Jean-Michel Atlan’s street tracker, reimagined 40 years later…
In 1877, Japanese entrepreneur Torakusu Yamaha, the third son of a samurai of the Kishu-Tokugawa family, founded Nippon Gakki Company in order to manufacturer reed organs. Torakusu’s evolution into a pioneer of Western musical instruments is the stuff of legend:
“Torakusu created a blueprint for the inside of the organ, later creating his own prototype organ. To deliver it to the then Music Institute (today’s Tokyo University of Arts), it is said that Torakusu slung his creation over his shoulder on a carrying pole and crossed the mountains of Hakone.”
The company was later renamed Yamaha in his honor, and the motorcycle division was created in 1955. In 1968, the company revolutionized the dual-purpose market with introduction of the DT series of two-stroke enduro machines.
By the mid-70s, however, street-legal two-strokes were going the way of the dinosaurs, and Yamaha’s American division wanted a four-stroke thumper that could do double-duty on the paved highways and dirt roads of the country. The XT500 was the answer — a 500cc single that would prove itself from great African rallies like the Paris-Dakar to the backroads and trails of local riders.
Our new friend Jean-Michel Atlan grew up riding and racing motorcycles in France, where one of his first race bikes was an XT. Today, he lives in Reno, Nevada, where he continues to build and restore bikes out of his garage.
The ’77 XT500 you see here has roots more than four decades old, harking back to one of Jean-Michel’s first builds:
“I built an XT500 custom in 1980 as a street tracker bike. That bike was featured in a French custom magazine named NITRO at the time. This build is an extrapolation of one of that build, 40 years later.”
Nicknamed the “Torakusu XT” in honor of the company’s founder, the bike is running a detabbed frame, ’98 GSX-R750 forks with Tokico brakes, aluminum swingarm, 19-inch Excel rims laced to custom hubs, 12-volt electrics, a rebuilt engine with high-compression piston and flat-slide racing carb, a beautiful white and polished color scheme with laser-cut decals, and much more.
While the bike is an absolute stunner to behold, Jean-Michel says the real beauty comes from swinging a leg over the saddle.
“This is what is beautiful about this bike. It is such a blast to ride! Perfect handling.”
Below, we talk to Jean-Michel for the full details on the “Torakusu XT.”
XT500 Street Tracker: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I was born and raised in France where I grew up with motorcycles, and racing them. One of my first bikes was an XT500 that I raced. I work out of my garage and restore old bikes for a hobby. I have a stock ’78 XT restored , a DR-Z400 supermoto custom that I built, and an ’81 YZ465 that also received a ground-zero restoration. Currently, I’m refurbishing a 1974 DT with electric start. Also looking for a 1300 Kawasaki for a restomod project this winter.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1977 Yamaha XT500.
• Why was this bike built?
I always wanted to build a very beautiful XT, giving it a street tracker look. It is a personal build that followed my inspirations.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I built an XT500 custom in 1980 as a street tracker bike. That bike was featured in a French custom magazine named NITRO at the time. This build is an extrapolation of one of my first builds, 40 years later.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The frame and engine were retained as the base for the bike. Everything else was designed and custom built.
The frame was shaved to give it some smoother lines. A stainless inner fender was built to complement that.
The fork came off of 1998 GSX-R750. It was retrofitted to fit the XT frame. The swingarm is aluminum. YSS rear shocks, Tokico front calipers over some Bike Master rotors. Rear disc came off an SR500 with a modified brake stay.
The wheels are 19-inch front and rear Excel rims laced over some custom hubs. Tires are Continental K180 trackers. Those wheels are beautiful and they really make the bike stand out.
The front fender is a 1998 Suzuki GSX-R750 that I bobbed and attached with some custom brackets. The Knight seat cowl was modified to fit the modified frame. I designed an aluminum seat pan and a seat.
The electrics were upgraded with a 12v magneto and electronic ignition. Everything is LED, custom headlight and DRZ tail light. Turn signals are integrated. The instruments are digital Daytona gauges. The handlebars are tracker style with GSX-R levers.
The engine received a complete rebuild and powder-coat refinishing. Flat-slide race carb, 10:1 compression piston, and a stainless-steel exhaust manifold. The exhaust muffler is an Akropovic Race. The bike sounds beautiful with a gorgeous deep sound.
I wanted to keep the paint simple not to take away from the build. The bike was painted Yamaha white. Polished tank. The side covers were laser-cut to accept some plexiglass inserts; they were then engraved. I designed the tank decals to match.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
The bike is light and handles so well. It has significantly more power than a stock bike. Great acceleration and so much torque.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
This is what is beautiful about this bike. It is such a blast to ride! Perfect handling.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I think it is well balanced.
• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Patrick Fifer of Reno for the welding and fabrication, Ace Cycle Service (@ace_cycle_service_supply) for the engine work (JB, Jeremia and Scott, those guys rock!). Dick from Champion Upholstery. Rich from Moto Source for his expertise helping design those beautiful wheels. Marina Roberts for the photography.