Bob's Yamaha XS850
By Ross Sharp - 05 Jan 16
Trying to explain to a non-biker what all the fuss is about is generally a waste of breath, use all the flying analogies you like it's unlikely to sink in the same as persuading them to give riding a go. It doesn't really matter at what age this happens, the effect tends to be universal. Bob Jackman, a computer programmer from Seattle, Washington, is one such example. He got the gist of what his buddies were on about but if you can remember Wesley Snipes in White Men Can't Jump, Bob couldn't hear Jimmy. That was until the day he took a spin around a car park on a mate's bike, days later and a piece of crap, high mileage Yamaha XS850 was sitting in Bob's garage. Luckily Bob is a practical chap and was undeterred by his rash purchase; "Looking back, I can't believe I actually bought it. It was in rough shape, barely ran (struggled to hit 50), would die at stop lights, had melted electrical bits and was pretty obviously altered by a hamfisted previous owner trying to make it look cool. But, I've always been the mechanical type (and actually went to school for electronics engineering a while back), so I took it on! I figured it was a good, cheap, first bike and I'd just fix/clean/upgrade things a little at a time - this way I at least had something to ride." Sounds to me that Bob was born to do this, he has that optimistic outlook that's able to completely mask logic whilst offering great excuses as to why ridiculous amounts of time could be channelled into such a financially nonsensical folly; "Anyone who wasn't as brand new to bikes as I was at the time was probably laughing at me the whole time for thinking that it would be either cheap or simple. And sure enough, the more I dug into things and the more bugs I tried to fix, the more of the nightmare I uncovered." "I knew it was going to need a lot of attention, but I wanted to ride so I did as little work/downtime as I could manage, while making a list of everything that needed attention. Due to terrible compression, I had to do a top-end rebuild (my first engine work), but otherwise, I managed to keep it on the road for most of the season. But as soon as the cold weather rolled in, out came the grinder! I took it ALL the way down to nothing, and started the rebuild... Still working a full-time job, I spent as many nights and weekends as possible in the garage (thank god for no kids!) I ended up moving house cross-country in the middle of this, so it slowed things down a bit, but now it's done!" It appears that Bob has been hiding quite a talent behind all the Java Script and HTML mumbo jumbo. His bike has been rebuilt nearly exclusively from stock parts (the tail section is KZ650), modified to achieve a custom look. Obviously components like the Koso gauge are aftermarket but the bracket is a one-off. As is the 3D printed battery bracket underneath the fuel tank, exhaust header and link pipes, LED rear light and the machined triple clamps. In fact the only part of the project Bob didn't tackle were was paint and upholstery. He made up for this by machining the top clamp to incorporate the relocated ignition and flush mount buttons, two for the Koso display and one for remotely opening the garage door. They even light up green in a green hue to match the paintwork. Dear Señor MacGyver, you may stand down, Bob Jackman is in town. None of this work was carried out in a fancy workshop, just Bob's garage with only meagre facilities which all adds to the satisfaction factor. "One of the more subtle points I'm particularly proud of was managing to get ALL the electronics either under the seat and tank whilst keeping that rear triangle completely open. I also took great care to attach the wires/cables that had to run down to the engine behind the frame without using zip ties. If you're not looking for them, you can't tell the big starter cables are even there!" Once happy with the dry build Bob stripped the XS right back to the frame and sent that off for powdercoat leaving distraction free time to work on the mechanicals. The original Hitachi carbs required a rebuild to cure leaking vacuum petcocks and jetted to suit the open pipes and cone filters. The entire braking system was refreshed with new seals and ultra-slim hydraulic lines to suit the now lower positioned clip-on bars. 35 years of West Coast damp had made a mess of the exposed alloy engine cases and fork legs so the arduous task of polishing them up took more time than some of the arguably more important processes. To crown that achievement Bob sent a few accent pieces off to the local electroplaters for a coat of real copper which was then acid-aged back in the garage for a more vintage and less bling finish. The lines between shed and pro-builds are becoming ever more blurred and we're continually amazed at the quality of craftsmanship that rolls out of everyday garages, kitchens and spare bedrooms. But perhaps more important than that is that the world gains another convert. Two-wheeled missionaries continue to spread the motorcycling sermon inspiring creativity and we welcome Bob to the church of custom. No doubt there'll be more from him in 2016, after all, who ever built just the one bike.