Keith Thompson took on his first custom bike project and his Yamaha XS650 is a stunner. Thanks to friends, family and beer as currency the bike now roams Portland.
Most of us have been there before. We’ve toiled with the idea of taking on our very first project bike. We pour over magazines, sacrifice precious hours of our day to the internet and we attend events to see what inspiration we can draw from the professionals.
However, none of this means anything until you shake hands, transfer cash and disassemble your project at home, stand back and realize you now have to finish what you started.
Typically that's the first word uttered out of your mouth when reality hits and you maybe, just maybe, have taken on more than you can chew. But as an old wise man one time once said somewhere, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Keith Thompson of Portland, Oregon toiled through the various stages of project bike hazing and came out the other side Shawshank style; if his 1981 Yamaha XS650 is any indication. For Keith, his good friend from work (Paul Troiano) can be credited with providing the catalyst to his custom bike appetite.
Paul has a backyard fabrication and custom shop that rivals the square footage of his actual home. So, naturally, when Keith would pop by from time to time and see what “parts” were lying around he found a way for Paul to let them go (We were told beer and cash were involved). What Paul “let go” added up to about a bike and half of goodies. Various odds and ends, tanks, fenders, wheels and go fast bits that would ultimately become the bike you see before you.
Remember this is Keith’s first crack at building a custom bike, so the learning curve would be extended on this one, close to two years to be exact. What didn’t take two years was making sure the motor was up to snuff and his butt would be as comfortable as possible. Once Keith flushed the motor, cleaned and tuned the carbs and fabricated a real DIY stainless steel exhaust system he sent out his one-off seat pan to Ginger at New Church Moto in Portland. Some things you just have to take seriously on a build and for Kieth leather and reliability were paramount.
The next two years was a game of sophisticated Legos. Searching for that right part to make the bike behave and look just how he envisioned it looking. Not to mention plenty of beer and lunches for friends and relatives who kicked in time and expertise to help him realize his vision. tTake, for example, the tank. What once appeared to be a coke can crushed by a strongman competitor has since been ironed out and painted by his good buddy Lorin Holmes. One look at the craftsmanship and we’d be hard pressed to think Lorin would take on another tin for a water, hops and malt payment plan.
You can credit the retro-modern 650 logo and graphics to a few sit down sessions with Keith's brother-in-law, Rorie Thom-Hollister, who happens to be the graphically gifted one in the family.
Getting the right stance is no easy feat. You can endless toil over forks, rake, suspension, tires and handlebars or you can go with what’s known to work and apply it. Like leveling out the ride of the bike with a slightly taller wheel and dropping the bike a good one and one-half inch. Keith opted to go with a set of XS500 16” front and 18” rear wheels. Complemented with retro-fitted brakes; the front is a Willwood set lifted off a Harley-Davidson with the rear sporting a 2004 R6 brake kit.
When we spoke to Keith we were impressed to learn that he’s decided to take on another build. “This last project took me two years, so I’m thinking that I’m a little wiser now and should have the next one done within a year.”, Keith explained to us. We certainly hope he’s right, after hearing about what he’s done so far with his 1976 Honda CB550 we’re chomping at the bit to see the final product. Wouldn’t you be excited to see one with a R1 forks and a mono swing-arm from a FRZ400?
It really is amazing what you can get done with generous friends, a truck load of parts and beer money. Share with us what your “budget” build is. We’d love to feature it!