Bill Stevens Build An XS

Article By: Hugh Owings

Photos By: Chris Callen

Originally Published In The April 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine


This XS650 ran across my desk a few days ago, and it’s one of those bikes that you kinda look over a bit, take it for granted, and then look a bit closer. It turns out Bill built this as his first motorcycle project, and it has some pretty cool touches. So I gave bill a ring on the ol’ telephone. I n a world with emails, text messages, and smoke signals – it is always good to put a voice with a machine. It turns out Bill built this thing himself, in a 9×12 shed that he has dubbed “9 by 12 Customs” – I know a ton of us have been down that road, and even more of us are probably still sitting in a shed right now, working on a dream machine. If you’ve never been to Grand Rapids MI, it’s cold. It’s really cold, I’m a Southern feller myself, so I try and keep below the Mason Dixon in the winter. So you start thinking about a short riding season, and a long cold winter, and add in a 9×12 shed – and Bill managed to kick out a pretty slick 1981 XS650. I had to ask, “Why the XS?” – Bill simply said “It’s the poor man’s Triumph” – and to an extent I can’t say I disagree… Of course, I’ve always thought the “XS650 is best Triumph ever built”, but I may be just a tad biased.


Turns out, those long winters give Bill something more than a heating bill, he spends his time racing snow mobiles. Add in a background in the automotive industry, and that was a combination for success for a true gearhead if I ever saw one. Bill took the XS650 Engine over to Hoffer Performance, who specializes in Racing Snowmobile Engines, for a freshening up with some bigger pistons, bigger valves, a port job and I’m sure a few other tricks that he didn’t share. Sometimes we have to look outside of our comfort zone to learn a few things, and I dig that. So back to the chassis. Bill built his own frame fixtures, ordered some pre-bent tubing, and went to town on the frame converting it from a swingarm to the hardtail you see now. He said “I just slid the axle plates to where I thought it looked good, and went with it” – no overthinking it. He said working at 9 by 12 Customs is nice and cozy, and that his welders don’t even need wheels to reach from one end to the other, so he put the frame together and then tackled the tank. The first thing I thought when I saw the bike in pictures was that the tank was a traditional Wassel style, something perhaps snagged at a swap meet and dressed up. That’s just not Bill’s way of doing things. After being corrected in my assumptions, turns out he used 3 different gas tanks and some new metal along the way to fab that baby up. In his words “It hasn’t rattled apart yet”.


The rest of the bike fell into place, somewhere along the way Bill planned on running a King and Queen seat so his wife could ride with him, but a visit to Gatlinburg TN where he snagged up a solo bag changed the direction of the build, and now it’s rocking the solo seat. Now, I’m talking to Bill, we’re laughing and having a grand ol’ time on the telephone, and he says “I’d never ridden a motorcycle on the street, I didn’t even know if I was going to like this thing, but I just like building stuff” – my kinda dude. First Build, First Pavement… The 6K miles he put on the bike last year are a testament that it’s not just for show, and that he actually loves riding the thing. A few bugs along the way, just like we all experience in a new build, and Bill is planning on some new tapered steering bearings, better brake lines, and he’s custom fabbing a 1 piece exhaust system that he plans to have chromed. Those aren’t the kind of upgrades that a show bike usually gets in it’s off season, and we all know that a custom bike is never “done” – especially one that gets ridden this hard. Dyno tuning is scheduled for some time this spring. I asked Bill if this was just a passing thing, or if he had any other builds in the works. “I’ve got the bug” he said, and went on about building another bike soon for his wife. So that’s all it takes, an XS650, a 9×12 shed, a trip down south for a saddlebag and the next thing you know that shed is getting cramped for new builds. Good call on ditching the King and Queen seat, now you have an excuse to build another sweet bike for the wife…


Persistence Tech Sheet

Owner: Bill Stevens

Fabrication By: 9 By 12 Customs

City/state: Grand Rapids, MI

Year: 1981

Model: Yamaha XS650

Value: Not Enough

Time: 3 Months, Never Ending


Year: 1981

Model: XS650

Builder: HOffer Performance

Ignition: Pamco

Displacement: 650

Pistons: Yamaha +20 Over

Heads: Ported, Increased Valve Size

Carb: Mikuni BS34, Mikes Jet Kit

Cam: Stock

Air Cleaner: XS Performance

Exhaust: 9 By 12 Customs



Year: 1981

Make: Yamaha

Shifting: 5 Speed


Year: 1981

Make: Yamaha/9 By 12 Hardtail

Rake: Stock

Stretch: 4”


Type: Stock

Builder: Hoffer Performance

Extension: -1.5

Triple Trees: Stock,Modified Chromed Lower


Front Wheel: Rebuilt Stock

Size: 19”

Front Tire: Avon

Front brake: Stock/Mikes XS Master

Rear Wheel: Rebuilt Stock

Size: 16”

Rear Tire: Shinko

Rear brake: Stock


Painter: Jason Scheid

Color: Custom Blend

Type: PPG Water Based

Chroming: Advance Plating & Protectors


Bars: TC Bros

Risers: Stock

Hand Controls: Mikes XS

Fuel tank: 9 By 12 Customs

Front Fender: Nope

Rear Fender: 9 By 12 Customs

Seat: Bill Stevens

Foot Controls: Pandemonium

Headlight: Lowbrow Customs

Taillight: Swap Meet Score

Speedo: Na

Photographer: Chris Callen

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