I love the Yamaha XSR700, but it’s not a particularly attractive motorcycle in standard form. It looks like Quasimodo and Barbara Streisand’s love child. But, there is no doubt, it is a truly excellent motorcycle. Once riding one you’ll be so focussed on the road ahead and enjoying yourself that looks become somewhat irrelevant.
The chassis is a real peach. Sure, a fairly ripe one that could benefit from firming fork inserts and a shock upgrade, but overall the XSR700 is a pure fun machine. It’ll wheelie all day long, apparently, and changes direction with telepathic inputs. See my original Ride Report from the 2015 press launch here.
And the CP2 (crossplane crank) engine is simply divine. The silky smooth delivery from the 689cc parallel twin is juxtaposed by a deep, off-beat soundtrack that’s hard to better. Bin the stock exhaust and you’ve got a bike that when rolling through corners on part throttle, if you have a good imagination, is ever, ever so slightly reminiscent of Rossi’s M1 GP projectile. Time your shifts right in the mid range and there’s a satisfying pop, and on full chat it really howls. A 270 degree firing order should be part of the EU5 regulation for twin cylinder motorcycles.
I think it’s so good that I spent three years building a flat track racer around this glorious lump. More on that in Sideburn Magazine – (a feature soon to follow on the ‘Shed).
Four years on from the launch and I’ve been enjoying the XSR700 once again, this time in nostalgic XTribute trim, complete with high Akraprovič pipe, knobbly looking tyres and ’70s XT500 inspired fuel tank. The joy is still just as plentiful and the novelty is yet to wear off. I love these bikes – to ride. And although Yamaha’s Yard Built program has been going for a decade now it’s still capable of prompting some workshops into creating some fabulous custom versions.
This feature wasn’t planned, as you can probably tell, I just simply felt like sticking a few recent custom XSR700s up here while I wait for my Ténéré 700 to arrive…. tick tock…. Admittedly not an XSR but the motor is the same and I therefore know it’s going to be a hit. I just wish my insiders at Yamaha had been a little more trusting with information regarding the seemingly endless delays in production. I’ve had a crash damaged MT-07 (subframe aside, the same as an XSR) in storage for 3 years that could have been the base for a WR450 chassis’d, CP2 powered faux Ténéré.
Anyway, here are a few of my favourites XSR based Yard Builds. There are loads of links so be prepared to have a zillion tabs open, especially on the Bike Exif website. Their deal with Yamaha means they get the scoop on the latest from Yamaha’s Sport heritage division.
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JVB Super 7
Subtle, yet still one of the best. JVB somehow manages to keep all of his designs incredibly simple yet they always look just right. We’ve been huge fans of his work for over a decade. Read the original feature here (which includes evidence of my absurd facial growth, not sure what was going on there). And as imitation is apparently the finest form of flattery, here’s my attempt to copy Jens’ bike – words and photos, and here’s our YouTube video.
Rough Crafts Corsa Scorcher
Winston Yeh, founder of Rough Crafts – one of the custom scene’s heavy hitters, Yard Built two bikes in one thanks to this clever carbon unibody. He brought both versions over from Taipei to the Bike Shed a couple of years ago so we could shoot a video for Yamaha Europe. After filming part one at the Shed Winston popped around the corner to Rebels Alliance to borrow their workshop where he transformed the slick-shod Corsa Scorcher into an off-road version – the Soil Scorpion.
Rough Crafts Soil Scorpion
Grasshopper by Hookie Motor Co.
I enjoyed having a poke around this quirky conversion at Bike Shed London 2019 a few months ago. It’s actually a kit that can be bolted to any XSR by the customer and utilises an aluminium fuel cell to achieve a narrow waisted design, rather than cloak the awkwardly wide, OEM, pressed steel unit. The guys from Hookie are German, and are doing a good job of upholding the nation’s tradition for build quality.
Bike Exif feature click here
Another Bike Shed show bike was this fabulous example by Istanbul based Bunker Customs, exhibited at Tobacco Dock in 2016. Turkey might not seem like the obvious epicentre of the custom scene but I spent some time chatting with its founder Can Uzer and he’s the real deal. As is their exquisitely finished scrambler.
Bike Exif feature click here
It’s good to see a Brit based outfit (and previous BSMC exhibitor) being given an opportunity work their magic and this nostalgic scrambler from Lamb Engineering, talented machinists and bike builders based in Wiltshire. Cunning use of the pillion peg hangers allow a pick-up for the twin Öhlins shocks and an original fork and hub from a leggy IT is mounted using a very trick, sliding bracket arrangement. Yard Build rules do not allow chopping or welding of the donor’s frame, adding complication to these factory backed projects. Lambs ‘Alan’ perhaps demonstrates the most extreme adaptation of an XSR to date.
See the feature here and check the video below.
But for me the toss-up for my overall favourite though comes down to two very different projects. One really annoyed me and one made me smile.
This Greek based outfit really pissed me off. Prior to going down the full-on custom framer route for my racer I spent hours and hours procrastinating with plaster of Paris, foam blocks and chicken wire in an attempt to make a viable tracker shape that incorporated the XSR’s annoying frame outriggers. I swear Jigsaw’s founder Petros Chatzirodelis had been reading my mind as this is pretty much what my grey matter had been telling my hands to shape. Isn’t it lovely! So nice in fact that I contemplated buying a kit for my battered MT. Sigh.
See the full feature and stack more photos over on Bike Exif.
Capêlo’s Garage & Elemental Rides
Nuno Capêlo & Ricardo Ricardo are favourites here in the Shed. A couple of years ago they entered a pair of beautifully built bikes and drove a BMW from Portugal to Tobacco Dock with both bikes on a trailer, wowed the crowds and then drove home. Their work is first class and it’s no surprise that Yamaha Portugal commissioned a Yard Build.
The Yamaha IT influenced result is stunning, and it felt like it might just work too. I threw a leg over the bike at this year’s show and fell in love, as did fellow fan Gareth (BSMC Shopkeep).
See the Exif feature here and the video below.
I could go on and on but you get the gist, the XSR700 is a great platform, if you’re brave enough to deal with the awkward frame and fuel tank. In fact the latter needs binning straight away to achieve truly handsome looks. As proven by the Lamb, Capêlo and Jigsaw builds. It’s so bulbous that most attempts to cloak it with a dummy cover end in tears.
If I was a sponsored by Yamaha I’d insist on using the Jigsaw bike for a few flat track races and the Capêlo TT700 for general hooning around and trail riding.
There are loads more examples of successful XSR conversions, check the links below and see which floats your boat. And keep an eye on eBay and Craigslist as there are banged-up bargains to be had for not a lot of money. Like the MT I sold too cheap – self face slap emoji!!!