IN 1982 there seemed to be a trend to manufacture road bikes with rather bland, slab sided dimensions by the major Japanese brands. A lot of naked, four-cylinder, commuter type machines with big donks, big seats, average handling… nothing wrong with that, but nothing particularly interesting either… maybe with the exception of the Katana. There was a bit of a trend for turbo-charging around the era, but generally the things were pretty vanilla.
So why would someone want to search the classifieds for a bike from this period to turn into a chopper I hear you ask? Coz they’re all pretty cheap and mostly unwanted is why… and to build something a little different of course.
Dan at Unstoppable Empire isn’t going for the big twin, parts catalogue machines that seem to litter this genre of motorcycling nowadays. He’s more of an ol’ skool, “build something out of what you can get your hands on without having to mortgage the house” type of guy, hence this Yamaha XJ650 custom you see here.
Beginning with the frame to get a feel for the final shape and rake of the bike is always a good start and so the frame on this project got the chop!
While the XJ has a shaft drive, it means there are limitations, it was important to keep the alignment in check and the length is also set, so the drive shaft was set and the standard wheel was retained.
A couple of steel struts per side were fabricated and grafted to the frame to become a custom built hard-tail and give the bike the lines of an old school chopper.
There’s a pair of rabbit-ear handlebars, hand-made by the Unstoppable Empire crew, mounted on top of the springer with a Dakota digital speedo nestling at the base of them.
Up front, nothing shouts out ol’ skool like a set of springer forks and Dan managed to source a six-inch-over DNA unit to hold the front wheel on the deck.
Switch blocks and levers are the OEM Yamaha units.
Night vision is taken care of by a Bates style headlight which was hand carved by an Indonesian artisan who also did a matching tail-light and the seat.
The seat started as a solid aluminium casting before the hand chiseled design was applied, a process that took four weeks alone to complete!
Tin-wear comprises of an after-market fuel tank, while he rear guard is from a Honda CB250, both have been aqua dipped for the base design, with a black flame applied over the top.
The battery box is custom made, as is the sissy bar which comprises a bike chain topped with a set of knuckle dusters.
The original exhaust header was retained but ends with a S&S slash-cut slip-on, set at the same upsweep angle of the rear of the frame.
The engine remains stock apart from the removal of the restrictive OEM air-box in favour of a set of pod filters for clean breathing.
For a bit of a different look, Dan spent ‘too many hours’ diamond cutting the fins on the top end of the 650.
This exercise was started some time ago to prove that a cool chopper could be built from a less than desirable base unit and I think Dan has hit the mark. There are a few items to tweak to make it roadworthy, but it’s close to completion.
When asked how it rides, Dan replied, “It rides like a pig!” But what sort of true artist ever created something to be purely practical?
Words : JT @CrotchRocketMotorcycles; photos : @iShootPix
You’ll see more of the custom Yamaha at Kaela Elisabeth And The Unstoppable Empire