The XT550 started off in 2017, myself and two friends had ridden from Belfast to London for the Mallé Mile, an adventure in itself as my r80’s ignition failed on the way down and we had to overnight the parts to a hotel to then fix it in the car park the next morning. However, impressed with the action at the Mallé Mile we talked about what we could build to enter the hill climb the following year, something cheap stripped back and light weight. So on our return trip to Belfast we stopped and DK Motorcycles known for a large selection of US imports and project bikes, just for a look, my friend Roger however was so excited by the idea of the hill climb bike, did a deal on the none running XT550 from Colorado, the plan being that I would do the work and he would get the parts, then we could enter next years event it all seemed simple enough. The bike would be delivered over the water in a few weeks and I would start the work.
Getting the bike in the condition it was in the engine was a complete unknown, and when investigated needed a total rebuild all new bearings, gaskets and seals, and the carb stripped cleaned, but it had the three things I look for in a project bike, good looking wheels, a classic engine and a nice frame.
I invested in a much bigger English wheel than the bench top one I had been using and started the build in January 2019 with a few critical parts I still had to find before I could get a rolling chassis together. The plan was for a modern looking enduro scrambler for touring but as if made by someone in the 1950s, I didn’t want to cut the frame, it was already powder-coated and a great shape so I had to work within it’s parameters, also I wanted to keep the original water tight airbox and snorkel just incase there are any deep rivers to ford. The tank style is based on the Yamaha XT500 but a bit bigger to take the rear shock through the centre, and I fabricated the rack to accomodate a large duffle bag or six pack of beer. I hammered and formed all the aluminium for the mudguards, screen and side panels.
I hoped to have it ready and ride it to Biarittz for Wheels and Waves in June 2019, so after I sorted the wheels with stainless spokes and the TT600 hub swapped in, I put it through a MOT on just the frame number to start the import process before I could strip it back again and start the fabrication of the aluminium parts. It was tight and the V5 log book arrived with just enough time to order a number plate with the new registration before the trip to France. So the ride to the ferry was the real test of the bike as I was still trouble shooting the electrics on the morning we were departing, so the trip involved figuring out the fuel tap, adjusting the clutch and brakes, an oil leak.
The bike is awesome I enjoyed the 3 day ride up France, I could just throw it into corners open up the throttle and sweep out the other side, that and the perfect weather really made it one of the best trips I’ve had. The big single 550cc thumper is all torque and along with the twin port duel carb has a two stage power delivery, you can feel in the throttle where the second stage starts and it’s easy to stay below it as the torque will pull you along up to 70mph nicely, but if you need to pass or feel like a hooligan the second stage is right there and will put the biggest smile on your face as it dumps twice as much fuel into the engine and the front wheel comes up, which I have to say is best done in a straight line, then the screen really makes cruising along less taxing and tucking in and peeking over helps cut up the motorway. The trip did reveal a few issues that I wanted to address when I returned, I really wanted to keep the original gauges and I had trouble getting the indicator light in the dash working with the LED indicators I flushed into the body work, I had to make my own LED bulb from two LEDs and rewire the bulb holder, but it works now. The oil leak was sourced and fixed after a replacement head was fitted.