Dan Mickan’s KTM 500 EXC “Vinduro”…
For more than a decade, the KTM 500 EXC has reigned as one of the ultimate street-legal dirt bikes ever produced. Until the bike Kato hit the market, dirt riders who needed to tie together trails, dirt roads, and pavement were often forced to settle for overweight, street-oriented dual-sports, or else attempt to get their dirt bikes plated and insured.
KTM changed the game with the 500 EXC, combining the chassis and suspension of the race-winning XC-W enduro series with just enough street necessities to make it legal — a modern dual-sporter’s dream:
“It is quite possibly the greatest dual-sport bike in history. It is an incredible dirt bike that just happens to have a license plate, turn signals, a horn…” –Dirt Rider
Enter our new friend Dan Mickan of Brisbane, Australia, who was interested in picking up an old Honda XR600R for Dust Hustle and other vinduro events in his area, when his eye turned to the bone-stock 2015 KTM 500 EXC Six Days edition sitting in his garage.
Dan reckoned he would spend a load of money and time upgrading and modernizing an older XR…or he could turn back the clock on the KTM he already had.
“I was really blown away by the RSD “Kurt Caselli” build, which basically introduced me to the idea that you could customize a dirt bike which, until then, I never even considered as a possibility for a custom build. So, with that in mind, my plan was to build a 1980s styled vintage enduro machine using my KTM 500 as a base to scratch that itch of an vintage XR650R dirtbike.”
It’s what we sometimes call a “retromod” — a modern bike modified to resemble one of its vintage ancestors while retaining its modern-day performance. (As opposed to a restomod, a vintage bike that’s modernized on the performance front, but maintains much of its original design and silhouette.)
Dan wanted to create a machine that would look right at home at a vinduro event, but without sacrificing the KTM’s functional prowess:
“I wanted the bike to be capable of riding full-on enduro as the KTM was originally designed for, so it had to be practical and the design needed to look good but not detract from the ability of the bike to be thrown around in the bush. So instead of buying an old XR, I started on the build.”
A $15 Honda XL185 tank served a hub of the build, and Dan, who has three young kids at home and a demanding job as a construction project manager, worked with an array of local fabricators and contractors to carry out his designs, leaning on his project management experience. Support came from buddies like John Bancroft Arnott (a “total legend”), the crew at Skinny’s Garage (Brisbane’s community garage), and the Brisbane moto community as a whole.
“Along the way I reached out to a bunch of people to bounce ideas off and run design advice by and the local Brisbane bike community is really full of great people. The final product would not have turned out as well without the input from these people, they all know who they are.”
Below, Dan gives us the full rundown of the modifications and design, and we’ve got more glamour shots from the talented Gabe Veit, as well as images from the KTM’s outing at Dust Hustle, courtesy of Mint Rig Studios and Photo Gusto!
KTM 500 Retromod: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’m located in Brisbane, Australia. I work as a construction project manager and bikes are a hobby/obsession for me, they have been since I could ride at age 10. I have always been captivated custom bike (café racers / scramblers) that came out of places like Deus and Ellaspede in Brisbane and have always wanted to build something unique.
I know my way around a workshop but I’m not a particularly talented fabricator, plus I don’t have a workshop to fabricate in, so I had to basically design and project manage the build instead of doing all of the work myself. This suited me because of the skills I have from my day to day work. Also I have three young kids and so finding the time to spend building bikes is always a challenge. Hopefully when I get more time as the kids grow up I can do more fab work myself.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
2015 KTM EXC500 Six Days edition.
• Why was this bike built?
Sometime in 2018, I was looking to buy and old Honda XR600R because I wanted a vintage motocross / enduro type bike to ride at events like Ellaspede Dust Hustle or some local vinduro events. However, at the same time I also had a 2015 KTM 500 Six Days edition sitting in my garage. I thought that if I bought an old XR then all I would do is ride it, throw money at it to improve suspension and engine performance and I’d never ride my KTM 500.
I was really blown away by the RSD “Kurt Caselli” build, which basically introduced me to the idea that you could customize a dirt bike which, until then, I never even considered as a possibility for a custom build. So, with that in mind, my plan was to build a 1980s styled vintage enduro machine using my KTM 500 as a base to scratch that itch of an vintage XR650R dirtbike.
In doing this I would have a bike that would have the retro vintage enduro looks but have all of the modern engine performance, reliability and suspension tech. I wanted the bike to be capable of riding full-on enduro as the KTM was originally designed for, so it had to be practical and the design needed to look good but not detract from the ability of the bike to be thrown around in the bush. So instead of buying an old XR, I started on the build.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
RSD Kurt Casselli build was an inspiration, before that I never heard of anyone building custom dirt bikes. I did all the design work by printing out scaled images and sticky-taping different elements together until I liked what I saw (see photo).
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I started in December 2018, stripping the bike back to frame and wheels and engine. I can weld but I am not a very good welder at all, so to make sure the build was quality, I had to outsource the fabrication work while providing clear instructions.
For the subframe, I built a mock-up out of electrical conduit and gave that and a set of detailed dimensioned drawings to my fabricator who then made an exact replica in chromoly steel. With a bit of back and forth I got the dimensions and proportion that I was looking for, and the fitment on the bike was spot on. I made an intentional effort to design the bike so that the ergonomics of the original 500 were not lost because I fully intend on riding this bike as it was intended to be ridden.
The tank is probably the design element that the whole build revolved around the most. It’s off an early 80s Honda XL 185 and I love it for its boxy lines and small size (7 litres after modification). Again, I sent it off to a local fabricator to have it modified to fit the bike and new subframe. A big challenge was getting the fuel pump to fit into such a small tank, but with a lot if effort my fabricator made it work.
Add in a seat pan to suit once the tank was mounted, and I went on to get the big blocky blue seat made. It had to be blue to match the early 80s KTM MX machines. From this I decided the tank had to be white also.
I sourced a standard Danmoto exhaust because it was best 80s style pipe I could find and had the stock headers modified to match the lines of the new subframe.
Next was to add on the Acerbis Standard plastics which are really appropriate to the era and also very practical. In the event I throw the bike down the side of the hill while out on the trails, I can replace them if needed.
I used a stock KTM 500 airbox and had it modified to fit within the new subframe so that I could use the stock air filters and battery box. This also helped to attach the stock rear mud guard to. There are a few more places that mud and dust can get into the airbox so I put in a “finke spec” funnelweb filters that’s a bit thicker than normal. The fabricator then did some finishing touches to the side covers and fitments and it was ready for paint.
By this point it was time to start thinking about the final colours and graphics. I had a bunch of ideas, and while I wanted it to have that 80s vibe, I also wanted to keep a nod to the 2015 International Six Days Enduro that the bike originally was built to celebrate. This explains the light blues and Argentina details.
Working closely back and forth with a graphic designer I ended up at the final design. The bright white, dark blue, orange and light blue are a good combination, but I had to be mindful not to overuse the graphics because the bikes of the time had very minimal decals.
The process was slow and the build took me about 3.5 years because of time and cost restrictions. I didn’t have the money to take my bike and the idea to a custom bike shop and just pay for the build so I had to figure out the most cost effective solution without sacrificing quality. Because I was on a budget, but also wanted to get quality work done when I could so that all took time. In the time cost quality triangle, I had to sacrifice time to get quality at a reasonable cost.
Along the way I reached out to a bunch of people to bounce ideas off and run design advice by and the local Brisbane bike community is really full of great people. The final product would not have turned out as well without the input from these people, they all know who they are.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Nope, I just call it my KTM Vinduro.
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
I think the stock 500 puts out close to 60bhp at the crank and weighs about 105kg? I don’t think any of my modifications have lessened the weight, in fact, the steel tank probably added to the dry weight by a few grams, not that you can notice.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It feels just like riding the standard 500, wheelies in any gear and has heaps of torque. When I did its first shakedown ride at Dust Hustle, I had forgotten how much I loved riding this bike.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I really like the way the seat and tank came together, that for me is the best part of the build. The build basically revolved around this old $15 honda XL185 tank. Love the square lines and the seat had to be square too. Also I have never been a fan of the bright orange of KTM — I just buy them because they are great bikes — but I love the old school blue and white scheme with a highlight of orange.
• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I subbed out a lot of the work and don’t really need to list everyone that touched the bike (there were a few duds along the way), but post-covid and after a few years, the project had sort of stalled and so I reached out to a mate, John Bancroft-Arnott, and asked if he could help me get it finished at Skinny’s Garage in Brisbane. He helped with the finishing touches and details and also some functional items (like blocked injectors from sitting for so long and a stuffed fuel pump). Total legend and it won’t have turned out to be the bike it is without his help in the final days.
Follow the Builder
Builder, Dan Micken: @danmotomoto
Skinny’s Garage in Brisbane: @skinnysgarage
Friend, John Bancroft Arnott: @forwantofabetterusername
Photography: Gabe Veit (@gabrielveitphotography)
Photography: Mint Rig Studios (@mint.rig.studios)
Photography: Photo Gusto (@photogusto_au)