Farrell's Shade Tree Corner

                           Farrell Hope brings a different perspective (as noted in the title) to the 650 Central pages: A wealth of practical knowledge gained over, well, let's just    say, a  long time, stated in laymen's terms. 650 Central hopes that his views will help in the maintenance and enjoyment of our beloved XSs. Farrell has kindly consented to be contacted for comments or advice at:  fhope@new.rr.com


I’ve been “Fix–it Farrell” from an early age. At age twelve, I was asked to look at a BSA Winged Wheel, a 37cc motor built into the back wheel of a 28"bicycle, which wouldn’t run.   After tinkering unsuccessfully for three days, I was pedaling frantically, my feet just reaching the pedals on this enormous bicycle, when the motor suddenly burst into life.


I will never forget that glorious feeling of moving under power for the first time.  I was hooked on motorbikes forever more.


I have possessed mopeds and/or motorcycles ever since the age 13, that’s 50 years. There are currently 6 in my stable, including three XS650’s; my favorite rides.


Growing up in South Africa a half century ago, the cars and bikes we owned were 15 years old, and many of the roads were washboard rutted gravel.  So maintenance and repair was frequent.  Parts were either unavailable, or prohibitively expensive, and professional mechanics beyond our means.  So we learned to do all our own maintenance and repairs, using limited tools.  And we learned to improvise, and to repair rather than replace.  To this day I will foolishly work hours to repair a part that I can buy for a few dollars, not just because I’m cheap (which I am), but for the satisfaction I get from putting something back into service rather than throw it away.  And in some cases the saving can be immense.


I’m not suggesting you do this; it’s often false economy.  If within your means; buy proper replacement, or better yet, upgraded, parts.  These bikes are 30 years old now, and the stuff available for them today is far better than what was available at the time of their manufacture.  But I hope some of my suggestions will save you money in showing you how to maintain, troubleshoot, and fix your XS650 without breaking the bank or needing exotic tools, and at the same time give you the satisfaction and enjoyment it has always given me.


Shade Tree Farrell


Yamaha XS650 -The Quintessential Motorcycle

With the advent of the Model T Ford in the US, motorcycling passed from being a means of transport to being a means of recreation. It took a little longer in the UK, not until the introduction of the Mini in the fifties did a car appear that rivaled the motorcycle in affordability.

But today, in most countries, riding a motorcycle is a recreational activity only. Setting aside the "lifestyle image" group, the balance of riders ride for the emotional satisfaction that riding a motorcycle brings, and it is quintessentially a visceral satisfaction. There are a number of factors that contribute to that visceral delight; sound, vibration, feel, wind in one's face, precision, speed, power, torque, maneuverability and flickability, acceleration, oneness with the machine, satisfaction of doing ones own maintenance, etc. I don't need to explain it to this readership.

When one considers the above, it becomes clear that not every motorcycle can deliver all of these factors in equal amounts. Singles have the sound and the flickability, but not the power. The four cylinder multis have the speed and power, but not the sound or the vibration, and they tend to be bulky and overly wide. Rather like riding a very fast sewing machine. Maintenance is a nightmare. Only the twin has it all, only the twin gives one the full gamut of all the sensations that contribute to making riding a motorcycle the experience we all so enjoy. Three cylinders came and went, they gave up the benefits of the twin, without delivering the benefits of the fours.

However, size also plays a part. Make the twin too large, and the frame has to be larger to handle the power, the tires have to be fatter, and the size of the bike goes up by the square. It gets, longer, wider, heavier, quickly becomes a bus, and loses the maneuverability and flickability. Sure, it is the right machine to eat up endless miles of highway crossing the country coast to coast, but some of the riding pleasure is lost. So the right motor size seems to be between 600 and 900 cc.

Which brings me to the Yamaha XS650. It delivers all the above. In a good looking package, and is doggedly reliable. Mechanically, it is far superior to the parallel twins of it's day, and is better looking than the parallel twins being made today. The W650 gives it a run for it's money, but the XS650 is above all an honest bike. There is no subterfuge in the bike, and this "form follows function" contributes to it's looks and appeal. The W650 has a shaft drive to the overhead cam masquerading as a pushrod tunnel, this subterfuge detracts. The W650 also has too little chrome, and looks a little too Spartan. The XS650 has just enough chrome to make it stylish, without being ostentatious.

Whether one prefers a V-twin like the Ducati, or the more upright looks of a parallel twin is a matter of taste. I like both, but tend to the upright twin. There is no bike, including the most modern, that I covet above the XS650 I already own.

And that is my whole point. Not only do I think the XS650 was a great bike in it's day, I think it is still a great bike judged against any and all bikes, even those made today. Overall, it delivers all the factors needed to make motorcycling the visceral experience one seeks, and takes a back seat to no machine. It is the German Shepherd of motorcycles, it may not excel in any one particular thing, but it can do everything, and it can do everything well.

It is the quintessential motorcycle.



Farrell's Articles and Letters

A letter to a Classic Bike

A list of the XS650 Yamaha's foibles

Carb Balance Technique


Center-stand Technique



Diagnosing if a cylinder miss is due to electrics or fuel

Electric starter fix without  gear replacement

Excessive XS650 Blow-by

Mixture Adjustment

Poor Man’s Café Racer

Setting points type ignition on an XS650

Setting the valves on an XS650

Changing the clutch push rod seal on an XS650

Repairing a tear in the carb diaphragm

So Your Bike Chokes Off At Stoplights

Smoking due to worn valve seals?

If your XS650 with standard Yamaha electronic ignition has no spark.