1981 Yamaha XS 650



Today I own two motorcycles and am always on the look out for another one. I enjoy taking long road trips, day trips, or even just driving around town on the bike. Before all this though, there was a time when I did not know that I needed a motorcycle. Ignorance was bliss as I had never ridden on one. Then out of the blue my father purchased a Honda Nighthawk 750. I was taking a break from college to visit my parents when he showed me the bike. It was (is) beautiful.

The Nighthawk is as close to a modern version of what I think a bike should look like. It is not a hunched over crotch-rocket, or a low seated cruiser. It is somewhere in-between, a standard bike that is good in both roles but does not excel at either. It was an extremely windy day when I climbed on back for my first ride. This was not my father's first motorcycle, just his first in about 30 years. We took off down the road, crossing a bridge over a river by our home. I remember very clearly that we were tilting at a 30 degree angle just to offset the wind. I thought we would fall for sure. It was an uneasy feeling maintaining that lean. It did not feel natural at all. After the short trip I was able to reflect on the wide open feeling you get on a motorcycle (even on back of one). It was like we could go anywhere we wanted. I think it was more the feeling of freedom than anything else that prompted me to get my own.

It only took about two weeks after that ride for me to decide on a bike for myself. I had to be practical because I was a college student without much money. My mother made it clear I should not get a bike. I can understand why. Many of my relatives have had retired from motorcycle riding after a severe accidents. She didn't want the same for me. That meant I had to go it alone on the cost of a bike.

I looked in the paper every day for new adds for motorcycles. It became apparent very quickly that most anything with the Harley name was out of my range. Then anything newer than 1992 was probably too expensive. Dirt bikes were out automatically because I wanted to do some long distance traveling. I finally decided on an 1981 Yamaha XS-650 Special. It was almost a forgone conclusion that I would buy it even before seeing it. I think that bike is beautiful, more so than any bike I have seen since. To me it is what a bike should look like. For all its good looks however, the bike I wanted to buy had some serious issues that would have to be addressed before it was safe to ride (more on that later). I think it was this first bike, more than any magazine photos, editors top picks, or my friend's choice of bikes that influenced how I would look at motorcycles and what I expected out of them. The 650 was not fast, fuel efficient, or smooth to ride, but it looked great and was a blast to ride. The handle bars shake as the bike sits in idle. This may not be from gobs of horsepower waiting to escape on the pavement, but it adds to the overall experience you get when you climb on and go for a ride. I love riding that bike.


Vital Stats

Coming soon


Work Done To Date

When I first got the bike, it needed some work. This was to be expected as the bike was older than I was (barely). The battery was shot, the tires where bald, and the bike would refuse to get about 50 mph. That did not deter me from buying it. After all, I was paying $1 per 1cc of displacement and don't think I could find a deal like that anywhere else.


  • Purchased
  • New front tire
  • New chain
  • Replaced worn alternator brushes
  • New battery
  • Dismantled and cleaned the carburetors (allowed the bike to get above 50 mph)
  • Replaced a missing rear-view mirror
  • Cleaned up the overall bike


  • New rear tire


  • Removed the engine for a complete rebuild
  • Replaced all rubber seals and gaskets
  • New pistons and piston rings
  • Cylinders machined
  • Bead-blasted top end, later painted it black to match original finish
  • Replaced worn clutch plates
  • New cam chain
  • Rebuilt carbs with new seals and plugs


  • Replaced a fried ignition system with a new electronic ignition system (Boyer)
  • Diagnosed a clanking noise coming from the case as a worn out crank shaft bearing. Labor to replace it is very expensive and hard to find
  • Purchased a used 81 650 engine for a straight crank shaft with good bearings, stator that is within spec, and upper and lower case halves that fit correctly and don't leak oil. My current engine is a combination of the best parts off my original and new-to-me engine


  • None yet



1st Rebuild Here are some pictures from the first engine tear down and rebuild. I mainly took pictures just how I could put it all back together the same way.
Melted Ignition These are pictures of my melted pick-up ignition component. After trying to find a replacement for this part, I just decided to replace the whole iginition with a Boyer model.
Boyer Installation These pictures were taken as I was installing the Boyer ignition system.
Misc These are just random pictures I have taken.
General Photos Here are some general pictures of the whole motorcycle.



Useful Resources

650 Motorcycles If you look long enough you will usually find the information you need at this site
Mikes XS THE place to get almost any new part you need for the 650, whether it is OEM or aftermarket
650 Central Another place to get parts for the 650
XS 650 proboards Here is a forum that exists solely for the XS-650. I cant tell you how many questions I have had answered on this board. Before you post remember that this is a fan board for a bike that has not been made in over 20 years. It may take a couple of days but believe me you will get a response.
Wiring Diagrams This is a great resource for wiring diagrams for the 650. In particular, I love the color diagrams. It makes it soo much easier figuring out what you are looking at.
Model IDs This handy resource lists the bike model, code, and serial number for a given production year. This is particually useful if you are looking at used engines and want to get one for your year motorcycle like I was
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