Most of the traditional custom motorcycle styles sacrifice rider comfort in the name of looking absolutely fabulous. Riding a rigid bobber or old school chopper epitomises the freedom of the 1960s, but after completing 300km of a 700km ride, most of us, who are not blessed with cast iron butts and kidneys, would be questioning why the hell we removed a perfectly adequate rear swingarm and suspension and replaced them with a rear section which should have been sponsored by our chiropractor. The same can be said about completing a long ride on a cafe racer with low clip-on handlebars. Eventually your neck and shoulders feel so sore that actually ever being able to walk upright again, without scraping your knuckles on the ground, becomes a real concern.
I recall the agony of the final 200km of an 800km ride on my previous Harley, which was fitted with 18 inch high ape hangers. We had constantly averaged over 130km/h whilst riding and were now heading into a strong wind as we travelled down the South Coast from Durban to our final destination. It felt as though I had been crucified. I could not ride faster than 100km/h without tears welling up in my eyes, but I would not have changed this for the world! It was all part of the adventure. For some of us, riding inappropriately equipped and uncomfortable motorcycles over long distances is very much part of the thrill of riding our motorcycles.
Most motorcyclists do not appreciate this masochistic sense of achievement and uncomfortable old school custom motorcycles are generally ridden over shorter distances. Thankfully, current trends are to build custom motorcycles which are more comfortable to ride. These new custom styles are as creative as they are practical. Head turners that can be used as a daily ride as well as covering distance relatively comfortably. Our featured Yamaha XS400 is a beautiful example of a comfortable custom motorcycle.
The Yamaha XS400 was produced from 1977 until 1982. It is powered by a 400cc parallel twin engine which produces 36hp at a high 8100 rpm. The pistons are offset at 180 degrees to reduce vibrations. Unlike its competitors’ engines, the XS400 has no counterbalancer and vibrates under 4000 rpm. Over 4000 rpm the vibrations disappear and the wide spread of similar torque from 4000rpm to 7500 rpm means the 400cc engine pulls strongly over a wide speed range. A top speed of 175km/h is possible through its six speed gearbox. An interesting self cancelling indicator system was introduced on the XS400. It was connected to the speedometer drive and would cancel after a certain distance had been covered. Electric and kick start are standard. I have often stated that South African motorcyclists turned a blind eye to smaller capacity motorcycles. The XS400 suffered the same fate, only worse. Yamaha were offering their legendary RD400 two stroke model next to the XS400 on the showroom floor. Although the performance difference was small between the two models, the reputation of the RD400 and the frantic way it delivered its performance, meant that very few XS400’s made it onto our roads. The chopper styled XS400 Special fared far better and was a popular motorcycle.
This Yamaha XS400 “Brat Tracker” is the latest creation to leave Tiago from OneOne Customs workshop in Germiston. He has combined the styling of a Japanese brat styled bobber with the practical elements of a street tracker. As usual, Tiago has completed almost all the work on this lovely motorcycle himself. The quality of the finishes is outstanding. The original XS400 petrol tank of this ’79 model has been retained and resprayed, as well as a shortened and painted original front mudguard. The rear mudguard was specially fabricated by Tiago, as was the wide seat, which was upholstered by Germiston Upholsterers. In keeping with the stripped down looks of a brat, side covers have been discarded and the wiring harness simplified with the electrics hidden. All the lights have been replaced with new items.
The original 18″ wheels with their disc brakes have been retained, blacked out and fitted front and rear with 3.50-18 trail tyres. The street tracker ruggedness is practically enhanced by the fitting of Yamaha TT500 rear shocks. Wide handlebars make the motorcycle very manageable. The front suspension is standard but fork boots create the old school look. An aftermarket, large 1990s style speedo has been installed. Tiago made the two-into-one headers and exhaust. OneOne Customs’ work is continually setting new standards. Never complicated, always clever.
The only tears in the eyes that Dhiren, the proud new owner of this super XS400, may occasionally get will be tears of joy whilst riding this comfortable motorcycle. He will leave the crying in pain to those of us who have not yet learnt our lesson!