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1977 Yamaha XS650 – ‘Escape Machine’

Posted on December 20, 2013 by Scott in Bobber. 41 comments

Hill Hudson is a talented young illustrator studying at the Pacific Northwest College Of Art in Portland, Oregon. This year he had to complete his senior thesis, which usually involves doing an illustration. But Hill wanted to do something a little different and build a motorcycle. “I guess I’m the first to ever do this in the history of the 100 plus years the school as been running” he says. “This thesis will be documented and stored in the library here in Portland and will go down as the first art school breakdown and construction of a motorcycle in a gallery setting at this school”. Hill’s project started by searching for a suitable low cost donor. He eventually found a 1977 XS650 that was the perfect ‘blank canvas’ for his art project and got to work. 

Hill begun by stripping down the frame, cutting it up and tig welding on a TC Bros hard tail. He also bent his own tubing for the arched cross supports. Hill made the pipes from scratch out of stainless steel sections of mandrel bent tubing. Tig welded them then sanded down the welds to give them that seamless look. The rear fender was from Lowbrow Customs and he made all the mounting hardware for the seat, fender, headlight and tank on his little metal lathe. The beautiful little tank was sourced from an old Honda CL77, painted deep single stage blue and then given custom ‘Escape Machine’ badges that were acid etched into magnesium, then Hill hand painted the etched recessed areas with OneShot paint.  

Hill also made the seat and seat pan from scratch using an industrial sewing machine to sew the leather. The headlight was taken off an old farm tractor, stripped to bare steel and then he made the mounting brackets for it. The tail light was made on the metal lathe by his friend James Crowe at Crowe Metal Co. “The bike was so neglected that most of my time was spent cleaning, buffing and rebuilding the engine” he says. 

The idea for the name ‘Escape Machine’ came not just from his need to find freedom from anxiety through creative practices and the sensation of riding the bike, but also as an exploration of branding. “In the illustration department we are encouraged to create a branding logo for ourselves so that clients can get a general sense of our style, to remember us by and to better help us find our spot or spots in the marketplace.” says Hill. “The Escape Machine works in this way, not just as branding for myself but also represents the company I helped start with three friends last summer called The ESC Collective. We are a group of artists and designers that all work from similar motivations as the escape machine, but wanted to focus on the idea that breaking down the creatively limiting walls around us and approaching huge ideas with ambition and passion.”

After the build was complete, Hill had to take it to the art college for final judging. “People didn’t even really know what to ask after my presentation” he says. “One guy on the judging panel just couldn’t stop saying how much he liked it”. That sounds like a success to us.

It’s great to see a young guy bucking the system and creating something outside the box in the name of ‘art’. Hill now wants to create a series of bikes under the ESC Collective name and we have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from this guy in the not too distant future.

If you need any illustrations done, be sure to hit Hill Hudson up via his website.

  • Sussy Q

    Hill, will you father my children?

  • UNC

    Mine too. Wait. I’m a dude.

    • Grendel Medlord

      He might service your wife/girlfriend for a small stud fee.

  • DMG

    A total integration of form, function, art, psychology and metaphysics!
    Bravo Hill!

  • Chris

    I am Hill ‘s Dad and I think his project kicks ass !!!

  • AndrewF

    I appreciate the irony of the name ‘Escape Machine’, since you wouldn’t want to ride this very fast or very far.

    • Why not?

      • AndrewF

        Because of suspect handling (rigid!), braking (drums!) and grip (Firestones!)… and definite lack of comfort (rigid, again!). It’s what I call ‘a Penfold’, after a character from Danger Mouse: ‘adorable yet utterly useless’.

        XS650 was never a great bike to begin with, but at least it had suspension.

        • Tosh

          XS650 are great bikes. Low cost, easy to wrench on, look great, versatile. Making it a rigid will make your ass numb and vibrate your eyes out of your head, but they’re still fun little bikes. Aside from the charging system, those engines are bulletproof.

          • AndrewF

            I didn’t own one but I rode one a few times and I remember the engine was very vibey and the whole package kind of… basic. Let’s face it, crude by todays’ standards. I know it was popular then and is a very popular base for custom builders now. Utilitarian, yes – but great? Sorry, I don’t think so.

          • Dan.

            what would be a great bike then, in your opinion? I’ve put 800 miles a day on a stock XS with no issues with the bike or with my body, so I think it’s just fine for an escape machine.

          • Was it a rigid?

        • blackbird

          Andrew, are you wearing your silly pants today?

          • AndrewF

            Of course I am, today and everyday. Is there any other kind? 🙂

        • You missed the whole point of the story. But that’s ok. Each to their own, I just love how Hill bucked the trend and built a bike for his illustration thesis.

    • Brent Woods

      Jesus Christ dude… a kid built a motorcycle for a thesis project while everyone else was drawing pictures and you find a way of shitting all over it. What did you build in college?
      Step away from the keyboard and just enjoy that a kid had the balls to do something different.

  • Cliff Overton

    An excellent example of freedom follows function – very tasteful job.

  • revdub

    That’s a beautiful machine. I want one!

  • Rob

    I had a similar thought when I entered grad school earlier this year. I am studying ceramics, but thought about scrapping the clay in favor of using the metal shop to rebuild my bikes for my thesis. Looks like somebody beat me to the punch, and did a kick ass job of it too.

    • blackbird

      No! Fire pots and make motorcycles. It’s been working fine for me so far 🙂

  • Bultaco Metralla

    Terrific work, lovely bike. A little too much empty space between the motor and the rear fender/mudguard for my taste. It would be good to have photos with a rider so we could see how it works in proportion.

    As for those precious princesses who couldn’t trust their delicate tush to the discomfort of a rigid rear. Stick with the Goldwing, fellas.

    • AndrewF

      Take one:
      “Hard tails can be every bit as good as soft tails, which is why major manufacturers devote equal amounts of time and effort to producing both.” … uh, no – that’s not right somehow…

      Take two:
      “Hard tails can be every bit as good as soft tails, which is why no major manufacturer produced a single hard tail model in the last 50 years.” … uh, that doesn’t make sense, does it? …. let’s see now…

      Take three:
      “”Hard tails are inferior to soft tails and their use is best limited to bicycles for kiddies under 10, which is why no major manufacturer produced a single hard tail model in the last 50 years.” …


      • Bob Ratcaf

        Maybe true, but hard tails are f*ckn tough and look badass, plain and simple. You cant argue with that.

        • Bultaco Metralla

          I thought we came here to look at and discuss motorcycles that aren’t being produced by major manufacturers but by people and workshops taking different paths.
          I once had the pleasure of riding a 1920’s hard tail Norton single and it was a revelation. The handling and the feeling of ‘connectedness’ between the throttle and the rear wheel still stand out in my memory as one of my great experiences riding motorcycles.
          Finally, most of the adult bicycles produced in the world are hard tail.

        • AndrewF

          I don’t argue with that – not because it’s true, but because it’s completely subjective. My argument is with crippling perfectly functional motorcycles for the sake of looks. You might ask then what am I doing here? The answer is that I am interested in modifications that make the bikes better in some way, not worse.

          • Bultaco Metralla

            What is ‘better’. This motorcycle looks to be a great improvement on an XS650. The XS-1. XS-1B, XS-2 and TX650 weren’t good motorcycles even by the standards of the day. It wasn’t until the TX650A of 1974 that they could be considered to handle acceptably and you would probably find it pretty primitive.

            The XS650 Specials were diabolical but then my subjective opinion, at the time, was coloured by my need to have a motorcycle that could cover 500 to 800 miles in a day. However, this model saved Yamaha from total collapse after the debacle of the TX500 and the TX750 and remains Yamahas longest running and biggest selling motorcycle.

            It is a prime candidate for making a ‘better’ motorcycle than the original. I now live on the South Coast of NSW and have a variety of winding coastal roads up and down the escarpment to enjoy. Hard tails make for light rigid motorcycles and sprung seats and smooth roads make them bearable. Something like this could be fun on those roads.

          • AndrewF

            Imagine how much fun it could be with *proper* suspension then! Notice we actually agree in our opinion on XS650 and yes, it is a prime candidate for improving, I just don’t see how removing suspension altogether could ever be considered a step in the right direction. Then again, I live in Sydney and smooth roads is something I see mainly in my dreams. That might influence my opinions on the subject.

          • Bultaco Metralla

            Have you ever ridden a hard tail?

          • AndrewF

            I have. Never again, if I can help it!

          • Bultaco Metralla

            I rode a ’28 Norton Model 18. Some thirty years ago now in the early eighties. My daily ride was a Ducati 860GT and the Norton was magic. Light, nimble, sure footed and turn as soon as you thought about it. It did require some skill to operate and a willingness to learn how to coax the best out of a machine but I grew up riding in the late sixties and I had learnt that motorcycle riding was a skill.

          • If a hardtail is such an improvement, why not rigid forks too? That would be the ultimate badge of manhood and high skill level.

      • Davidabl2

        It’s the requirement to appear to be modern,as much as anything else.
        Just as carbs began to disappear from street bike even before the EPA got into the act.

        Other factors were that bikes were getting larger and more powerful, and so needed their frames to be more rigid. Frame flex, big ‘tractor” seats,and relatively low pressure rear tires made the bikes of that era more comfortable than most modern riders would imagine. At least on today’s highways v.s. depression era highways 🙂

        I “hardtailed” a softtail Japanese cruiser when I didn’t want to spend $600 on a quality monoshock for it..replacing the shock with some steel bar stock.

        It is probably a harsher ride than a true classic rigid bike would be,because the frame’s more rigid, and modern tires have to be ridden at higher pressure than antique tires were. However, it’s still quite doable.

  • Aris Polymeroudis

    Hey guys, GUYS!!!! Please stop arguing….there’s no point hussling about hard or soft tails, practicality and rideability issues ….let’s just focus on the main theme here ; A young artist armed with a vision and a few tools created this motorcycle out of a pile of junk….and if that is not a fresh breath of hope in today’s grim world of economic recesion and life-consuming on-line gaming, I dont know what is. Congrats, Hill!

    • Hill

      hey thanks Aris,
      I just want to say that this argument is pointless, we all have our own opinions. we build motorcycles for ourselves to satisfy an inner desire, or whatever it may be. i am surprised that people care enough to even argue about this type of thing, we should be grateful that we even have a thing like pipeburn. build what you want, and do it for yourself, no one else. i love this bike and i think it’s great because i built it for ME. i ride until my ass is numb with a smile stretched from ear to ear, and then ride some more. thanks Andrew and Scott for running such a amazing website that has given me endless inspiration. cheers to the supportive commenters as well, much appreciated. 🙂

      • Aris Polymeroudis

        Creativity should always be supported… whether we like the final outcome , or not…and arguments also, as they always were and will be the foundation of Progress.

  • tom

    Such a lovely balance between an overall concept/design and attention to details. Really inspiring!

  • Liberate88

    This one isn’t for me but an impressive none the less, I wonder how you tied this over in your thesis and how you were marked…?

  • MF

    It’s perfect. Who gives a shit if it isn’t as fast as a 1000RR, comfy as a goldwing, blah blah blah. It looks amazing, I couldn’t imagine how to build it, let alone attempt it, and it would be damn amusing to own and ride. Well played fella, look forward to seeing the next instalment.

  • Bultaco Metralla

    I was just drinking slivovitz and reading this delightful blog when I came across that comment about hard tails and I wondered if he really was speaking from experience or. I have always considered that the different make life interesting. The reason why that Norton was challenging to ride was that I had never met a hand change or a magneto lever before but I coped.
    In case it got lost in the heat, I love what you’ve done to the bike and I am delighted at some of the detail such as the springs on the saddle. Congratulations on a wonderful build.

    • G Whain

      Agree with that. Good direction, bad direction… Some guys prefer performance over look, others do the contrary… There is no right or wrong. Just do what you like, and respect others for their choices. It’s that simple.

  • D-rock

    go to your local Ducati dealer, drink coffee and tell them your opinions. This is a custom motorcycle website. Oh by the way, my mx bike has more suspension technology in it then your street bike, and guess what, I still have a 71 xs hardtail with springer 🙂 Merica.