The Yamaha XT500 is one of our favorite 4-stroke dual-sports / enduros of all time. Introduced in 1976, the XT500 single competed in the big African rally raids, winning the first-ever Paris Dakar Rally in 1979 — thereby solidifying its reputation as a serious dual-purpose machine. In generations to come, the XT would prove successful in a wide array of disciplines, from desert racing to motocross to flat track.
According to Mario Velez Tobar of Colombia’s BIKES workshop, the XT500 has achieved a uniquely legendary status in Colombia:
“In my country, these motorcycles are a legend — they were the first big bikes to which Colombians had access…”
For this reason, says Mario, most of the XT500 in the country are restored to factory original condition. However, Mario wanted to do something completely different with this ’79 XT. Fortunately, the client, Jairo Maldonado, was game. This 500 single now sports a set of Hayabusa forks, along with a flurry of upgrades to the brakes, suspension, and engine.
Below, we get the full story on this XT500 custom, nicknamed “Mandy.”
Yamaha XT500 Custom: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Mario Velez Tobar, and I am the owner of BIKES workshop. We are located in Popayan, Colombia. We have been working with motorcycles for about 15 years — we are a small workshop in which, more than customers, we have friends.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
The motorcycle we use as a project is a Yamaha XT500, 1979.
• Why was this bike built?
This motorcycle was built at the request of a customer.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The idea at the beginning of the project was to leave behind the established way of modifying this type of motorcycle. Here, the major style for the XT500 is absolute originality. In my country, these motorcycles are a legend — they were the first big bikes to which Colombians had access, and for that reason they want to see them perfectly restored. But the client accepted our suggestion to do something totally different.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The bike’s front suspension was changed for that of a Suzuki Hayabusa. The frame was trimmed by 10 centimeters. The engine was rebuilt, and a Yamaha YZ450 carburetor was used. The tires, brakes, and rear suspension were improved, using a disc brake on both wheels. The electrical system was tailor-made, because the bike was changed in its entirety to LED lighting. The paint job is also custom.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
We call it “Mandy.”
• How would you classify this bike?
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
There is not something in particular — I am proud of the final result in general.