There’s pretty much nothing we like better than to be sent an amazing custom bike from a home builder. Wright Brother’s style, the idea of some guy starting with an old beater and emerging from their frosty and/or sweaty single car garage with a minor miracle in moto making is what really floats our, erm, float valves. And here’s a prima facie case in point. Portland’s Lars Topelmann started with a basket case Honda XL250 and somehow ended up with this. It’s not exactly the miracle of powered flight, but it ain’t far off, either.
“I have lived in Portland, Oregon since 1991,” says Lars. “I was born in Chicago and grew up in Wisconsin where I built go-carts, boats and tinkered with dirt bikes. I’m a commercial photographer but now I am transitioning into my next career, “Builder of fun things”. I basically have a single car garage and I do all my tinkering either there or outside in the driveway. I have no special tools, just a welder and a few grinders and some other very basic tools”.
“I loved the Honda XL and SL Enduro bikes when I was a kid. I was really obsessed. I bought a Honda SL100 and tore it apart to make a dirt bike. I always loved the simple shape of the single cylinder with the overhead cam. After going to a bunch of One Shows in Portland, I decided to build a small Honda almost like the one I had as a kid. This time I would challenge myself to make it into a functional street bike and do some major modifications. The bikes I was looking to for inspiration were bobbers, board trackers and those British and German utilitarian motorcycles from the 50s and 60s”.
“I bought the bike in Oregon from a Craigslist ad. It is a 1972 model, and it is the last year that does not require turn signals in the US. I used a tank from a 1975 because it has a slimmer shape”.
“I spent a lot of time making wire templates to get the exact shape and placement of the looped hardtail tail section. I left the swing arm in place to guide the position of the extended hardtail. I took photos and used Photoshop to mock-up different options for stance, frame length and so on”.
[superquote]“I laced the wheels myself. Trust me when I say that I will never do that again”.[/superquote]
“I did all the metal fab work, but I hired a TIG welder friend to make sure the finished welds were as nice as possible. I had the rims and hubs powder coated and I laced the wheels myself. Trust me when I say that I will never do that again”.
“I stripped the frame, tank and fenders. Then I used a combination of surface conditioning discs, hand wet sanding and polishing to get a raw, but semi-shiny steel surface. Then they were clear powder coated. The surface I wanted was a combination of stainless steel, aluminum and titanium; I didn’t want a highly polished chrome look. I wanted to leave subtle tool marks in the metal so that it would look more handmade and vintage”.
“I really enjoyed the individual steps of the build and considering how each modification or fabrication relates to each other in visual and functional balance. My photographer’s eye helped me be critical with the design and look of the bike, but really when it comes down to it, I just wanted to build a fun, cool bike. The hardest and most frustrating part of the build was the wheels. I never want to mess with spokes again! Also getting the surface of the frame to have a uniform sheen/unsheen was really hard and time consuming”.
“I’m really happy with the lines of the bike. It has a stance that is playful, but not too aggressive. I love the shape of the simple Honda single engine and how it sits in the frame. I like looking at the bike and remembering how much fun it was to build it. I love the problem solving that went into figuring out different aspects of the build and the raw metal shows the hand of the builder and is not cluttered with paint or graphics”.
“As for some of the specifics, I hand-bent the hardtail. I had a shop mandrel to bend the tight radius, but I bent the rest in my vise. I hand welded the pill tank to house the battery, electronics and key switch. I then made a strap to hold it using the pivot hole in the frame to attach it.
I also hand bent the 7/8″ handlebars using DOM thick-walled steel tubing. I made a jig that I clamped to my garage wall for leverage. I welded the exhaust myself and wrapped it with 22 lengths of electric bass guitar sting that I welded on the back side; the muffler is a 1970s vintage Japanese item”.
“The headlight is a guide tractor light that I rewired to fit a 6 volt H4 bulb; it’s the Same as for an old Porsche. The old tail light was bought at an auto swap meet and I rewired it to take a 6v LED bulb. The seat is a vintage handmade item that I bought on Ebay. I took it apart, cut the seat pan to follow the lines of the frame and resewed it to fit the new shape.
The gas cap is a vintage piece that I also bought on Ebay. I cut an old Honda cap apart and mounted it inside the new cap. I also mounted the horn button inside the mirror mount for a simple clean look”.