Yamaha's XS650 was introduced in 1970 as a powerful alternative to the British motorcycles that had been ruling the streets from the early 1970s and earlier. The XS650 retained much of the styling that made its British competitors attractive to riders, yet boasted a 645-cc, parallel twin-cylinder motor that offered a higher degree of reliability. Over its 15 year production run, the XS650 became Yamaha's best-selling motorcycle, with over 250,000 units sold worldwide by the end of 1985.
The 1970 to 1971 XS1
The year 1970 marked the production debut of Yamaha's XS1, the company's first motorcycle equipped with the four-stroke motor. The motor used a parallel, twin-cylinder configuration (similar to the motors used by British-made Triumph and Norton motorcycles), placing both cylinders side by side above the motor's crankcase. Unlike its British rivals, which used a two-piece motor and transmission arrangement, the XS1's motor combined the motor and transmission into a single unit to simplify construction. A 4-gallon fuel tank mounted along the XS1's frame fed a pair of Mikuni BS38 constant velocity (CV) carburetors, while the final drive relied on a drive chain and sprockets. A twin leading shoe drum brake was fitted on the XS1's front wheel, while the rear wheel was slowed by a single shoe drum brake. Although the 1970 model was only available with candy green paint, candy orange paint was offered for the subsequent 1971 XS1B.
The 1972 XS2
In 1972, the XS1B became the XS2, with the addition of a hydraulic front brake, an electric starter and Yamaha's Brilliant Red paint marking the significant changes made to the motorcycle. All three variations were rated for 53 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, with a maximum torque output of 40.1 foot-pounds at 6,000 rpm.
The 1973 to 1974 TX650
Yamaha left the XS2 unchanged for the 1973 model year, choosing only to rename the model as the TX650. By 1974, Yamaha deleted the slightly-redesigned TX650A's compression release lever, which was mounted above the motor's left cylinder, and added a more potent electric starter. Several internal changes were made to the motor as well, reducing its power output to 43.36 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 36.01 foot-pounds of torque at 6,000 rpm. Paint options for the TX-series were limited to metallic flake blue and cinnamon brown.
The 1975 to 1985 XS650
From 1975 to 1979, the newly-renamed XS650 remained largely unchanged from the previous TX-iterations. After 1978, the XS650 became available as either a Standard model or as a Special variation, which boasted cast alloy wheels, hydraulic rear brakes and a stepped seat for a decidedly more "cruiser-like" styling. The Standard received a slight boost in its power output, with 45.61 horsepower and 36.16 foot-pounds of torque generated at 6,000 rpm. The Special variations, however, generated 50 hp at 7,200 rpm and a maximum torque rating of 39 foot-pounds at 6,800 rpm. By 1980, the Mikuni BS38-series carburetors used on all prior XS and TX models were replaced with smaller 34-millimeter BS34 carburetors.
The XS650 on Today's Roads
Although the XS650 ceased worldwide production in 1985, the motorcycle is still a versatile and easily accessible machine today. The motor and chassis used by any of the XS or TX models serve as an excellent foundation for a reliable commuting vehicle, and can even be used for long-distance touring. Many motorcycle builders have also found that XS650 can provide the perfect framework for a custom chopper, bobber or cafe racer, thanks largely to the motorcycle's classic styling. While Yamaha's inventory of original parts is beginning to dwindle, several specialty shops have begun to sprout up around the world, offering a wide variety of reproduction and custom parts for the XS650.
- "Yamaha XS650: A Classic Japanese Motorcycle"; Motorcycle Classics Magazine; 2005
- "Yamaha XS650B Road Test"; Cycle World; 1974
- "Yamaha XS1"; Cycle World; 1970
- "Yamaha 650 Twins Owner's Workshop Manual": Pete Shoemark and Penny Cox; 1993
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