MANY OF THE top dollar customs that grace these pages are built for one reason; to impress. But we’re just as enamored with motorcycles that look like they get ridden every day, with a deep connection to their riders. If you feel the same way, you’re going to love Norman ‘Sandy’ Sanders’ Yamaha XS650 scrambler.
Sandy has spent the last seven years transforming his Yamaha XS650 into the charming and eclectic scrambler that it is now. Clearly not in a rush, he tackled the project piece by piece, outsourcing the heavy lifting to a couple of hand-picked professionals. It was quite a task too, given how long the bike had been standing.
“The short version is that this 1982 Yamaha XS650 Heritage Special had belonged to my cousin in Houston, Texas,” Sandy tells us. “In around 1991, he left it in my father’s West Texas warehouse where it sat until 2016. He then gave me the bike, I took it out of the warehouse in April 2016, and this began the build that concluded in April of 2023, just before the Handbuilt show.”
If you’ve never seen a Yamaha XS650 Heritage Special, just imagine a regular XS650 mated with a cruiser. Yamaha created the variant to widen the XS650’s appeal, giving it pullback bars, a teardrop fuel tank, and a stepped seat.
The process of turning the old Special into a scrambler involved two very specific tasks. The first was to revive the tired old motor—and for that, Sandy turned to Chris Kelland at Limey Bikes in Austin. Chris specializes in old Japanese bikes, and XS650s in particular.
He rebuilt the motor from the inside out, re-boring it to 707 cc in the process. A Shell No.1 cam went in at the same time, along with a fresh pair of Mikuni VW34 carbs. Before he gave the vintage twin back to Sandy, he also treated it to a major external clean.
The second undertaking was all the custom work that Sandy envisioned. This time, he roped in Tyson Oak Carver—the brother of Eli Carver, whose retina-searing BMW we featured not too long ago. Tyson tackled all of the XS650’s fabrication and modifications, like the clever subframe and rack combo that sits behind the solo seat.
Tyson binned all of the XS650’s worn-out bodywork, then de-tabbed the frame and made some tweaks to accommodate a Yamaha XS750 fuel tank. The bike’s battery now lives under the tank, leaving space under the seat for the pod filters to breathe. Fenders from Lowbrow Customs bookend the Yamaha.
The XS650 stands a little taller now too, thanks to a pair of 19” Sun rims. They’re laced to a Yamaha RD350 hub at the front, and the stock XS hub at the back. The latter had to be modified to play nice with a new aluminum swingarm from MotoLanna, which is hooked up to a pair of YSS shocks.
Hanging off the right of the bike is a beastly two-into-one exhaust system from Delkevic in the UK. Sandy opted for the straight muffler option, rather than the conical mufflers that are so prevalent on retro-styled custom builds.
The XS650 also sports new handlebars from LSL, fitted with Domino grips, Motone switches, and new levers from Dime City Cycles. The speedo is a Daytona unit, the LED headlight comes from LSL, and the vintage taillight is from Dime City Cycles.
The tiny LED turn signals were Amazon finds, but they’ve been mounted differently at each end. The front units sit just behind the lower yoke, but the rear units have been cleverly Frenched into the frame rails.
Finishing touches include a tail bag from Wheelborne, and a seat cover that was made from a camel saddlebag that Sandy purchased in Afghanistan a decade ago. Then there’s the paint job; a stunning two-tone gray affair, executed by Leach Custom Cycles.
Sandy’s Yamaha XS650 scrambler might have taken seven years to see the light, but we’d say it was worth the wait. As we tick over into the weekend, we can’t think of a better machine to escape into the countryside on.
Images by Norman Sanders