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‘80 Yamaha XT500 – Hgarage


Posted on July 14th, by Andrew in Scrambler. 20 comments

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You’d think that throwing in your job would be the pinnacle of fear for anyone making the leap and starting up their own shop. But when you think about it, that’s the easy part. It’s the bit where you have to put your spanners where your mouth is and actually make your first bike that will do your head in. So imagine the surprise and delight of a newly minted shop owner who not only manages to make a bike like this on his first attempt, but who then goes on to take Best in Show at the bike’s maiden outing. That owner is the very surprised and delighted Scott Halbleib – Pipeburn regular and creator of this killer XT500.

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What makes Scott’s story all the more amazing is that with a virgin shop on his hands, he then threw himself headfirst into organising the Kentucky Kick Down, a regional and much praised bike show in his home town of Louisville. He readily admits that he bit off way more than he could chew, which probably accounts for fact that he’s been off the grid for the past two years. But it hardly seems to matters when you appear out of the darkness with something like this to show for it.

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“When building, I focus on two primary goals,’ says Scott. “I always try to start with something different and I try and do something that I have not seen before, which is getting much more difficult. My last builds included the big Brick, the CB450 which was a little underwhelming on power and the XS that seemed unnecessarily heavy. So I wanted to create something very different. Modern Metals let me ride the Yamaha XT500 he had just finished which really set my course… a thumper was definitely the way to go.”

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Scott found this bike on the Internet and decided to take a road trip. The previous owner had turned it into a dirt tracker and other than some questionable paint work and stick-on pinstriping, it was a pretty nice. Then like clockwork, some of the Louisville Vintage Motorworks fellas started giving Scott grief about tearing apart another sweet bike… but after a couple of rides to the local bike night, it was placed on the lift and the tear-down began.

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“I was not exactly sure what to do with the bike but I knew I wanted to make it look older, taking some cues from Honda Elsinores, vintage Huskys and Greeves bikes, which I dig. Immediately, the plastic got tossed along with the tank. I also switched the 18/19 dirt track set-up back to 18/21. Then I started sketching, carving foam, bending cardboard and mocking up ideas. The first concept had been a stylized version of an old dirt bike, but it just would not work the way I envisioned. I just wasn’t prepared to sacrifice that much height and suspension travel for the design.”

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After a couple of months of late nights staring at the bike, sketching ideas, and weighing up his options, Scott finally decided on a Yamaha CT175 gas tank. Over this, a 3/8” rod, or  ‘backbone,’ runs from the front to the back of the bike. The tank had to be cut out to fit the frame correctly and also notched to wrap around the oil filler cap. After deciding to do a double hoop on the frame to create the backend rise of the seat and to hold the rear ring for the tail light, Scott’s friend and local blacksmith Lewis Meyer at Falls City Ironworks helped him get the hoops shaped. Then he trimmed, sleeved and welded them into place. Next came the rear fender which was mocked up from an old fender laying around the shop. Jeff Gill of Airkooled Inc fabricated the final piece that incorporated a battery box and a recessed tail light, along with some other really nice details.

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“The seat needed to have the backbone run through it, which meant it needed to be tall enough to keep the rider from having a steel rod up their ass but not too tall aesthetically. Using high density race foam for its rigidity and untold hours on sorting out all the seat unique trimming requirements, the construction was sent out for upholstery. I decided to use the Super Trapp exhaust and then fabbed up new header pipes. I also wanted to create a universal mounting system; the bike has a 38mm Mikuni and I thought a little extra juice would come in handy, so I mounted a one gallon Rotopax tank which I had seen on one of the Icon bike builds. I also made a second mount, which carries a waterproof Kriega pack bag. I had already installed a bash guard but felt like it needed a little more armor to really get the look I was going after. I had and ATV crash bar but I needed to reduce the width so I cut and welded it, then built a mount to weld to the frame.”

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The paint was decided early on; graphite would cover the wheels and the motor, while a semi-gloss black frame, dark silver tins and black seat would finish things off. The exhaust wrap came and it had a bronze tint to it, which Scott liked enough to start him rethinking his color options, eventually settling on the one you see here. The last touches included having emblems and vinyl templates cut and the whole thing painted. He also added hand guards, some larger and more aggressive pegs, longer progressive rear shocks, lengthened kickstand, shaved steering lock for proper headlight depth, tapered bearings and all finally all the original bolts were replaced with their stainless steel allen bolt equivalent.

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“It’s been a while since I had something to send out, but I wanted to make sure I was content with the end result, and I am. I’m never a 100% satisfied, but I’m close. Thanks to Modern Metals, I was able to finish it in time to make it to the Rockerbox Motofest in Wisconsin where it won Best in Show. It’s not necessary to win an award, but it sure is nice to know that what you are doing is also striking a chord with others. I will keep doing it as long as I can fund it. There are plenty of bad days, but a few good days can make it all worth it.”

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[Photos by Nicholas Karem]





  • Junior Burrell

    Helluva job Scott,love everything about it!!!

    • http://www.hgarage.com shalbleib

      That means a lot coming from you Junior! You need to bring something to Kentucky Kick Down this year…???

      • Junior Burrell

        I’d love to,but I have four bikes to get ready for Barber. Not to mention all the parts i have to make. You making Barber?

        • http://www.hgarage.com shalbleib

          I’d like to but not sure if I’ll recoop from the kick down by then. We’ll see.

  • http://www.hgarage.com shalbleib

    I can’t control the edits and I sent Andrew WAY too much info on the build so I have to give props to 2 folks that were a huge help getting through this project – Jeff Gill of Airkooled Inc for much metal fab help and Doug Devine of Modern Metals for electrical and final assembly assistance. Much thanks fellas!

    • http://www.pipeburn.com Andrew@Pipeburn

      Nice one Scott and sorry for the edits. The boys from the Encyclopaedia Britannica called – they wanted all their words back… ;)

    • http://www.hgarage.com shalbleib

      And New Church Moto for upholstery

    • Jeff Gill

      No worries Scott I’m use to getting my name drop from articles it’s becoming a regular thing lol … good job

  • http://ridedualsport.com/ Manxman

    Much improvement over the original design – glad to see the plastic gone. Really like the headlight structure and the tubing around the taillight – nicely integrated. The seat looks like it would be comfortable – like the split bicycle seats that support the hip bones.

  • gregm

    I saw this over the weekend at Mid-Ohio and was floored. Really stood above the rest. Unbelievable in person. Great work.

  • Doug Devine

    It was cool to work with scott again.. Very unique and cool bike. Congrats buddy!!

  • revdub

    The fit and finish is top-notch. Another beautiful build, Scott.

  • Shorton

    Nice Showing at Mid-Ohio! Great work

  • Steve Joseph

    load up two saddlebags full of supplies, strap a tent and a spare gas can, and disappear into the wilderness for weeks on that thing. awesome.

  • MF

    Definitely my favourite from this year. Sensational job. Combining good looks and function.

  • Randy Moran

    love it.

  • al gonz

    Bravo!!!!!
    Original, cool, fun (4 sure!) and…(shock!) PRACTIAL!!!
    For many (I hear) a bike is just emotional, but for bike lovers who live in big cities, a bike needs to be somewhat practical as well.
    I love that such a talented build is also taking care of luggage solutions, more, please!

  • Luke

    Love the nestled tail light and the split seat! Bravo!

  • Cliff Overton

    Sensational work. That is on clean looking original looking build. Please tell us more about those funky tank/pannier mounts?

    • http://www.hgarage.com shalbleib

      It’s a Rotopax kit for the tank. I fabbed a custom bracket to mount their mount, then created a separate bracket to hold the Kreiga bag. Two bolts swaps it out.