Se7en Six Collective builds a fitting tribute to the late Bengt Aberg…
In 1975, Yamaha introduced the single-cylinder four-stroke XT500, a dual-purpose “enduro-adventure” motorcycle that would win the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies and lay the groundwork for generations of big-bore trail bikes to come. However, the big 500 four-stroke was no motocrosser with a dry weight of nearly 310 pounds. Even the off-road-only TT500 weighed 270 pounds, and factory claims tend to be optimistic….
However, the XT500 caught the attention of Swedish motocross legends Torsten Hallman and Sten Lundin, who had the wild idea to build a Yamaha 500 four-stroke to battle with the two-strokes that reigned supreme in motocross. When Yamaha wouldn’t give them a donor XT, they bought one used off an American rider and went to work, building a machine that weighed less than 250 pounds and boasted 11 inches of suspension travel.
In the saddle they placed Bengt Aberg, a famed Swedish rider who had two World Motocross championships and three Motocross des Nations victories under his belt. No one really expected the big thumper to beat any of the lightweight, race-bred factory two-strokes, but then came the 1977 Luxembourg Gran Prix…
“I like to imagine these guys were having a laugh at the time, but then when Bengt pulled off a win in the mud at Luxembourg, well, the rest, as they say, is history…” –Paul Meginley, Se7en Six Collective
Aberg finished 9th in the world championship that season, and today enthusiasts like Paul Meginley of Se7en Six Collective build “HL reps” — HL500 replicas. Not too long ago, we featured the HL500 “Torque Monster” that Paul built for his friend Adrian. Now Meginley is back with an HL replica of his own, a restomod dirt monster that he recently rebuilt in honor of the late Aberg.
“Bengt Aberg passed away earlier this year in March. The 6th. It was his passing which prompted me to rebuild my bike into the ‘Aberg Tribute’ you now see.”
For this creation, Paul was inspired by one of our favorite builders, Jeff Wright of Church Of Choppers (@chvrch).
“Jeff sees things differently to pretty much every other motorcycle builder out there. His artistic flair and eye for balance is evident in his custom re-imaginations of classic bikes. Jeff is not afraid to cut things up and redesign them, making a bunch of seemingly incongruent shapes, lines, curves and bolt-on parts mesh like they were meant to be. I wanted my dirt bike to have some semblance of this kind of style….”
The frame is AllyFab HL500 replica kit number 001, which Paul and his friend Marco of Allyfab developed with a beefier swingarm pivot and slightly repositioned engine:
“NVT HLs didn’t have any kind of underbody protection and the way Yamaha left the alloy sump cover dangling underneath didn’t sit well with either of us…”
The signature element of the build has to be the trick period Fox Factory suspension, featuring Fox Forx and Fox Shox — actual Bob-Fox-built items that took tons of patience (and $$$, no doubt) to obtain, service, and tune:
“Playing with such rare suspension components is costly and means you have be somewhat of a trailblazer at every step — there’s nothing ‘off the shelf’ when it comes to vintage Fox Factory Forx and Shox….”
Meanwhile, the engine is running an 11:1 90mm Wiseco and some cam/rocker/tappet mods coupled with a flat-slide carb and free-flowing exhaust. The bike is loaded with parts and brackets that Paul hand-made to make everything play nice together. The finished package — nicknamed “Betty” — has to be the trickest, most lust-worthy HL500 replica we’ve seen, and it’s no show queen either.
“I rode this bike a number of times in late 2018 and early 2019 culminating in a full blown race campaign at the 2019 Australian Classic Motocross Titles where she performed amicably and had me finish 16th outright in a strong field of Evolution weaponry including Maicos, twin-shock Huskys, C&J Hondas, RM400s and YZ465s.”
All in all, one incredible tribute to the late, great Bengt Aberg. Below, we get the full story from Paul himself on the build.
HL500 Aberg Tribute: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
This bike was built on AllyFab HL500 replica kit number 001. It very closely replicates the NVT (Norton Villiers Triumph) HLs produced for Yamaha around 1979. We (Marco from Allyfab and myself) used some poetic license and made the fragile swingarm pivot a bit beefier, and very slightly altered the positioning of the engine inside the frame to allow the usually-prone sump to sit inboard of a bash plate. NVT HLs didn’t have any kind of underbody protection and the way Yamaha left the alloy sump cover dangling underneath didn’t sit well with either of us…
Some may say by modifying the chassis it no longer “replicates,” but in all my research and discussions with other HL rep builders it became apparent that not a lot of these bikes were or are anything like the original copies they claim to replicate anyway. Every builder puts his own spin on it….
To me, an HL rep is more of a tribute — to a bike cobbled together by a bunch of blokes (Hallman, Lundin, Eneqvist) in the back of a dealership so they could go racing (with Aberg in the saddle) in the big game with the new Yammy 500 thumper. I like to imagine these guys were having a laugh at the time, but then when Bengt pulled off a win in the mud at Luxembourg, well, the rest, as they say, is history…and now we build “HL reps”….
I built this one as a tribute to those guys who lived and breathed that era — names like Hunt and Sheene come to mind…cigarette-smoking, whiskey-sipping, pit-girl-holding men of motorsport who cared less for the hierarchy of the establishment than for their love of speed and risk….
Bengt Aberg himself by this time was nearing the end of his moto career, but by all accounts he was a larger-than-life character, a physically big, burly man, and I like to think he wrung that Yammy 500’s neck and rode it like a ratbag on a 125cc 2-stroke…. I mean, have you seen pics of Aberg on his HL? How wide were his bars?!?!?!?
• Why was this bike built? (Customer project, company promotion, personal, etc.)
This was a personal project — a completely self-indulgent exercise. I wondered to myself one day: what was the coolest piece of vintage motocross gear I’d ever seen…Fox. Old-school Moto-X Fox in fact. The days of Bob Fox and Steve Simons building their racing/suspension empire with their bare hands. I wondered if any of it was still available and if I could get any of it onto my bike. Well, it turned out getting your hands on any of the Bob-Fox-built items was a task requiring lots of patience and no budget.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design concept was to showcase the Fox Factory Suspension. The bike had to go, stop, and steer like a proper dirt bike — it was intended to be ridden not just a show pony — but I also wanted to make a statement when it came to the looks. I was going to make this bike a resto-mod — a nod to the past whilst utilising the latest modern componentry. And it had to be unique.
I was particularly inspired by the builds of Jeff Wright from Church Of Choppers (@chvrch). Jeff sees things differently to pretty much every other motorcycle builder out there. His artistic flair and eye for balance is evident in his custom re-imaginations of classic bikes. Jeff is not afraid to cut things up and redesign them, making a bunch of seemingly incongruent shapes, lines, curves and bolt-on parts mesh like they were meant to be. I wanted my dirt bike to have some semblance of this kind of style….
It’s hard work, and expensive, setting your standards so high, and my first attempt, whilst enough to stir Donnie Hansen into declaring it his choice for Best In Show at Classic Dirt 2019, fell short of the design brief. I needed to re-think my approach and re-do the build. Fast forward to September 2021 and here is AllyFab 001 in her updated “Tribute livery” look.
Fox Factory Suspension on show? Check.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I had input into the design and fabrication of the chassis. I even supplied a set of shocks and forks to the fabricator to assist with geometry measurements. The engine has been fettled — not a monster job by any means, but the 11:1 90mm Wiseco and some cam/rocker/tappet mods combine with the flat-slide carb and free-breathing exhaust to open her up a bit.
The tank and seat are lifted straight from a 1976 YZ125C but are customised to fit this application. The side panels are beautifully made fibreglass replicas wrapped in custom vinyl decals which my sticker guy put WAY too many hours into!
There are numerous alloy brackets and components all over the bike which I hand-made myself to fit this application. Oil lines were made by me. The servicing of the Fox Shox and Forx was initially outsourced but eventually completed by me as it was the only way I could get what I wanted. Playing with such rare suspension components is costly and means you have be somewhat of a trailblazer at every step — there’s nothing “off the shelf” when it comes to vintage Fox Factory Forx and Shox….
I chose to paint the frame, Cerakote the hubs, barrel, and exhaust, and had the hardware and fittings electroplated in silver — other than the engine fasteners and fittings which were all black zinc-coated. Oh, and the rear axle & chain adjusters — they were black zinc as well.
I had the fork stanchions DLC-coated in California and I had a mate Joel design and print up some 3D fork seal caps to suit. The stanchion caps are anodised black.
The Fox Shox you see here are actually the parts of three separate sets combined and modified to suit this application — giving 135mm of travel in a shock only 395mm in total length. Cerakoted bodies, canisters, and heads.
Putting black rims on a vintage dirt bike is polarising, but in this application I think it fits well with the resto-mod theme. Protaper levers and grips on Renthal vintage bend bars fit straight onto the Fox Factory Forx triples and bar risers — the latter of which are seriously angled backwards towards the rider, to allow clearance for the fork tubes, but which makes the cockpit feel decidedly vintage.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
For a long time it was just referred to as “The Black Bike,” some of my mates called her Black Betty. Now I just refer to her as Betty. Which is fitting as that’s my wife’s middle name…. She’s gonna kill me for divulging that!
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
I rode this bike a number of times in late 2018 and early 2019 culminating in a full blown race campaign at the 2019 Australian Classic Motocross Titles where she performed amicably and had me finish 16th outright in a strong field of Evolution weaponry including Maicos, twin-shock Huskys, C&J Hondas, RM400s and YZ465s. The only way to truly test a dirt bike is on a track and I was satisfied she was a good thing — despite my race prep mistake of putting ALL the fork oil in one stanchion and none in the other (I did wonder why she was handling oddly in practice and Race 1…) It was difficult not to get distracted in the pits when the bike attracted a steady stream of onlookers and people asking questions….
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I think the Fox Factory Forx and Shox are the fruit which gets most of the attention and therefore most of the questions I field are related to the suspension. But I’m also very proud of the bespoke items I had to fabricate or prepare myself: The front brake cable guide, the rear brake rod, the rear splash guard, and things you can’t see like tank and seat brackets.
Marco from AllyFab
Mick from Kedo Parts Australia | @kedo_parts_australia
Jack at Ash’s Spoked Wheelz | @ashspokedwheelz
Mark at Pioneer Finishes | @pioneer_finishes
Rick at First On Finish Electroplating | @firstonfinish
Olly at Bendigo Electroplaters
Andy Blom for paint
Brian Litzow at Auto & Marine Tailors
Ben at Precise Engine Rebuilders
Marty at VMX Decals & Stickers
MXStore | @mxstore
Nick at Team Moto Yamaha Nerang | @teammotomotorcycles
RCE Performance Warehouse | @rceperformancewarehouse
UniFilter Australia | @unifilteraustralia
Joel at Tech 167 Suspension Services | @tech167ss3d
NOS Replicas Nowra Australia
Thor Lawson at Evolution Suspension Products
Marcus at Rex’s Speedshop | @rexsspeedshop
Tom at MikuniOZ
Some of the Instagram family (including people who no longer have active accounts) for the inspiration: