    Hi Wesley and welcome,
    first thing, dump the rototiller 'bars because unless your wrists are at 90ยบ to everybody else's they have evil ergonomics.
    Then check the 4-digit tire stamp to see how old they are. Older than 7, replace 'em.
    Your front brake most likely has air in the line. Bleeding it should bring the brake back to normal.
    If bleeding don't work, most likely the hydraulic seals are shot and it's rebuild time.
    Swapping the master cylinder for one with a smaller piston/switching to stainless lines/drilling the brake disk
    will make the brake work better than stock.
    And while lacing wire wheels is a good thing to learn ANY of the several styles of XS650 disk front & drum rear wire
    wheels will drop right into your bike.
    Note that wire wheels can't run tubeless tires. Running tubes you can't get home on a can of fix-a-flat like you can
    running tubeless. It's pull the wheel and drag out the tire irons or phone bro-with-truck.
    The 1 gallon larger XS650 Standard gas tank will also drop right on.
    The humpy seat can have it's foam de-humped with an electric carving knife and a DIY cover put on.
    Or you can open your billfold real wide and have Sargent's do it.
    About a 2 into 1 giving extra grunt, let's say it's not likely. Making the bike a swine to tune right, you bet.
    And yeah, good luck.
     
  5. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    Thanks for the tips. I wasn't sure about the tubeless tires on wire wheels, but it's nice to have a concrete answer on that. It makes sense that it wouldn't work. With that said, what wheels can I run on the rear if I want to size up to 18 without converting to disc? The closer to bolt on and go, the better.
     
  6. YamadudeXS650C

    YamadudeXS650C Central New York XS650 XS650.com Supporter Top Contributor

    Nice bike to start a project with. I have an '81, as well. Might consider buying your nice seat (no rips or separations?), and swapping my spokes for your cast wheels. Long shipping distance, though.
     
  7. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    If the rear is 18" drum I'll keep that in mind.
     
  8. fredintoon

    fredintoon Fred Hill, S'toon. Top Contributor

    Hi Wesley,
    all '74 & newer XS650 disk brake fronts and all XS650 drum brake rears will be a straight drop-in fit on your bike.
    They didn't make an XS650 18" disk rear so no worries there.
    The 16" drum rear megaspoke (lotsa spokes + chromed steel rims) wheel pair lets you keep your existing rear tire so long as you put a tube in it
    but IMHO those wheels are butt-ugly.
    Any of the 3 rim types (chromed steel/smooth aluminum/flanged aluminum) of 18" drum rear wire wheel pairs are a drop-in fit.
    Note that any pre-'77 front wheel will have a 2-piece brake disk that don't align with your bike's front brake caliper.
    No worries there either, your existing 1-piece brake disk will bolt right on.
    I'd say that the deep groove aluminum rim wheels are the best looking but it's your choice, eh?
    You will find that the 18" rear tire don't noticeably change the bike's gearing because 110/90-18 & 130/90-16 tires have about the same outside diameter.
    What will change is the handling. The narrower 18" rear makes the bike more lively in corners and not quite as stable in a straight line.
     
  9. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    The change to an 18" rear is mostly aesthetic. Quickening the steering is a huge plus as well. I prefer to spend my time in the twisties, even in my cars.
    Is there a good place (aside from the classified section here) to find an 18" cast wheel? I could be swayed away from spokes honestly, especially since I can continue to run "normal" tires. I don't see much online and on ebay except for a spoke set from a TX750.
     
  10. 5twins

    5twins XS650 Guru Top Contributor

    19,571
    11,077
    813
    There are no 18" mag rears that swap right in, at least not that anybody has found or mentioned yet.

    The desirable alloy spoked flanged wheels have turned to gold, as you probably noticed looking on eBay. You might do better finding some locally. My buddy scored a pair last year from a local cycle salvage place for about $50 - for the pair. I was amazed the guy sold them so cheap, I thought he meant for one wheel. I don't like spending more than $20 to $30 on a wheel because new (stainless) spokes are going to add about another $80 to that - and they all need new spokes, lol.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2017
    YamadudeXS650C and gggGary like this.
  11. fredintoon

    fredintoon Fred Hill, S'toon. Top Contributor

    Hi Wesley,
    there ain't no 18" drum brake artillery wheel made for an XS650.
    The (I believe) later model XS400s had them and perhaps some others but they are by no means a drop-in fit.
    By the time you've re-bearinged the hub to suit the XS650's 20mm axle, had the correct length axle spacers made, and got the rear sprocket
    lined up it ain't worth the hassle just to get a little more agility in the bike's cornering.
    If you make the swap just for the bike's appearance, like my dear ol' mother used to say "You must suffer to look beautiful"
     
    YamadudeXS650C and wesleyCrowbar like this.
  12. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    that's a bit more effort than I'm willing to put in for now. Back to spokes it is!
     
  13. Brassneck

    Brassneck XS650 Guru

    Welcome to the group, and nice bike to boot! I too live in Seattle...so if you ever need local help, reach out! But this group is pretty much the bee's knees on info.

    Oh...also, kudo's on marrying an awesome wife to SUGGEST to get a bike??? WHAT!!! That's pretty much unheard of these days. HANG ON TO HER!!! LOL

    So I think this has already been mentioned, but try to find a set of XS650 "Standard" -- spoked rims (Front 19" disk, rear 18" drum)... they will swap in without issue, and the thinner rear makes the ride so much better in my opinion. Going with that...you'll also want to get taller rear shocks about an inch or so...to raise the height and it will not only look more appropriate for what you're going after, but it will also handle better.

    Brakes probably should be flushed (change to a SS braided line too) but you'll want to wait to do that until you know what bars you're using...as the length will need to be determined.

    For Seats...you could cut the foam and reshape. It can look ok, but for a cafe or brat look, with the way the special's seat pan dips down toward the rear wheel...I recommend making one that redesigns the entire seat's lines to follow the frame... if you have the knowledge, time and most importantly, patience.. give it a shot...but there are some killer seats available from Airtech, or others on this site that look bad ass! Just depends on the look you're going for.

    Anyways, Good luck! Keep us posted.
     
    aliissari and wesleyCrowbar like this.
  14. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    Yeah she's a keeper for sure. Good to know there's someone local. I'm sure you'll hear from me in the future.
     
    Brassneck likes this.
  15. 5twins

    5twins XS650 Guru Top Contributor

    19,571
    11,077
    813
    If you do manage to find some TX750 wheels and a swingarm, grab up the chain guard too if it's available. The 650 guard doesn't swap on, different mounts.
     
    wesleyCrowbar likes this.
  16. Brassneck

    Brassneck XS650 Guru

    Chain guards? What's that? :)
     
  17. grizld1

    grizld1 Grumpy old man Top Contributor

    Wesley, reading your post, it sounds as though the front brake is locked up. If so, failure to release can be caused by a blocked port in the master cylinder, and cracking the bleeder valve on the caliper will relieve hydraulic pressure and release the brake. But don't ride before servicing the MC; it will just lock up again. Good choice re. spoked wheels with 18" rims. Those cast aluminum wheels (there's not a trace of magnesium in 'em) are very heavy and handling suffers from the extra unsprung weight. The ones from the XS400 are also too narrow to make a good choice for the XS650 rear. As Brassneck says, taller shocks will enable quicker, more linear steering. It sounds as though you want a bike that will dance, so don't waste money on a 2-1 exhaust system. You'll not only experience little or no power gain, you'll also grind a pipe on the asphalt if you try to get at all frisky in right hand corners.
     
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  18. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    Man, you guys are super helpful and I haven't even started yet! I was thinking of just picking up a new MC anyway (11mm ?), along with lines and pads to hold me over til I can swap to a Brembo caliper and lighter rotor. The more I listen to you guys, the more I'm inclined to approach my XS the same way I did my Subaru: if it needs servicing, replace it outright. This way I know the status of every single nut and bolt. The up front costs are worth it.
     
  19. grizld1

    grizld1 Grumpy old man Top Contributor

    11 mm. MC with braided stainless line is a great combination. I took Michael Morse's advice on that some years ago; huge improvement. The 11 mm. MC won't work with a Brembo 4-pot caliper, though. Sometimes it pays to figure out the whole system and install it in one go.
     
  20. wesleyCrowbar

    wesleyCrowbar XS650 Member

    I want to do that, but going that route will prevent me from riding for at least another week or 2 while I wait for parts. I suppose I have a decision to make...What size MC does a Brembo need?
     

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