1978 Yamaha XS650 Chopper
We recently did a little bike run through Indiana out to a rural property with a group of fun loving riders from all different states and Matthew Nebel came down from Cleveland with a great group to get away for a bit. We noticed right away he wasnt riding your average XS650 and after a few pits stops and close inspection we realized that he had something pretty unique that needed some light shed on it so more people could come to dig this ever evolving patina proud Yamaha chopper. We shot some photos and talked with him a bit about why he chose this for his daily rider.
So let's start off with who you are and where you are from?
So let's start off with who you are and where you are from?
My Name Is Matthew Nebel, people call me Neebs. I was born and Raised in the West Burbs of Chicago, Spent about a decade out West in Seattle, bounced around a bit and am currently living in Cleveland.
So give us all all the fun stuff on the bike the year, make, model.
In its current iteration it's a 1978 Yamaha XS650 but it's titled as a 75.
Did it start out in mostly stock form when you first got it or was it already partially chopped ? Give us a little back story on how it became what it is today.
It was a Partially Chopped "Project" when I picked it up. I got it partially assembled off a guy In Chicago who was an auto body shop dude. He Claimed to have no mechanical abilities whatsoever and couldn't get it to run. He was right, it was a disaster. Had to do a rebuild right from the start so one thing lead to another ya know. Also right off the bat I went with a Joe Wise 2 to 1 manifold and re jetted an Dirt bike carb so I wouldnt have to fiddle with syncing the old carbs. I've never had any power or fuel issues with it. Runs great!
What drew you towards using the Yamaha xs650 platform for a project like this?
They're fast, reliable, easy to work on, inexpensive, and the motor looks badass! They're pretty much bullet proof. I also like how they look similar to an old Triumph.
You have a pretty creative job as a glass blower which in turn gives you some pretty good attention to detail would you say you use any of those types of skills on shaping the build?
Yeah I suppose you could say that. I've always been into the arts in one form or another but never did too much mechanically when I was younger. I guess learning to Blow glass gave me a sort of confidence boost to try things I had previously shrugged off as being beyond my abilities. Working with glass is really difficult and almost stressful in a way as there's a sense of urgency, while working on bikes is much more relaxing for me. You can sit back, measure twice, cut once, then get drunk if you screw it up. As far as skills translating over, there isn't much similar other then welding which definitely takes a similar hand eye coordination.
Speaking of Glass, A little shameless self promotion is in order. I've been juggling the idea of a little side glass hustle and making custom glass parts for bikes. translating some of the marble and pendant designs i make into shift knobs, gas caps, bar ends, etc. So if you'd be into that, check me out on instagram @neebsglass and let me know.
There are a lot of really cool "found objects" and accents on the bike what's the significance of any of these and is there any story that goes with each of them?
You can tell right away that I love brass (poor mans gold). I just like digging around at Flea markets and rummage sales, or even antique stores. You can find all sorts of cool pike nuts and random decorative stuff you can use. At one point I ran a pair of old curtain rods as back foot pegs. They eventually broke. I had a pair of chrome Foot pegs, but they didn't look good and I was broke at the time so I used some copper sulfate and sulfuric acid solution, ran some power through it and electro formed a coating of copper over them. They didn't last too long either, but it was cool for a minute. I just do what I can when I can to add flair and make it as unique as possible.
While there isn't a lot of paint work to the the bike you still managed to do a really cool rust school design in the tank tell us a little more about how you pulled that off that's a really neat detail that most people wouldn't even notice when they 1st see the bike.
I used to have a sporty tank, but I went on the Orygun run, or as people called it "The breakdown run 2018". Anyway it was damned near 1500 miles in one weekend in 108 degree heat. By the end the sporty tank split at the seams and was pissing gas. It was actually quite nice as it was a sort of air conditioner in that heat. I also lost a tail pipe and sort of hobbled it back on with a PBR can and some hose clamps. Fried the battery, broke the tank, pipes, a weld or 2, and a week later the motor locked up, but that's another story. So I got a new tank, but didn't have the time or money or means at all to do a paint job and I really wanted to get the bike rebuilt, so I decided to just do a rust patina. I used a vinyl cutter to make some stickers. A skull, a Vegvisir compass, and a couple roses. Stuck them to the tank then sprayed the rest down with salt, vinegar, and some other oxidizing shit I had at the house. sprayed a few times a day for a couple days until it was nice and rusty, then pulled off the stickers. I probably should have sealed it all in with some sort of coating, but there was too much contrast at the time, and I never really gave it much more thought after that. Now you can barely even see it anymore, but thats kind of cool in its own right.
What was one of the most challenging parts of the build?
I'm no mechanic whatsoever so the whole thing has been a challenge but it's been a lot of fun. The most painful thing for me has always been and still is the electrical stuff. I get so confused doing electrical shit and I dread the day.
What is one of your favorite parts of the bike and why?
That's a hard question, but I'd have to say the front lights. I love that yellow glass and how it ties into the rust and brass real well. I also just overall like the aesthetic or lack thereof. I built this bike to ride hard and put away wet. Nothing fancy or very expensive. Its crude and rude and meant to be ridden.
Bikes can sometimes be an on going project do you have any more plans for the bike and if so what do you plan to do to it in the future?
Funny you should ask. A couple days ago I was riding here in town going down a hill toward the flats. This truck pulled out in front of me and I locked up the brakes and crashed pretty hard. I'm fine, but the bike flipped a couple times and is pretty beat up. The sissy bar is bent, the lights are smashed, controls, bars, etc., so I'm going to have to rebuild yet again. I'm really unsure as to what exactly I want to do, I usually just kinda figure it out as I go along. I have another bike I'm building right now though so I might not do too much, and just get it back on the road. we will see.
So what was one of your favorite moments on the bike or favorite trips you took with it?
Oh man I Have so many memories on this Bike its hard to narrow it down. I really loved the Orygun run despite the outcome. Oregon is an extraordinarily beautiful state to explore. I took her to Born Free once and rode around the hills down there. The "Lowbrow get down" was great times. The whole Fuel weekend was really fun here in Cleveland. Clam Jam revival where we met was rad. I'm pretty much happy to be anywhere on my bike.
What was some of your favorite music to listen to while working on the bike? The mood of something like that can often shape a project in one direction or another.
I tend to listen to a lot of heavy metal in the garage. A lot of grungy Doomy stuff as well. lots of old outlaw type country music. It definitely has an influence on the aesthetic for sure.
So is there anyone else involved in the build that helped out or that you would like to thank?
Oh for sure. First of all My Dad. He rode me around on his Harley when i was a kid and helped me buy my first Dirt bike which got me hooked for life. also Shout out to my boy Victor. We've been separate by quite a bit of distance over the years, but hes always helping me out over text when I get in a jam or need advice. Hes a mechanical genius, a great artist, and a good friend. My buddy Shane in Oregon has helped me out a ton while I was living out that way. And Bronson as well. Also my buddy Eli has been a good help and inspiration. If I forgot anyone, you know who you are, thank you.
In closing is there anything you would like to add?
Just that if anyone's on the fence about building a bike, I say go for it. You don't need a lot of money or fancy tools to make something functional and rad. I'm not shy about the fact that my bike is a POS scrabbled together in a home garage with mostly hand tools and a janky Mig welder, but its my POS and it runs great and turns heads. Give it a try.
Photos and Words by Mike Vandegriff