Yamaha’s XSR700 is a great bike, fact. Ask anyone, including the world’s top journos, and you’ll be told the same. I enjoyed the press launch so much I spent my own money on one, and then bought an MT-07 (nearly the same bike with it’s clothes off) as a tracker project. The only major thing that polarises folk is the fuel cell that sits on top of the tubular frame. It needed to be voluminous enough to enable a decent modern day range, even though the 689cc twin is so efficient that it sips juice with its pinky out. Take the stock bike apart and you’ll find the tank is actually two, beautifully pressed aluminium panels hiding a steel fuel cell beneath.
So far there have been few custom builders to try their hand at drastically overhauling the looks of the XSR without compromising Yamaha’s Yard Built mantra of customising without cutting the frame. Anyone can hack off a subframe and weld in a loop, but not everyone can design custom parts that fit as well, if not better, than factory originals. And perhaps more importantly fit as well for a customer without an extensive arsenal of tools or equipment.
Winston Yeh, founder of Taipei based Rough Crafts, isn’t a man to shy way from a challenge. He’s already had a go with the XSR platform in the form of an MT-07 (FZ if you’re stateside), producing the menacing looking Onyx Blade, and now he’s returned with a sleeker, sexier and more user friendly carbon fibre unibody conversion.
Out goes the steel fuel cell, replaced by a smaller aluminium unit which allows for a much lower profile design. The subframe on the XSR700 is testament to Yamaha’s commitment to simple DIY customising, the rear loop unbolts in seconds leaving just the main frame sections and the all important key latch. Winston wanted not only a quick-change system but one not requiring superfluous fittings. The carbon fibre seat/tank body panel made by Taiwan based MS Pro is held on by one fastener behind the headstock and the stock key latch at the rear, that’s it. No fiddly hidden bolts and hand gymnastics are required – clip, click, lift, done.
This presented Winston with a bit of a problem. Once the prototypes arrived at Rough Crafts HQ he couldn’t decide between a café racer or scrambler style of build. You’d think that this would have been ironed out in the sketching phase but the design is so versatile that it made sense to make one of each. Yamaha’s Yard Build project leader Cristian Barelli liked the idea so Winston finalised two kits, to be ready for the Motor Bike Expo in Verona, mid January. So here we have the café racer style Corsa Scorcher and the dirt oriented Soil Scorpion.
Rough Crafts’ builds aren’t just aesthetic tweaks, there’s always an excuse to showcase engineering excellence from other brands and push the performance envelope further than a manufacturer’s balance sheet will allow. Winston is a CAD wizard so the triple tree on these bikes was designed by him and machined locally to fit a YZF-R1 fork, that way there’s enough adjustability to cope with either the café racer or scrambler setup. Winston isn’t suggesting you enter the Dakar but for moderate green lane or fire trail use you’d be fine. More on that in a minute.
The Corsa Scorcher runs a pair of gorgeous custom carbon wheels by Rotobox and Beringer’s solid stainless steel rotor brake system, mounted radially thanks to the R1 fork. Beringer levers, perches and brake master cylinder feel classy and properly made. I’m of the opinion that it’s worth spending time and money on the parts of a bike that come into contact with your hands.
On both iterations a Shark Factory X2E rear digital shock is fitted. Want to feel like a member of a MotoGP pit crew? Fit one of these, you can patch into the shock’s brain with your smartphone and adjust settings. I thought that would be a bit of a novelty but it really works, switching between road (British wet and cold) mode and dirt (British cold and muddy) with just a few swipes of the Shark Factory phone app.
The engine is stock, again conforming to Yard Build policy, but that needn’t mean constricting the fun. Rough Crafts’ own design of velocity stacks with integrated filtration do away with the cumbersome stock airbox (it’s an engine out job to remove that). Bespoke headers were fabricated to marry with a YZF-R1 Akrapovič silencer, creating a glorious soundtrack. I’ve studied the bellow from a good few aftermarket XSR/MT pipes and this setup is one of the best yet. The bassy thump rises to and offbeat howl once the pin is pulled, truly addictive.
The cockpit is so minimal it’d have a Dane wondering where stuff was. Winston doesn’t always fit speedos to his project bikes but it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to have a mini digital gauge set into the top yoke, or fit a more traditional alternative. Again, not exactly rocket surgery these days with so many options and as the XSR isn’t hamstrung by a nannying ECU you can literally plug and play. I think I even forgot to turn the ignition off when swapping a KMH for MPH unit on my bike, didn’t matter a jot. The ignition on Winston’s bike now lives out of the way, under the seat, where the airbox used to be.
Gilles Tooling clipons from Germany are adjustable and feel premium quality, which is no surprise, their sticker is on Valentino Rossi’s M1. Lighting the way is a headlight and grill, synonymous with so many Rough Crafts bikes.
Needless to say I fell in love with the Corsa Scorcher when it arrived at the Bike Shed one rainy Sunday evening. Winston had been teasing me with development shots since the Eicma show but it’s hard to get an idea of just how sleek this bodywork is until you’re standing right next to it, or even better, astride the thing. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to try the café racer setup but given the horrendous January weather in London and seeing Winston nearly drowned during the video shoot… I didn’t mind all that much.
To prove just how easy the Rough Crafts kit is to fit, Winston popped around the corner to our mate Dean Stockton’s (artist D*Face) café and workshop Rebels Alliance to borrow some tools and a bench. Sure enough, with just one split pin and washer removed and the key turned, hey presto, the gloss carbon unibody was off, revealing the simple ally tank beneath.
Carbon wheels may look tasty but off-road they’re not likely to last long so a forged pair by Wukawa Industry and Pirelli Rally tyres were fitted. The spoke pattern and style is similar to the stock XSR wheel but much more refined, and lighter weight. The Soil Scorpion was supposed to have stock R1 discs fitted in a bid to work slightly better in muddy conditions but these didn’t arrive in time for the tight filming schedule, hence the Beringers you see in these shots.
Akrapovič is Yamaha’s aftermarket exhaust partner so it made sense to use another of their silencers. A high-level scrambler pipe from the official accessories catalogue has been modified to fit lower down in more of a flattrack position. If you own one of these bikes and haven’t changed the exhaust yet, you owe it to yourself and everyone with working ears to do so, immediately. Air filter supplier to MotoGP, WSBK, Moto2, Moto3 teams Sprint Filter have developed a patented filter material that’s not only waterproof, it’s water repellent. The pods were the only clean thing left on the bike at the end of the day’s off-roading, hence the lack of rear hugger or deflector.
Rough Crafts finned risers and Fighter handlebar complete the switch to a more dirt friendly riding position up front with the same MS Pro foot pegs and controls below. Saving the best until last Winston fitted the second body, with a grey camouflaged finish by Air Runner Custom Paint, sections of carbon weave still visible to show off MS Pro’s top notch job. Voila, an hour later and a different motorcycle was ready for a “light green lane session in the home counties” my suggestion to Yamaha for Bike Shed’s part in the filming.
You’d have thought Cristian would have learned by now that I’m not very good at riding gently and staying upright but there was an unsaid weight on my shoulders. Winston’s hard work and winter project had been flown in from Taiwan especially for the Verona show starting Thursday and filming the off-road piece was taking place on Tuesday, leaving just a day to clean the thing and drive 1000 miles across Europe. This was definitely not the day for heroics or my speciality move, the highside.
Some nice chaps from the Trail Riders Fellowship met us at the end of a very, very boggy and icy byway an hour outside London, camera men wrapped in toasty down jackets positioned themselves in the most sketchy positions while Winston watched on – no pressure then.
After a few tip-toe runs up the track, and 20 psi dumped from the fat Pirellis, the Soil Scorpion began to feel manageable. More than manageable as it happens. As reported on the original XSR700 launch, this bike is hugely confidence inspiring, and even in this stylised guise I had no problem letting loose with everything that the 75HP twin had cooking. The Akra’ pipe sounded tremendous, a proper bark but not overly loud or obnoxious. One must be considerate to other byway users, like the massive brown horse that I met on one of the runs.
With so much at stake, making it to the end of the day in one piece had to be a foregone conclusion, so I wasn’t able to give the give the camera the lurid lock-stop bashing sideways action it craved but I had an absolute blast. Seated, standing, axle deep ruts, water crossings, bogs, ice, the XSR soaked it all up and begged for more. Not only reaffirming my decision to buy one but potentially relieving me of hours of sitting and staring time wondering how to make the next stock bike pretty when I can’t draw, use CAD or measure things properly.
“Dear Mr Yeh, please could I order one of your.….”
The Rough Crafts ‘Faster XSR’ kit is eminently practical but that should be overshadowed by the fact that this is a wonderful looking motorcycle, in either setup. Winston has embraced a tricky set of parameters in the XSR’s architecture and proved once again why he’s one of the custom scene’s most respected builders.
Want to see both bikes in action… here’s official film