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‘82 Honda FT500 – H Garage


Posted on February 23, 2016 by Andrew in Café Racer. 37 comments

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Written by Martin Hodgson.

There is more than one way to skin a cat and for Scott Halbleib of H Garage he took a different path with this Honda FT500 than he normally does with his other builds. Even before he’d begun his Honda XT build that has long since been finished and shares a common engine with the FT this bike caught Scott’s eye given its cheaper purchase price and convenience of electric start. This wouldn’t be a rushed project, after its purchase other bikes would take priority and the FT would receive attention when the right ideas came to mind and time was available. So it’s been two years in the making but with plenty of time, a Facebook poll, some light bulb moments and the help of a few excellent suppliers, this race inspired urban Café Racer can now be revealed.

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Having admired the work of another builder, Scott wanted to make his frame as smooth and clean as possible and it’s worth zooming in to see just how good a job he’s done. With the bare frame on the table he got to work removing all tabs, brackets and the battery box before grinding and smoothing the metal left behind. The next step was a radical one for a bike with such a cheap purchase price but the results speak for themselves, every join in the frame was re-welded, grinded back and smoothed out. To make the most of this ultra clean look Scott then fabricated a small battery box and electrical tray that leave as much of the frames metal work as possible exposed. The rear of the frame has been chopped and plugged before the entire frame was sprayed in a satin black finish.

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The metal work is unlike anything you will ever see on a Honda FT anywhere in the world and it all started by trial fitting numerous fuel tanks until he found one that fit the bill. The winner was an Aermacchi unit from the Harley Davidson ownership period and it was just what Scott was after “The Aermacchi tank has such a nice design and keeps the look of the bike super slim”. The tank received some minor mods but it was matching it to the tail that got Scott thinking. Having lost a little interest in the Cafe Racer styling there was a design he wanted to try that sparked the inspiration for this round rear end. A tail-piece that not only had an integrated exhaust exit but also had an underside that matched the shape of the tyre. With enough chopping, shaping and welding the tail not only serves its new purposes but also matches the tank perfectly.

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The next challenged was a seat that would tie the two new tank and tail elements together and Scott does a great job describing exactly what he had in mind and how it was achieved. “Rather than capping the tunnel on the tank, I decided to use it as part of the design. The tunnel on the tail paralleled the shape of the rear Pirelli so I thought the tunnel from the tank should be visible as well. I would design the seat to parallel the tank tunnel. The seat pan was formed then channelled in the rear to allow clearance for the exhaust, then various density foams were used. The centre was then hollowed out to allow hollow foam tubing to create the cylinder that parallels the tunnel. I put Ginger at New Church Moto to the test for upholstery”.

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Then one night Scott awoke with another idea he wanted to try, incorporating the headlight into a vintage microphone to act as its surround. Weeks of hunting on eBay and he finally found just the old microphone to do the job, fitted up with a high intensity fog light it makes for a very cool and functional piece. Then Scott decided it would look brilliant replicated on the rear, so back to eBay and this time finding a matching mic took months but he finally got his man. For an ultra clean look the wiring runs through the frame, even for the rear indicators which are mounted to the holes were the factory rear footpegs once would have been. Then more months passed as Scott’s internal monologue ticked over thinking about a colour scheme, this was all resolved when a Facebook poll helped him settle on the Honda racing colours of Red, Blue and White; with Scott drawing up the design and Bobby Fulkerson laying down the paint.

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The now all gold engine is the same as that fitted to the XT Scott had already built with the added bonus of receiving electric start on the FT version. The lightweight grunty single is finally getting the recognition it deserves in custom builds as it packs more torque at lower rpm than the rival 500cc single fitted to Yamaha’s SR500. To put a little more pep in its step Scott fabricated a new carburettor mount which holds in place a Mikuni 36mm round slide carb.

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Feeding air into the single and giving a rorty sound is the massive velocity stack from Speed Moto company, but it doesn’t make anywhere near the sound of the seriously trick exhaust. Starting with a new header pipe from Thumperstuff, Scott then fabricated a MotoGP style exhaust that snakes its way under the engine before running north past the swingarm where it enters the tail section. The pipe work is heat wrapped where necessary and finishes off through the purpose-built tail section with a small Cone Engineering muffler.

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But it wasn’t the engine that was first to receive lashings of gold paint, one of the first decisions made on the build was to paint the wheels in the hue like an old school NASCAR. With the wheels rubbered up in Pirelli Sports Demons some extra braking was added to the build with braided brake lines and a new Rizoma rear master cylinder reservoir. Vortex Clip-ons replace the factory bars with new levers and master cylinder working alongside Motogadget switches. They join the push buttons that have been recessed into the triple trees and all the wiring and relays were meticulously routed by Chad Francis of Retrowrench.

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The practical little Honda never really took off with just a two-year production run in 1982-83 but perhaps if the designers had Scott’s patience and creativity they could have brought to market one hell of a better ride. It’s a thousand dollar motorcycle with million dollar fit and finish from a talented builder who continues to surprise with unique designs and brilliant execution.

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[Photography by Ted Wirth]








  • guvnor67

    At first I thought “mmmm, nah, It’s a bit 80s or something?!’, but then i read some more, and started to really look, and It’s actually rather good. Maybe a bit to much gold on the engine, but that’s me being picky I think. Reminds me of a plan I had for my old MZ that didn’t eventuate. Kool.

    • FQ2

      Agreed. maybe if there was a bit of black in there to break it up a bit?

      • guvnor67

        Yer, just on the fins maybe?

  • John Wanninger

    Hell yes. Mostly because its 80’s. I love this bike. Not that my fat ass would be able to ride it comfortably- or at all for more than 4 minutes, but it’s like listening to Duran Duran while drinking a Jolt cola. Max Headroom for the win.

    • Vincenzo’s Ghost

      Hell no just because it is so freaking 80’s . Seriously the minute you mentioned the likes of Duran Duran I almost lost my lunch . Yeah . The 80’s . Crap cars , motorcycles and for the most part crap music as well all with the likes of Reagan and the Iron B—- ruling the roost

      • Racing Enthusiast

        Even MORE bitterness from TJ Martin? Like totally…

        • the watcher

          No, he is just old enough to remember what a totally vacuous wasteland for art and culture “the shittest decade ” really was. Thatcher and Reagan, Christ a-fucking-live, could it have been any worse?

          • Racing Enthusiast

            Yes. Jimmy Carter. Disco. KC and the Sunshine Band. Village People. Walter Carlos “By Request “. The Annie Hall look. Gas shortages and pointless long lines. 55 mph national speed limit. UJM cruisers with extended fork tubes and chrome plated sissy bar back rests. The Demise of too many British marques. Secretary of Transportation Joan Claybrook, and the 85 mph speedometer. Could go on for a long time, all from memory. Yeah, I’m about as old as that coward, except that I didn’t do the drugs that he acts like he did. I clearly remember the ’80’s as heaven compared to that dark age known as the ’70’s.

          • the watcher

            I think you should take a good look at your record collection; see what dates from the 70’s and what the 80’s (the latter only needs a short look, in fact). I have noticed, however, that what we tend to think of as the 70’s (or 60’s/90’s, whatever) really break down into the increments 73-82 (or 63-72 etc.). Kinda makes a mockery of the whole shooting match really. Oh well, back to sleep.

  • Dave Coetzee

    Love the paint job & some innovative touches including the reverse angle of the seat’s bum-stop that actually mimics the angle of a riders’ body. I just can’t get my brain to stop wanting to pull the tank down, esp. as in the last photo.

    • lennard schuurmans

      Yes! Was it laziness? The rest of the bike took so much effort and is super rad..? I understand it’s hard to make a new tunnel in a gas tank but this floating tank syndrome has to stop. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it right? I do like this bike a lot. It would be brilliant if they had adjusted the tunnel to make it fit.

      • lennard schuurmans

        Still this bike has amazing cool details, especially the seat and the tail are so nice. Stunning! And these painted wheels look super rad. Much nicer than all black. I think you just made the FT500 a lot more expensive in the secondhand market, ha

        • Dave Coetzee

          http://www.pipeburn.com/home/2016/02/22/02-harley-davidson-sportster-dp-customs.html
          Your version is much closer to one in the link here Lennard.

          • Dave Coetzee

            Sorry, wrong link – was supposed to be the “Bike Exif – how to build a cafe racer” photo that shows a straight horizontal line running along the bottom of the tank and seat.

          • the watcher

            I’ve seen that, might as well call it “how to go to art-school and build-a-bike-by-numbers”. And yes, I know there were a lot of “new bugs” when it was posted but frankly, even if you can’t articulate it, your aesthetic sense should be your guide or what’s the point of “custom” at all?

          • Dave Coetzee

            Agreed! Maybe this guideline to building a cafe racer (that I rudely quoted) was to satisfy the OCD that many of us have?

        • Dave Coetzee

          Hi Lennard. Could you please do your photo-shop magic with the below photo? Owner keen to convert to a café racer but some guys on our Custom site telling him not to chop. Was hoping you could create a bum-stop cowl over the rear section of the (thinned out) seat and lose the mudguards and add a sportier 2-stroke exhaust muffler. Please leave the paint job original. Thanks. Andrew @ Pipeburn – my apologies for the intrusion. PS. I owe both you & Lennard free tour guide services through the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve, here in South Africa.

      • shalbleib

        How does that look good? The tank it lower than the tail which resides at a height to allow just enough clearance for the rear tire. Believe me all options were considered before finalized.

        • lennard schuurmans

          now the tank is higher than the tail and much higher than the frame…?
          I know what I prefere 🙂

          • lennard schuurmans

            In my eyes the floathing tank syndrome is one of the seven deadly sins in custom bike design. I’ve never seen a bike that look good with it. It looks like it’s not supposed to be there and most of the time it’s done because it takes too much time or it’s too expensive to make it fit. I’m not saying that’s the case here but that’s the first thing that pops in my mind when I see it. It looks like the easy way out and I think that’s a shame. I see you’ve put hours and hours of time in this bike and the finnish of the bike is brilliant so I understand you like this look.

        • Dave Coetzee

          Besides this little raised tank issue, your bike’s really great looking. Below is a guideline from Bike Exif’s – “How to build a cafe racer”. Refer to the “boneline” as well -not attached herewith.

          • P.J. Grakauskas

            so the end all be all on how to build a custom “café racer” is taken from a blog article on bike exif?
            lord help us then.
            If every person built every custom motorcycle based on other peoples perception of how it should be done we wouldn’t get beautiful works such as this.
            You guys need to think out side of the box, or…..stay in the comfort zone and allow others to do It.
            screw “the lines” of a bike.
            this so called “floating tank syndrome” isn’t anything new to many of us.
            vintage race bikes had the same “look”. check out old benelli, bridgestone, Yamaha, and suzuki race bikes.
            but I digress.
            you are all entitled to your opinions, I just feel that taking it to another level by photoshopping how you “think” it should look is disrespectful.

          • revdub

            I couldn’t agree more.

          • Dave Coetzee

            Your comments are greatly appreciated.

          • Hilarious. That anyone would even look for a guid on how to build a cafe racer. If I wanted to build a cookie cutter cafe racer, I’d save myself a lot of time and money, place a big order with Dime City and just get out the fasteners. If you all had man idea what was involved in mating together the parts on the bike you wouldn’t be here trolling. This ,might be my favborite post on Pipeburn ever though. LMAO Dave

          • shalbleib

            How to build a cafe racer – that’s hilarious! Imagine if everyone followed some silly standards. That would suck

        • i like prefer the original, custom rules is a contradiction in terms

      • Dave Coetzee

        Nicely done Lennard!

      • JayJay

        Do you know how the frame of a FT looks? i Think its impossible to put this particular tank that low even with a new tunnel. Fact is that you are right about the lines. But man o man does this bike float my boat. This with a CB450 black bomber tank and with a bit less of the gold: perfect.

      • JayJay

        Another FT with a similar tank. I think this one has a better fit. But besides the tank, this FT is a winner.

      • Mgmue mgmu

        Lazy or maybe blind. Seriously, someone put this seat and tank on and saod it looked good.

  • piss take of some great honda racing bikes and all the gold is too much but somehow it just works, original twist on an old them, like it a lot

  • revdub

    So freaking rad. Love it. The pictures are great as well. Great work again, Scott.

  • mtnsicl

    Wish the rear bodywork were about 5 inches longer with the exhaust sticking out of it a couple inches. Other than that, it’s beautiful!

  • tincantroubadour

    He did build an XT500, but it’s not a Honda. Yamaha SR/XT/TT have the same engine (mostly the same). Honda XR500 might share the same engine with an FT, but I’m not positive. Might be the same engine in a GB500 as well, more or less.

  • the watcher

    Now that is a real cool custom caff. Pretty much spot on; appropriate donor, performance and handling upgrades, cool (alright, subjectively cool) styling and tyres that attract tarmac and not some trendy’s i-phone. Oh, and you don’t have to sell a kidney either. Look and learn.

  • Ben Kelley

    The notion put forth at the end of this piece, that Honda put out a sub-par product in the FT, is ignorant. The bike’s handling was universally acclaimed at the time of its introduction and remains a favorite of road racers. And while the motor is quite restricted from the factory, there’s plenty of potential in it. The slow sales of the bike had way more to do with the economy and waning popularity of the big single as a street motor.