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Harley Davidson XG500 – Chappell Customs

Posted on September 13, 2016 by Andrew in Tracker. 16 comments


It pains us to say it, but crashed bikes are the lifeblood of the custom scene. Without all those wrecker’s spares, Craigslist heaps and engines-without-an-owner leftovers that many shops depend on for parts, we’d either be making everything from scratch or cannibalising perfectly good bikes like some desperately hungry plane crash survivors. So in some very symbolic, cycle-of-life type shit, bikes must die so that the custom scene may live. And if there’s one type of bike that’s crashed more than others, it’s entry level bikes.  Harley’s XG is a blatant tilt at this market segment, and the bike is a popular choice for riding schools across America. Thank it’d be hard to total a riding school bike? Well, as Chris from Los Angeles’ Chappell Customs found out, it’s easier (and more comical) than you’d ever think.


Long the hunting ground of the older, more experienced rider, Harley are now making it easier for younger riders to get onto the brand’s legendary iron. The company (through their local dealers) have set up bike schools to help. New riders who feel they have a real lack of leather tassels in their lives can go to the Harley Riders Course and learn how to do the do on a brand new Street 500. Luckily for us, they can also trash them.

“The entire front end was broken in half after a collision with a dumpster at the riding academy.”

“While dropping off a finished bike,” says Chris, “the owner at Bartels’ Harley Davidson asked if I could build him a dirt track bike from a pile of junk. So we walked over to the back of the dealership and there on a pallet was a brand new 500 with the front forks and front wheel sitting on the seat. It was quite a sight. The entire front end had been broken in half after a collision with a dumpster at the riding academy.” The lady riding it at the time also broke her pelvis; clearly she found out the hard why you don’t pin the throttle and the brake at the same time.


This particular bike was the first Chris had allowed had allowed himself to really have fun with and spend some time on. “I had plenty of freedom building this bike, however Bartel’s was specific about a few things, including the exhaust, paint colors and the inclusion of street-legal brakes.” So instead of a full-on dirt track bike, Chris ended up building a combo dirt and street tracker.

The first order of business, apart from knocking the dents out of the dumpster, was to sort the front end out. Thankfully the frame was not damaged in the collision, so Chappell’s avoided a whole heap of hard work allowing them to focus on the nice bits. “I had a Yamaha R1 front end at the shop that was definitely an upgrade to this bike’s snapped forks. Getting them to fit was no easy task, so we contacted our friend Shane at Chansikle and sent him some measurements and the stock lower triple and away he went designing us some custom clamps to fit this rather odd-ball bike.”


While that was happening, Chris tore the rest of the bike down and started to sort out the tail section and rear frame modifications. “I had an old fiberglass dirt track seat pan lying around the shop that became the mould for our new vacuum-formed ABS unit. A second seat pan was then formed to fit on top of the dirt track tail, and our signature ‘Tuffside’ upholstery was added.”

The rear of the frame was cut to the length of the new seat, capped and then welded. Then the new seat supports were bent and welded on; this also doubles as the bike’s license plate holder and a LED taillight mounting area.


Deciding they wanted a chain drive and dual disc set-up, they called their wheel guys and got a  brand new 19″ custom rear hub. For the front hub they contacted Cognito Moto. “They already have a hub for R1 spoke conversions, so we figured it would be faster than making a front hub. Unfortunately it posed many unforeseen issues, including a swing arm that wasn’t quite long enough,” Chris laments. A solution was found in the form of a Ducati front sprocket and by milling an extra inch into the rear axle holes for a touch more rearward chain adjustment.


The bike’s triples and wheels took about a month to complete, so Chris used the time to get the paintwork finished with his own custom graphics. “The ‘c’ in ‘XG500c’ is for Chappell Customs,” he chuckles. “Then I had some time to make a custom intake with some scrap bends of metal. I cut the flange on the CNC plasma machine and added a K&N cone filter to the end of it. Then I designed a new front sprocket cover to keep your toes out of the chain.” Sounds useful.


The stock radiator was destroyed by the front wheel in the crash, so when the new one showed up, Chris needed to fab up some sort of grill or cover for it. “This one is the first prototype I made, he says. “It’s perforated stainless steel, and they’re now available for purchase. They are powder coated black, and I ca guarantee that they will be much easier to install than this one was.”


Chainsikle was also asked to modify Chappell’s existing XG rear set design to get them lower and more in the middle of the bike, so they designed a brand new set just for this bike. Chris knew he was making the bike’s new exhaust, so he wasn’t overly concerned with stock exhaust clearance for the new pegs.

“Our direction on the exhaust from the client was to fit a ‘low pipe that went under the frame and had a small cone kicking out the side.’ Personally, I wanted high pipes but the client hated them… so this was the result. I pieced it all together and welded up some new lower stainless steel pipe bends using parts of the stock exhaust on the top side to save me some time.”


The front of the bike got a handmade number plate with a single projector-style headlight, a new master cylinder, fresh lever assemblies and some dirt track bars. The ABS side covers were also made at the same time. “These were simply attached to the stock side covers to give them more of a dirt track look. I also designed a side mount speedometer bracket, as we needed to keep it street legal.” The bike also got a small LED brake light and a license plate holder. Finally, a set of Works Performance shocks were fitted at the rear to get the bike up where it needed to be.


American fuel is so cheap, they’ve done away with fuel caps

“At this point the bike was pretty much finished and, sadly, the dealer really wanted it back,” says Chris. “You may notice the fuel cap and side stand are missing in the photos. This was due to the parts being on back order from the dealership. Once the bike was returned, they installed the missing item themselves.”

And we’ll be nice and give Chris the last word so he can maybe make a buck or two to feed himself. “Many of the parts I made for this XG’s are available in my store at I plan on making more parts available for it, as it seems to be a very popular bike for many first time bike buyers who also want to add a few of their own touches to it.” We’re all for touches – just as long as it doesn’t involve contact between bikes and dumpsters. Poor dumpster.


[Chappell Customs: Web – Facebook – Instagram | Photos by Chris Chappell]

  • John in Pollock

    I dig it. I love the seat, and the colors. I’m a sucker for trackers… but- am I blind or does it need a gas cap?

    • John in Pollock

      Duh, nevermind. I CAN read.

  • martin hodgson

    I watched the 30 minute build video Chris has put together about this bike and not only do you see the impressive way the jack of all trades works but how he cleverly solves the problems that present along the way. Anyone who has tackled a build will know it’s never smooth sailing but there is a lot to learn from a man who’s been at the top of the game for years and the video on is well worth checking out. And the mess of a bike he started with makes this end result that much more impressive!

    • Chris Chappell

      Thanks for your support Martin! I do wish i had more time to focus on making better videos again. Sometimes i’m so busy i forget to turn on the mic, or even put a card in the camera 🙂 Glad you liked like. -cc

      • Beautiful work Chris, your craftsmanship is obvious down to the last detail. Can you tell me please if you retained the OEM rake, or did you tweak the fork angle along with the R1 swap to a sharper one?
        In case you didn’t, can you give me a feedback on the handling behaviour of the new bike in terms of “canyon carving”??

        • Chris Chappell

          stock rake, but more offset on the triples. Any less rake and the 19″ front tire may hit the radiator. I only got to rip around the neighborhood, but they all seem to like the way it handles.

  • LeChatNoir d’Tobac

    well now- Chris should be given a Job at the MotorCompany to fix their disasters of bikes- this is hot, and the market at the moment i think is right for trackers, this would sell like mad i think.
    great job- simply stellar

    • the watcher

      Exactly what I was thinking. This is the perfect thing to do with an object that would otherwise have to be flushed down the bog at birth. Nice job (as usual, yawn) from Chappell and co.

  • Jim Stuart

    Turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse might not sound like a masculine description of this man’s work but the end results speak volumes of what can be done without the input of a room full of engineers and focus groups. Well done and I burnt through at least an hour of youtube vids.

  • Very nice work! What’s the current triple clamp offset?

    • Chris Chappell

      Hi, I Don’t have the exact number in front of me but it was just over 2.5″ i believe.

  • guvnor67

    This is what “The Motor Company” should be building. How bloody good is it?! Street 500s do nothing for me in stock trim though I hear they go ok, but this, this is bloody marvelous!! And no surprises really as these guys don’t build snot!!

  • AB

    Pay attention HD – this is what will get younger riders to the brand. Not road trains …

    • jlgace

      The build was requested by a dealer, so that’s something at least. That said, I don’t comprehend them using a bike built off-shore to bring in new customers. One of the major (only…?) appeals of H-D is that their bikes are built in the U.S. or so I thought.

      • AB

        Buying the dream apparently. The irony is possibly that a new rider will purchase something like this, then maybe buy up to the bog bore HD’s – will they enjoy the USA experience? Now if this was a Yamaha (they have the V twin bases to use….), change the orange/black to yellow/black and it would sell like hot cakes 🙂

      • Grendel Medlord

        Both the 500 and 750 Street models for sale domestically are built in Kansas City MO. The foreign market models are made in India.

        I can’t promise that all or even most of the parts are made in USA but it is at least assembled here.