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XS650 Chopper

  • Motorcycles
  •  | 
Punk Rock on Two Wheels
Words by Kurt Diserio — Photos by Erin Fitzgerald
Matt Cohen got into motorcycles through the gateway of bicycles. At a young age, he started with BMX and mountain bike racing, and it took off from there. He even did the bike messenger gig in his twenties. This obsession with two wheels has led him to the chopper seen here. We asked him questions about his journey through the years and how this Yamaha came to be.
What initially sparked your interest in building a chopper?
Matt Cohen: I got into choppers after Mike, a skateboarding friend of mine, began customizing an Evo Sporty and showed me that it was possible to build one without breaking the bank. As cheesy as it is, choppers are really the mechanical embodiment of punk rock. It was eye-opening to realize that I could design exactly what I want and make it a reality if I just figured out how to do it myself.
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
How did you come across the Yamaha?
MC: I originally impulse-bought a Honda CB750. I considered chopping that bike, but the motor was too wide for my liking and the idea of syncing and adjusting four carbs scared the shit out of me. So, I found an XS on Craigslist from a guy that turned out to be the owner of Lowbrow Customs. He informed me that the bike would be at the Lowbrow swap, but when I got there, it was nowhere to be seen. As it turns out, he simply didn’t have all the paperwork together and decided not to sell it that day. So after wandering the parking lot, I noticed another XS for sale. The guy selling the bike kicked it over first try. I was sold, but I had no way to get the bike from Ohio back to Pittsburgh. It was pouring, I didn’t have a trailer, and it wasn’t looking good. Luckily, two incredibly nice guys from Pittsburgh offered to trailer the bike back for a fee, and it couldn’t have worked out better. Those guys became my contacts for the Pittsburgh chopper scene. Through them, I met Josh at Uptahn Metalworks who really made this whole project go from a crazy dream of mine to a real ride that turns a lot of heads.
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
How much work did you do to get it where it is today?
MC: With the help of my new chopper friends, I immediately stripped it down to the bare frame. I took a bunch of pictures of the bike as a roller and drew on them with the iPhone equivalent of MS paint to sketch up ideas. Using a hacksaw, I cut the frame to the best of my ability, and it came out relatively even. When it came to welding the hardtail on, I sought out a professional. Enter Josh Howells and Uptahn Metalworks. Seeing what good work Josh did, we formed a plan of what parts he would fabricate and how it would all come together. I would sketch out or drunkenly describe my vision of a sissy bar or rabbit ear bars and Josh made them a reality. As much as I would love to take all the credit for this build, there’s no way any of it would have been possible without him.
What are your favorite parts about it?
MC: My favorite part of the bike is the one thing I can actually take credit for, the electronics box. I got an old NY Bell first aid kit from my grandfather’s apartment and knew I wanted to incorporate it into the bike. A key switch was too common. Being that I enjoy wiring, I thought that making a combination lock of toggle switches would be a pretty cool idea. I used three 3-position toggles for my main power and one for my lighting circuit. Anyone that wants to hot-wire a chopper bad enough is gonna do it anyway, so I figure that I’m no less secure than with a standard key switch. Plus, I feel like a fighter pilot flicking all the switches before kicking it over. I also absolutely love the sissy bar with a removable back pad and the kickstand that Josh came up with. If anyone knows me, they know my connection to the railroad and freight hopping world. The kickstand used railroad spikes configured into an inverted cross (for sweet metal points).
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
What was the biggest headache?
MC: It was probably having to deal with all the variations of spacers for the rear wheel—until a permanent solution was made by Josh. Every single time that the wheel had to come off, it was a balancing act with the two of us to hold it up, get the wheel situated, contort our fingers into a position that would hold all the washers and then jam the axle back in. Beer helped the attitude, but I probably would have been more useful without it.
There seems to be a lot of people that used to race BMX but are now into choppers. Can you dig into why that might be?
MC: BMX riders were the first to remove the front brake, and that sounds pretty choppy to me. It’s all about getting light and going fast—danger be damned. It’s a natural progression, and eventually you want to go faster on two wheels. BMX riders have always had the same DIY ethic that chopper builders do. Thrash, break, fix. When you’re breaking stuff so often, it’s only a matter of time before you stop wanting to pay someone else to fix it or you just pop off parts to avoid ever thinking about them again. It only makes sense to me that if a BMXer is going to get into motorcycles, they’d be chopping out of the gate.
Any other projects in the works?
MC: I’m constantly looking for another project, and a couple of bikes are in mind. Along with the rest of the world, I would love to find a nice slabside Shovelhead, but a more realistic and budget-friendly bike I’m seeking is a Kawasaki KZ 750 twin. I really love the Japanese stuff and want to give some shine to the lesser chopped bikes out there.
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Josh from Uptahn Metalworks (pictured) had a significant role in the build process.
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
Yamaha XS650 Chopper Vintage Custom Motorcycle Pittsburgh
  • Featured in Issue 006
  • Built by MATT COHEN
  • Words by KURT DISERIO
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