XR500 Super Motard Plastics, Fenders and Lights, Oh My…!

Our next step is to acquire and mount some fenders, a modern looking headlight and a taillight. 

On the fenders side, we can either go with Super Motard generic fenders, NOS parts (new old stock), or replicas of new.  I first investigated the Super Motard generics and found a plethora of models to choose from Acerbis, UFO, Polisport and Cycra.  The catch is that unless you go with black, matching colors with the generics is a challenge… as I found out after ordering some front fenders from UFO and Acerbis.  Their red is a much more vivid red, lined up with the current Honda CR450F rather than the “old” Tahitian red of our ‘82 XR500.  The contrast is in fact so strong that these fenders cannot really be considered for this project — I had to return them. 

I then looked at NOS fenders, which can still be found, but at a price!  As I’m not willing to spend more on two fenders then the entire value of the motorcycle, I investigated replicas of new.  Battling this space are two great manufacturers, Maier USA and DC Plastics.  The finish on the Maier products is a bit nicer than what comes out of DC Plastics (different production technologies) and so I ordered a set of fenders from Maier.  Unfortunately, “red” at Maier is not Tahitian red but rather a much darker, almost Bordeaux red – go figure.  So with some disappointment I sent the fenders back and ordered a set from DC Plastics.  They came within days and ended up being a very nice match.  The only adjustment I had to make was to cut a couple of inches off the back of the front fender to provide the right fit for the CR500 Showa fork.

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Front and rear fenders from DC Plastics dress up the XR500 Super Motard nicely.

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View from the left side.

On to the headlight… here too choices abound and the selection is mostly a question of preference.  I don’t particularly like the look of the original XR500 headlight so I set my sight on products from Acerbis, Polisport, TrailTech, and Baja Designs.  I ended up ordering the Polisport MMX in black, which I think offers a good balance of new and vintage look.

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The XR500 Super Motard with its Polisport MMX headlight.

Finally, for the taillight, I looked for something simple which here too would provide the right balance between new and old.  I ended up finding an interesting tail unit on eBay.

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Taillight on the XR500 Syper Motard.

With the “plastics” now mounted, the final stretch for this project is to finish the electrics.  Then I’ll cross my fingers and hope to hear some vroom! vroom!

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Posted in Super Motard, Super Moto, XR500 Project | 38 Comments

New wheels for the XR500 Super Motard

Besides the Showa front fork, the Super Motard wheels are the other important “custom” mod of this project.  I went through a long list of measurements before ordering the rims as I was not certain what rim width would fit.  At the end I was pleasantly surprised to see that 17×3.50 would suit the front and 17×4.25 the rear– pretty much standard for Super Motard bikes.

The wheels have to be custom made starting with the standard ‘82 XR500 hub at the rear, and a ‘90 CR500 wheel hub I bought at eBay at the front.  After cleaning and painting these, they look like new.  For the rims, I went with a Warp 9 36-spokes black 17×3.50 for the front, and a Warp 9 36-spokes black 17×4.25 for the rear.

To assemble and lace the wheels, everyone I spoke to recommended Woody’s Wheel Works in Denver, Colorado.  And everyone was right, these guys are truly amazing and will create any wheel customization, with any lacing and offset if needed.  For this project, they mounted supersized stainless steel spokes, superlaced them and used stainless steel nipples.

For tires, I selected Michelin Pilot Power, 120/70ZR-17 for the front and 150/60ZR-17 for the rear – I have had good results with these grippy tires before, and hope that I’ll be as pleased with this setup.

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The Super Motard wheels for the Xr500 project laced by Woody’s Wheel Works and mounted with Michelin Pilot Power tires.

There is a small modification that needs to be made to the rear swingarm to make room for the rear tire.  The bracket, which is used to hold one of the chain guards, needs to be removed.  This is a simple operation using a typical hand grinder:

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Chain guard bracket which needs to be removed to make room for the rear tire.

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Bracket is removed and some fresh paint is applied.

There is one more touch I want to give to these rims to provide a specific look: pimp them up by adding some rim stripes!  So I bought a set of red stripes from Tapeworks – these are very easy to apply.  Nice contrast:

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Front Super Motard custom wheel mounted on the CR500 Showa fork.  The red stripes add a nice touch to the Warp 9 black rims.

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Rear wheel is mounted as well and a new chain is cut to length, linked and adjusted.

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The XR500 Super Motard has now new performance shoes which match the motor and frame colors.

Next step is to finish the custom electrical harness, mount a headlight, taillight, brake light, horn, adapt front and rear fenders and button everything up with a seat and gaz tank.

Posted in Super Motard, Super Moto, XR500 Project | 22 Comments

Some more progress on the XR500 Super Motard

It has been a couple of months since my last post – I’ve been busy with other fun distractions which have kept me away from toying with the Basket Case project.  Still, I have been able to put a few hours in here and there and there is some progress. 

I knew that I would hit a few challenges assembling the bike and sure enough I met one problem after another.  Plenty of “Oh sh_t!” moments.  A diarrhea of them really, but I kept swinging with my plungers, not willing to go down without a fight.  Just to mention a few of these glorified episodes:

  • As I mounted the rear brake assembly on the bike, I noticed that the brake pedal would only weakly come back to its resting position.  Something was missing.  To get a better understanding, I picked up my XR500 Clymer manual to check exploded views of the area and, sure enough, discovered that the pedal is indeed assisted by a return spring.  I then checked the Basket Case parts and luckily found the spring.  The problem I soon discovered  though was that one end of this spring has to wrap around the lower part of the bike’s frame and there is no way one can mount it properly without taking the engine out!  Ouch!  So I proceeded with all my patience and determination, removed the engine, placed the spring and bolted the engine back on.  Darn spring, not ready to do this again soon.

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    Brake pedal spring wrapped around the frame.  The engine has to be removed to mount this spring (!).

  • Shortly after the brake spring episode, I was working on the cylinder head valve lifter when I started questioning how this lifter shaft could be held into place.  Another trip in the Clymer manual gave me another horror view.  There is a pin that holds the lifter shaft in place and this pin is inserted in the valve cover before it is bolted onto the cylinder head.  I never saw this pin and never inserted it.  Problem is that the valve cover cannot be removed without, you guessed it, removing the engine from the frame.  “You must be kidding me!!” is all I could hear myself screaming.  On to round 2, unbolting the engine again, disassembling the valve cover, placing the pin and reverting the process to have everything back in place.  “No way I’m going to ever remove this &*^%$#!! engine again!” is what one could hear afterwards.  It’s hard to admit mistakes.

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    Valve lifter lever with two actuating cables: one for auto-decompressing when kick-starting, the other for manual decompression via a lever mounted on the steering bar.

  • I noticed that when holding the rear suspension swingarm and moving it up and down to exercise its movement I could feel some play, enough to pay attention and investigate.  What I discovered is that several of the pivot link bushings were slightly worn, and the mounting points of the shock were as well.  Not much, but the compounding effect of all of them displaying a bit of play resulted in some rather unacceptable overall play.  So I took the entire rear suspension apart and replaced all the bushings.  Now things are tight.

There were a few other “discoveries” but fortunately these were only small setbacks not worth mentioning here.  I was finally back at actually putting the bike together, and took a few pictures along the way:

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New steering stem runners are pressed into place.

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First part of the front fork is assembled.

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Showa triple clams are mounted.

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The Showa fork is assembled on the Super Motard XR500.

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Progress on the assembly front: foot pegs, steering bar, throttle body and cables, front brake lever, grips, clutch lever and cable, decompression lever and cable, crankcase breathing tubes, ignition coil and control unit, rear mud flap, tank straps, chain guides.

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View from the other side showing the exhaust manifold and Supertrapp muffler.

Things are coming together – the main remaining parts to assemble are the wheels (special project as I have the hubs laced with special Super Motard rims), front brake, seat (needs re-upholstering), gas tank and front & rear fenders.  But before that, I need to wire the entire electric and ignition system.  That will be fun!

Posted in XR500 Project | 18 Comments

Starting to put the XR500 Super Motard together

There is joy, enthusiasm and maybe even a hint of passion behind putting a bike back together, especially when it started as a Basket Case.  A large number of hours have been spent in research, taking components apart to their last element, cleaning, painting, fixing, adjusting every bit before laying them down on a shelf, ready for action.  The parts look nice and, for some, even close to new (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ha!).  They also look impatient to be put back together!

So now, one by one, I’m mounting everything back to the frame.  While at first things seem to proceed with ease and speed, the reality is that the devil is in the details.  Small problems will become challenges which will take a lot of time to resolve.  I know this, and am ready for it.  Makes me enjoy even more the moments when parts just snap together!

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The first step in putting the XR500 Super Motard together: mounting the engine in the frame.  I like the black and red color combination.

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Bolting on the swing arm (with new needle bearings), then assembling and mounting the shock absorber linkage, shock unit, air box, and carburetor.

It’s starting to look like a motorcycle.  I’m now waiting for the new steering column bearings to arrive and I’ll assemble the fork to the frame.  Moving forward we’ll have a series of small steps, each leading to the creation of the XR500 Super Motard.

More pictures to come as the project progresses…

Posted in XR500 Project | 5 Comments

Back from the painter

The frame and swing arm are back from Premium Powder Coating where they have been media blasted to the metal and then powder coated.  The shop has done  a magnificent job not only in the quality of the craftsmanship but also in plugging every thread before powder coating so that no tapping is needed post paint.

Here are a few “before and after pictures” for illustration.  The contrast is clearly visible — A reward for the hard work.

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The new frame is powder coated Honda “Tahitian Red”, a bright red with an once of orange which reminds one of Ducati or Ferrari.

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The swing arm looks like new again .

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Cleaned the rear shock (don’t ask how long it took) and then had Marvin at RMK do its magic with the rebuild.

Now that we have all the main components refurbished, rebuilt and ready, we can start putting things back together!

Posted in XR500 Project | 4 Comments

XR500 Super Motard gets a cartridge Showa fork

Forks have seen significant improvements over the last two decades and one of the first item I want to swap for the Super Motard transformation is the XR500’s fork which design and technology descends from the 70s .  Fortunately Honda used the same 26mm triple clamp stem diameter and length on several of its bikes until the early 90s.  So I picked up a ‘90 CR500 cartridge Showa fork on eBay.  This fork is a bolt on swap for the ‘82 XR500, no modifications needed.  I also purchased the CR500 front disk brake system to replace the XR500 anemic drum which in emergency situations produces the ultimate sphincter tightening experience!  No thanks.

The cartridge Showa fork offers measurably better handling with reduced fork flex and twist.  Its tubes are 45mm, significantly beefier than the original XR500 37mm.  The Showa’s triple clamps are also stiffer with an improved design.

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The original XR500 fork as it came off of the XR500 frame.

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The ‘90 Honda CR500 cartridge Showa fork which will be installed on the XR500 Super Motard.

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Triple clamp from the CR500 on the left, XR500 on the right. Same stem dimensions making it an easy swap.

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CR500 at the top XR500 below.

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Before sending the frame to media blasting and powder coating I verified that the Showa triple clamp stem would indeed be a bolt on swap.  It is, and the steering stops are a perfect match as well.

To have the Showa fork and the rear shock perform at their best, I had both rebuilt with grade 5 oil and new seals by Marvin Rosencrans at RMK – Marv is a magician when it comes to rebuilding and fine tuning suspensions.

Posted in XR500 Project | 12 Comments

Super Motard it will be!

As I discovered at the beginning of this project that the Basket Case parts belonged to XR500 bikes of various model years, it was clear that this would not be a high-fidelity-restoration-back-to-concours-quality project.  As I already have a Yamaha YZ250 to take to motocross tracks, Hare Scramble events, Enduros and to ride the wonderful mining roads of Colorado, I’ve decided to make the XR500 a fun road bike: a Super Motard edition.

A Super Motard (or Supermoto) is a modified off-road or motocross motorcycle intended for use in a cross between motocross and road racing.  They are very light and thus incredibly fun to ride on the road.  The main modifications include wider rims and performance road tires, larger front disk and (sometimes) lowered, and slightly stiffened suspensions.

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Supermoto in action at the track.  Slides, drifts, the agile bike is so much fun to ride and play with! (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

How much fun? Play this video of David Checa and Dani Ribalta chasing each other on their Supermoto bikes to get an idea (and nop, I have nowhere the talent of either of these two riders, but I might compete in the “having the most fun” race):

Now the XR500 is no modern 450 dirt bike as seen in the picture and movie above (power or handling) but it can be transformed into a fun toy nonetheless, and this is what I intend to do with this project.  The main modifications will include:

  • Inverted larger/modern front fork.
  • Wider 17” rim at the front with performance tire.
  • Wider 17” rim at the back with performance tire.
  • Disk brake at the front instead of the original drum.

I’ll elaborate further on each element of this “XR500 Super Motard” transformation as the project progresses.

Posted in XR500 Project | 4 Comments