Build Thread...Special to Cafe Bike


Lucille, Betty, Demi, Gretel & Big Sue money pits.
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near Harrow, ON, Canada
Hi All:

Well, it is time to begin my first build thread. My goal is to convert an '81 XS650 Special into a nice practical cafe bike. The parameters are:
- create a bike that is as safe, reliable, functional and comfortable as possible;
- no cutting of the stock Yamaha frame;
- use the stock engine and mainly stock electrical system (with reliability improvements such as modern reg-rec unit);
- keep conversion costs to a minimum (to leave more money available for BEvERages - I AM Canadian afterall);
- use a stock or possibly slightly modified seat pan so that the seat is lockable on the bike, easily removable without tools and the bike has a usable helmet lock on it;
- have some fun with my friends!.
While I really like to see the beautifully done restorations by folks, I ride my bikes and so I plan to do a good job on it, but I won't be stripping it right down initially. I will get it running and make it safe and reliable and I will install the new components - and ride it. Then I'll work away on it over the coming years to make it prettier. I guess I am simply too much of a Type-A person to wait till all the powder-coating and polishing is done, before actually getting to ride it.

I bought the donor bike last month from forum member Lakeview and it is complete and in solid shape - and I will be keeping all of the stock parts in case the next owner wishes to return the bike to stock when my widow sells it to him / her (...;) - just kidding about the widow part...). The bike came with two seats - a really nice one, which I will keep intact, and a rougher one, from which I will harvest the steel seat pan/base. The bike isn't a runner - quite yet - but the electrical system components all seem to work fine (yay!!) and it turns over well and has good compression. As soon as it warms up enough to work in the garage, I'll get it running. I will certainly need to do the brakes, fore and aft, before riding it and getting it safety checked.

I have chosen to model my bike on the beautifully done cafe racer built by forum member Brassneck (check out his album) and the 1989-91 Honda GB500. Essentially, I want to a bike that is a view of what Yamaha might have built in response to the GB500, but using my XS650. To do that, I have collected the following parts in addition to the donor bike:
- XS750 fuel tank from a salvage yard in London, ON - it is pretty good, not dented and not too bad inside;
- new petcocks, fibre washers & screws, and a new fuel filler cap from XSDirect (MikesXS in Canada);
- a set of really nice steel '76-79 sidecovers from forum member Satch39;
- a set of beautiful XS650 emblems for the side covers - cast in pewter by forum member Resto;
- a snazzy Yamaha tank decal in the British style from Brassneck (to be printed on the vinyl cutter at our local public library, which also did the side cover decals on my 1976 XS650C);
- a set of clubman bars with a fairly small drop (from a local chap who has a huge hoard of parts);
- rear-sets (from VintageRider58 - extremely nicely made with folding pegs so the stock kicker will work);

I still need a cafe seat - but I've got a line on a couple of them locally, so that is underway. We'll have to see how I do with the bars: I may have to go to a set of flat "drag" bars if the drop on the clubmans is too much and I can't get comfortable with the rear-sets. Getting older sucks, but its better than the alternative I guess...

Since its too cold outside, I have started doing some preliminary work on some of the components. This morning, I delivered the XS750 tank to a friend who owns a machine shop. He's a fellow member of the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group ( and has restored a spectacular Norton Commando – but he also likes XS650s (its good to be "ecumenical"). When doing the Norton, he built a tank-tumbler to remove interior rust from the fuel tank. Its sort of like a light-duty portable cement mixer: consisting of a frame which is clamped to a workbench and an electric motor and gear/pulley drivetrain that rolls the tank over and over in all three axes. It is a very clever machine - this chap has talent. You should see his welding.

He puts in a few litres of water and a handful of large sized aquarium gravel, seals the filler neck and petcock holes, switches on the drive motor to three days later – you have a nice clean shiny (inside) fuel tank...and its all done with no harmful chemicals or nasty paint strippers. Very cool and much easier on the arms than the POR15 treatment that I did on my '76 tank. Don't get me wrong, POR15 is great stuff and much superior to the Kreme product which most shops around here still use (because it is impervious to ethanol) and I would certainly use it again if I needed to - but rolling a gas tank around for several hours with the various cleaners, etchents and the sealer compound, is pretty tough on the arms.

Anyhow, I should have the tank back sometime next week and I will see if I can post a video of the tumbler in action. In the meantime, I will start on a rebuild of the front master cylinder and brake caliper plus do a bit of a survey on the rest of the bike to see what else it might need.

I'd like to really thank the forum members who have helped me thus far with parts, advice, encouragement and of course, the donor bike: Lakeview, Brassneck, Resto, Satch39, VintageRider58 and his son JRod10, GeorgeOC, Mailman, DanielBlack, LittleBill, RetiredGentleman, Fredintoon, Funky, YamadudeXS650C, 650Skull, Michaelo, nwwa, MrTwoWheel, NewAgeRocker, TimeMachine,, DADDYGCYCLES, 5Twins gggGary, and Grizld1 (and sincere apologies if I have left anyone out). Thanks in advance for your encouragement and helpful advice....

Oh - one more thing: that snazzy MAC Performance system that I scored in December will be going on this bike and thanks to GeorgeOC, my '76 will have a nice shiny (and UNdented) stock system on it this summer, in addition to a beautiful shiny fender and set of stays.



PS - I have not yet figured out how to insert photographs in sequence in a post, nor how to insert a video. Any advice or tips would be welcome.


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Haha! Ooh I'm excited for this one! I've seen you quietly gathering parts, I figured you were up to something! This thread is on my watch list for sure!
Too cold to work in your shop? I have two words for you.... Space Heater!

PS What a great use for that new MAC exhaust!
This'll be a true forum's bike with bits and pieces from so many. Looking forward to returning the encouragement you give so regularly!

Thanks very much DB - I really am looking forward to getting this old gal back on the road and you are quite right about the many contributions to it.

excellent post Pete and a really great project.! I'm looking forward to following your build thread

Its exactly what I have been contemplating for my 79 Special. Like you I love the evocative image of a cafe racer but I'm not sure if my old back will stand for it,...or indeed my nerve to ride it lol.

Somewhere there is a thread of converting an xs650 to a cafe whilst retaining all original parts and fittings etc so that the bike can be returned to original at any point in the future. if I find it, I'll post a link if it contains anything useful.
Looking forward to your build, I am currently working on an 81. I have the same 750 tank and am still contemplating whether I want to install. I have been looking for a petcock and gas cap and have read some of your other post on the matter. Keep the updates and pics coming....
Good morning all!

WER: Thanks for the help on posting pics & vids - please leave them up till I have a chance to read and try them out.

peanut: As for the other cafe build thread - I think the one your referring to is Brassneck's bike. He has done this job - and his bike is just what I am aiming for.

TimeMachine: thanks so much for that kind offer - I'll keep everyone posted on what the project needs as we go along!

ZeroXS650: The XS750 fuel tank mounting requires a bit of metal working but it appears to not be too big a deal and lots of folks have done it. I have compiled several good notes on this topic and will post them when the time comes. NOTE: I am going to try to leave the stock 650 tank mounting "ears" on the frame - from a quick look at where the tank ears are situated, this looks to be possible.

The issues of the tank cap and petcocks are complex to explain but simple to solve:

FILLER CAP: I found that the fuel filler cap from my red '76 XS650C fuel tank also fits the grey 750 tank I bought from the salvage yard (I've been told that it is a '76 or a '77) and so I have simply bought one of those filler caps from XSDirect: p/n 20-0033 for about $33 CDN. Its Chinese, but looks nice, fits fine and it even came with two keys.

PETCOCKS:The vacuum petcocks that were stock on the 750 can be replaced by NON-vacuum units for an XS650 - BUT the '76 XS650C petcocks DO NOT FIT. The big difference is the spacing of the petcock mounting screw holes: the 750 tank requires 46mm - which matches the spacing on XSDirect / MikesXS part number 20-0019 (check this listing on the Mikes site). These parts are intended to convert the leaky '79-'84 vacuum petcocks on XS650 Specials to non-vacuum operation - and so I bought two of those (p/n 20-0019 for around $50 each) and indeed, they do fit the 750 tank. A benefit is that all the heartburn associated with vacuum petcocks will be gone!

As I pointed out in another thread some time back - manufacturers tend to use simple and generic parts like seals, fasteners, electrical switches, reg-rec units, petcocks and filler caps across their entire line of cars, bikes, chainsaws, outboard motors, toasters, or whatever, to cut costs and simplify supply lines. That's why parts listing application lists are such powerful tools in restoring older equipment. Believe it or not - there are parts on 2017 Yamahas in showrooms today that are identical to parts used on our 40 year old XS650s, right down to the part numbers. Finding this info can be a challenge - but it makes finding the parts themselves waaaaayyyy easier.

Anyhow - today is cafe seat day, so wish me luck! The issue I'm having on the seat is that the '81 Special frame uses a lift-off type seat mounting arrangement rather than the earlier hinge type. The lift-off style has two slotted brackets on the frame, back near the rear loop. Those brackets are a wee bit wider than the rest of the top rail of the frame and the cafe seat needs to accommodate this width, but most cafe seats are a little too narrow. Anyhow, today, we'll see how the local chap's seats measure up. He said he will let me bring them home to trial fit them on my donor bike (nice guy).


Sounds like you have got it worked out and well on the way with a good plan.

Another way to post pics............Open the file with the pics, (don't have to be resized but it makes the transfer faster), Reduce the site page so the file can be accessed at the same time.................... Drag and drop............. Then wait for Thumbnail/Full image button to come up and choose which one to use.

Where ever you place the courser in the written passage is where the pic will be inserted.
The problem is that sometimes I am posting from an iPad (you can tell which ones are these by the number of spelling mistakes or oddball words...) and sometimes I'm on my laptop.

Thanks for the advice - I'll work it out (or maybe hire a 13 year old kid to do it for me). :banghead: