We’ve had our eye on Sean Skinner at MotoRelic for a while now. The Virginia-based builder has a knack for creating tidy restomods and customs, and knows how to nail that ‘factory’ vibe. But he’s just thrown us a major curveball with his latest project: a vintage Schwinn-inspired Yamaha XS650.
This deviation from MotoRelic’s usual fare was conceived six years ago. Sean had the offbeat idea to build an upsized replica of Schwinn’s famed 1968 Stingray Orange Krate chopper bicycle, powered by a motorcycle engine.
“Let’s add to the mix that I had never built a complete frame before—or lots of other parts on this build that followed,” he tells us. “I acquired a clean stock frame that I cut the neck off of, so I could retain the proper VIN number. Then I installed the lonely neck onto my recently purchased frame jig, and started brainstorming how I wanted it to look.”
Sean’s challenge was to replicate the swooping curves of the Stingray’s tubular frame. First, he fabricated the lower loop of the frame, using a mockup of the engine to get the proportions right. Then he used PVC tubing to prototype the rest of the design, before shaping each steel tube using a ring roller.
Once all the tubes were tacked in place and resembled the photos Sean was working from, he went ahead and laid down the final welds. The chassis looks like a single structure from afar, but the two tubes that run along the bottom of the tank are actually separate pieces. They’re there for extra bracing, and to act as the upper engine mounts.
But that’s as far as Sean got before the project stalled. “I hit a stumbling block, and the frame sat for four years in my basement,” he tells us. “It was either the lack of money for all the engine parts or the lack of confidence in building the front end… probably both.”
“As time went on I never forgot about the build; it just wasn’t top priority. Until one day when I was surfing Marketplace and stumbled upon an XS650 that a good friend had built. He was selling a bike with the perfect engine for my build.”
Sean isn’t overstating it when he says “perfect.” The XS650 mill had been ‘re-phased’ by Hugh’s Hand Built—an extensive rebuild process that changes the firing order from 360 to 277 degrees. It was also fully polished with ‘big fin’ cylinders, an electronic ignition and a ton of freshly chromed parts.
With that one major component sorted, the project was back in full swing. The front end was next on Sean’s list—but first, he needed to sort out the Schwinn’s signature big rear wheel, to get the ride height just right. A 21” rim laced to a stock XS650 hub with Buchanan’s spokes did the trick.
“Having the comically large wheel mounted to the frame really allowed me to see my vision in real life,” he says. “It’s adorable.”
Sean knew exactly how the ‘banana girder’ front end should look—but executing it was going to be tough. So he scoured the internet, and found a shop that builds them for Harleys. The scale was all wrong, but Sean managed to convince them to sell him a steering stem and its ‘yokes,’ giving him a head start.
Using a 17” drum brake wheel that he picked up from a buddy at a swap meet, Sean started crunching numbers to get the geometry just right. With a crude jig to line up all the pivot points, he pieced everything together—machining custom spacers and bungs as he went. An adjustable mountain bike shock was added for a little extra compliance out on the road.
The handlebars were made by hacking up a brand new set of ape hangers, and welding them to the front end. Sean wanted to keep the cockpit as clean as possible, so he used an internal throttle, and welded hand-made lever perches directly to the bars. Everything’s linked up with new cables from Venhill.
The foot controls were pieced together using a set of aftermarket pegs, old Harley mounts and a Magura switch for the rear brake.
Another challenge was finding a fuel tank that would fit the Stingray’s classic lines, but still hold at least two gallons. “While sitting in the shop I noticed an old Virago tank hanging on the wall,” Sean tells us. “I could see from the side that it had a similar curvy shape in the side of the tank.”
“I made a tunnel and base for the new tank that followed the frame. Once that was in place, I cut up the Virago tank and found the shape I needed in two pieces. More sanding and test fits than I care to admit, and I had the tank parts tacked into place.”
For the classic banana seat, Sean built an aluminum seat pan, then shaped the foam to complement the curves of the fuel tank.
The original Schwinn Stingray used shocks at the bottom of the sissy bar to add some cushioning to the ride—and Sean was adamant about replicating that. So he sourced some springs and bushings from McMaster-Carr, and machined all the parts to create a full-sized version of the vintage seat shocks. The seat hinges on a well-hidden pivot up front.
The last thing Sean agonized over was the exhaust. After a few failed ideas, he settled on building a pair of curved pipes that would trace the frame in order to blend into the overall design. There’s a baffle welded into each pipe too, to keep noise levels reasonable.
The rest of the build is finished off with a host of thoughtful hand-made parts. The attention to detail is striking—and is visible even on functional parts like the fuel petcock and rear tank bracket.
The final color scheme is a winner too, and took a whole team to pull off. Right A Way Powder in Middletown handled the candy orange on the frame, while DGM Chrome Plating in Philadelphia did all the chroming. Roxan at Range Needlework in Arizona tackled the seat, covering it in a retro-fabulous white glitter vinyl.
Danny Knight at Knights Kustoms in Winchester, Virginia shot the heavy flake off-white paint on the tank. And John Ralph at Quail Run Signs created stencils to paint the Schwinn-style Yamaha logos on.
With everything buttoned up, there was only one thing left to do: ride it. “It took about five kicks to get her going,” says Sean. “Blame it on dry carbs, no battery, stage fright or whatever—but it started and sounded amazing.”
“It’s smiles for miles on this thing too. It handles well and rides very nicely.”
“You have to look at this bike and smile at the fact that it was built from inspired dreams of the Schwinn Stingray Orange Krate. A fun whimsical build that is art in motion and nothing else. A childhood memory of wacky bicycles with squared-off slicks that didn’t handle well, but were there for fun.”
Amen to that.
MotoRelic | Instagram | Images by Jonathan Thorpe