The history of the Yamaha XS 650 is pretty well documented, and although the statuesquely proportioned parallel twin engine is used in almost every kind of custom imaginable, the bike transforms so well into a Café Racer, perhaps Yamaha should have done it themselves. So without further ado, let’s look at probably the best-looking Yamaha XS650 Café Racer in the universe, the Yamando.
Back in the day a good friend of mine used to compete in production races on a Norhon. As was usual in those days, bikers used the legendary Norton Featherbed frame to house just about any engine they could shoehorn in, Triumphs, BSA’s even Vincent engines. But my buddy had a 550 Honda engine lying around and thought why not.
Which is why, at first glance, I wrongly assumed that this particular bike followed along similar lines. On further inspection, and to my great delight however, the builder had actually taken the more difficult route and used the later Norton frame which housed the 750 and 850 Commando engines. Instead of bolting directly to the frame, the Commando’s isolastic motor mounts separate the motor from the frame by way of rubber shims. The system works great on Commando engines but is seldom used for custom builds.
The Yamando is co-owned by retired bike racer Toivo Madrus and part time production racer Brad Monk who won the Canadian Vintage Road Racing series on it. Here Brad explains why they took the less travelled route when it came to frame choice.
‘’The solid mounted XS race engines create a vibration so extreme, they actually make the bike a challenge to handle, and in the end will rob you of speed through cornering and straight acceleration. And all the while, you’re losing feeling in your hands going down the track.”
“This problem only gets worse when the XS engines are modified to create more horsepower which of course equals more vibrations. So much so, it’s very common for XS engines to literally shake the bike apart, even with lock wire and gallons of Loctite.”
Ironically, the standard XS650 was so popular with riders in the late 70’s because it actually vibrated like a British bike, but stock bikes don’t win races and over the last few years Toivo has taken the bore out to 750cc, fitted stainless steel valves, high lift cam, a Kibblewhite spring kit, and 38mm Mikuni’s. The crank, ignition, clutch, porting and primary gears have also been re-worked to produce a real white knuckle ride.
“Needless to say,” adds Brad ‘’the challenge of getting the engine to sit in the frame exactly right was important, otherwise the Norton frame would crack with the aggressive nature of the XS engine. Even the exhaust mounts allow the hand-made exhaust to slide forward and backward as the revs go up and down. It took Toivo many years to find the sweet spot for the two things to get along.” explains Brad.
This is actually the MK V version of the Yamando and along with its previous incarnations have taken Toivo around 1000 man-hours to turn into a championship winning bike. But like the man says, ‘’if it was easy everyone would do it.’’
A race winning bike with custom show looks, could it get any better.
Photos by: Andrew Wilcox