The Abomination in My Garage

The Abomination is the Bike that Should Not Be. It is too horrible to contemplate. It is Evil, and it is Wrong. That is why it has been sitting there, gathering dust, for so long. Look away…

The Abomination can only be viewed safely one piece at a time.

-Seriously. To view this motorcycle in it’s entirety is to risk brain damage, or at least serious injury to your sense of aesthetics. To ride it is even worse. Though I never thought I would say this, I think I have finally found a Bad Motorbike.

It wasn’t born that way, mind you. Oh no. In it’s infancy, it was a 1979 Yamaha XS650 Special; one of Japan’s first forays into the motorcycle cruiser realm. Yamaha took a perfectly wonderful copy of a Triumph Bonneville and tried to make it into a “factory custom”. The 16″ rear wheel and slightly raked front end, the peanut-shaped fuel tank and stepped saddle all represented baby steps towards what we would eventually call the “Yama-Hog”, or Virago.

I’m told these were comfortable, stable, and well-behaved on the street. It was only when you tried to ride them fast on twisty two-lanes that they began to exhibit bad manners.

Why then, did my good friend Anonymous try to force one into the guise of a vintage road racer?

Well, it was the same combination of financial and relationship factors that endangers the mental wellbeing of many old racers when they get married and start a family. They sell the racebike(s) to make a down-payment on a house, and then sit and mope around said house every race weekend, while the wife picks out wallpaper patterns and carpet swatches.

It is a miserable period in their existence, and it sometimes breeds an unreasoning desparation. So it was for poor Anonymous.

He picked up the XS650 in bone stock trim for next to nothing. It had all the usual vintage Japanese motorbike maladies: Dead battery, gummed up carbs, and all periodic maintenance items due at the same time. Somebody had “moved on” in their life, and left the poor thing in storage. But the price was right, and he was without a hobby for the moment, so he smuggled it home and hid it under a tarp in his garage.

He began to scheme and scrounge through all the bits and pieces collected throughout a long and illustrious amateur racing career. The fairing from an old BMW, spare clip-ons from another old racebike, a boat-tail saddle from an old Harley Davidson Superglide, all of these were blended together into a Thing which, to his fevered imagination, represented an entry into the wonderful world of Vintage Road Racing!

Monster 001.jpg
It doesn’t look any better from this side…

Next came hours of drilling and safety-wiring. For those of you mercifully uninitiated, this involves breaking many tiny drill-bits in the process of boring holes in assorted nuts, bolts and your oil drain plug, through which you then thread mild steel “safety-wire”. Then you must twist those strands together and route them in a complicated and arcane practice known only to racers and aviation mechanics. This is done ostensibly for safety reasons, but I suspect it is really intended to assert the absolute authority of tech inspectors.

But Anonymous was determined to feel the thrill of the racetrack again, so he persevered. Through all the fabrication and innovation, all of Mr. Murphy’s interruptions, he pressed forward towards the objective. Do I even need to tell you that Anonymous is a fellow Marine?

Finally the day came, when he found himself at Brainerd International Raceway. With The Abomination on a trailer, towed behind the family mini-van, he registered to race. I have no idea whether or what he told his wife. But there he was, ready to whack that throttle and feel that rush, once again.

Although they received many strange, even pained looks from the inspectors, they passed tech on the first try. It probably hurt too much to examine so closely. They recognized my friend from races past, and could see the mad conviction in his eyes. In a rare moment of mercy, they let him go… Anonymous suited up and readied himself for the first practice session.

The Abomination ran well on 100+ octane race gas. It bellowed through it’s “economical” Mac two-into-one header. With nothing more to do, Anonymous twisted the grip and blasted through the gears down the long straightaway, headed for turn one.

He never told me exactly what happened next. Every time I ask, his face turns white, and his eyes get that thousand-yard stare. But he tells me this is definitely NOT a racebike, and I should never try to use it in anger.

I took it off his hands with the trade of a .22 caliber Browning Buckmark target pistol. I hadn’t used that in a long time anyway, and I was curious as to what I could do with such a crazy collection of machinery, all safety-wired together.

In the early years, I started it up once in awhile, just to annoy the neighbors. But I have never ridden it in it’s current configuration. Anonymous’ reaction was enough for me.

Someday, I will take The Abomination apart, and sell all of it’s racy bits to finance The Resurrection. I don’t know if it will be a Street Tracker or a Bobber. My tastes prefer the former, but the bike’s chassis begs the latter. For now, I test my fortitude by going out and looking at it, even sitting on it, once in awhile. Yes, it hurts. But that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

19 Responses to “The Abomination in My Garage”

  1. Bill Sommers Says:

    Yeah! Thats the kind of beast that we should all have in the far corner of the shop. I parted with my ‘80 XS last year, and do miss it, but do not miss the way that it handled when pushing beyond highway speeds. Lets just say that it misbehaved a bit.

    So, in its current form you could probably get away with referring to it as a “Street Tractor” couldn’t you?

    Have fun,

  2. Biker Betty Says:

    Wow, sounds like quite a mean machine. Hmm.. wonder what happened in turn one? Do all race bikes require safety wire? My fingers hurt thinking about the stuff, lol. As an ex aircraft hydraulic mechanic in the Air Force, “safety wire” brings back a load of memories. Many which involve being pricked in the fingers by the stuff. Everything I worked on required being safety wired in place. Another great post.
    Betty :)

  3. Marty Says:

    Gary, Thank god you live so far from Germany and even Vermont is too far for a weekend, otherwise I would be coming over to make you an offer to try to take your “Monster” off your hands.
    Thanks for sharing some of the rest of your garage, I feel much better about my own now.
    Keep up the great work!!

  4. The Snark Says:

    I do remember the XS. I once joked to a riding buddy who had one that the only way to make it handle would be to roll off a cliff and buy GS1000S Wes Cooley Replica. Not that that thing handled either, but at least it looked cool doing so.

  5. seagullplayer Says:

    I like to think I could have handled a full picture, but perhaps it’s best you judge that.
    Sounds like something that just needs the bugs ridden out of it…

    Rubber down

  6. Buster Brown Says:

    WTF is that bit protruding down on the RH side aft of the shock absorber, two pieces of strap welded together with the acorn nut on the end?

  7. gary Says:

    Does poor Anonymous have the initials M.F. ?

  8. combatscoot Says:

    Such an unholy collection of parts might be good as a ratbike for the street, with the addition of a real muffler for stealth and lights for legal purposes. Certainly would scare away the thieves.

  9. Rob Says:

    Gary – I have a virtual twin of the heart of your abomination, an ‘81, but in stock configuration. It has the added charm of no maintenance for at least the last few years of it’s active life before it developed a charging problem. Next it was placed into a corner of the garage for a few years to allow the gas and moisture to do their usual dastardly work. The final insult was to stick a battery charger on it long term and allow the battery to boil it’s acid out on the frame and chain.

    Apparently a XS can make a decent street tracker. I find that it may be cheaper to allow someone else to restore and convert the bike, and then do them the favor of taking it off their hands when they grow tired of the bike. Congratulations on not getting stuck with the initial restoration work.

    I picked up my XS for a cheap winter project thinking I could always part it out. Indeed parting it out would be the only logic option if you value your time or finances. Of course I cannot resist the urge to at least get the bike to start up.

    I have been informed that if you replace the worn stock PLASTIC swingarm bushings with the brass upgrade it will handle well enough to give you a fighting chance at life. In stock form it’s a death trap when pushed too fast or aggressively.


  10. Rob Says:

    Gary – It looks like your vacuum petcock is leaking, along with a problem with at least one of the carb floats that is allowing gas to leak out through your air filter housing. Guess how I know…it’s that virtual twin thing.

  11. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Wow, you folks have been busy… (rolls up sleeves) Well, let’s get to it.

    Bill: When viewed from the front, The Abomination looks decidedly untractor-like. It’s more like something from Mad Max.

    Betty: I got the impression that this bike was just Wrong all over the track. He really didn’t go into any detail. Safety wire… you were a hyd mech? I was avionics myself, for awhile. RF-4Bs, what a loud, fast, and rare bird.

    Marty: I’m glad I could make you feel better about your garage. Mine is in for a good cleaning, come Spring.

    Snark: Welcome back! You know, I’ve often thought about trying to find a replica slimline Featherbed frame to put this in. That would cure the handling problem. But then I would be back in the Cafe Racer business, with a target on my back.

    SGP: Full disclosure – I couldn’t get the whole bike in the shot. That part of the garage is the shop, walled off from the rest so I don’t have to heat the whole space. It is too narrow to back off far enough to fit the whole bike in the frame. But it reads better the way I set it up, doesn’t it?

    Buster: That was some bracket attached to the Superglide seat/tail light assembly. I’m pretty sure it was there to hang the exhaust on the Harley.

    gary: No, I’m pretty sure the initial for Anonymous is A. ;^) But if you know Rider One, maybe you should ask him…

    CSJohn: You may be onto something here. It would certainly draw a lot of attention. “I am the Night Rider! …” Darn, I forgot the rest of that rant.

    Rob: I have heard about the charging problem. That one is supposed to be about as common as the Doohickey issue on KLRs. Ditto the plastic swingarm bushings. As for the leaky petcock and the carbs, well, you know… Let any bike sit long enough and these things will happen. This bike is going to be a Winter-long project, maybe next year. We’ll see…

    Ride well,

  12. Glenn Says:

    I am the Nightrider.
    I’m a fuel injected suicide machine.
    I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!
    Sent to strike down the unroadworthy!

    Near as I can remember.

  13. Biker Betty Says:

    I was a hyd mech, but while stationed in Republic of Panama I was also an assist. crew chief for an O-2 (civilian term: Cessna Skymaster. That was my first aircraft ever and I loved working on them. They were nicknamed: Push me – Pull you, due to the front and rear engines. I got to work with avionic mech’s occasionally. After three years I did cross-train into an office job. The C-141’s were a bit intimidating for short me, lol. And working in freezing weather at Andrews AFB, MD was no fun either.

  14. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Glenn: That looks about right. Perfect for this beast. Thanks!

    Betty: My MOS, 6372 Sensors Tech., was specialized to one squadron, VMFP-3. Stationed out of MCAS El Toro, in sunny So. Cal., that was where I learned to split lanes and strafe apexes.

    Since we were the only tactical reconnaissance squadron in the `Corps, we travelled everywhere, all the time, wherever there was a mission. Mostly tropical climes. I rode for awhile in Japan, and the Philippines, and would love to go back there again some day.

    Sadly, both my squadron and my old base are now relegated to history. But my memories are still fresh. All I have to do is smell jet fuel, or a certain kind of food, or put on an old Rush or Iron Maiden CD, and I am transported back to the 1980s…

    Ride well,

  15. AZ Lucky Says:

    Perhaps you should turn the abomination into the abominable snow-bike. It might keep you ever-so-slightly warmer than the scooter (I’ve noticed I get colder on scooters…), and if it’s a 650 you can probably lift it yourself.

    …And you won’t feel bad spray-bombing it flat black.

  16. Dave Eakin Says:

    Oh, yes – the XS650 Special (with the Dana Carvey “church woman” intonation). As you already know, the plastic swingarm bushing replacement will cure much of the suspension instability – as will new rear shocks and front fork maintenance. The Special frame pretty much mandates the “bobber” rather than the “cafe racer”, but have you seen the new HD “Nightster”? This might be a more appropriate asthetic target – especially if you double the front disks (too bad about the Special’s rear drum). Of course, your main source of parts/info will be

  17. Sidewalk Dan Says:

    Ahhh – cordite, Alberto’s, wet-downs, and blood stripes (before the days of Mothers of America thank you very much).

    S.D. out (MOS 1371 – man, can I be any more of a type A???).

    Somewhere I hear Springsteen cranking out “Glory Days”…

  18. Bro Shagg Says:

    Boy that picture brought back memories… First bike I saw that really got me was something called a Midnight Special, I think. Same thing as yours, black paint, but most of the the chrome plating was gold- not real, I’m sure, but a striking look, nonetheless. Never owned one, but believe it or not, one of those Yamies got me interested in all motorized things with two wheels.

  19. Gary Charpentier Says:

    AZLucky: That’s a possibility. I saw something called “ATTRAX” at the CW Motorcycle Show that would make it work. See the next blog entry…

    Dave: This has been my dilemma all along; I’m not really a chopper/bobber/cruiser guy. I’d really prefer to build a Street Tracker, but the chassis on this bike is all wrong for that.

    Sierra Delta: Oh, don’t get me started…

    Bro Shagg: The Midnight Special caught my attention as well. But back then I knew nothing about chassis geometry and handling. I just thought it looked cool, and that was good enough. I know a lot of riders out there who never get past that point…

    Ride well,