Introduced in 1982, the Honda FT500 — aka Honda Ascot — was named after the storied Ascot flat track outside of Los Angeles. The engine was similar to the ones used in the XR500 and XL500. Yamaha had already done something similar, using the same engine in the TT500 off-roader, XT500 dual-sport, and SR500 street bike. Honda had taken notice, and decided they could offer a 500 single that offered two things the SR500 didn’t: electric start and a counterbalancer.
The XR-derived engine was bulletproof, making 34 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and the bike made a solid commuter — electric start, light clutch, decent power, and tolerable vibration for a 500 single. Says Motorcycle Classics:
“Honda had wanted the Ascot to appeal to sport riders as well as commuters, and although the bike was not really fast, its lack of top-end speed was compensated by excellent handling.”
Still, while it could be seen as an early factory street tracker, the FT500 certainly wasn’t the most attractive machine in stock trim.
Enter Lionel Duke of Duke Motorcycles, whose previous builds have graced our pages, including “Mrs. Duke,” his Honda CB500 cafe racer, and the Honda XR600 supermoto he built for a para snowboarding world champion. Lionel spent decades as a car and motorcycle mechanic before opening his own shop in Tourrettes sur Loup, near the city of Nice, France, and now his bikes have been featured all over the world.
This Honda FT500 is his newest build, prepared for a customer who wanted a street tracker. Working within the owner’s requirements, Lionel created one of the best FT500 customs we’ve seen. Below, we get the full story on the build.
Honda Ascot Street Tracker: In the Builder’s Words
This bike, in original condition, is really ugly…it is not a donor that runs the streets, not really the bike that makes people dream. But, like many other bikes, it seems that customization is giving it a second chance. And yes, the flat track style is there…and so much the better if it can get us out of the BMW R100 brat style.
This motorcycle had been in the possession of its owner for a while, with the idea that one day it was going to happen. And like all customers, or at least a very large part of them, he contacted me with a very specific idea in mind and a little batch of Google images that he’d previously selected…a rather stiff opinion. So it was necessary to keep the outline, which was vital to the satisfaction of the customer. But, during our discussions, the only thing I imposed was to make the bike a flat tracker, yes, but since it would only know nice concrete streets, we might as well give him a classy side without taking away this little racing side.
The project is launched…
All surplus — the headlight, tank, saddle, battery…away with all! As I often do, I cut the back and built a tray to house a small battery and all the electronics of the beast (rather reduced on this kind of model).
The next logical step is the tank. I had a few of them available, hanging around here and there. But one seemed to be in the right shape — a Yamaha XS650 tank. The form, yes, was good, but from there to make to make it fit…I had to redo the whole underbelly to fit the fastenings on the frame and grafted on a pop-up cap. Once that was done, I did a Restom treatment to guarantee a beautiful future for this tank. For the rest, everything started from this rather round tank.
Next was the aluminum construction of the aft hull, with the famous side plate to accommodate the number (“500,” yes, as in FT500…no number fetish for the customer, so it seemed logical). A light curve in the rear and the shortest length possible, that is my style as usual. The rear shell is made of four pieces of aluminum formed and welded together.
Next for the headlight area. Here are the instructions: no single number plate, no single headlight, no lighthouse that comes out of a plaque or a lighthouse that lights the ground, not the sky. Therefore, as always in aluminum, I give a slight curve to the front piece to recall the tail and the roundness of the tank, then a small casing all around to not be just a plate. I then created a cylinder through which to drive the LED headlight to the maximum depth, so it wouldn’t stick out too much and orient it properly — a yellow glass for the vintage look was de rigueur.
The saddle…once the frame was made of metal, the customer sent me a saddle he had found on the net, a saddle he adored…chance! A saddle of a motorcycle that I had made! A CB1000R saddle in black suede. For gold-colored seams the customer was inspired by the CB750 positioned right of the FT500 in my workshop…he noticed this design. It was just necessary to entrust all this to my usual saddler (Sellerie NMB Design), who also created the handle covers in carbon and gold stitching.
For the cockpit, a motogadget mini counter, a rapid pull accelerator, and aluminum controls completed the whole. The key lock was replaced with a motorgadget mlock system, slid into the saddle by NMB Design. The handlebar tip flashers are from Kellermann and the Kellermann rear combo kit sits on either side of the frame — this is the smallest lighting.
For the paint, we had to try to personalize it my way… A pearly Peugeot white, tri-coated. A Ducati red embellished with a light metallic, and the famous subaru blue. And to finish it off, I chose some 18-carat gold leaf. The gold leaf is a thing I slip into almost all my builds. I love the special look. I repainted the entire frame as well as the engine in a satin black.
No flattrack tyres but Avon tyres intended for customs. The rims were repainted in a gold color that I created and varnished in satin.
To clarify, I work alone and I carry out all the steps myself — the only things to be done are the upholstery and the big machining. In the end this preparation must cost around 13k.
This bike has really changed in appearance as much as in character…the big single can express itself and the driving position gives you the ability to eat up kilometers!