Triumph is killing it with its latest Bonneville platform, churning out a variety of models that fascinate everyone from retro-minded Boomers to 20-something hipsters. Encompassing roadsters, scramblers, standards and cafe racers, the platform has huge crossover appeal to a vast swath of riders.

But Triumph isn’t the only manufacturer with a history of producing classic inline-Twins like vintage Bonnevilles. Yamaha had a 16-year run with its XS650 lineup that began in 1969, pumping out around 500,000 variants until the last one in 1985.

Like the original Triumphs, the agile XS650s used a parallel-Twin motor with a 360-degree crankshaft layout. The XS’s 654cc engine was the largest in Yamaha’s inventory until the ill-fated twin-cylinder TX750 debuted in 1973, followed in 1975 by the XS750 Triple. While the XS650 never achieved the legendary status of the Bonneville, it’s achieved a modest cult following among custom builders who want a different take on retro authenticity with Japanese reliability.

Late last year, I sat down with Shun Miyazawa, Motorcycle Project Coordinator at Yamaha, who is a key player in Yamaha’s year-old Sport Heritage line. He’s been at Yamaha Motor USA for about a year following a stint at Yamaha Motor Europe, where he was a core member for the XSR900 project. Thus far, the Sport Heritage family consists of the XSR900, SCR950, SR400, Bolt C-Spec and VMax. It’s kind of an odd mix of modern and retro, with vast performance differences.

Duke’s Den: What Is The Yamaha Sport Heritage Line?

Thus far the SH line is quite limited, so I suggested to Miyazawa that surely there must be more motorbikes on the way that will flesh out the SH family. Talking to manufacturer reps about future product is a process akin to pulling teeth except more frustrating, but still we try.

He doesn’t deny it, which I accept as a yes. But what could be next for the Sport Heritage family? To me and my sensibilities, the logical next step in would be a remake of the XS650. After all, half of Yamaha’s Sport Heritage line’s name is heritage.

“The 650 vertical-Twin is so beautiful and has got quite some character,” admitted Miyazawa-san. “People love that bike, and it’s the first four-stroke machine from Yamaha, so it’s an icon and we need to pay certain respects to it.”

Here’s one of the ways Triumph answered the question of how to reinvent a classic model that meets modern noise and emissions regulations. I'd like to see Yamaha attempt the same strategy with one of its classics.

Here’s one of the ways Triumph answered the question of how to reinvent a classic model that meets modern noise and emissions regulations. I’d like to see Yamaha attempt the same strategy with one of its classics.

Hmmm, needing to pay respects to the XS650 isn’t the same as agreeing with my suggestion of a reimagined XS650, but I continued down that path. I note the new Triumphs are relatively big and heavy, mostly because they contain engines that displace 900cc to 1200cc. Doesn’t that, I ask, leave a sizable opening in the market for Yamaha to introduce a 650cc parallel-Twin?

“I like your personal view on that,” replied the agreeable Miyazawa, “and I take it as a good suggestion.”

Shun Miyazawa headshot

Shun Miyazawa’s poker face.

Well, agreeing to a loose concept idea sounds promising, so I probe with other questions.  I ask if an air-cooled engine could be viable in this modern era of stricter emissions regulations.

“Technically speaking, it can be done,” Miyazawa cooly responded, noting that ultimate performance would be limited without liquid-cooling.

“The air-cooled look isn’t the only way for Yamaha to inspire younger-generation people – it’s not a must,” Miyazawa cautions. “I think today the most strict regulation could be from Europe in 2020, Euro-5 standards, and there is big talk about maybe air-cooled engines won’t be surviving that new regulation. But having obviously friends from Milwaukee, there will be a way. Nothing is impossible.

“I think having an air-cooled engine gains certain criteria,” Miyazawa continued, “starting from the look, nice vibration, mechanical feeling, being easy to customize. But there are loads of things which we or a consumer could potentially lose, starting with the weight, power efficiency… If people really love the look, there is a way to do it. But maybe at this moment it’s not hitting our vision, let’s say.”

2018 Yamaha XS650 Concept

So, Miyazawa-san, what do you think of this rendering created by visual wizard Jim Hatch based on my fanciful vision of what I believe should be on the drawing board at Yamaha. We liberally cribbed from Triumph’s playbook: engine cooling fins augment a radiator hidden between the frame’s downtubes and a throttle body disguised as a carburetor. A 270-degree crank with a counterbalancer, like the FZ-07, would also mimic Triumph’s mill. A kickstarter like the SR400 carries on to satisfy the retro vibe even though an electric starter would be incorporated.

Okay, then, if any OEM is developing a new motor, it’s more likely that it would use some sort of liquid-cooling, and if it was to be retro-themed, it would have clever arrangements of a radiator and coolant hoses that are mostly hidden from view like the latest Triumph modern classics. Keep the cylinder fins to augment cooling and to present retro visuals, also like the Triumphs. And then bore out the engine in a couple of years to bring it up to around 750cc, which could foster a performance-minded version like a cafe racer.

“Yeah, yeah, I could see that,” Miyazawa responded with a smile. So I asked if he’d like to work on a project like this.

“Yes,” he laughed, “it could be fascinating, but I’m not really allowed to say anything for the future. But I think that viewpoint has got certain sense and advantage.”

2018 Yamaha XS750 Concept

In my product-development strategy, I’d bore out the engine after a year or two to create a larger displacement, perhaps resurrecting the XS750 nameplate. And I’d add scrambler and cafe racer versions to the platform, which would help amortize the costs of developing a new motor. And I’d live in a mansion on the ocean…

Duke’s Den: 1977 Yamaha XS750 Review (Of Sorts)

“There was a big hype a few years ago for cafe racer, and now it seems like scramblers are equally attracting, and it could also be a neutral Universal Japanese Motorcycle – UJM – which could be taken to any kind of direction,” Miyazawa observed. “We have so many choices, but it’s up to us to find the best balance between where our hearts go and where our consumer’s needs are coming across.”

Earlier in the interview, I had asked Miyazawa what the Sport Heritage line represents, and he referenced Yamaha’s Faster Sons theme.

“So those bikes had brothers in the past, but we make it faster, more affordable, reliable and all that,” he elaborated. “So let’s try to stay strong and clear homage to the bikes we had in the ‘70s and ‘80s, yet making sure in terms of weight, riding performance, components should be nearly up to date.”

So, does this mean a newly reborn XS650 is on its way? As much as I’d like to hope for it, a follow-up conversation with Yamaha led me to believe my proposed concept is akin to chasing feral geese.

After reiterating they aren’t able to comment on future models, reps simply stated they’re “excited about what the future holds for the Sport Heritage line.”

But, sadly for my concept for a reborn XS650, they did allow that they don’t have any desire to make its upcoming bikes look purely retro or engineer a retro-style motor, which effectively quashes my theory for a new platform built around a new engine.

So what do you readers think of the concept as drawn out here from my brain and digitally represented by the creative mind of moto enthusiast Jim Hatch?

Could Yamaha be successful by cribbing Triumph’s strategy with its recent Bonneville lineup but with a smaller and lighter version? Or would the relative lack of brand awareness for the old XS650 relative to the legendary Bonneville name doom a reborn XS to the dark corners of Yamaha dealerships?

As always, your comments are appreciated!

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Yamaha Communities

  • john burns

    will this be on COPS?

  • 22w2e2b

    Maybe his fans and supporters should stay home until it is resolved

    • Mark Cross

      That’s a good point.
      Problem is with LEO bringing phony charges again and again and it’s up to the public to bring your lawyer to court and play my word against yours, and we know which way the courts bend it.
      Cops can beat the crap out of you and if you even instinctively raise your hand or squirm after they taze you, they call it assault or resisting arrest.

      • DaveA

        I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been apologizing to his public so quickly if the charges were phony.

  • Mark Cross

    Bullshit! I am not a criminal but I sure have been treated like one numerous times by insane police who spend their entire lives looking for an excuse to nail something on you.

  • Gungalagunga

    What crap. Guilty until proven innocent huh? The AMA just showed us all it’s squarely in the boot licker camp. FTP.

  • Starmag

    Looks good. I worked in a Yamaha shop in ’77 and the vibration and starter racket were XSive on the originals. Because of the weight of the frame this would have a hard time being meaningfully competitive with an FZ07 or SV650.

    • Jon Jones

      Always enjoyed wrenching on XS650s. Riding them, not so much.

  • MARC

    I just sold my 1972 xs650, replaced it with Triumph Street Twin. Don’t think Yamaha wants to play 2nd fiddle to Triumph re retros. Yamaha did good job with xsr900 which I bought last month

    • Travis Donald

      It would be really hard to go up against the Triumph Street Twin and the Moto Guzzi V7. I doubt Yamaha will build a bike from the ground up or use an old engine to do this.

      • MARC

        They didn’t even bother to update the SR400, so it’s obvious to me that they will use their resources in a different area

  • GreggJ

    Kawasaki did this with the W650 twin in the USA about 17 years ago. A beautiful bike, which dealers could not give away.

    • spiff

      Timing is everything.

    • BDan75

      Elsewhere in the world it became the W800, not sure if it’s still made or not. Seemed like it would have made sense to bring it here, as many Bonnevilles as I’ve seen in the past 10 years. But as Spff said, timing.

      To me, the reason for something like this would be to take a different approach to the performance side. Otherwise you’re competing entirely on badge and price. Unless there’s some inherent reason why parallel twins have to be low-revving things, why not hot the thing up and make it more of a performance bike and less of a Harley?

    • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

      which makes them collectors now!

    • Joseph Vilis

      The reason K couldn’t sell the w650 can be answered with 5 words, the reintroduction of the Bonneville!

    • James Edward Zeiser

      I owned a W650 for ten years. It looked better than it worked.

  • Mike Simmons

    I like! Do it, Yammy!

  • WVDingo

    I am on this band wagon. I was not overly impressed with the SCR950; it has too much Cruiser DNA still in it to be a Scrambler in my opinion. The frame is wrong and belt drive needs to be shaft or chain. A XS650 twin designed from the ground up would be pretty sweet.

  • Gabriel Owens

    If you build it, I will come.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      One is not enough.

  • Old MOron

    Another fine collaboration between MO and Jim Hatch!
    I would love a new XS650. The only reason I didn’t buy an SR400 is that I’d already put 50K miles on a DRZ400 and wanted something bigger.

    Good interview with Miyazawa-san.

    “Talking to manufacturer reps about future product is a process akin to pulling teeth except more frustrating, but still we try.”

    Ha ha ha, try talking to Indian’s guy. He promised JB the moon.

  • Jt2187

    I think they should just bring the XSR700 to the US

    • Eric

      I was thinking the same thing! They should also think of doing a retro model based on the same engine… maybe that would fit into the author’s concept, with a bit of restyling.

  • JSTNCOL

    Have you heard of the XSR700?

  • mikeinkamloops

    So a 21st century remake of a Japanese copy of the 60’s Bonneville? People bought lots of XS650’s back in the day because they were cheaper and more reliable. What’s the incentive nowadays? I’ll take the real deal, today. Triumph.

    • Old MOron

      Oh, yeah? What makes you think cheaper and (potentially) more reliable are not persuasive any more?

      • mikeinkamloops

        A fake Rolex is cheaper, and possibly as reliable, but it’s still a copy.

        • Old MOron

          C’mon man, nobody’s arguing about fancy brand names. You said people bought cheaper, more reliable bikes back in the day. My questions is: what makes you think people won’t do that again?

          • mikeinkamloops

            The Yami XS650 was a knockoff of the Triumph Bonneville. A copy. At the time, Bonnie’s were not reliable, and more money, so it actually made sense to buy one. Today’s Bonnie’s are very reliable, made in Asia and probably only slightly higher priced than the XS will be. I just don’t see the market for it – maybe a few old guys that had XSs in the day – but, like me, they probably really wanted a Bonnie.

          • Old MOron

            Oh, okay. You’re reasoning that the price and reliability difference will not be significant enough this time around. I guess I might agree with that. Yammie would have to give the bike a very attractive price. That’s just what they’ve done with their FZ07. I wonder if they could make a bargain-priced XS650.

          • John Chaves

            Not true. The 650 engine was an update from plans purchased from a now defunct Japanese company called Hosk which, in turn, copied (or purchased?) the blueprints to produce the vertical twin engine from the German manufacturer Horex. Hosk was later absorbed by Showa (no relation to the suspension company) which was bought by Yamaha in the early 60s. When Honda launched the 750 Four, Yamaha revived the plans, modernized it and used it on the 1970 XS1. Good write up here.

            http://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/sunday-salon-the-yamaha-xs650-originality-is-overrated/

  • azicat

    The W800 and air cooled Bonnevilles were retired due to Euro 4. W800s didn’t sell that well either (although I have one and enjoy it very much). I very much doubt that they could coax more than 40hp out of a 650cc E4 compliant air cooled engine. Would the number of potential buyers offset the development cost of such a mild machine?

    • Sayyed Bashir

      It would be water cooled and fuel injected, but not obviously so (like the Triumphs).

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Kevin should start a kickstarter crowdfunded project. 10% down from all interested buyers. Euro 4 is not a problem if you don’t sell in Europe. Collaborate with a Chinese manufacturer like Zongshen. Call it a Dukester 650. The mansion on the ocean (Hearst Castle?) will come after ten years of hard work.

    • Kevin Duke

      Your imagination is even more fanciful than mine!

  • kenneth_moore

    This morning I’m meeting my pal who I’ve been riding with since we were teens. We’re going to ride in the Tail o’ the Dragon area for a week. He rode a variation of the XS650 for years. It was a “chopper” styled bike with a sissy bar and pulled back handlebars. That bike was a brick; he rode it for well over twenty years with very basic maintenance. I’m sure he’d be in the dealer for a new one in a heartbeat.

    As far as the larger market for this bike goes, perhaps the CB1100 is a better comparison than the Triumph line. Obviously it’s done well enough to stay in production, and even generate some updates and variations. But I wonder if Triumph has a core nostalgia market that Yamaha may not. Triumphs are “groovy, baby, groovy.” Yamahas are more “bitchin.”

  • Jim Everhart

    Bring it back with updated technology yes

  • TheMarvelous1310

    Man, they’ll consider anything BUT importing the XSR700!

    • Eric

      I hear you, but why is that?

  • John Chaves

    You wrote “The XS’s 654cc engine was the largest in Yamaha’s inventory until the three-cylinder XS750 debuted in 1975”. Not exactly the case.

    Did you forget the dreadful TX750 launched in 1973?

    • Kevin Duke

      Yes, I did forget that dreadful thing! Editing text to reflect that.

      • John

        It might need another little adjustment :-). The 750 twin model designation was TX750 and not XS750. Cheers!

        • Kevin Duke

          Ha! Readjusted now!

  • Polly Molly Moo

    I loved the look of the old XS750 & 850 – take the XSR900 engine and make a retro-looking bike like the old XS750 ‘DOHC’

  • Phil W

    I had an early XS 650, possibly a 69 or 70 back in 1974. It was a good bike. i sold it to buy a 1975 Honda 750.

  • Joe Bar

    I have a stock 1978 XS650. It goes 155MPH?! Not with me on it!

    And forget the XS revival. I want a T7! I have a check waiting!

  • SirCoffeeaLot

    Don’t do it Yamaha. You’re better than that.

  • donnie

    Won’t sell is my take. Don’t build it.

  • Bmwclay

    Be better if Kawasaki bought back an updated 1969 W2 650 SS

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    they should bring it back-stubby fins AND water cooled-go ahead and let people see the throttle bodies,don’t put simulated carbs over ’em,don’t black out the engine completely(rocker covers should remain in the bright!)slap on retro spoke wheels,and vrroom! not sure about the 270 degree crank…obviously Triumph did it,doesn’t mean Yamaha has to….everyday there are fewer stock XS 650’s available,as they are very desirable for chopping and bobbing and cafe-ing

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    after reading all the posts when i finished mine-another brainstorm-bring back the XS400,owned two of ’em in my time both great bikes,one spoke-wheeled one mag wheeled both metallic red,and both Specials! something about those bikes…i’m looking at getting an ’80 XS650 Special just to leave dead stock

  • Joseph Vilis

    I would love to see an XS650 remake in the classical tradition of the UJM! I am on the lookout for a decent XS650 right now!

  • major tom

    Centerstand, 5 gal tank, with fenders and NO fake air scoops please!

  • Jon Jones

    The problem would be Yamaha would want $10K for this thing.

  • Nice story, Dukey! Like they say–if you don’t like the news make up some of your own!

    But don’t you think the steel frame and liquid-cooling would make the Yammie heavier than its 70s ancestor? Also, I’d think a 4-valve head and dual throttle bodies would be necessary to get 70hp out of a SOHC, long-stroke motor? The SV makes 70 hp, but uses a more oversquare motor and higher RPM (and dual injectors).

    • Kevin Duke

      If Yamaha can make a liquid-cooled 670cc parallel-Twin with a steel frame that weighs 400 lbs (FZ-07), I’d hope they could build a 650 that weighs 430. The 70 hp number is, as noted, crank power. Wheel power would then be demoted to around 62. Also, there’s nothing really stopping any OEM from making a 4 valve/cylinder engine with a SOHC. Honda’s been doing it for years.

      Anyway, it seems as if my conjecture has little basis in Yamaha’s reality…

  • Yamaha !#

    Yamaha needs a bike that would be competitive in the Hooligan Class. So make it a 750 or more displacement Kenny Roberts Street tracker

    • Match Mandis

      Hell yeah!!!!

  • Michael White

    give it a real two-up seat, not a 1.5 seat. Probably make the seat brown. I do love the styling but doubt that this would happen when they’ve already got the XSR models.I don’t think it makes much economic sense.