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.
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.”
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
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.”
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
What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
This is a Honda XL500R from 1982.
Why was this bike built?
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.
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.
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.
Does the bike have a nickname?
Simple XL Baja.
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.
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Photo credits: @VS_image_studio_automotive.