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2014 Honda XR650L Enduro – Hill Moto

Posted on April 4, 2017 by Andrew in Enduro, Scrambler. 15 comments

New tools customising old bikes. If you had to be blunt about it, that’s probably how you’d surmise the current custom bike scene. You need only to look at the old guard with their thinly veiled cries denigrating the beards and beanies to see that a ‘new tool’ generation has taken over from the old one. But today’s bike flips that equation on its coiffured head. With tools that date back to New York in the 1880s and a bike that’s barely out of diapers, today’s Honda XR650L from Hill Moto, still ticks all the cool custom boxes.

Hill Hudson was in a philosophical mood when we caught up with him.“I’ve spent the last four years questioning the meaning of life under failing fluorescent lights, in the back of a cinderblock industrial building with no windows. I had no idea I would end up here, working as a metal fabricator or building motorcycles for clients. But when I was in art school a handful of years ago, my Brooklynite Grandfather passed away leaving behind an odd but inspiring legacy.”

Not a bike for the height deprived, we’re guessing

That side of Hill’s family owned and operated a lace paper doily factory that his great great granddad started in New York in the late 1800’s. Sounds like a movie script already. “When it closed down, my older brother loaded up what remained of the factory and drove it from New York to the west coast. Destiny stepped in, and we both took to the calling to keep our grandfathers tools in motion, hence my slogan “Handmade with a Dead Man’s Tools.”

Then we get down to brass tacks about Hill’s new build. “This go around, I’ve built up an Vintage Dirtbike 2014 Honda XR650L. The client wanted the bike to be as practical as possible, while still keeping the doors open for me to run free with the custom aspects. I essentially wanted to build a motorbike that was a simple mix of modern and vintage.” I think I’m seeing a theme here…

Unusually for a private build, the client purchased the bike right off of the showroom floor and wheeled it into Hill’s shop after putting just 500 miles on it. “The first thing I did was to strip it down and remove the subframe; I wanted to lower the height a little and smooth out the bike’s defining lines.”

Hill fabbed up the exhaust and muffler from stainless and had some fun tucking it up under the seat, which is something he’s apparently been waiting to do for a while. “I was worried how the bike might sound because I’ve never made a muffler before, but it sounds really nice actually and it’s not too far from the stock muffler sound.”

As is par for the course with any decent builder, Hill wanted to make everything harder for himself so he wasted an entire month building a bespoke pneumatic planishing hammer from scratch just to make the fenders. “I was fixing to build the tank too, but then one day I put that Honda CB77 tank on the frame and I just couldn’t take it off. I loved how it looked.

“But I had the most fun, and spent the most time, on the tail-end of the bike. I figured that’s the view everyone has when you rip past them, so why not make it a good one, right? I offset the machined taillight to balance out the opposing machined brass exhaust ring, which were both in turn sandwiched between those amazing little Motogadget blinkers and a brass grab handle. It was fun, yes. But it was also definitely the hardest part of the build.”

Minimal, yet original

“It’s hard to say what I like best about the finished bike, mainly because I’ve been staring at it for over a year now. But I did have some compliments come my way at this year’s The 1 Moto Show in Portland. The bike actually won the ‘Best Dirt Bike in show’ award. I was taken aback, because I’ve never won anything before let alone an award for a bike I’ve built.”

Hill says that, at the end of the day, he put way too many hours into the Honda for how simple it looks. But as the saying goes, “You have to work incredibly hard to make something complex look simple.” “I guess that was sort of the goal,” Hill concludes. “To keep the bike practical, rideable and not overbuilt.” Goal scored, we’d say.

Pretty sure the dead man won’t be needing them

Hill Moto – Instagram | Photos by Hill Hudson ]

  • John in Pollock

    That is the most bitchen slogan ever. I have an affinity for old tools as well. I’m an engineer/machinist at a shop that makes belt buckles for the rodeo industry, and some of our presses and machine tools are from the early 1900’s. Now granted- we have some new tech too- with Haas CNC machining centers, and 3D printing operations, but my heart still belongs to that old sweet iron.

    Oh- cool bike too. No better motors than the big Honda singles- besides the big Yamaha singles- I always say.

    The only thing I would change on this bike, is to make the fenders high fenders… somehow that rear hugger doesn’t look right. easy fix.

    • martin hodgson

      What about front fender high and rear fender as is? I actually really like the rear, functional without disturbing the real nice lines of the seat/subframe/underslung exhaust.

      The tools at your work sound mint, can’t beat some of those beautiful old big presses!

      • Dave Coetzee

        I agree with all the pro’s mentioned above.
        Just a thought re alternative rear fender … don’t know if it’ll even be possible to describe here. An aluminum/plastic plate with rubber mountings, that can be slid into place (and removed when not riding in wet/muddy conditions, if it should detract from the bike’s appearance) between the sub-frame, with a cut-out to allow for the exhaust pipe to pass through?
        Re front fender … even a low trials type’ like a ’70s, Ozzy spec, XL125/250/350 should do the trick. (like the one I had on my ’77 XL, that didn’t look cool back then and was quickly replaced with a Preston Petty)

      • Gut feeling is that you’d have to have either both up or both down. Alternating them would look pretty whack, IMHO.

  • revdub

    This is one I was following on Instagram. I was enjoying the progression and the finished bike is great. The attention to detail is off the charts.

    • Deceptively simple, yes? Love it.

      • revdub

        Definitely. That’s the best way to put it. Someone not familiar with bikes might even confuse it for a stock model, because everything seems to be designed to fit so well.

  • martin hodgson

    This is slick! Looks and true off road function rarely go hand in hand but this nails it! The rear end is so well done, slick lines of the subframe and that offset muffler outlet taillight mix is SO good! One that is definitely going to be copied a hell of a lot in the future.

    But easily my favourite part of the build is the CB77 tank hanging over the legendary Honda thumper, an odd match in theory but boy does it work! Great build Hill

    • Yeah. That tank/engine combo would seem to be a ludicrous idea on paper, but bugger me if it doesn’t work a treat.

  • mtnsicl

    Jesus, I just barfed in my mouth!

  • bill smith

    A nice little gem with great attention to detail. Normally not my style but this works for me on all levels.

  • Any thoughts on the tail section? I kind of thought it was a stroke of genius. Such a simple idea, but one that I don’t think i’ve ever seen before. Brake left, exhaust right. SO elegant…

    • John Forsythe

      I think the tail section is very well done. I LOVE the tucked exhaust coming to an end next to the tail light. Looks so custom. The only thing that bugs me is the subframe bracing. With welding skills and a free reign, I’d have cut those off and put straight tubing on it to clean the look up a bit.

      Color me confused… but folks are calling it a thumper, but I see two pipes going into one?

  • the watcher

    At first glance I thought it was too “leggy”, unoriginal, a bit boring really. But the more I looked the more I liked it. Haven’t decoded this volt face yet, but I guess some things work for no good reason (like bumble bees). And I bet it’s a good buzz (sound of whip cracking).

    • Dave Coetzee

      Volt face? if you mean the PIAA on the headlight? … me neither.