GPgarage Moto builds a trio of four-stroke Honda motocrossers…
Introduced in 1979, the Honda XL500 would become one of the most successful dual-purpose bikes of the era, combining a 32-hp version of the XR500 engine with all the lights and accessories required for street-legality. All that equipment equated to a weight penalty of just 16 lbs, and the XL featured 8″ front and 7″ rear suspension travel — down just 0.8″ from the dirt-only XR.
“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 offroad accessories.” –Cycle World, 1979
That said, any dual-sport is by definition a compromise, and the XL500S wasn’t meant for the motocross track or even more challenging trails:
“It’s not a motocrosser or even a good enduro bike, but it has enough suspension so a rider can take moderate sized jumps without dying upon landing…” -CW
In 1982, Honda replaced the twin-shock XL500S with the XL500R, featuring their new Pro-Link mono-shock suspension:
“The Pro-Link rear suspension system was developed on Honda’s World Open and U.S. Open Championship racers and now it’s ready for the wide open spaces… Now when you jump that jump, the suspension works more efficiently to absorb the impact…”
Still, the XL500 was no motocrosser, not without some serious modification…and that’s where our friend Matteo Gualandi of Italy’s GPgarage Moto comes in. Matteo is a master of Honda four-stroke dirt machines. He’s built a collection of Honda Baja 1000 desert racer replicas, and his workshop fields a pair of modern CRF450 rally bikes in the Italian championship. Now he’s back with a trio of XL500 motocrossers.
It all started when he decided convert a ’79 XL500S for MX use. Despite the near lack of brakes and suspension — at least by contemporary standards — Matteo says the XLS is barrel of fun on the track…if you’ve got the steel to ride it:
“It’s very fun — no brakes, no suspension, but if you are brave it gives you great satisfaction. “
But Matteo wanted to take things farther, which led to a pair of more aggressive, more capable single-shock versions, including a four-stroke copy of Honda’s 1986 RC500 two-stroke!
Below, Matteo gives us the story of this Honda 500 trio in his own words, along with more photos from VS Image Studio.
Honda XL500 Motocrossers: In the Builder’s Words…
I’ve always loved the old four-strokes (Honda, of course) and I started the conversion of an old 1979 XL500s into a motocross version. It’s very fun — no brakes, no suspension, but if you are brave it gives you great satisfaction. The bike is very low and agile, but I had to go further and develop something even better performing for motocross use.
The idea was to realize a four-stroke copy of the HRC 500 two-stroke of 1986 with the gold rims and red/blue colors!
So I bought an old XL500r single-shock and gave it a new 530cc big bore engine, along with an 18″ rear rim, front suspension and brake kit from a 1999 XR250, the tank from an old Honda XL, and all the other things to do the conversion.
This is the bike! Very very fun, and it’s very small and light — you can do what you want with it on a motocross track.
After these bikes, a customer asked me to do a conversion of his XL500s and we started again. This time we installed small carbon pieces for the number plates as requested by the customer and the swingarm has new mounts for the shock absorbers.