A pair of 500 thumpers from Germany’s Vulture Moto!
The 500cc “big single” remains one of the best, most versatile all-around engine configurations in motorcycling history, from the British 500 singles of yesteryear to the Japanese designs that followed suit. Over the years, single-cylinder machines of half-liter displacement have won the Isle of Man TT, the Motocross World Championship, the Paris-Dakar Rally, and more.
What’s more, Yamaha recently announced that 2021 would be the last year of production for the SR400 — a 400cc version of the beloved Yamaha SR500 that’s been in production since 1978! While the last of the air-cooled, kick-only singles may be going out of production, we’re fortunate to have greasy-handed shed builders and mechanics keeping these vintage thumpers on the road.
Recently, we heard from one of our favorite photographers in the two-wheeled world, Kati Dalek (@kayadaek_photography), who’d recently shot a pair of 500 singles that got our hearts thumping. They’re the work of Oli Geier of Vulture Moto, who’s been working on motorcycles for two decades — since he was a teenager:
“I have never been able to leave a motorcycle original, not even at a young age. After riding various motorcycles for the road and off-road, I discovered my love for trackers around 2010. Light, agile, uncomplicated, simple, functional — I can’t imagine any other way.”
For a time, Oli was building bikes for clients, but the seeming monotony of BMW boxer and Honda Dominator builds began to wear on him, dimming his creative spark. He took a two-year break, during which time he designed and built a new home workshop and thought about what he wanted most out of his new project after the hiatus:
“What I would like most about the next project: 500’s and vintage, just kick-start, pulling through and fun…that was clear to me after a while.”
Oli was interested in a pair of 500 singles from different manufacturers, the Yamaha SR500 and the Honda XL500S. Yamaha introduced the SR500 in 1978 as a more street-centric version of their now legendary XT500 dual-sport/enduro, which won the first-ever Paris-Dakar Rally. It was a British-inspired design that would remain relatively unchanged for decades of production in 500cc and 400cc formats.
The Honda XL500S came along in 1978, a dual-purpose version of the XR500 that gained just 16 pounds over its dirt-only sibling in securing street-legality. Cycle World called it the closest thing yet to the dual-purpose bike:
“No doubt about it. The XL500 is the best there is. It has all the power that a technically sophisticated 500cc four-stroke Single can deliver — plenty. It’s as smooth as many Twins, all the normal big Single vibrations having been cancelled out with the twin counterrotating balancer shafts. It has enough suspension to make dirt riding fun, not just bearable. And it’s perfectly serviceable as a mid-size street bike.” —Cycle World, 1979
Oli was interested in a direct comparison of the two bikes, so he decided to build them both at the same time! He used the same tank on both machines, adapted from a small Honda CB, which give them a sibling look. On the SR, he shortened the rear part of the frame, built a seat, fabricated a stainless steel exhaust, stripped down the wiring harness, rebuilt the wheels with stainless steel spokes, fabricated a gorgeous pair of aluminum fork guards, and more.
On the XL, Oli completely rebuilt the rear frame to give the bike a straight upper line. He moved the mount for the YSS shocks on the swing arm in order to decrease the ride height, built a complete set of stainless pipes, lowered the forks, converted the bike from 6v to 12v electrics, laced the original wheel hubs and brakes to a set of 18-inch Excel rims, and more.
“Both are not for sale and only for myself. I already use the SR as a daily driver and the XL is just getting a little update because I want to use it on the dirt track.”
The bikes made for a great post-lockdown photo shoot. Says photographer Kati Dalek (@kayadaek_photography):
“This shooting was the first time outside after so many lockdown weeks. Plus sunshine, three funny motoheads, amazing bikes, and this super-huge red-rock quarry “Sandkopf”! We were smiling nonstop. ;)”
Below, we talk to Oli for the full story on this pair of vintage thumpers!
Vintage 500 Singles: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history withmotorcycles, and your workshop.
I am 36 years old and have been working on motorcycles for 20 years. I have never been able to leave a motorcycle original, not even at a young age. After riding various motorcycles for the road and off-road, I discovered my love for trackers around 2010. Light, agile, uncomplicated, simple, functional — I can’t imagine any other way.
Three years ago I built a 120 square meter workshop under my house and now I have real space to pursue my passion. I also built bikes for customers for a while, but felt too limited and now only build according to my own ideas.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Honda XL500S from ’81.
Yamaha SR500 from ’86.
• Why was this bike built?
Before I built my new workshop, I built a lot for customers. At some point I couldn’t build BMW boxers or Honda Dominators (which were very popular at the time) any longer, because it was always the same. During a break of two years, I designed my new workshop and thought about what I would like most about the next project: 500’s and vintage, just kick-start, pulling through and fun…that was clear to me after a while.
Also, I had never built both bikes and wanted a direct comparison, so I decided to build both bikes. Both are not for sale and only for myself. I already use the SR as a daily driver and the XL is just getting a little update because I want to use it on the dirt track.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Two years of abstinence — and everything was in flow 😉
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Rear frame shortened with self-made seat, Wilbers struts, self-made exhaust made of stainless steel and ceramic coated, adapted tank from a small Honda CB, self-made cover for the forks made of aluminum, minimal wiring harness, CNC fittings, lighting and blinker mini LEDs, large duplex brake in front. Wheels completely rebuilt and powder-coated with stainless steel spokes. The frame and all attachments are powder-coated in a dull matte black, engine with double lubrication but otherwise original, carburetor overhauled and modified to have open air filters.
Rear frame completely rebuilt to get a straight line. Changed mount for the YSS struts on the swing arm (the original 43 cm struts were much too long for me). Self-made seat, self-made exhaust and pipes completely made of stainless steel, tank of a small Honda CB, fork lowered by 12 cm, lamp mask with LED main headlights adapted, minimal wiring harness, lighting and turn signal mini LEDs, conversion from 6v to 12v on-board power supply, CNC fittings, original wheel hubs and brakes converted to 18 inch Excel rims, frame and all add-on parts gloss black powder-coated, engine and carburetor newly sealed, modified to open air filters, digital mini speedometer behind the lamp mask.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Vintage 500SR and Vintage 500XL. I call it the lovely Vintage 500 Series.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The SR rides very comfortably. I didn’t think so at first, but it’s also suitable for longer tours, responds well and is very maneuverable. I love to ride them. The XL is more sporty, harder and deeper. You can tell that it’s almost 20 kg lighter and therefore very nimble and agile.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Yes, I was able to adapt the same tanks to both bikes, which makes them look a bit like siblings. The handmade aluminum covers for the SR fork. With the XL, the modified rear frame that makes the line perfectly straight and also the 18-inch Excel wheels. Front was originally 23 inch.
Follow the Builder