In 1979, Honda released the XL500S, a single-cylinder dual-purpose machine developed to compete with the Yamaha XT500, winner of the first two runnings of the Paris Dakar Rally. The bike had important improvements over the TT-XT singles, including a four-valve head, balancing shaft, and automatic decompression to help the rider kick start the big-single brute.
The XL weighed less than 300 pounds dry, made 32 horsepower at 6500 rpm, and could hit 91 mph. Cycle World felt the bike was truly dual-purpose:
“If it sounds as though Honda created a fine big dirt play bike and then designed a street legal version of it, you guessed right. The XL is different from previous dual purpose bikes because it works fine as a dirt play bike and it’s also a capable roadster, instead of being a road bike with off-road accessories.” —Cycle World, 1979
Enter our friend Oli Geier of Vulture Moto, whose Vintage 500 Series we featured last year. After riding, repairing, and customizing bikes since he was a teenager, Oli has found his way to a style of bike that he loves best, the tracker:
“Light, agile, uncomplicated, simple, functional — I can’t imagine any other way.”
Last summer, he took one of his builds — an XL500 street tracker — onto a dirt track for the first time, and he was hooked:
“It quickly became clear that I wanted to pursue the matter further. So I had some very cool weekends over the last summer and got to know a lot of people and the sport better.”
He quickly got a better idea of what he needed in a flat tracker and set out to build one from a 1979 Honda XL500S. The build is running Yamaha R6 forks — recommended to him by other flat track riders — and he moved the rear shocks mounts forward on the swingarm, allowing him to run shorter shocks.
The tank is a Fantic trials bike unit, and Oli laced up some 19-inch wheels with Dunlop DT3 rubber. He also shortened the subframe and made up his own tail section and seat. It took some testing and tuning to get the bike where he wanted it, but it was worth the effort:
“It’s great for short tracks and learning…”
A huge thanks goes out to one of our very favorite photographers, Kati Dalek (@kayadaek_photography), who brought us this build and the stunning shots to go along with it. You rock, Kati!
XL500 Tracker: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1979 Honda XL500S.
• Why was this bike built?
Only for myself, for riding flat track.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Last year I came to flat track at very short notice and spontaneously. I had just finished an XL500 as a street tracker and I put on other tires and tweaked them a bit and got my first dirt track experience with them. It quickly became clear that I wanted to pursue the matter further.
So I had some very cool weekends over the last summer and got to know a lot of people and the sport better. I quickly noticed that some things about my conversion were not so suitable (18 inch wheels, tank too long, suspension not ideal, handlebars, footrests, etc.). I really liked the XL500 motor on track though, so I decided to build another XL and tweak something for flat track.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Frame from ’79, rear slightly shortened and modified, powder coated in mirror gloss.
Mounts for the shock absorbers on the swingarm are placed further forward to be able to use shorter shock absorbers (originally they are 43cm long).
Forks from a Yamaha R6 with upper Superbike bridge. A lot of guys told me this fork is great for flat track —> it is.
Newly built 19-inch wheels. Front was from a BMW F650, rear built on an original XL500 hub with drum brake.
Dunlop DT3 Flat Track tires.
Homemade exhaust, completely stainless steel.
Tank from an old Fantic trials bike.
Rear section and seat pad was self-made.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Well, this time it was a bit longer until I was happy with the bike. In March, during the first test drive on a track, the pivot of the swingarm came loose and it almost completely came loose in the corner — I’ve had some luck!
The second time the engine spat out some oil. Then I needed some time to optimize the chassis…. But now I’m more than satisfied and I really like riding the bike.
The engine is powerful and the bike is light and fast. Easy to ride for a beginner and it’s a lot of fun. On the longer tracks and above a certain speed, it becomes a bit unstable, which is due to the short wheelbase and the steep steering angle of the XL. I think it’s great for short tracks and to learn something.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I really like the plastic Fantic tank and the exhaust that goes through the number plate on the left. It was also cool that I already had a lot of the parts in my garage and could continue to take something from here and there and other bikes. So it was a cheap project for me and a good start for flat track.
• What’s next for Vulture Moto?
Too many plans — we will see.
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