The Honda XR250 is one of the hardiest thumpers on the planet — a stone-ax reliable, air-cooled machine that offers a boatload of grins-per-mile, especially on the loose stuff. The 30-hp XR250R was the competition enduro model, with harder suspension, a higher seat, and no electric start or pillion pegs.
Enter Cody Russell of Vertigo Moto & Design, who began racing enduro at the age of 5 and spent the next three decades on two wheels. When he needed a functional and fun scrambler, he worked with fellow moto enthusiast and engineering ace Chad Tibbets to build this 1996 Honda XR250R scrambler, dubbed “Sugar Tits” — an ode to Cody’s wife, an artist and painter, who hand-illustrated the beautiful CL450 tank.
Below, we get the full story on this sweet thumper, which was on display at this year’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show!
“Sugar Tits” Honda XR250 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’ve spent my entire life straddling an engine on two wheels. I got my first dirt bike when I was 3 years old and started racing enduro when I was 5. I spent next 30 years ripping around off-road in the high plains of Texas and touring the country. My career in graphic design for the last decade has made building and designing bikes inevitable for me. Partnering my design aesthetic with the engineering knowledge of long time friend and moto enthusiast Chad Tibbets, we cobbled together a machine shop in a garage and started building. This gave birth to Vertigo Moto & Design.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1996 Honda XR 250r
• Why was this bike built?
This XR project started from an idea to build a scrambler for myself that was both functional, fun to ride, and a combination of the two worlds I love: design and bikes. I needed a bike that could allow me to navigate the crowded city streets but also tear up some trails on weekends.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The purely functional design of dirt bikes, whether a two-stroke motocross or a Dakar setup thumper, deeply influences my design aesthetic. I wanted a burly stance and a utilitarian look. My starting point on the build was the gas tank, which I treated like a blank canvas.
I wanted the tank to feature typography and illustration, which required an artist’s hand. I enlisted the help of my wife, a fine artist and painter, to hand-illustrate the floral motif and lettering. The moniker for the machine was an obvious ode to her, which we agreed had to be dubbed “Sugar Tits.” The concept was solid—a scrambler with a balance between utilitarianism and beautiful design. And as with all my projects, it couldn’t take itself too seriously.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The XR started off ugly but after a little lipo and full “enhancement,” she’s become a down-and-dirty, one-of-a-kind scrambler.
Her frame was rebuilt and bent by hand to become the new bones, touting clean, horizontal lines. She was spray-tanned a powder black to allow her unique features to shine.
A 1971 Honda CL 450 fuel tank was rescued from the scrapyard and given a full facelift by a true artist. Kim R. hand-painted the floral patterns and custom letterform.
Hand-shaped foam and hand-dyed leather form the classic café-style seat.
Alloy was added with a custom front fender. A stainless steel pie-cut exhaust snakes its way to an open, vintage-style Honda muffler, yielding a healthy growl from the single.
We tossed the chunky airbox out and replaced it with a high-flow K&N filter to let her take some deep breaths.
Machined and milled aircraft aluminum fork clamps mount the custom front fender, which also act as a fork stabilizer.
All of this is rolling on new OEM hubs laced to 17” Sun rims for a mean street stance with wide rut-ripping Conti TKCs.
In the end the aesthetic is one of clean, thoughtful design paired with the raw fun of a good ole enduro dirt eater.
• How would you classify this bike?
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Nearing the end of the project I decided that the exhaust header had to be built by hand and that pie cuts, not bends, was the way to do it. Chad and I, with very little TIG experience, fabricated and welded over 70 feet of linear aggressive exhaust.