In 1983, Honda introduced their Shadow series of V-twin cruisers, including the VT500C. Better known as the “Shadow 500,” the bike featured a liquid-cooled, three-valve, 52-degree V-twin engine that made 54 horsepower — mated to a six-speed transmission with shaft drive. Both the Shadow and its middleweight sport sibling, the Ascot VT500, earned high praise from reviewers:
“I still have vivid memories of a tight handling, urgent machine with seamless power and acceleration.” -Neale Bayly, Motorcycle Classics
Enter one of our favorite builders, Art Henschell of One-Up Moto Garage, based in the Arkansas Ozarks. When Art graduated from school, he had a choice to make:
“I needed to decide if I wanted to go for my Masters and have a safe day job when I ‘grow up,’ or embrace the thing I was really getting out of bed for every morning. I chose the latter and have never looked back…”
“They’re usually unpopular because they don’t easily lend themselves to customizing, so I get that challenge as well as fewer examples out there to influence my process.”
In this instance, he went with a 1984 Shadow 500, building something that drew influences from several schools of customization and design. Art takes pride in doing everything in-house he can. The only aspects he hands off are powder-coating and the hand-painted artwork, which he leaves to local artist Eric Snodgrass.
“It can take me nearly a year to do a bike start to finish on my own, but it’s uncompromisingly worth it.”
Ultimately, Art named this bike “Kage,” which is Japanese for “Shadow” — a nod to the bike’s origins, as well as the ghosted paintwork. Below, we get the full details on the build from Art himself, as well as some stunning shots and video from FTLOA (www.fortheloveofauto.com).
Honda VT500 Custom: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
One-Up Moto Garage was the answer to the question I asked myself after finishing my BA. I needed to decide if I wanted to go for my Masters and have a safe day job when I “grow up” or embrace the thing I was really getting out of bed for every morning. I chose the latter and have never looked back. The meaning behind my shop’s name “One-Up Moto” is threefold. It’s a reminder for me to always one-up myself. While giving machines a new life would be a 1up to any old gamers out there, as well as the fact that my bikes tend to be one-up or monoposto bikes that don’t have room for a passenger.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1984 Honda Ascot/ Shadow 500.
• Why was this bike built?
It was a freelance build I chose because I like using unpopular donor bikes to start with. They’re usually unpopular because they don’t easily lend themselves to customizing, so I get that challenge as well as fewer examples out there to influence my process.
Also, this gen Honda Shadow engine is a hidden gem because it has a 6th gear OD that they cut out of the next gen VLX600 (a 4 speed). With its two intake valves, twin carb performance and dual plug heads it is efficient, smooth and powerful for an 80’s 500cc V-twin.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
It has been fun creating bikes that don’t follow a mold for customization. This bike was the perfect candidate for that. I wanted to create something that could fit into any category and stand out at the same time. I brought influence in from different bike cultures, it has some tracker, scrambler, bobber, cafe, and brat.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I enjoy doing nearly every part of the building process myself. The few things I hand off are powder-coating and hand-painted artwork I always give to Eric Snodgrass — a local artist who does awesome freehand work on anything you give him. Occasionally when I need custom CNC parts I’ll find a shop to cut out my renderings.
First I fabricated a subframe and seat that I upholstered with a randomized angular stitch pattern. While the engine was out to powder-coat the frame, I vapor-blasted the engine block to leave it with the satin raw aluminum finish, offset by the powder-coated black engine covers. I used that time to replace the clutch plates and springs, as well as freshen the top end with new gaskets and valve lap job.
A local shop CNC cut rearset mounts and a faceplate design I rendered to incorporate a classic inverted triangle chopper style headlight. They also cut out a one-off upper triple to keep the front end simple and clean. It has a dedicated iPhone speedometer that uses GPS via an app to keep up with the rider. I went with wide tracker style bars for comfort and control with the rake this bike has. Bar-mounted Motone switches control turn signals and starter.
The bike has 18” Ascot rims wrapped in Trailmasters and painted charcoal silver with vapor blasted lips. Progressive 12 series shocks in the rear keep the swingarm planted. The front end was lowered to level out the bike. Stock twin pot front brake caliper with a stiffened stainless braided brake line and smaller bore master cylinder gives a much more responsive brake feel.
The exhaust work is one of my biggest jobs. I start with several feet of 1.5” OD stainless tubing and pie cut over 100 pieces, each one needing to be deburred and smoothed. Then I slowly work my way from header flange down to the mufflers, tacking one piece on at a time. In increments I polish and brush finish the stainless before purging the inside and TIG welding around each pie cut.
The exhaust shapes itself as I go. I only have loose ideas when it begins, but I always trust in the end result. I have been really liking Lossa Engineering mufflers lately, so this 2-2 exhaust got a pair of those kicked out on each side under the swingarm.
I painted the original tank starting with a black base, then taped off my design and shot a layer of clear with red pearl in it. I then handed the tank off to Eric Snodgrass to have my sub logo done in silver leaf on the sides with the pin stripes and subtle charcoal boarder to match the wheels. Then it took a few layers of clear to bury the silver leaf and buff to a wet look finish.
Wiring is the final big job I always have to take a deep breath before starting. As tedious as wiring gets, it’s very satisfying work when finished.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I’ve been calling this bike “Kage” which is Japanese for “Shadow” since at its heart it remains a Honda Shadow. That’s also a tip of the hat to the ghosted paint job it has.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It’s easy. That’s my favorite thing about it. The seat shape is so comfortable, and riding position is as natural as could be. Power is effortless for zipping around town and in the Ozark Hills where I get to test my bikes out. On a nice day its a bike I have trouble getting off of.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
On the whole, my biggest pride is that I can say I did almost everything myself. Over the decade I’ve been doing this, my goal has been to do as much as I can on my own. By now I upholster in my office room with an industrial JUKE I bought years ago, I bend all my frame mods with a JD bender bolted to my shop floor.
Spacers and any custom-turned pieces I machine on my 50’s Atlas lathe. I restore all aluminum parts with my Vaporhoningtechnologies VB cabinet. My Hobart TIG welder and Lincoln gas MIG welder are daily essentials for me.
My Bluepoint paint gun lays down any colors I need to add. I’ve got cabinets full of jets for tuning various carbs and special tools I’ve acquired for engine rebuilding. My No-Mar tire changer and truing stand let me deal with the rubber without sweating, lace, true and balance wheels myself. It can take me nearly a year to do a bike start to finish on my own, but it’s uncompromisingly worth it.
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Photos and video by FortheLoveofAuto (FTLOA):