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Dual Threat: Andy Kawa's XS650 Street Scrambler

Jan 30 2019

It makes sense that a talent for eye-catching photography could crossover to building custom motorcycles. It’s all about capturing the angles, the flow, and often times the raw attraction to minimalism in its finest form. Our Senior Photographer Andy Kawa is that talent. The proof? Reviving a once-dead ’79 Yamaha XS650, turning it into a ripper of a street scrambler and ultimately earning a spot in the acclaimed One Moto Show in Portland.

When he’s not behind the lens, he’s behind the bars. And if his hands aren’t on a camera or a throttle, they’re on a wrench. Andy’s previous projects include an immaculate restoration on his grandparents’ ’75 Honda CB550F and a budget-minded Honda CX500. This XS was his first ground-up build, and the bike was in rough shape, to say the least.

It all about the details. Rich blue laid over brushed steel with gold leaf applied to the factory badges.

“My first thought after tearing into this thing was, ‘What the f#%k did I get myself into?’” Andy says. “I don’t sketch things out, so I didn’t really have a set direction in mind other than wanting the build to resemble a modern classic like Triumph’s Street Twin. But that all changed after diving in.”

The bike was pretty roached, with wiring straight outta your worst nightmares. And the more he tore into it, the more he uncovered. The main running issue was a stretched cam chain, which led to the discovery of an oil starvation issue that wore out a rocker follower and cam lobe, which led to finding badly worn cylinders that a previous owner honed over. All that required Andy to perform a complete top-end rebuild before diving into the rest of the bike.

To dial in the bike’s stance, one of the first things Andy did was raise the rear suspension about 2” to level out the overall bone line. Then he removed surplus weight—70 pounds, to be exact. A diet that was originally more of an aesthetic choice ultimately helped contribute to the XS’ all-business dirt bike stance when combined with its newly raised rear end. He threw on some knobby tires and took it down a road that led to creating a street scrambler with tracker roots. A quick, dual-purpose machine capable of attacking the pavement and dirt.

He stiffened up the front end to match the taller rear suspension and installed dual front rotors for extra stopping power... and because he liked the balanced look. MX-styled grips and our Riot Pegs add to the off-road styling, while Purpose Built Moto’s slim push-button controls helped him keep everything meticulously tidy on the ProTaper setup.

Andy powder coated the Riot Pegs and modified the stock mounts to accept a set of our male-mount splined footpeg adapters

The MX-inspired controls keep things minimal and serve up a clean cockpit view.

One of his major hurdles was completely gutting the spaghetti pile of wires and rebuilding an entirely new harness. Referencing the original diagram, Andy eliminated as much as possible and hid what he couldn't via internal routing through the bars and frame. A custom fabricated wiring tray under the seat houses the majority of the wiring. He also installed a PMA system that allowed removal of the battery, which also led to eliminating the starter. Meaning this XS is kick-start only.

The bike runs full L.E.D.’s including the super small Kuryakyn by Kellermann Atto indicators: Amber signals on the upper triple tree, and Atto DF red run-turn-brake signals near the upper shock mount. If you didn’t know they were there, you’d never notice them when the bike’s powered off. Integrating one of our run-turn-brake controllers to get the signals functioning properly took some trial and error, but in the end, kept it exactly how Andy envisioned—incredibly clean.

Look closely and you'll see it — Kuryakyn by Kellermann Atto DF just above the shock mount.

Everywhere on the bike is another little detail that contributes to the greater whole. One not-so-little detail was fabricating his first stainless steel exhaust system, routing and tacking the tubes to create his idea of the perfect flow before enlisting his brother for final TIG welding.

“Labor of love” is defined as “work done for interest in the work itself rather than for payment.” Andy credits his career behind the lens shooting motorcycles for the ability to pull off this type of project. Photographing bikes and being immersed in motorcycle culture every day allowed him to cultivate his vision for this build. But don’t 100% discount the real credit due. Like any build project, this was a personal challenge and learning process resulting in a long journey with plenty of trial and error. A trip to Portland for The One Moto is the cherry on top.

“I was really excited to find out my bike made it in because, to me, a lot of the builders invited to The One Show are who I look to for inspiration. To have my work sitting amongst those bikes is pretty awesome and something I’m definitely proud of.”

If you’ll be at The One Moto Show, hit up Andy for some more insight and a closer look at the XS. You can also find his work on Instagram via @andykawaphoto, or post a question in the comments below.

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