A new build of (somewhat) EPIC proportions! My '78 XS

Lone Vagabond

XS400 Enthusiast
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A Rookie's Build ~ My '78 XS

Hey all,

I've been involved in online forums for a long time now as I'm a VAG (Volkswagen auto groupe) nut. Haven't driven a personal car yet that isn't part of that family....back on topic. As I read all of these awesome builds I always wonder who the people are turning the wrench so I'll introduce myself a little.

Name is Clayton. I'm 24 yrs old and am finally finishing up college. I'm graduating with a degree in business and I am looking to get involved in sales and management. I love figuring out how things work and go together and have since I was knee high. That also goes for things with motors.

I've been in the MC world since I could drive and have loved every minute of it! Learned on a TW200, rode a BMW G650GS for three years then graduated with a MC endorsement from Indiana's ABATE program. At that point I upgraded the 650 to a BMW R1200GS. Also rode a Kawi Concoures for a period, great bike too. I have loved my Bimmers and have always said that I wouldn't want to ride anything else. Well, I was wrong. As good as those bikes are they are VERY technical and expensive bikes. They are not good project bikes, especially if they are late models.

So the 12 yr. old in me has been itching to play with legos for a while now. I wanted something a little more involved with the finished product being something that I can use. I thought about wood working but I do not have any of the special tools and those are very expensive as I am on a college budget. I thought why not something I know!? Also knew of a friend who had an extra bike that was willing to part with it for cheap. This brings us to my new "other girlfriend" a 1978 XS400.

I went with my friend, Daniel, to look at this bike 3-4 years ago. We found it on craigslist and went to look at it. Well Daniel bought the bike after looking at it and riding it. It was a poor excuse of a tracker/cafe build with the guy cutting corners left and right for the few things he did. It had no mufflers and was loud as #&%k. It also was firing on one cylinder. With some harley pipes and some new wires it was working ok but he wanted his money back because he found a KZ400. Well the guy was no where to be found. Legal proceedings ensued with no luck. Fast forward to this past month I started my last semester in school and needed one more class to fill out my full time requirements. I saw that a sculpture class was offered this semester and knew the prof was a very accomplished metal sculptor. I emailed him and asked if I could learn to weld and work with metal and have my final project be a motorcycle with the "sculpture" being parts like the tins and frame.

So on to the bike. It is a 1978 XS400 with 12k original miles! I'm a little wary of possible problems as it was ran for a period of time, I don't know how long really, on one cylinder. It was a simple fix of a new spark wire. So I was happy about that. I purchased it for next to nothing for a close to running bike with low miles. It has a rattle can flat black paint job with a very poor job of removing tags and emblems. I did try to get it running again but knew that if it didn't run it was ok. I'm going to be tearing the engine apart and checking it all out. I'll have it running come January.

I got the bike to it's new home, thanks to another friend with extra space in his "bike" garage. Its a second detached two place garage that the previous owner of the house used for a wood working shop. I began working on the bike at 6:30 yesterday evening and at 8:30 pm it now looks like a pile of junk, I mean parts. Haha.

Lastly, the vision of the bike is to be cleaned up with a frame modification that will give it a new attitude. I have a drawing of where I want it to be eventually at the end.

The list of dream modifications include,

Japanese Bobber Frame mod
Pod Filters
Different tank, don't know which yet or if i want to try and make one.
Kick-start only
19" front
17" Rear
Keep Drum Brakes
Clean up controls
Drag Bars
Twin HID headlights (reminiscent of the BMW look)
LED tail and indicator lights
straight pipes with baffles, heat wrapped (so i don't wake the neighbors)
Colors: Dark gunmetal gray with small metal flake with highlights of a pale yellow/almost cream color, with deep brown leather accents.
And many little details that I will know about once i get to them. haha

P.S. I'll have pictures once my computer finishes installing Mountian Lion. bad timming. :doh:


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welcome to the forum, that was some intro :thumbsup:

my dad had a Beetle once but that was in '74

lets see these pictures
Ordered some books to get some reading done. Got a Haynes manual and a couple metal working books. Also got a mikuni carb manual from Mikexs! I'm looking forward to doing some reading before I really dive in! Any good reads that I shouldn't miss?
Today was a great day! Two big things happened: first I've made some more progress on the XS and second is that I can now say I know how to weld!

Now, when I say weld it's MIG so I'm cheating. Kinda. And my welds are awesomely terrible. Most beads I laid would have space in them. Its really weird working with almost no vision of what you are doing at the moment. I'm having to use my spacial awareness cranked up to overdrive. I did however lay a few beads that were pretty good!

I'm nowhere close to where I need to be to overhaul my frame like I'm wanting to. It all starts somewhere, right? Well today was day one of crawling. I'll make sure to take some pictures so you all can poke fun.

Now on to the more important things. Picktars! :thumbsup: So I had a few hours in my afternoon that I was able to devote to the bike. (pictures will be below)

I drained the oil. It hurt seeing oil that clean being drained out of a motor. The oil was in the motor for a total of 5 miles. I then pulled the motor from the frame. When I tried to pull the tach cable from the motor, the screw holding it in almost stripped. That coupled with the oil that I split sent me on a trip to the parts store. While out I picked up an impact screwdriver, some "charcoal" as the guys behind the counter call it due to the bag its in, and some bags to keep all of the parts in.

Once back I got the motor on the bench and began tearing into the thing. I'm very thankful for the money I spent on a workshop manual for the bike. The directions were great and had me all the way to the point you see now. I have 26 bags of parts all labeled with names and numbers corresponding to the book. I'm not losing that one part that I'll have to buy another motor for. Got stuck up on the gasket between the cases and cylinder block for a minute but it broke loose without breaking any fins or bending rods. Glad to see little to no damage for a bike being run on one cylinder.

Well that about sums it up for my day in XS. I'll be continuing to tear down the cases and tranny this weekend. I'm also gonna be ordering gaskets and carb rebuild kits. Then it is on to the frame. A lot of research and planning work will happen in the next two months. I'm gonna say I'll be chiming in more now that the build is actually taking shape.



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Hey guys,

Been a week since the last update. To some of you not a lot has happened but for me its been an a bunch of work.

Got the motor disassembled all the way. I had to do some surgery to get some parts out. the screws holding the flanges that in turn hold the gear selector drum in were really soft and stripped regardless of the tool I used. So i found some stripped screw removers but two broke off. So I had to Dremel off the screw head to get the bold out. So I still have to get the shaft of the screw out and get some new hardware.

Also, I'm ready to degrease the motor parts and do final dismantling of internal assemblies. Gonna use Vinegar. Any reason not to?

Where do you guys get your gasket kits?

I've searched and searched and the only gasket kit I can find for the XS is from Parts-n-More. I've thought about local shops but I know the one decent local guy often has a rather steep markup.

Pictures below!



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Also, I'm ready to degrease the motor parts and do final dismantling of internal assemblies. Gonna use Vinegar. Any reason not to?

Vinegar is a diluted acid. It will etch most metals to varying degrees. But it isn't an effective degreaser. If you are trying to get corrosion off of aluminium parts, vinegar will work, but the resulting finish may not be to you liking. Especially on polished parts. Degreasing first is recommended.

For degreasing, I prefer to use a water-based cleaner like Castrol SuperClean in a large metal wash tub, diluted 1:1 with water, and I heat it to a simmer using a camp stove. It will remove all oils and most carbon deposits. The carbon that it doesn't remove, will brush off with little effort. WEAR GLOVES and EYE PROTECTION! This stuff will kill multiple layers of skin in short order and I'd rather not consider what it would do to eyes... :eek: Consider this your final and only warning! Also expect nylon brushes to not last long in this cleaner. Brass or stainless steel brushes are preferred.

Rinse all cleaned parts with fresh water, dry them, and apply some sort of oil or they will corrode/rust very quickly.

Keep at it! you are making good progress!


Thanks a bunch for stopping me before I made a mistake! Your help is much appreciated!

Can I use a type of oil and spray the parts down quickly? Trying to think of a spray oil that isn't WD-40. Would that work though?

Glad I could help Clayton!

Any oil will work, even WD-40. You just need to displace any residual moisture after rinsing, and to block air from getting to the metal so it can't rust or corrode. The cleaner, combined with heat, will remove all the oil from the metal. Even oil that has soaked into it. This leaves the metal very vulnerable to corrosion. More so if you don't rinse all of the cleaner off.

Well thanks Dave! I'll do some cleaning this week and i'll probably either have an oil bath or a few cans of WD-40 ready. I'll use the correct oil if i choose to give the parts a bath but I'm thinking it will be much more economical to have a few cans of WD-40 on hand.

Also just ordered a few things from Parts-n-more. Gasket kits for the motor and carbs. Fork seals, new carb holders, gear change levers, and a few tools like the fly wheel puller and valve compressor. The last few things I need before I can begin to rebuild the motor.

Might be able to have the motor bench running before the end of the month. I'm excited.

Then it is on to the frame and tins. Once I begin working on those I will then know what direction I'll be going for sure. Still trying to decide between the brat style or working with board tracker lines. So many difficult decisions! haha

Thanks all,

Oh forgot to mention, I'll be working on a table lift for the bike since my buddy just got a Kawasaki GPZ 900 and we both will be needing space to work on our bikes that won't kill our knees. If you guys have any good plans or ideas I'd greatly appreciate the help.

Alright! So for my sculpture class I've got the hook up. My prof has a deal with the local industrial scrap yard that has been running for years. He is the only guy allowed to freely take metal "with in reason." I got to go today and picked up some great supplies for a motorcycle table lift and my sculpture project of a table. I'll be sure to put up some photos once I'm done but it will be a little while till then.

Spent a few hours this afternoon and evening designing and beginning fab work on the table. The design is still up in the air but I'm beginning to have a direction. I'm not overly worried about strength. Most of the materials are overkill for an application of less than 2000 lbs. Yea real industrial shit.


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Here is the frame I'm working up and some welds so you guys that have years of experience can pick them apart. :thumbsup:

And a quick shot of the machine I have access to. I think in the next few weeks I'll be working on up to TIG welding. Looking forward to that!

Might as well get all I can out of college while they make me poor..... :(

P.S. Two of the photos (2 and 3) are not on the frame. They are just practice welds. Any pointers?


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Damn you sure do have the hook up on steel, lucky bastard!

1st weld looks good, 2nd one you went a little fast. If you flip up the side of the welder where the wire is there should be a diagram on how to set the machine based on the wire and thickness of material you're using. Use that to get a base then fine tune it for yourself from there.

Remember slow and steady wins the race, no need to rush.
Damn you sure do have the hook up on steel, lucky bastard!

1st weld looks good, 2nd one you went a little fast. If you flip up the side of the welder where the wire is there should be a diagram on how to set the machine based on the wire and thickness of material you're using. Use that to get a base then fine tune it for yourself from there.

Remember slow and steady wins the race, no need to rush.

Thanks 1lowdiesel:bike:

I am really lucky but I guess in all reality it's costing me about an arm and a leg once I spread the cost of this semester over my classes.... The down side to being a business major is knowing costing and accounting.

Yea those first welds were in the first day of sitting down and picking up a gun.

With all good there is bad. All of the steel is either to thin, in to small of pieces, or is to thick. Also going to just buy new tubing for the frame once I get to that point. Just for a peace of mind.
Hey guys,

I'm some what afraid to show you the next thing but I can't get a stud out of my lower crank case. I was thinking of strapping it down to a drill press and drilling out the rest of the stud but I'm thinking I could do more harm than good.

What do you think I should do? Any help would be appreciated!
Heat the stud and surrounding area with a propane torch until it is very hot, then melt candle wax on and around the stud so that it flows into the threads. Let it cool until the wax solidifies. Then get a good grip on the stud with a pair of large vise grip pliers (with curved jaws) and try removing it. If there isn't enough stud protruding to get a grip on, then thread on a nut almost flush with the top of the stud. Weld the nut to the stud. Let it cool and remove.

Drilling should be your last resort, and left handed drill bits should be used (they turn "backwards" when drilling).

And give us a photo next time!