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‘77 Yamaha XS500 – Relic Motorcycles

Posted on December 14, 2015 by Andrew in Café Racer. 38 comments


Written by Martin Hodgson.

The Yamaha XS500 may not have anywhere near the street credentials of its big brother, the XS650, but if you ride a parallel twin less than 30 years old you owe a debt of gratitude to the younger sibling. It’s a potential Tommy Rand, Co-Founder of Relic Motorcycles from Aarhus, Denmark, saw when he found this particular 1977 Yamaha XS500 for sale in Copenhagen. He must have a great creative imagination, because the bike he came to see had been subjected to a terrible rebuild, strange yellow paint, no seat and it half resembled a hot dog stand. It’d also been on the market for over a year. Clearly, no other prospective buyers saw the possibility of a perfectly built Nordic Cafe Racer that Tommy and the boys envisioned and then brought to life.


The reason that the XS500 is important in motorcycle history is Yamaha’s use of their contra-rotating balancer that allowed them to produce a parallel twin that was silky smooth and stilled made good power while being cheap to produce. It was a time of the 2-stroke decline, new multi-cylinder machines which all cost companies a lot to develop and the consumer paid. But the XS500 was cheaper to make, cheaper to buy, performed more than adequately and Yamaha used the money they’d saved to make the XS far better appointed than any of its competition. To sweeten up the little twin cam Relic have stripped the engine and given it a nice coat of paint and a thorough polish. Extracting some extra ponies are a set of K&N pod filters, heat wrapped and shortened pipes and finished out with a neat pair of chrome shorty mufflers.


Where Relic Motorcycles have really excelled in this build is the look, the clever body work and the challenge that is dealing with the XS500’s rather square lines. Rather than fight them or simply fit another tank Relic have used clever colour selection and subtle paint work to bring out the best in the Yamaha design. The primary colour is Dakota Grey Metallic, a favourite of Audi designers, that is broken up with the finest of gold pinstriping. A brilliantly laid down gold Yamaha logo adorns the tank while the side covers feature matching paint work with the Relic logo finished in the same gold hue. At the rear the subframe has been relieved of much of its metal that originally supported a truly horrific two up seat and in its place an up-swept rear hoop has been welded in. Sitting on the new rear end is a custom seat with leather from a 1970’s Danish designer sofa and gives a period correct finish and an ultra comfy ride.


To get the stance right and create that cafe racer feel the XS500 needs to get much closer to terra firma and Relic have achieved that by lowering the front forks through the trees, with gators and polished legs for a clean finish. The rear uses the factory mounting points top and bottom but tucks the tyre heavily thanks to height adjustable progressive rate shocks. The wheels have been powder coated in a tough matte black and are wrapped in Vee Rubber tyres. Now here is the clever bit, look at the bike from the rear and the centreline of the tyre is directly inline with the seats centre stitching that is then in line with the tanks pinstripping. It’s millimetre perfect and something that not only shows the level of thought and design in the build but is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve.


To light the way a smaller than stock round headlight is one of the few modern features, with rear lighting coming from an LED tail light mounted under the heavily bobbed rear fender. Low mounted clip-on bars add to the tough low lines and are fitted with Chocolate Brown Biltwell grips that butt up to the refreshed factory switch blocks. A single chrome cupped speedo is all the instrumentation the build requires and the overall minimalism of the accessories let the stunning body work take centre stage. Tommy and his three best friends only established Relic Motorcycles just over a year ago, but with their design skills and ability to execute flawless work there is no doubt the orders will start pouring in and they just might have sparked a renewed interest in the little XS sibling!


Hoping the misses won’t notice, Tommy swaps the sideboard for the XS

  • guvnor67

    I think i prefer the Bohmerland. I won’t mention the pipewrap (oh, I did), but for some reason the rear wheel n tyre combo looks way to big, from dead side on anyway. I do like the colours, and the seat, but something’s not winning.

    • guvnor67

      Maybe a nice set of black or stainless headers would look nicer against the black n polished motor?!

  • peashooter

    I am not sure why you are all bashing on pipewrap? It was OK for years, everyone liked the “pipewrap” look (from HD guys to cafe racer people…). Same goes for Firestone tyres or similar.

    Probably the builders did it that way `cause they like it. So what? To me it looks just OK, and maybe the problem are corroded headers, maybe they went for that particular look, or something else. It doesn`t even matter.

    It`s funny how trolling on Firestone tyres and pipewrap has become a national sport on here…and also other custom bike sites. A few years ago all of you were praising the firestones and pipewrap, and probably done it on your own bikes also…

    Had to write this, as this has became really stupid lately.
    Yeah, scramblers are now popular and everything else is out, with pipewrap or firestones especially…funny…

    • guvnor67

      I believe my sarcasm went adrift, I mentioned it knowing that sometime it’d be mentioned or hated on. If you were a regular to this site you’d know that I very seldom say anything derogotory about feature bikes and other peoples builds. As for Firestones, heaps of my old bikes either ran them or Avon Roadrunners. 🙂

    • Soapy Loofah

      No disrespect intended, but we’re discussing aesthetics (which are subjective elements of form), not design as it relates to function. And yes, pipe-wrap and Firestone tires were once functional choices, but in modern builds they are style statements, nothing more. And now, at the risk of being blunt – they are simply passe.
      You of course may disagree with this, but then I would ask you why you don’t have the same haircut you did when you were 6-yrs old…

    • It’s not trolling or bashing when calling a fad a fad. The fact that people comment on two of the most ridiculous fads is puzzling to you because your experience with motorcycles is probably limited to what is trending on the internet sites. Tell us how many MotoGP, WSB, roadracers, dirttrackers or motocrossers in any racing series on earth are using pipewrap (for all it’s performance gains) and Firestones tires because they are better than something (anything) else? Neither of these fads are used for anything other than to impress other people that don’ t know the difference either. If you want to get all puffy, get some motorcycle experience first. By riding them or working on them or as people used to before the creation of internet fricking experts.

      • peashooter

        Well, Mule, I am riding bikes for at least 15 years, and building/customizing bikes for about the same period…

        However, this does not matter at the moment…

        About pipewrap or similar “fad”…nobody cares if it is used in motogp or not, these “custom” bikes are very far from being intended for racing or anything like that. If anyone sees any similarity here…well, not me.

        What I want to point out is…why do you guys care what was “trendy” last year and what is “trendy” this year? Behaving like Kardashians here…2014 we had firestones and pipewrap, 2015 we are having matte paint on hipsters BMW`s and everything else that does not fit here is shit? So 2015 hipster BMW`s will be a fad in 2016?

        Don`t want to sound like “put pipewrap and firestones on all bikes”, but my view is that even pipewrap or firestones can look good if used properly on proper bike. No need to troll on every bike that has pipewrap or firestones, or matte paint next year or something….

        • First, I think the bike featurd here is nicely done. It’s unique in that it’s an XS500, which we see very rarely. I worked on them when they were new and let me say they had their problems. On the other topic, I think if somebody is going to build a bike and put it on the internet for all the world to see, they should be prepared to accept the good comments with the bad. I judge bikes by how they look, the workmanship, the appearance of functionality and the builder’s imagination. That is, original ideas. When I see a bike presented with pipewrap and Firestones, or it’s a BMW scrambler or any other bike that’s built as a Scrambler from heavy street bike, or a bike with the back half chopped off and a flat seat, I immediately lose interest. Let’s see something unique!! Others that feel the same way are increasing in numbers. What will the fad be next year? Who cares? Rest assured it will be copied to death and we’ll see here.

          • peashooter

            @mule59:disqus Yup Bikes should be unique, and come with all different touches of custom work. But stainless pipes are as original as pipewrap. Used a million times before, and will be used a million times again…

            @soapyloofah:disqus I think you can do better than that, don`t you? Of course bikes are here to discuss, but pipewrap and firestone bashing all the time? Like teenager girls that don`t get tired of commenting hairstyles they don`t like. If someone uses a bit of pipewrap, people could do better comments (good or bad) on other features of the bike, that are far,far more important than a bit of wrap on the pipes….is this the only comment they can think of?

            @Hardley we also know that these old bikes are not nearly a match to the new ones, but we still ride them, don`t we? same goes with pipewrap. Yes it is/was a trend, but still saw some bikes with wrapped pipes that DID look good.

            Finally about the bike. Exhaust system…don`t mind the pipewrap (if I judge by the color of the wrap, it gets along fine with the color of the lines on the tank and side panels), but too short exhaust IMO. The lower back of the bike looks empty because of that.

            Other than that the bike looks fun to ride…fits the sunny spring morning rides to work, or evening visits of the local pub.

          • Soapy Loofah

            Peashooter, You asked a very specific question – why is it that pipe-wrap and Firestones draw so many negative comments. I tried to answer that directly: it’s because it is a subjective choice and not one that is related to performance or function.

            Your comment to Mule about stainless pipes is not a rebuke to his argument, it simply misses the point – stainless steel is an excellent choice for an exhaust material, and pipe-wrap serves no purpose…except to show that a builder lacks creativity.

          • Mo Denaro

            Most agree 100%. Unless you are new to the sport.

          • peashooter

            Really? Why do you think “unless you are new to the sport”? I`m not, and I still think like I`ve written before…

          • Mo Denaro

            This isn’t worth getting into. Anything on a bike added just for looks is useless. Only thing worse if it was added due to a trend. We agree to disagree.

          • guvnor67

            And if added for looks can often be plain dangerous ….

          • Jon Low

            Not to mention omitting things “just for looks” — like decent mudguards — to prevent road grit from incessantly sandblasting away at your new crankcases as well as from mud streaking its oozy damp way up your spine every time there’s moisture on the road.

        • Soapy Loofah

          This is a forum to offer and discuss opinions on custom builds. If you think no one should care, then I have to ask – why are you here?

          • peashooter

            @soapyloofah:disqus @mo_denaro:disqus @mule59:disqus @guvnor67:disqus

            The comments you gave are quite similar to what I want to say, but at the same time totally different.

            I look on these old bikes as “custom” bikes, that can be ridden every day, or maybe as a second bike. But surely not a bike that I would take to a racetrack or ride hard on the road. That`s why I really don`t mind things that are made for “looks” on the bike. I simply love to see these old bikes made with personal touch. Also pipewrap was used as a performance upgrade back in time. It doesn`t matter if it makes any difference or not, they thought it is OK years ago, so why not use it on these old bikes again if it fits the overall design? Same goes for tires, or anything else…why not, if the purpose of the bike is not racing (99% of the bikes featured here is NOT meant for racing or hard riding)?

            Probably most of the old, vintage bikes today on custom scene rides much worse than original, as this is not the main reason for customizing these bikes. If not….that`s completely different style of custom bike…let`s say Bulldock or Sanctuary.

            On Bulldock or Sanctuary bike, I agree that pipewrap or firestones would look silly, but on here? come on, it really doesn`t matter, and is not that wrong 🙂

          • raymo

            I happen to come to this site to see bikes that push the envelope visually.

            For anyone bashing mods that are just for looks, please don’t mention anything about how a bike looks. No comments on paint, proportions, negative space, etc. please. Just keep your narrow comments to performance (tires, power, suspension, brakes). If it’s all just about performance I think this is wrong site. I’m amazed at comments bashing the look of fads, but then comment on paint, colors, shapes, design etc. Seems like a factory sport bike, adventure dual sport bike, touring bike, or pure dirt bike would be the only viable bikes to talk about.

            I happen to like bikes that push the envelope from a design standpoint. Maybe it’s for living room art. Maybe it’s for a short daily commute on surface streets (I ride to work nearly everyday in San Diego on surface streets). I have fenders, but rarely need them. Maybe it’s to ride up a logging road at your weekend cabin, or maybe it’s a parts runner to go to the local auto parts store. For many of us performance is only a portion of the enjoyment we get out of older modified bikes.

    • Hardley T Whipsnade III

      Builders used pipwrap back in the day because they thought it served a purpose , potentially adding power while keeping heat away from the rider .

      Now though we all know point blank pipewrap is a severe detriment to power and torque not to mention does nothing to keep the heat away from the rider [ the better way is to properly rout the pipes ]

      Therefore . Using pipewrap today is nothing more than a hipster fashionista add on trend that everyone does cause everyone else is mindlessly doing it that in fact detracts from the bikes performance and takes away from the looks as well [ nothing is better than a cleanly designed and welded set of pipes ]

      So wake up and smell the fertilizer . Pipewrap is for rubes and dilettantes

      • Jon Low

        Like walking around with band-aid plasters stuck all over your undamaged arms and a black pirate eye-patch worn over a perfectly good eye — just to “look cool”.

  • MotoTrooper

    Really nice build, the exhaust is not to my liking but ‘different horses…’ and all that. I’ve wanted to do an XS500 build but apparently they have some head issues in the early models. Still a beautiful looking motor in a handsome bike.

  • revdub

    Very well done. The stance, paint, seat, and rear loop all look great. I’d love to do something similar.

  • Jester the Clown

    The thing that lets this down for me, and it seems to be the in thing at the moment, is the complete lack of anything at the back.
    By all means chop up or modify the rear mudguard but leave enough of it, firstly, so that it’s functional and secondly, to balance the bike’s looks.
    At the moment, to me, this could be a stunner but actually looks unfinished.

    • sethasaurus

      +1 to this.
      At first glance I can’t help but think … *yawn* .. “Yeah, it follows the fashion”.
      A stumpy wee seat never looked right to me.
      At least it doesn’t have a big hole in it (that old designer’s claim about ‘negative space’ claim is getting old).

      Also, it would be nice if pipeburn did a bit of proof-reading! sheesh

      • Jester the Clown

        “At least it doesn’t have a big hole in it (that old designer’s claim about ‘negative space’ claim is getting old)”
        That’s my other pet hate..

    • Andy Rappold

      Exactly my thoughts…the rear fender is too short and certainly not useful (for our purists here on the board). It’s a beautiful build after all and I would love to ride it!

  • Paul

    Nice to see a XS500, since I’ve got a TX500 getting slowly rebuilt. Love that headlight, but could use something out back to balance the stubby-ness. I actually think bikes look better with a bit of a fender, for visual balance, even ignoring the function of them.

  • brownroundtown

    Too many XS500 customs end up looking ‘awkward’, but i think this one nails it. The short rear end, short pipes and keeping the side panels really embrace that boxy look, while keeping the whole thing nicely balanced. Fantastic. Ok, personally, I wouldn’t want the pipe wrap and I’m not a fan of just dropping the forks through the yokes, but this is such a great job from Relic. Great stuff.

  • The pipe wrap spoils things IMHO.

  • I forgot what a nice looking motor an XS500 had. Good color choices.

  • Hardley T Whipsnade III

    Hmmmn . Yeah ! Thats kind of a cool build . Could do without the infernal pipewrap mind you . But other than that ; Clean – Well executed – a semblance of originality . Well integrated . So yeah . This is a pretty cool build overall . Minus the pipewrap 😉

    • guvnor67

      Yep, a beaut set of stainless pipes would look sooooooo much nicer!

  • PalmsyP

    Great build! I’m working on a little XS250 and this is great inspiration. It’s so tidy and the rear tail light section/fender is really neat. Great colours too! So low and bold, I bet it’s a blast.

    People bashing the pipewrap are more fad orientated than anybody! Like those kids at school that would pick on people for having last seasons trainers.

    Do people writing negative comments think that people should listen? Or change their builds?

    Please just build something of your own that you do like and then post that. God knows what never before seen genius will gush forth from your workshop/shed/lair but I am absolutely dying to know what we all should be building.

    Nonconstructive, negative comments on personal builds are the same as walking down the street and telling people you don’t like what they’re wearing, but even more pathetic as you’re hiding in your little hate pit. I can guarantee most of you wouldn’t say sh*t at a bike meet if a bike rolled up you didn’t like.

    Surely most mods on full custom bikes could be classed as detrimental to performance, comfort or practicality in some way?

    We all know that and build them anyway. So saying pipewrap has no performance benefit and just ‘for hipsters’ is the same as saying custom bikes are for hipsters. Maybe they are?

    Building bikes (like this one) is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to spend your time and a great inspiration to people like myself who are just getting into motorcycles.

    Thanks Tommy for building/sharing this beaut.

    • guvnor67

      Ok, not all mods on bikes are detrimental!! Uprated brakes, alloy parts, less weight etc. If you are just getting into bikes let me help you here. Between you and the road or the bloody big truck in front are 3 important, nay 4, important things: good tyres, good brakes, good suspension, and rider skill (maybe some luck too). Firestones are ok, but not brilliant, and since I started riding in the early 80s, tyre tech has come a long way. I run modern sticky all-weather tyres on my 79 T140 e, because I like to ride fast, to push the old girl, and that’s a lot more fun when it actually sticks to the goddamn road. My Honda custom bobber thingy is set up with the best tyres I can find for a ‘cruiser”, I run braided steel brake hoses on all my bikes, oh and don’t own a car either. I went through several sets of ‘bars before finding a set that were comfy, give me plenty of leverage, and of course look, to my mind, cool as fuck. Over the years ive done some kool mods, some shit mods and some downright dangerous mods, but I’ve learned, and would never whack on a set of average tyres that look kool that mean though that I can’t ride the hell out of my machine in any weather. This you Will learn the hard way, like a friend of mine did, when his ‘hey, these are kool” tyres decided that an afternoon lye down was the go leaving hots of elbow and kneecap for the paramedics to pick up.

  • Murphy’s law

    Pipe wrap or not. That’s a clean motorcycle. As far as brats or cafes or even brown seats it’s all been done before. To me it doesn’t matter if it’s a fad or not. As long as is its done well and all the components work well together that’s all that matters. The fit and finish is well done. We all can look at this bike and appreciate somethings while wanting to change another this is what makes these builds great.

  • 70s_italian

    no suspension travel either end.

  • mtnsicl

    It needs a cafe racer rear fender/bodywork on it. And yes, I’d rather see a pretty exhaust as opposed to wrap. Other then those things, it’s beautiful!

  • Maz Abdullah

    Can i ask, What font you used? or if its a custom font can i get a suggestion on something similar? Thanks