If a recipe book existed that helped reveal the secret formula for turning a Japanese twin into a retro cafe racer with artisan alloy bodywork, it might go something like this. Take one middle-aged French biker with forty years on two wheels, add a lifetimes work at one of Germany’s leading manufacturers of designer metalwork, tip in a large splash of admiration for Japanese builder extraordinaire Shinya Kimura, and mix together with love and patience over 5 years in a well equipped home garage. Sure there is more than one way to skin a cat, but the results speak for themselves and we’d love to take a bite. From the Alsace region of Northern France, meet Yves Heitz and his stunning 1981 Yamaha XS650 called the Aluminium Bullet.
Looking at the bike you’d never know that this was Yves first time building a custom machine, but he has a few things on his side. Having ridden motorcycles since 1979 he has a good handle on exactly how the scene works, what he likes and definitely what he doesn’t. He also happens to work for Grohe, the German maker of some of the world’s finest tapware and accessories, where he’s responsible for ensuring the polished and chrome designs are built to exacting standards and capable of still beaming bright even after you’ve spent years rubbing your grubby fingers all over them!
For the project he was happy to take his time, it might be his first, but it was going to be brilliant no matter how long it took. In selecting the Yamaha XS650 he had the perfect donor, a bike that is begging to be taken back to the best of British ’60s designs and also one with plenty of aftermarket support to ensure it would run for years and carry him across Europe on his adventures with his biker buddies. In addition to being a king of polished parts, he is also a crafter of wood and metal furniture, and a sculptor in his spare time. So it comes as no surprise that his initial drawings for the bike and additional 3D designs look good enough to have come from the offices of Bugatti.
To prepare the XS for its new clothes, first the barebones had to be brought up to standard which meant scrubbing and cleaning off 40 years of grit and grime. With the bare frame and swingarm on his bench, it was all sanded back, the rear was shortened in preparation for what was to follow and holes that weren’t to be used were filled and filed back. To provide the best base for the polished metal to pop, the chassis was given a spray of gloss black powder to provide the perfect contrast and it was time to begin on the alloy!
In the front fairing you see the heavy inspiration of Kimura-san, dare I say it, some of the lines are even more radical. To provide his own take Yves went for a unique mixture of hard and rounded off lines, but like Kimura, all are influenced by the practical components of the bike. The headlight setting the stage for the rounded centre, while the recess at the bottom matches the top of the front fender. The four swept edges are unafraid in their bold lines, while the top features a screen like addition to cover the gauge.
Just imagine trying to craft this piece from alloy, with those shapes and not end up with a hundred creases in the metal…, here, not one, genius! The front subframe to support it all takes on a very industrial feel, deliberately exposed and runs the right angles to ensure that the forks clear in their full arc of turn. While looking at his designs for the tank, with their heavy Manx influence, Yves discovered an alloy tank for sale and decided to snap it up, as it was simply too stunning not to sit atop his XS.
Modified to fit it flows rearward into his own tail unit that mixes traditional cafe vibes with the rear section taking on the appearance of a solider of Troy’s battle helmet. While at the front there are grilled off gills that add an extra element for the eye. The front and rear hugger beautifully match and to contrast it all the traditional leather seat in diamond stitching and the front leather grips finish off the look to perfection! Then putting his master polishing skills into practice, the whole body, new rims and hubs and rebuilt fork legs are given hours of love until their shine is unmistakable.
With many miles on his mind, Yves selected a set of progressively sprung rear shocks and then got to work on the engine. A full clean, part polish and rebuild ensures maximum reliability and the carbs have been finished off with a stunning set of velocity stacks that can wear foam filters when needed. An all-new wiring loom was built and items like the headlight and turn signals come from German masters Highsider.
To finish it all out Yves selected a set of new polished pipes and mufflers that he then polished properly, before wrapping the rims up in Heidenau K36 rubber. Five years of blood, sweat and gears and the finished product has the big tick of approval from his bike-loving daughter, but Yves’ wife isn’t as thrilled as we are to learn he’s already started on a new build.
Images by Jo Cappitta Motorcycles Photography