“Foot down and elbows up! Braaap!”
The Yamaha XT500 is one of the most successful dual-purpose machines of all time, a big-bore four-stroke that proved itself in professional desert racing and on thousands of miles of backroads, fire roads, and trails. Developed as a street-legal version of the TT500 enduro, the XT came fast out of the gate, winning the first-ever Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979, and went on to become the grandfather of the big-single, four-stroke off-road bikes to come.
“It successfully captured a new audience with its stomping ability while also catching the eye of the old Brit iron brigade. It lacked social graces like an electric start, making it a real rider’s machine and created a whole new generation of multi tasking two-wheelers…” –Classic Motorbikes
Enter Sean Skinner of Virginia’s MotoRelic, one of our favorite builders not just here in the USA, but worldwide. Recently, we featured his Honda V30 Magna, which headlined Bike EXIF’s Customs of the Week and is now for sale! Now we’re thrilled to showcase his Yamaha XT500 restomod / scrambler, built for a customer whose first impression of the big cc thumper, as an adolescent, would be one for the ages:
“A guy he knew rode up on one with his hot girlfriend on the back. He remembered thinking, ‘Man, that dude has it all. The bike! The girl!’ As they rode away, he knew one day he would have to have that!”
The customer wanted to give his XT a slightly modernized makeover, with a larger rear tire, updated suspension, dual-exit exhaust, and more. Sean fitted a Suzuki PE250 swingarm with a 15-inch Ikon suspension shock, YZ250 forks, Hella lamp with a bezel shaped from a 180-degree turbo pipe, CNC-cut aluminum side panels, Counter Balance Cycles seat, paint and powder from Knight’s Kustoms and NV Coatings, and much more. The result is, hands down, the nicest XT500 we’ve ever seen, a restomod scrambler that must be a hoot to ride:
“With the longer wheel base the steering is a bit slow but for a back road ripper it handles the twisties with ease. Foot down and elbows up! Braaap!”
Below, we get the full details on the build straight from Sean himself, as well as more photos from Jonathan Thorpe.
Yamaha XT500 Restomod: In the Builder’s Words
What is this build? Resto-mod? Scrambler? The XT500 is mostly a dirt bike that Yamaha slapped some lights on and called it street legal. It’s kickstart only and if you get it wrong, the engine rewards you with a mangled ankle or knee. It has a specific sequence to follow and it works…most of the time.
My good customer found the 70’s big cc thumper and brought it to me because there was a moment in his adolescence that he remembers very well. A guy he knew rode up on one with his hot girlfriend on the back. He remembered thinking, “Man, that dude has it all. The bike! The girl!” As they rode away, he knew one day he would have to have that!
He wanted the bike to resemble its stock form but for me to give it a sexy makeover. Just a little nip’n tuck (or so I thought). So in to surgery it goes.
A larger rear tire was requested, so to make that fit I had to search for different swingarm options. We settled on a PE250 rear arm that was wider and longer. It gave plenty of room for the larger tire. Of course it doesn’t just bolt in. Spacers were made and the frame was modified to make the swingarm fit. I called up Ikon suspension to see what was available in a 15-in shock. They had just what I needed. And red springs!
Once the rear of the bike was set I made my way to the front. We went with a set of YZ250 forks and triples. This was quite a lot of work. A custom steering stem was made and the upper triple was modified to accept it. Special order bearings were needed to make it all fit. Once the front end was on, I knew I would have to attack the tank with a saw to make reliefs for the forks. Just so the bike had some sort of turning radius. Notching the tank was a challenge but well worth the struggle. With the forks on and the weight of the bike set down I noticed that lowering the front forks was definitely going to happen. The XT did not need 12in of travel. 2.5 inches was removed from the fork travel and it made quite a difference in the stance and geometry. All for the better.
With the bike sitting correctly I moved onto the headlight bezel. It was shaped from aluminum and held an off-road style Hella lamp. Since I’m seriously lacking any metal-shaping tools (or skill), I had to get creative to produce the look my customer wanted. The compound curve was cut from the inner side of a 180 degree bend turbo pipe. I then trimmed and shaped it to fit around the top of the lamp. It was a lot of work but the end result is just what he was looking for!
The seat was next on the list. I used the stock pan but used some heat to rework the shape. I was able to bring the edges and the rear of the seat in tighter to snug it up against the fender and frame. Layering a mix of foam and yoga mat I remade the seat pad to be a slimmer, more compact version of its old self. Counter Balance Cycles worked his upholstery magic yet again to make it look perfect.
The side panels were sourced from Heiko Kuntze at Kuntzinger CNC in Germany who fabricates them out of aluminum. They are great quality, I just added a front support to keep them in place. With most of the body work sorted, I got to work on the front fender. I found a fender blank that fit the radius of the 21in front wheel. Once I got the shape I wanted I added a 1/2 strip around the edge to match the rear fender. Then made a mount that would attach it to the YZ250 lower triple. So much work to make it look factory.
Now let’s talk about my crazy muffler. My customer wanted a hidden muffler. He really didn’t want the usual looking muffler that hung out the back. He also requested that the exhaust exit on both sides. As with all of my builds, I like challenges and apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. So with that being said I made the muffler of his dreams. I remembered seeing Aprilia had a few models that used the muffler as the inner fender. I was very limited on space between the new flat slide carb and the tiny Anti-gravity battery I tucked up under the seat. But I made it work. From a flat sheet of stainless, I cut all the pieces I thought I would need. Then added the two exhaust tips that brought the booming sound out each side of the frame. The muffler has baffles similar to a Flowmaster car muffler with additional baffles in each exhaust pipe. I was please that is sounded great and there were no tuning issues to deal with.
With all of the fabrication finished, the next step is to take it all apart for paint and powder coat. This time the paint work was handled by Knight’s Kustoms and the powder was dusted on by NV Coatings.
While that was happening I cracked open the engine for new gaskets and seals and to address a broken timing chain guide. I swapped the stock head with one from an SR500 to help the flow from carb to exhaust. With a fresh coat of paint and a bit of polishing the engine looked as good as the rest. Final assembly went well. Everything clicked into place and it fired right up! The crisp throttle response from that flat slide carb was amazing! The exhaust barking in both ears was fantastic! Road tests went well and the jetting seemed spot on. The bike really rode nicely. With the longer wheel base the steering is a bit slow but for a back road ripper it handles the twisties with ease. Foot down and elbows up! Braaap!
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy it!