A former pro speedway racer crafts small batches of XS650 street trackers…
The Yamaha XS650 debuted in 1969, taking styling cues from the British twins of a previous generation, but with advanced technology such as unit construction, a horizontally-split crankcase, and SOHC valve operation.
“There is no question that Yamaha has achieved the classic Big Twin ‘feel.’ Start the XS650, sit on it and close your eyes and you could be sitting on any one of four British Twins.” —Cycle World1970 (source)
None other than King Kenny Roberts would cut his teeth on XS650-powered flat trackers, taking home multiple AMA Grand National Championships on dirt ovals around the country — a style of riding that would help him dominate Grand Prix racing at the highest levels.
“Kenny was battling the dominant XR750s on his underpowered Yamaha XS650 in the early to mid-1970s and made quite a name for himself by beating the faster American machinery on a consistent basis.” —Silodrome
Recently, we heard from Nick Simmons of Summerbud Classic Bike Imports, who spent 15 years as a professional speedway rider, from the age of 15 to 30:
“My dad tuned speedway engines for a living, so it was always a case of get home from school, get out of my uniform, and get in the workshop with my dad…it was a natural thing that I would end up racing speedway when I was old enough. Even though I wasn’t that interested in racing bikes, I was more than happy playing with old speedway engines.”
The season before his last year of racing, Nick decided to make a go of restoring classic bikes for a living. Soon thereafter, he started importing vintage bikes from the States to restore and/or sell as projects.
“I have now brought in 47 containers, with an average of 65 bikes in each container, so that’s a fair few bikes, and I am now one of the biggest UK importers of classic bikes from the USA.”
Four years ago, when the import business allowed him to move into a larger workshop, he got back into restoring and modifying bikes. At first, he just wanted to build a cool XS650 street tracker for himself:
“I wanted to build a proper-looking flat tracker from the 1970’s. I wanted it to look like it was going to be raced on a track, but actually be legal enough to be used on the road. I felt that anyone who builds a street tracker completely misses the concept of what a flat tracker looks like…. So my inspiration was from actual 1970’s flat trackers.”
Instead of just swapping out a few parts, like many street tracker builds, Nick went all in. When he couldn’t find a tank and tail unit that suited his fancy, he had them manufactured to his own specs. He spent a lot of time getting the front number board right — another clumsy component of many builds — and all the other aspects of the machine.
The result is one incredibly well-executed XS650 street tracker, and Nick has since turned these Summerbud trackers into a side business, building and selling them in small batches of 10. He’s especially proud that he does all of the work in-house:
“I de-lug the frames, I weld them, I do all the painting (all frame, black parts, the tank, seat units), I build the wheels, I re-build the engines, do the cranks, cut the valve seats, vapor-blast the parts. I turn old wrecks into beautiful Summerbud trackers.”
Below, we talk to Nick for the full story on his XS650 street trackers, with images courtesy of Impact Images.
Yamaha XS650 Street Tracker: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Nick Simmons and I am the owner of Summerbud, Ltd. I was a professional speedway rider for 15 years, riding for various clubs over the country. I grew up as a young boy being surrounded by bikes. I was lucky enough to have a large workshop at my family home. My dad tuned speedway engines for a living, so it was always a case of get home from school, get out of my uniform, and get in the workshop with my dad. Motorcycles have been in my life from the moment I was born, and I loved understanding how engines worked. I guess it was a natural thing that I would end up racing speedway when I was old enough. Even though I wasn’t that interested in racing bikes, I was more than happy playing with old speedway engines.
I raced professionally from the age of 15 until I was 30, but it was the last couple of seasons of racing that I started restoring old Yamahas. At the start of 2012, I got my first unit and decided that 2011 (the season before) my last year of racing that I wanted to see if I could make a go of restoring classic bikes for a living. I spent 2012 to 2015 doing just that. I restored classic bikes, mainly Yamahas, but in 2015 I decided to see if I could bring a few bikes in from America as projects — some to restore for myself and sell the others off as projects, and that has gone from strength to strength.
I have now brought in 47 containers, with an average of 65 bikes in each container, so that’s a fair few bikes, and I am now one of the biggest UK importers of classic bikes from the USA.
I moved to a new, much larger unit four years ago, which not only made selling so many project bikes easier, it also gave me a nice dedicated area for building and restoring bikes, something I didn’t have room for once I had started the import business.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
Yamaha XS650 1974 to 1979.
• Why was this bike built? (Customer project, company promotion, personal, etc.)
I built the first one because I simply wanted a cool bike for myself.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wanted to build a proper-looking flat tracker from the 1970’s. I wanted it to look like it was going to be raced on a track, but actually be legal enough to be used on the road. I felt that anyone who builds a street tracker completely misses the concept of what a flat tracker looks like. Whilst building the first tracker, I noticed so many people get a standard bike, remove the front mudguard, change the seat unit, and say it’s a street tracker…no, it’s not. So my inspiration was from actual 1970’s flat trackers.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
There was a lot done to take a standard XS650 to look like a race-ready flat tracker / street tracker. The frame was de-lugged, had new brackets and loop added.
The fork bottoms were also de-lugged and lowered. The front number board was essential to the look of a flat tracker; that took a lot of work to make and fit exactly how I wanted.
I couldn’t find a fuel tank that had the desired look, so I had it made to my design and measurements along with the seat unit.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
The bike doesn’t have a nickname, but my business is called Summerbud, which comprises Summer, who is my eldest daughter (I only had one daughter at the time of starting Summerbud), and Buddy is the Bud part of Summerbud, who was my little dog at the time. His birthday was the 30th May, so the first Summerbud tracker was #30, but unfortunately Buddy passed in November 2019.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is no end of fun to ride, very nimble, pretty loud, and fast enough! Whenever the weather is kind, I always opt to take my bike out for a spin! No car ever compares.
I hope everyone who buys one of my Summerbud trackers has as much fun on theirs as I do mine!
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I am proud that the whole bike is built in-house by me. I de-lug the frames, I weld them, I do all the painting (all frame, black parts, the tank, seat units), I build the wheels, I re-build the engines, do the cranks, cut the valve seats , vapor-blast the parts. I turn old wrecks into beautiful Summerbud trackers.
I originally built 10 before selling any, but once the 10 were offered for sale, they were gone very quickly. I decided to build another 10, and they so far have been sold before being finished or have been pre-ordered. How many am I going to build…? I don’t know but at the moment; I have a few donor bikes so there will be a few more yet…
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The photos: Impact Images