There are times when the sun, stars, planets, all align, and synchronicity ensues. It was just such a time when I discovered the Southern Flyer.
This past Sunday found me on one of my old haunts, Highway 60, headed up the mountain toward Suches, Georgia. This section of 60 is one twisty bit of treacherous tarmac, full of tight curves, bad surfaces, gawking tourists, and every other hazard a rider could fall prey to. It had been a year* since I was there last, and even though I was doing well, I wasn’t taking chances. Up ahead I could get occasional glimpses of a bike that was moving slower. As I caught up, I could tell it was a rigid custom of some sort, but didn’t really know what it was. I was hoping to hang back and get a good profile view, but the rider waved me to go around. As I passed I got good enough look to know I wanted to see more, but given the nature of the road, didn’t dare take a second glance.
There was a pack of bikes behind us, and 60 would go on for a while, so trying to stop the rider was not a good option. Without choice, I pressed on, heading to my favorite spot on the Richard Russell Parkway and my lunch, a PB&J sandwich, with Cheetos on the side. Of course, as I was riding along, and this went on for the bulk of the day, I kept saying to myself, “Man! I wish I’d gotten a better look at that bike!”
On my way home, the stars and planets heeded my wish. I had stopped at the top of Blood Mountain to get some water, rest my butt, and what rolls in ten minutes after I do? The bike I had been obsessing about all day!
I don’t mind telling you I was quick across that parking lot! “Hey man, do you mind if I get some shots of your bike?” “Sure, no problem.” In a flash I was back with my camera and on it before he changed his mind. I think I must have shot for ten minutes before remembering to introduce myself. The dude was so relaxed I think it didn’t matter to him anyway, but I finally did introduce myself and get his name.
His name is Kenny Reeves, and this is his 1978 Yamaha XS 650 custom bobber. The build is about four years old, and certainly no trailer queen, he rides it regularly. What impresses me about this bike is the minimal use, let me say that again for emphasis, MINIMAL use of aftermarket parts. Sure, there are some, but many of the elements that make up this bike were hand fabricated by Kenny.
Kenny is a machinist by trade, so the brass parts you see, grips, pegs, kicker pedal, etc., were all made by him. His handiwork does not stop there, he also fabricated the battery box, electronics holder, engine mounts, exhaust, various brackets, and spacers.
The paint is an awesome red, applied by Kenny’s brother Donnie, the 44 is the number their father used on his race cars.
The front fork is an aftermarket springer originally intended for a Harley, but adapted to the Yamaha frame by Kenny, the brass visor over the Bates style light is his.
The wheels front and rear are off a Harley, he’s not sure what model, but they look good. What used to be the front brake was swapped to the rear.
The hardtail section is a TC Brothers unit, giving the XS those classic rigid lines.
There was so much detail to this bike, all I could do is circle, shoot, and hope I got it all.
The seat is also a TC Brother’s product, but just the pan and springs, the seat is all Kenny, he did the leatherwork, carving and stitching. If you take a second to look at the image above again, you can see more of his work in the brass kicker, fender support, and turn signal visors.
Honestly, my camera, as good as it is cannot do the paint justice, it’s that good. Kenny’s brother has some skills!
The graphics are very nice, as is the pinstripes on the fender.
The handlebars are a Harley item intended for a springer, Kenny cut four inches off to fit the scale of the Yamaha. The tach is a Mike’s XS item, the gas cap comes from a company that makes gas tanks for race cars.
The engine covers feature some excellent millwork. On the primary side the Yamaha logo was removed, filled in with a new plate, and the areas above and below ball milled.
Just so you know, all the brass and aluminium surfaces were polished by Kenny, I’m starting to think this man can do it all…..
The XS 650 engine is stock except for 34mm Mikuni carbs and a Mike’s XS PMA kit, both essentials for curing some of the XS design quirks.
The “Lighting Holes” are also some of Kenny’s work, as well as the footpegs and switch bracket, all of this had to take hours, if not days!
The TT style pipes were made using pre bent stainless steel sections cut to fit and welded by Kenny. According to him, “It took awhile to get right.” Unlike most TT pipes on the market, these tuck in much more because they don’t have to clear the stock motor mount. The finishing touch after all the cutting and welding was a good polish by….. you know who…. How about a trip around the bike once more?
I am so glad I went for a ride in the mountains that day, this bike reminded me of why I do this, to share these cool bikes and the folks who build them. I wasn’t kidding when I said the stars and planets aligned for this, Kenny’s XS 650 is everything the magazine is about, owner built customs, it was just perfect for a new article, and found during my first ride in a long time. If you asked, I’d say the gods were smiling on me that day.
This is an amazing machine, there are other customs out there, sure, but what makes this special is the level of involvement from the owner and the quality of the build. If I were to look at this bike without knowing anything about it, just on face value, I’d assume it was built by a pro shop, it’s that good. In addition to the quality, is the fact that there was very few aftermarket parts used, everything else was created or modified by Kenny. He has every right to be proud, most people just buy pretty things, he created his. It is an honor to have his XS featured here, thank you Kenny!
Photos By: Terry Cavender
Words By: Terry Cavender
* Readers may have noticed a slight gap between this article and my last. (almost a year) The Biker’s Garage is a one horse operation, and to be quite honest, that horse had gone lame. Due to some issues with my eyesight, I have not been able to ride, shoot, or write. Those issues have been more or less resolved, and I have now returned to the road.