Baja Commander: Honda XL500R Baja

Honda XL500R Restomod

GPgarage Moto builds a Baja restomod!

The XL500R was Honda’s 500cc dual-sport in the early 1980s, a mono-shock (Pro-Link) evolution of the twin-shock XL500S, featuring a 32-hp SOHC engine with counterbalancers, long-travel suspension, and a dry weight of around 300 pounds. These XL machines were not as aggressive as the dirt-only XR, but they were street-legal bikes happy in the dirt and on the tarmac.

Honda XL500R Restomod

Our friend Matteo Gualandi is a former motocross racer and the owner of Italy’s GPgarage Moto — a Honda-only workshop that races a pair of modern off-road machines in the Italian Rally Championship. Recently, we featured Matteo’s Honda XR628R Johnny Campbell replica, and now he’s back with another Baja-influenced build, this 1982 Honda XL500R:

“After many XL builds, I had some spare parts and I started thinking about building a modernized version of the old Baja Commander bike.”

Baja Commander Kit

The “Baja Commander” was largely the work of Al Baker of California’s XR’s Only, a multiple Baja 1000 winner who helped develop Honda’s XR series of bikes:

“As Al Baker became the Mugen dealer in the USA, he started commercializing the “Baja Commander” kit that he had developed with Mugen. This kit went on to be used on XR500 and XR500R as far as the UK by John Banks Racing (JBR) for example and the official Honda bikes for the Paris Dakar 1982 (winner: Cyril Neveu Honda XR550).” —XR’s Only

Honda XL500R Restomod

The name would later be attached to the XR630 Baja Commander, as raced by Team Cycle World in the Baja 1000, and to high-spec kits available from XR’s Only. Alas, such kits have been discontinued, but Matteo set out to retrofit his ’82 XL500R with modern upgrades.

He swapped in a complete front end from a Beta 430, which he says fit directly to the XL frame. (Editor’s note: do we need to build a BikeBound Baja Commander for the next Biltwell 100?) The “XL Baja” is also sporting a long-range Clarke tank, modern CRF fenders, an 18-inch rear wheel, YSS rear shock, and an unexpectedly strange silencer:

“It’s an FMF for a two-stroke engine, but I like the design and I used it anyway. Now the bike sounds like a turbo engine 😀 — a completely different sound from the stock one.”

Honda XL500R Restomod

The result is an XL500R restmod that pushes all the right nostalgia buttons, while promising to perform worlds better than the original. Below, we get the full story on this XL500R restomod from Italy, with more photos from VS Image Studio.

Honda XL500R Restomod: Builder Interview

Honda XL500R Restomod

What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

This is a Honda XL500R from 1982.

Honda XL500R Restomod

Why was this bike built?

Company promotion.

Honda XL500R Restomod

What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

I think the XL500 platform is the best bike to start experimenting — simple bike, very small, you can put what you want on top of this frame.

After many XL builds, I had some spare parts and I started thinking about building a modernized version of the old Baja Commander bike.

Honda XL500R Restomod

What custom work was done to the bike?

The bike is quite simple. I use a complete front end from a Beta 430 enduro, and it’s incredible — the entire triple clamps fit directly in the XL frame!

A bigger Clarke tank, a pair of CRF fenders, an LED light and a rear 18″ rim instead of the classic 17″ give a more aggressive look. At the rear I used YSS suspension.

Honda XL500R Restomod

A strange thing is the silencer… It’s an FMF for two-stroke engine, but I like the design and I used it anyway. Now the bike sounds like a turbo engine 😀 — a completely different sound from the stock one.

Honda XL500R Restomod

Does the bike have a nickname?

Simple XL Baja.

Honda XL500R Restomod

Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?

It’s incredible how small this bike is — very compact, with a low center of gravity, which helps a lot in cornering. The engine is stock now, and yes, there’s a lot of difference from my other XL, which has a hi-comp 530cc engine — but probably in the future I’ll build a better engine for this bike.

Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

It all started by putting together the leftovers from other bikes, and I didn’t really know how it would come out, but I’m happy to see the result has been liked by many people.

Follow the Builder

Facebook: Gpgaragemoto
Youtube: Gpgarage Moto

Photo credits: @VS_image_studio_automotive.



  1. Thomas Krise

    Nice bike. Too bad you lost the chain guard.

    • Shawn Harrington

      An ugly chain guard isn’t needed. It’s the first thing that comes off all my motorcycles. Most people way over lube their chain. If you lube a chain properly, nothing flies off of it. I’m just glad it still has fenders on it.

  2. Shawn Harrington

    That’s stunning!

  3. Never ever have i seen anything quite like it.

  4. …..saying it outperforms stock one is sumptin’…..mine has hardtail added, it came to me that way…..flat tracking, stump pullin’ thrill to ride……won more than it didn’t……run with treeumph twins and beat a rotax at the county fair……one ub my faves…..

  5. Wheelz270

    O.k., unusual and nice. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that muffler doesn’t choke the bike, though.

  6. Psycho Ward

    Very nice bike, well done. Met a guy 40 years ago at Daytona races on one from Australia, he welded like a box on the top of the gas tank that increased capacity a couple gallons. He rode it across Australia shipped to Mexico, went up Cali coast and across USA then Daytona bike week where we met in the infield at Daytona 200 road race. Good day, many beers ago, wished him well!!

  7. Patrick Weindava

    Just love this bike.i have Xl500r year 1982 grounded due to missing engine me get it repaired.

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