The Rubicon Trail is one of the most legendary 4×4/off-road trails in the world, a 22-mile route through the Sierra Nevada mountains just west of the California/Nevada border. Native peoples originally used the route to travel between the Sacramento Valley and Lake Tahoe on their annual migration routes. Later, the 1848 discovery of gold in California transformed the area almost overnight, spurring a massive influx of European settlers traveling west along the trail. By the turn of the 20th century, the route had become a maintained road, but it fell into disrepair in the 1950s — a boon for the off-roading community.
Enter one of our all-time favorite builders, Wayne Corbett of One Down Four Up. ODFU builds have taken multiple trophies at the prestigious One Moto Show, including their Yamaha DT250 street tracker, SR500, and a personal favorite of ours, their Harley XL1000 Ironhead. Today, they focus on custom motorcycle jerseys — all hand-cut and sewn in-house — as well as custom seat upholstery and purpose-built project bikes.
“My brother was planning a trip to do the Rubicon Trail again, we had done it once before in his Bronco II and I knew it would be hard but fun to complete it on a vintage motorcycle.”
Wayne had his work cut out for him. Jeep Jamboree USA recommends 35-inch off-road tires, skid plates, rock rails, front and rear locking differentials, a wealth of spare parts and tools, as well as a satellite communicator in case of emergency…suffice to say, the Rubicon is no joke, even for a modern 4×4. For his two-wheeled donor, Wayne chose one of his favorite platforms, an early 70s Honda XL — in this case, a basket-case 1973 XL250.
“I chose the XL just because I have several of them and like the engine design. I also wanted to start a YouTube channel so I’ve been documenting the build from start to finish and the next video will be making it through the Rubicon.”
Everything on this Rubicon XL is functional for the rocky trails Wayne would face: a Honda TL trials bottom end for better gear ratios, Nitro Mousse foam tubes to prevent flats, revised rear frame with longer suspension travel, Mikuni carb, skid plate, overlay rear sprocket to switch between street and crawling gears, a proper Hella headlamp, and much more. Wayne detailed the entire build on the ODFU YouTube channel, and the next video will be this vintage two-wheeler tackling the trail! (Update: The Rubicon Trail video live — watch below!)
Below, we get the full story on this rock-crawling Rubicon XL.
Honda XL250 Rubicon: Builder Interview
• Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop?
I’ve been riding for about ten years. I started riding on the street and now do some flattrack and off road riding. My company is One Down Four Up, we make custom motorcycle jerseys, seat upholstery, and build/service motorcycles on occasion.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
The frame is a 1973 XL250. I started with just the frame and bought it in pieces rather than disassembling a complete motorcycle.
• How did the idea come about to build a bike for the Rubicon Trail? Why choose the XL?
My brother was planning a trip to do the Rubicon Trail again, we had done it once before in his Bronco II and I knew it would be hard but fun to complete it on a vintage motorcycle. It’s one of the most famous trails in the Jeep/offroad community and is still difficult to make it through. I chose the XL just because I have several of them and like the engine design. I also wanted to start a YouTube channel so I’ve been documenting the build from start to finish and the next video will be making it through the Rubicon.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
It’s a functional build, everything on it has a purpose. I found quite a few write ups in magazines from the seventies about changes they made to make XL’s competitive and I used a lot of their suggestions, mainly how to save weight, increase suspension travel and make more power.
• What all custom work was done to the bike?
It has a TL bottom end for better gear ratios, revised rear frame for softer and more suspension travel, Nitro Mousses’ instead of tubes so there’s no chance of a flat with the Maxxis trial tires, Mikuni carb, skid plate, Hella headlight and an Electrex world charging system. I also have an overlay sprocket so I can run street gears for the road and lower gears for crawling.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I’ve been calling it the Rubicon XL just to distinguish it from the other XL’s I have.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride the finished bike?
It’s the best XL I’ve built so far. The goal was to have soft suspension to soak up rocks at slow speeds more like a trials set up. I’m still working through some stiction issues with the front forks but that’s pretty common with old forks.
• What’s next for One Down Four Up?
We’re focusing on producing custom jerseys for individuals and other companies. We cut and sew them all in-house and are proud of the work that we put into each jersey. As for riding, I’m planning on doing another big ride next summer and inviting more riders along. So far we’re thinking somewhere around Utah/Colorado.