Editor’s Note: Casey Anderson is one of my all time favorite motorcycle dudes. He builds, customizes, restores, and now he even races. The guy has a solid attitude about bikes, women, freedom, and life in general. The following are his words about his latest restoration, a 1975 Yamaha XS650:
2020 has been unique, to say the least. Many of our lives were changed this year and I am not excluded from this. Even with all of the changes we all have made, I must admit, I fell in love this summer. I fell in love with a life long enemy of mine.
If you are reading this, it is safe to say that you are into motorcycles. If you are into motorcycles, then it is safe to say that you have fell in love with a motorcycle once or twice in your life. It is no different for myself. I have fell in and out of love with many motorcycles throughout my life. Some I still love yet they are no longer around and some of my loves are still in my life.
1975 Yamaha XS650 restoration – Video #1
Video #1: Casey gives a walkthrough of the XS650, to figure out what he’ll start digging into in the morning, including stripping the bike down, vapor blasting the wheels, and putting some new tires on.
This story is about a type of motorcycle that I have always hated. Yes, hated. The Yamaha XS650 has been a bike that I have thoroughly despised. I had always viewed them as the kid at all of your small town parties that seems to always be the first one drunk. Yet, you only see him at these parties and nowhere else. Just drunk at the keggers and usually dressed in obnoxious clothes and so out of shape that he can barely hold a conversation without gasping for air. From afar, I would just stare at him and shake my head. Yes, these were my thoughts about the infamous Yamaha XS650.
As most of you are, I too, am a Craigslist junky. Scrolling through the postings deciding if the seller is out of their mind on the price or not. Hell, even messaging the seller a question knowing damn well you’re not going to buy it. However, once in a while there is that posting that makes you say, “Damn it, I have to go buy it.” This listing, was a bone stock 1975 Yamaha XS650. This would be the beginning of my summer love and it was only an hour away.
When I pulled up to the house, my hypothesis on XS650’s was proven true. It was not proven true through the bike, yet through the owner. The owner was the drunk guy at the party. He was the guy that you avoided. Crock shoes, Marlboros, Natural Light, oversized t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and introducing himself by saying, “You know, I’ve had so many calls on this bike, I could raise the price on you.”
1975 Yamaha XS650 restoration – Video #2
Video #2 – Casey’s got the bike stripped down to the frame with plans to work on the timing chain and the valves, along with cleaning and pressure washing the frame and some other stuff.
This, was like meeting your high school sweetheart’s drunk father. I had the same emotional feelings shoot through me that you get when the DMV employee tells you that you can’t register your oddball motorcycle. To put it bluntly, I did not like this guy one bit. I simply told him that I will buy the bike and if he wants to grab the title, I will grab him the cash. After this, he insisted on trying to start the bike via the stripped out starter gear. I had to go through the horrors of hearing the gear just grind away. Even after I explained that there is no need to try to start the bike, he insisted on holding down the start button. This was pure torture. Imagine watching your high school sweetheart’s father beat her and you can do nothing about it.
One of the best things about this gentleman was his inability to close his mouth. Due to this, I received the entire back story on this bike and his life. This elderly man had always been into bikes, even as a kid. He went on to tell me tall stories that I declined to believe about riding a wheelie on a CT90 all the way through town. Turns out, back in the mid 2000’s he had to sell his Honda VTX to pay property taxes. His boss noticed he was in a bad mood and once finding out why, the boss, told him he is welcome to have “the old motorcycle behind the water pump shed.” Yes, this old motorcycle in question was this XS650. Apparently, the original owner abandoned the XS there not long after it was purchased. The gentleman brought it home and throughout the years worked on it and slowly brought it back to life. This XS650 of only 1,000 something miles, now became his corner store beer runner for the next 15 years. Yes, this bike spent almost 15 years being fired up daily to simply ride to the corner store (2 blocks away) to buy the fresh twelve pack. This lasted until last year when he purchased his first Harley bagger.
1975 Yamaha XS650 restoration – Video #3
Video #3 – This one has girls twerking in it. Also, Casey puts together the front end, does some brake work, rebuilds the shocks, gets some new charging system brushes installed, and admits he’s falling in love with this bike.
Upon driving home with the bike in the back of my truck, I couldn’t help but feel like I was 17 years old and running away from my small town with my high school sweetheart in the passenger seat. I had no idea where this new direction in life would lead me. All I knew is I had to rescue this bike.
The XS sat in the corner of my shop for a few months while I stared at it late at night as I drank my cocktails and thought of all the possibilities that one could have with it. Should I chop it? Should I build a cafe? Should I just give it a tune up and ride it? I do think motorcycles are almost like people. People that cannot speak to us directly. Almost like a dog. Even though a dog cannot speak directly with us, you find a common language. One can do this with motorcycles. It will take some time to understand the motorcycle language but when you do, you start to understand their history, their story, and how they were treated. Let’s face it, the majority of all of the bikes I work on are older than I am. They have been on this planet for as long as my father has. Sometimes, as long as my grandfather has. They have more stories about life than I do and I wish they could tell me their stories as they hold a cheap beer and walk around my shop. Who was their first? What was their first wreck like? What girls have been on the back? I’d ask this bike, “How many years did you lay in the dirt behind that shed and how did you ever end up there?”
At the age of 38, I have started to look at bikes a bit differently now. No longer do I automatically reach for the grinder and start hacking them up. Now, I run my hands over the dents and imagine the stories. I might even make stories up that I see fit. The faded, original paint is what excites me now. The faded sticker on the rear fender with the now out of business, small town dealership that this bike was purchased at. Motorcycles are 500lbs of history and stories.
1975 Yamaha XS650 restoration – Video #4
Video #4 – Those are some squeaky clean carbs. Take a look at 5:58 for the before and after. Wiring and oil and (a nasty) oil filter are next.
I decided to preserve this bike. No chopping it nor making it into a cafe. This bike needed to be preserved. Preserved it so it’s stories can continue to be told and enjoyed. WIth this decision I rolled the XS up on the work table and stripped it down to the frame. The goal was to bring out the original paint and have it be mechanically worthy of being a daily rider. As some as you know, making an XS650 a problem free daily rider is not an easy task.
With the engine pulled and the frame empty, anything that had factory black paint on it was degreased, sanded, and clear coated. This made the original paint absolutely pop. This, to me, is better than a fresh paint job. I’ve always felt that a fully restored motorcycle is a bit fake. It is not real. You are imitating what once was. Much like guys at car shows that dress in the rock-a-billy style, pretending to be from the 1950’s. It is not original. It is a copy.
1975 Yamaha XS650 restoration – Video #5
Video #5 – No spoilers, but, it’s time to try to fire up the bike and see what happens.
This restoration took me a few weeks and as with all restorations, you become very intimate with the bike. You find out all of it’s deep secrets. That is your job, to go deep into the bike and find all of the damage. During this time is when it dawned on me. The obnoxious kid at the parties, it’s not the kid’s fault, it’s his parents fault. This is just like all of the XS650’s that I have come across that put the bad taste in my mouth. It was not the bike’s fault, it was the owner’s fault. You see, every XS650 that I have experienced has been some ratty chopper or at least an attempt at a chopper. None ever ran quite right. Hell, most would barely start. They all leaked oil, smoked, and were obnoxiously loud. This is just like the trailer trash parents of the kid at the party. It dawned on me then, while working on this XS, that it is not the bike, it is the owner. It was as if I found myself working a job with the kid from the party and finding out that deep down, he’s a really good guy and just has had no real direction nor love in his life. At this moment, is when I fell in love with this XS650.
Once the restoration was complete, I fell even deeper in love when I rode it for the first time. A 45 year old motorcycle that feels new is something to be experienced. I really do not know how many motorcyclists will actually get to feel this. How many people actually put in the time and effort to make everything mechanically perfect? I doubt many. I could try to explain this feeling in words but, I can not. It must be experienced to fully understand. Just think, this XS650 went from spending most of its life behind a shed, laying in the dirt, to a summer night being rode along the ocean with a blonde on the back. This, is what motorcycles are to me.
When everything was said and done:
I’m going to plug Casey’s links one more time, because you should really check out what he gets up to: