A Tracked Combat Vehicle engineer builds himself a two-stroke custom…
During the mid-1960s to 70s, when other manufacturers were touting the straight-line dragstrip performance of their two-stroke screamers — bikes with whisker-wide powerbands and widowmaker reputations — Suzuki took a slightly different tack. They focused on more reliable machines that could be used for touring and commuting, not just drag racing — though their two-strokes were no slouches on the strip. ssss
Introduced in 1968, the T500 was their two-stroke parallel-twin, a 47-hp machine with an observed top speed of 105 mph:
“The T500 /Five (500cc and five speeds), also known as the Suzuki Titan, was bombproof. Not only did it run flawlessly when contemporary magazine testers took it through Death Valley in the summertime heat, it soon gained a reputation as one of the most reliable motorcycles of the Sixties.” —Motorcycle Classics
Enter our new friend Ralph Spencer, a Tracked Combat Vehicle engineer out of the Detroit metro area who’s also the proprietor of Spencer Motoworks, where he builds bespoke two-stroke creations:
“Bikes are my passion and I’ve been riding for 41 years. My bike designs are intended to be works of art but intended for real world use.”
Ralph bought this ’69 T500 as part of a parts lot back in 2004, and it sat in the back of his shop until last year, when he decided it was time to build the bike for his own personal use. Metal-shaping genius Evan Wilcox built the fuel tank, and the frame was braced, engine ported with a reed valve conversion, 34mm carburetors, Powerdynamo ignition, Swarbrick expansion chambers, GT750 4-leading shoe front drum brake, and more aluminum bodywork from Benji’s Café Racer.
The result is one of the most striking two-stroke customs we’ve seen. But it’s built to ride, not just for show:
“I built this bike to be a road machine for me, hence going with a Renthal tubular handlebar for a more upright riding position. The reed valve conversion on this ported and chambered 2-stroke really broadens the powerband, making it torquey down low but still has the ‘hit’ when coming on the pipe.”
Below, we get the full story on this T500 custom, along with more gorgeous shots from photographer David Jenkins.
Suzuki T500 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Ralph Spencer, proprietor of Spencer Motoworks where I create bespoke 2-stroke customs. I operate out of my garage in Southfield, Michigan in Metro Detroit. It is a part-time gig for me since I work full-time as a Tracked Combat Vehicle engineer for a defense contractor. I’m a gearhead by nature and enjoy all things mechanical. Bikes are my passion and I’ve been riding for 41 years. My bike designs are intended to be works of art but intended for real world use.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1969 Suzuki T500.
• Why was this bike built?
I purchased this uncompleted project in 2004 with a parts lot, it sat in the back of my shop for 15 years and I decided last year to complete it. It was a rolling chassis with engine and an aluminum fuel tank. I built this bike as my personal ride.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The roller chassis had some blue bits, and with the aluminum fuel tank, theme became blue and aluminum. I designed the seat tail to match the profile of the fuel tank. I also designed oil tank, inner fender/under tail, and rearset mounts.
The aluminum headlight bucket is a custom creation designed to fit the Suzuki T20 speedo/tacho gauge I had. All aluminum parts except the fuel tank were made by Benji’s Café Racer. The fuel tank is from Evan Wilcox.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Mostly everything is custom. Frame was braced, engine is ported with reed valve conversion, 34mm carbs, Powerdynamo ignition, Swarbrick expansion chambers, 1972 Suzuki GT750 4-Leading Shoe front drum brake, plus all the custom aluminum bodywork details.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
The Blue Bike.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
I built this bike to be a road machine for me, hence going with a Renthal tubular handlebar for a more upright riding position.
The reed valve conversion on this ported and chambered 2-stroke really broadens the powerband, making it torquey down low but still has the “hit” when coming on the pipe.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
It’s all about the details. I’m proud of the seat latch knob, inner fender and undertail details. Although no one sees these features, the seat latch secures both the hinged seat and fuel tank. The rolled beads on the inner fender, undertail flow into the license plate mount.
All photos by David Jenkins.
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