The Honda XL500 has achieved near-legendary status. Its front wheel is a ridiculous 23 inches, and it’s far too heavy for serious competition, but the engine is bulletproof and lives up to the old ‘stump-pulling grunt’ cliche. It's the moto equivalent of a Clydesdale horse: easy to ride, but with bucket loads of torque from idle. So the approach for this build for Deus Japan, was to shed some weight and add more capable suspension to make the beast a force to be reckoned with, on- or off-road.
Up front a set of late 80s XR600 forks have been grafted on. The stem and yokes were machined, so the steering bearings and headstock could be kept standard.
The 43mm forks offer full adjustability without any flex?handy for when man and machine return to terra firma with a bang. “Getting air is never much of a problem on these big singles. Surviving the landing, however, is another matter entirely.”
To reduce unsprung mass, a KX250 front hub is now laced to a 21-inch alloy rim. (A one-off adaptor allows the Kawasaki drum hub to make friends with the fork lower.)
A new subframe was built for cleaner lines, more wheel clearance and a better peg-to-seat height. The swingarm is custom, but stays close to the standard wheel base, important for road registration in Japan.
Alongside is an overhauled KLR hub and alloy rim?with a small cush drive to soften the hefty pulses of the 497cc single piston engine. The rear suspension geometry has been completely reworked, and now resembles a Suzuki RM more than a Honda XL, with almost 200mm of usable travel.
Custom-made Ikon gas shocks and fork springs take care of road holding. “Radical suspension changes can sometimes be a bit of a black art, But shake-down sessions were a pleasant surprise, with the team only dropping the swing arm pivot shaft a few millimeters to get things the way they like it.”
The standard carb is now fed through a K&N pod filter, and re-jetted to suit the one-off exhaust. This features larger diameter headers mating up to a stainless megaphone nestled under the rear frame rail.
Retaining the XL500’s bulletproof internals was always a priority, and race regulations forbid the usual go-to FCR carb set up. The pipe ticks all three of the most important boxes: looking good, sounding great and riding hard.
The seat base and side covers are one-offs in epoxy composite, shaped and created in-house. The saddle itself has simple period proportions.
Mods to the frame proved to be more difficult, the XL500’s high headstock meant extensive reworking to get everything sitting right with matching lines.
The paint is a little more extravagant than your typical race bike, with layers of vintage white, black and matte clear coats. But the finished result sports a healthy dose of early motocross DNA in its aggressive lines. Black vintage race plastics round out the package.
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