'79 Special Cafe Build Project Begins (20 years late?)

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Seattle, WA
Hey Everyone,

I wanted to introduce myself, and say "Thank You" for the GREAT info on this site...which has been a huge help with my current build. I've been lurking on here for a while, and finally found the time to actually post my bike and the progress I've been making on it.

Quickly about me/back story: I've been riding since '92 (In college) when I picked up an '81 Maxim for practically nothing and learned to wrench/ride it over that summer. I then picked up a '78 Standard (Again for a few hundred bucks) and had the pleasure of restoring back to stock (it was modified and cobbled together when I got it) but I loved the parallel twin so much--yet I stupidly sold it in 2000 (thinking I would go modern for reliability and comfort). Over the years I've had 6 or 7 other bikes, mostly hondas & yamaha's and my longest and current daily ride is my 2001 FZ1, which I've done a lot of modding to and LOVE it (Can't imagine I'll ever sell it)!

However, I've always kicked myself for selling the '78, and wished I had kept it for a cafe project I've always wanted. Just this past summer, my neighbor pulled a '79 Special from his storage shed and as soon as I heard the familiar twin rumble, I knew it was an XS and went to see what he was up to... we chatted about it and as it turns out-- it's was his mom's (he's the 2nd owner) with 4200 original miles on it! It's been sitting for 10+ years and he's been meaning to get it back on the road. He confessed that he hasn't had the time or interest to really do it...So recognizing the opportunity, I offered to buy it --he threw out a GREAT price and I jumped. Let the project begin!

Phases of my cafe build: I consider the process I'm taking to be more of Phases, as each one will allow me to adjust and plan for future change, but still be ride-able and for the most part, "heading toward the final vision" I have for it. I'm not really in a rush, and I'm attempting to start this project with doing as little irreversible alterations to the bike/frame as possible...(with the idea that I may want to revert back to stock some day and not regret the cutting that I end up doing) but more over, get a better feel for what works/what doesn't.

(Note on pictures: I'm really bad at taking pictures as I go, I often think about them well after I've done some work...but I will try to post those that I do take)

Phase 1: The bike as I got it, cleaned up a bit (Actually looks half-way decent in the pic.)


The bike started, but ran like crap. Needed a new battery, air filters...and fortunately, the charging system was working great! The Carb floats were stuck on the left side, both carbs were gummy & Dirty and out of sync. The petcocks leaked bad, valves and timing need adjusting, etc. But overall, great compression and I think a solid bike. However, the seat/handlebars, sissy bar, and the ride stance is just not my thing...those had to go ASAP!

So I stripped it down, cleaned up the carbs, bench synced as best I could, adjusted the cam chain tension, I put in new plugs & wires but I haven't dealt with the timing or valves just yet. I got new air filters (Sticking with the stock set up for now) and I also got some clubman's and lowered the guages & Ignition switch. I flipped the headlight ears, and lowered the headlight as well. Got rid of the stock turn signals, and mounted smaller ones on the lower triple tree bolts. I also ran "Standard" throttle/clutch cables, and re-routed the front brake lines so they wouldn't be so contorted due to the clubman bars.



I scored and found an XS750 tank super cheap (It had been cleaned out, petcocks redone and resealed by a bike shop, but never picked up...so they wanted it gone). More importantly, I found some helpful hints on this forum to mount them above the stock location--worked out great I think. I also swapped out the key assembly from the original tank so the ignition/tank match now. With the clubmans and 750 tank, the turning radius was allowing the bars to hit the tank. Thus I restricted it by drilling out the stops, threading the holes and adding screws as adjusters...worked out well.



Next, I needed to see how the ride felt with lowered bars, etc...so I found a seat off of an XS1100, and ripped it apart, cut down the padding, recovered it with some vinyl I had lying around. Took the tail light off the stock fairing, and added matching turn signals with the fronts. Painted the side covers and tail to a "close-to-burgundy" color...added some cheap pin striping for fun, and mounted it using the stock hinges/lock.



And finally, I cleaned up the rims as best I could without removing them.

So that's how it looks/stands as of now. (I've been ripping around the neighborhood and it's a blast, but corners like a heavy log--will address in next phase). I don't like the seat, it's WAY too big and long...but it works for it's purposes. I'm planning on building my own seat, probably about 25" total, and tighter to the frame. My dilemma is I don't want to cut the rear hoop, nor do I want to cut the hinges/side lock off just yet. I'm pretty sure I can build one out of fiberglass to meet my specs/needs. I've never done it before, but how hard could it be? :)

On to Phase 2...Preview: (Address suspension/ride height, and get it cleaner)... I plan to swap out the wheels for matching "standard" rims. I found some today and they should be here next week (19 "H" 1.85 fronts and 18 "H" 2.15 rears; 100/90 19 & 110/90 18 respectively). I've also have some longer rear shocks (13.5") Progressive's coming from 650 Central. I think that will be a HUGE help with how it rides and corners.

In later phases, I'll work on cleaning up the front gauges, getting clipons, new polished yoke/triple tree and new headlight bucket/ears, etc. I am looking for a very clean & minimalist look. I'll also address the airbox/battery and try to clean that area up... but that means rewiring and I'll probably need to jump in and address the charging system which will likely fail on me sooner than later. Ha ha. (But I don't want to deal with that for a while).

Way down the road...when I get to the point where I'm happy with the weight/suspension/looks, etc...I will tear it all down and get it all cleaned up/painted/polished and see where it takes me. Like I said at the beginning (If you're still reading this...lol) I will be riding it through all the phases and my plans may change as I go...wish me luck.

(Please share thoughts/concerns/questions...I'm not new to the XS, but this is my first build on here, and my first cafe...so I appreciate the feedback/support or general complaint. I don't take things too personally). Thanks!
Lookin good, i'd get some new tires with the new rims, I like the burgandy, but the tail light looks goofy. Very cool so far i'd ride it!
Lookin good, i'd get some new tires with the new rims, I like the burgandy, but the tail light looks goofy. Very cool so far i'd ride it!

Absolutely...the tires on there now I'm pretty sure are the originals...which makes them extremely old--they will be changed! 100/90's up front, 110/90's in back. The tail light (and seat for that matter) is all temporary...it's just so I can ride it while I source parts for the next phase. :)
So a little update on the progress...

Purchased a set of '78 standard front/rear rims...so it will have 19/front & 18/rears...with new Avons are being put on this week. New bearings arriving next week...and that should be an easy swap.

Got some 12 series Progressive's 13.5" rear shocks ordered and arrived today...look awesome. (Chrome/black combo with a set of chrome covers that Michael at 650 central added by request.)

New sprockets/chain coming next week... so that's exciting. Unfortunately, no pics yet as I'm waiting to get the tires/chain/sprocket and rear shocks all done at the same time and then see the difference in the stance. Can't wait.

I also ordered a few things that I may/may not end up using...mirrors, tail lights, etc...
Some progress to update:

Got the new 19/18" rims on & new tires on! Very happy with the look, and I don't think it feels as "Fat" on the back as it use to.

A shot of the new Avon's... ride is grippy, and feels confident. Love how the bike wants to turn now!


Also got new Progressive 12 series in, and added them late last night. The height is 13.5" so a good increase to the stock stance... Can't wait to take it out on the road.

Now I'm working on mirror options...

I was originally thinking that I didn't want to have them at all, but I find that I really want to see behind me and find myself looking over my shoulder--which isn't too safe...so here are the two options I'm leaning towards...


Shorter/Cruiser style:

any thoughts?
Hi Brassneck,
the reflections in those mirror options show the problem, all they show is your tee-shirt.
What they need to show is the following traffic.
Bar end mounted mirrors are better able to do that.
Yes, you are correct.

I actually haven't set the angle on either...and I'm standing vs. sitting on the bike. When I'm on the bike, both have about 1/3rd of the rear being blocked by my arm... which I'm actually use to--it's the same as on my FZ1's stock mirrors. Not ideal, but livable.

I do have bar-end mirrors...which work fine, but I'm not a fan of the width they add.
Nice bike. I like what you have done so far. The front suspension can use some help. You probably know this since you have been lurking. Your build shows it. Don't make the mistake and destroy the stock exhaust to create noise. Keep up the good work. The charging system should not be a problem. The bike was not pulled out of a swamp. I've got over 20000 miles on mine and no problems. The 2nd set of mirrors pictured better than the round. :thumbsup:
Nice bike. I like what you have done so far. The front suspension can use some help. You probably know this since you have been lurking. Your build shows it. Don't make the mistake and destroy the stock exhaust to create noise. Keep up the good work. The charging system should not be a problem. The bike was not pulled out of a swamp. I've got over 20000 miles on mine and no problems. The 2nd set of mirrors pictured better than the round. :thumbsup:

Not sure what I'm going to do with the front suspension...I was thinking modern inverted forks, but I don't think I want to go that far...probably will re-spring and lower... the jury is out on that right now. Any Recommendations?

Definitely won't be chopping up the exhaust. If anything, I'll take the stock pipes off and sell as a unit...they're in great shape, can't justify destroying them. Then I'll probably get something a little more open--but I'll also probably go to a new carb set up, and pods, etc. when that happens. Not anytime soon, I don't think.

Good to hear about your charging system...When I had my '78 it had 18,000+ miles on it, and charged like crap. So far this bike's doing it's job... but I know at some point that won't be the case. Probably won't address it until it starts to become a problem.

Thanks for the input.
For the front suspension I went with emulators. 5twins did a write up on the Minton modifications to the damper rods. He said the ride quality is greatly improved. With your riding position road shock transmitted to the bars will make your ride uncomfortable. A google search Minton mods will give you some good advice to improve the stock forks.
It's been a little while since I last updated, and I've been able to do a fair bit on the bike.

I was going to build my own seat (Fiberglass) but realized that I may not be the best at this kind of craft. And while I'm not giving up the idea altogether, after an initial mock-up and seeing how detailed I wanted it to be, I decided that the seat fabrication will need to wait...so in the meantime I found the look/style and dimensions I wanted from Airtech, and ordered it. It arrived and looks perfect for the look I wanted. :)


I mocked it up on the frame...note: I didn't want to have to cut the rear hoop, and this seat fits perfect without any modifications. Very happy with the quality of it. I also had them build the upholstery pan which I'm going to get padded and covered by a local shop next week.


Because it's fiberglass, I wanted to build a frame for it so it wouldn't flex/crack... I traced the seat pan out of 16g steel, which also allowed me to see how to secure it to the frame.


I then used aluminum 3/4" square tubing across the pan, bolted it up, and it's still "light" but stiff... and it sits at the height I wanted. I also fabbed up a rear brake light and license plate holder using the rear fender mounts on the frame, so that the light sits right under the rear hump. I think it looks pretty clean.


Now that the seat is pretty much done... I moved to the headlight/gauges.

I wanted to clean up the front, so I replaced the large gauges/indicator housing with mini LED Tach & Speedo... wiring it took a little time, and needed some diodes for the turn signals, but I managed to keep the wiring harness stock, and everything works. I even moved the brake light warning to the oil warning light on the new speedo.


With those done, I then switched to new headlight bucket ears and headlight.


Here's how it looks as of today. Moving along. :)


Next up will be braided brake line. I also will be lowering the gas tank about an inch on the front mounts. I don't like how it sit at a slight angle, but that means cutting out the stock "holders" off the frame which I was trying to avoid. Oh well...

After that, I think I'll be ready for paint--Very excited!
Latest update for my build...

The tank, seat, and side covers are off to paint! Likely get them back at the end of January...can't wait!

Meantime, I got the upholstery done on the upholstery pan...I think it turned out great!


Also have been working on getting rear sets on the bike...bought some advertised on this forum... and got them linked up! simple install, bolts on to the stock frame without modification... looking forward to testing them out.

Brake side:

Clutch side:

Of course I still need to figure out the kick-starter as it won't clear the pegs... likely will go with yambits RD400 bent out kicker...while I know it's a lot thinner and not designed for this bike, I think it will clear both the brake pedal and the foot peg...so that in a pinch, I'll be able to use it. (Will use the electric start primarily).