John Kerfoot began riding Triumphs and BSAs in 1969, which marked the start of a long-lasting relationship of tinkering with motorcycles. Over the last few years he started to dream about building a street tracker, but the idea of tearing apart and modifying one of Britain’s finest didn’t appeal to him, either morally or financially.
Especially in his early riding years, John will freely admit he never wanted to own a Japanese bike. But now, partly for monetary reasons, and partly because some vintage bikes from the land of the rising sun are readily available and easy to find parts for, he figured a mid-size Japanese bike was the way to go for his street tracker project.
John chose the venerable Yamaha XS650 for the basis of his street tracker, because of the British-looking vertical twin and also the fact that there are still plenty of these bulletproof engines kicking around. The Yamaha XS650, after all, had a production of some
15 years and an estimated run of around 250,000 units. “I wanted to build a street tracker, and these things (XS650) are cheap and easy to find parts for, rather than tearing apart a vintage Triumph or BSA,” John said. He bought three XSs to salvage parts to make one good one. The versatility of the XS650 even rubbed off on Dave, one of John’s sons, who started www.xs650motorcycles.com, a website dedicated to them.
Coincidentally, this was about the same time one of John’s co-workers was trying to convince him to buy an old bike, build a racer and join the Vintage Road Racing Association (VRRA) for some friendly high-speed competition.
While the wind blew and the snow fell, John and another son and co-builder, Andrew, stayed warm in the woodstove-heated workshop. While the duo lengthened the swingarm, compiled bits and made miscellaneous parts fit the frame, they enlisted the help of engine-builder Dave Herring.
Dave welded the two-piece, pressed-together crankshaft solid at the stock 360 degrees for strength and stuffed the balanced unit into a purpose-built, 750 cc, race crankcase. He bored the cylinders to accept 750 cc pistons and topped the whole shebang off with a high-lift cam and heavy-duty valve springs in a ported and polished head.
With some machining skills from Herb Becker, a high-ratio primary gear set was installed to help shifting and to withstand the added torque from the high-powered engine. Because this bike would see track duty, the new gear set would also allow for more available options in the final gearing.
By the time the engine was back in the shop, the frame had been powder coated and John and Andrew had put everything away, soaked the floor of their workshop to keep the dust down, and proceeded to paint the bodywork. They did a nice job, the old-school way.
Three months after laying a wrench on the original three donor-bikes, the snow had melted and John and Andrew rolled the newly created street tracker out of the shop for its first peek at spring daylight. Even though the bike was out of the shop and running, the job was only half finished.
Neither one of them had ever raced before, but the project included getting out on the track. John, aged 56, and Andrew took a fast-track race school early one morning at a VRRA race event at Mosport International Raceway. Walking away with a race license each, they were both ready for a weekend at the track.
“I didn’t realize how competitive those guys are in the VRRA, they’re nuts, eh? They’re a great bunch of guys, but they take their racing very seriously.” John continued, “The bike handled well, but the rider needed a lot more experience. Thirty-some years of riding, I thought I was pretty quick but …well, I’m getting old, too.” John did realize his goal – to get out and go around Mosport – and he now has a lot more respect for anyone who races at any level.
John doesn’t know if he’ll make it out to the track again with the street tracker, but I did happen to see an old BSA Scrambler under a tarp in his garage. Maybe he’ll restore that, and we’ll see him taking part in some vintage hare scrambles in the near future?