Some folk make our lives very easy indeed. This Brat-tastic XS650 is a local London build, put together by friend of the ‘Shed Marcel Ortmans. Sporting fine Lemmy inspired facial hair he can often be found helping out at our events, so be sure to say Hallo. In the mean time he spins a good yarn, so in his own words, here’s a brutally honest account of how his beloved came to be.
“I’m originally from the Netherlands, but have lived in London for about 16 years now. I only got into motorbikes about 5 years ago, but as soon as I got on one I was sold. First up was a Yamaha YBR 125 Custom and then I quickly moved onto my Harley Iron. Being an architect I can’t help but look at design critically and want to shape things just the way I like them, so it didn’t take long for me to start modifying the Harley even though I hadn’t ever wielded a spanner in anger. First bolt on bits but then progressing steadily to more custom and fabricated parts.”
“Seeing all the beautiful creations on websites like the Bike Shed and Bike Exif I decided to have a go properly and try a complete build. I’d always had a hankering for an XS650 and when the opportunity arose to get one at a reasonable price I jumped on it and was soon custodian of a 1978 Yamaha XS650E, a workshop manual and had registered with the XS650 forum.
I decided on an XS as I love the shape of the engine and there are many aftermarket parts available. I decided this build was going to be taken apart down to the last nut and bolt; cleaning, repairing, replacing and learning all the time. It took a while, but you see the results in the images.”
“The plan was to strip the bike back and rebuild it using elements I’d seen on other bikes and also add some of my own ideas, all in about 6-8 months, ready to ride it down to Wheels & Waves 2014. That didn’t happen….at all. In fact I didn’t even get close. It wasn’t that I had bitten off more than I could chew, I just had to chew a lot longer than I’d planned.
For a perfectionist like myself that can be quite disturbing, but once I managed to just go with whatever the bike threw at me the process became far more enjoyable. In the end it took me just over a year to get to what you see here and I probably spent far more than I should have. But that’s not what it was about for me. I learned new things (like patience!) and acquired new skills, made new friends and feel a real sense of accomplishment. Priceless as they say.”
“Initially the work went well, I had the bike stripped down to it’s component parts in about a month. At the time I didn’t have any idea about color scheme or specifics, just a general direction. But as I was stripping the bike back and it revealed the scars and patina it had earned during its lifetime, I decided that I was going to try and restore as many parts as I could and not try and hide the history.
I left the peeling paint on the calipers after I cleaned them up and sealed them in lacquer and although the top half of the engine was cleaned, re-bored and painted, the lower half was just cleaned of the worst muck. The rear mudguard was rusted to shreds, but I managed to rescue a small portion (although it still needed to be patched). When I stripped the tank one side revealed the faint ghosting of where the Yamaha logo had been painted and I decided to leave the tank in bare metal to show this and the dents it has.”
“When the bike was completely stripped I got to grips with the frame itself. After de-lugging it a new seat pan/battery box was made and a whole bunch of parts went to the powdercoater to be finished in a satin black. Upon their return, reassembly started. And so did the ‘learning experience’ or ‘pains in the proverbial’ as I like to call them.
It was bearings and oil seals initially. First I had trouble getting them out and now it was a bit of a struggle getting the new ones back in. The new needle bearings in the swingarm possibly being the biggest pain and only after ruining one set (expensive!!) they finally went back in. Once I had the rolling chassis going, the engine came back and assembly progressed reasonably well. One of the brake calipers developed a leaking bleed nipple when I started bleeding the brake system. Unfortunately it could not be saved, but Ebay brought a solution. “
“In keeping with my plan to preserve patina, I tried to repair rather than replace many of the mechanical parts of the bike like the speedo drive, the rear drum brake and the clutch wormgear. All parts taken apart and painstakingly cleaned (earbuds and toothbrushes!), broken items were replaced and repainted if required before re-assembly. But as much as I tried to stick to this, some things just needed renewing or upgrading.
I sometimes had to be creative to achieve what I wanted, and forgo originality. For that reason it has passenger pegs made from Harley Sportster shifter pegs, a Honda CBR600 starter solenoid, irrigation piping to create the oil breather system and table feet to hold the idiot lights and key ignition in the top yoke.
The next issue was getting the bike started using the new Shorai battery, an entirely new (and thoroughly researched) wiring loom, fresh plugs and a Boyer micro ignition. So in theory it should have been easy. It wasn’t. At all. After checking everything more than once and redoing the wiring loom it turned out I was unlucky enough to have a faulty Boyer box. But the nice people at Boyer exchanged it, no questions asked. The bike rumbled into life and not long after that it was successfully MOT’d!”
“However this was not the end of it. In fact I have probably spent more time ironing out gremlins since, then I spent on reassembling the bike! It started as soon as the ride back from the MOT. Back home I noticed it was leaking oil, badly. Eventually I traced the source to an oil feed line that had not been tightened enough, but while I was looking I discovered a snapped bolt in one of the inspection covers. As it had already been helicoiled in the past, it made for a very nerve-wracking procedure.
Then the clutch decided it didn’t like being in first gear and would stall the engine each time (it also didn’t like selecting anything above second gear), so the clutch had to come out again. In the end re-aligning the gear selector and replacing the clutch worm gear, pushrod and some new clutch screws thrown in for good measure fixed that issue. Next it turned out that the battery wasn’t charging. After a lot of prodding with a multimeter I found the stator was grounding out. Luckily I was able to source an original working one, added some new brushes and that issue was resolved as well. Phew.”
“But through all that one issue kept cropping up. And this time it was not the bikes fault. It was mine. It turned out that I was a bit crap at kickstarting the bike. I had planned to make the bike as minimal as possible and make it kickstart only, but not being able to start the bike was becoming an issue. Kickstarting looks cool, but only if you can do it in 2 or 3 goes. I admitted defeat and sourced a secondhand starter from Ebay. A quick refurb with new brushes, seals and paint and another rewire of the bike brought the starter motor, relay and the all important starter button into play.
Which brings me to where I am now. The bike is running and I’ve taken it for a few spins already, Sid’s even been to the seaside for an ice cream. There are probably still a few minor things to sort out, but I can actually ride it….with a great big grin on my face.”
Quite the journey! And while not technically built in a shed, the sheer variety of inappropriate locations the bike was put together in is epic:
“Most of the work was done in the communal garage underneath the building I live in. But I did the grinding of the frame on my second floor balcony midwinter and all the cleaning at my dining table in the living room. The initial assembly of the bike (until the wheels went on) happened in my kitchen and my spare bedroom served as tool shed and parts store! Sometimes a bit of a drag, but it did mean I always had to tidy up and stay organized.
Obviously I tried to do most of it on my own, but on some occasions I had to resort to ask some people who actually know what they are doing for some help. You know who you are!
Was it worth it? Financially probably not, but on every other level it was. Would I do it again? I have a 1979 BMW R80 waiting already….so watch this space.”
A top job all round, and Marcel also took the rather lovely pictures, talented bugger that he is.