Scott Halbleib is a busy man. Not only does he organise the annual Kentucky Kickdown in Louisville, he administrates the Louisville Vintage Motorworks, a group of over 700 members that strives to keep vintage motorcycle culture and machines rolling. Oh, and he builds some mighty impressive custom motorcycles.
The man can also tell a great story so in Scott’s own words, this is his Yamaha XT500…
“Working myself out of a job in 2010 turned out to be more of a blessing than a curse. Finally, I could spend more time building motorcycles without the stress of a regular nine to five. Using HGarage as my brand, I created a website and thought I’d run with it. To keep the lights on, I had to pick up some side work bartending and contracting, but I was finally able to take on my first customer build. At the same time, I decided that organizing the Kentucky Kickdown, a regional motorcycle show here in Louisville, would be no sweat. Between the customer build, the show (which by the way was more work that I thought it would be), and my desire to build a bike for myself that was not done until it was really done has kept me off the grid for almost two years. Is it really done though…is any bike ever really done? For the most part, #4 is in the books.”
“When building, I focus on two primary goals: always try to work on something different and try and do something that I have not seen before which is getting much more difficult. This, combined with the fact that my last builds included the big Brick, the CB450 which was a little underwhelming on power, and the XS that seemed unnecessarily heavy, I wanted to create something very different. Modern Metals let me ride the Yamaha XT500 he had just finished which set my course…a thumper was definitely the way to go.”
“I found this bike on the Internet–it was only a few hours away so Modern Metals and I decided to take a road trip. The previous owner had a buddy build him a dirt track bike out of it, and other than some questionable paintwork and stick-on pinstriping, it was a really nice bike. Like clockwork, some of the Louisville Vintage Motorworks fellas started giving me grief about tearing apart another nice bike. After a couple rides to the local bike night, it was placed on the lift and disassembled.”
“I was not exactly sure what to do with the bike but knew I wanted to make it look older, taking some cues from Honda Elsinores, vintage Huskys and Greeves bikes which I dig. Immediately, the plastic got tossed along with the tank. I also switched the 18/19 dirt track set-up back to 18/21. Then, I started sketching, carving foam, bending cardboard and mocking up ideas. The first concept I had was a stylized version of an old dirt bike, but it just would not work the way I envisioned. The height of the bike and suspension travel, that I did not want to sacrifice, just would not allow for the design.”
“After a month of late nights staring at the bike, sketching design ideas, and weighing my options; I finally decided on a Yamaha CT175 gas tank. The tank would allow the bike to be very narrow while keeping its original purpose—hitting the trails. A 3/8” rod, or the backbone as I like to refer to it, runs from the front to back. I had not really seen it done before (goals – check) so I ran with it. Utilizing the backbone, I decided to frame the headlight, taillight and both filler caps using steel rings of varying sizes. As fabrication began, I laid out a design for the headlight plates and had it CNC cut. The tank had to be cut out to fit the frame correctly and notched to wrap around the oil filler cap. After deciding to do a double hoop on the frame to create the backend rise of the seat and to hold the rear ring for the taillight, my friend and local blacksmith Lewis Meyer at Falls City Ironworks helped me get the hoops shaped. I trimmed, sleeved and welded them into place. Next came the rear fender which happened to be one that I found lying around that I was able to trim to fit. About this time, I realized that I was going to need some help so I contacted my friend Jeff Massey at Kool Air for a good bit of metal fabrication. He closed the tank back in, bent the backbone and pierced together three fender to bring my vision to life. Jeff even figured out a mounting systems to house the electronics. This guy is a crazy hard worker and always follows through.”
“I created two sets of heel guards with the final set being made out of hand-beveled welded aluminum. Up next, the seat. The seat needed to have the backbone run through it which meant it needed to be tall enough to keep from having a steel rod up your ass but not too tall aesthetically. Using high density race foam for its rigidity and two takes on a seat pan with a trim piece to hold the material down in the middle, I was eventually (four hours to be exact) able to send the seat out to New Church Moto in PDX for upholstery. The bends had to be perfect to match the seat pan, but even more importantly, the holes had to be spot on with the rear hole beveled to allow the backbone to be inserted and then lowered down over the tank. I decided to use the SuperTrapp exhaust the previous owner had installed but wanted a high mount. Alex at Bluegrass Muffler fabbed up new header pipes and mounted the can where I wanted.”
“I also wanted to create a universal mounting system. The bike has a 38mm Mikuni and I thought a little extra gas would come in handy so I made a similarly styled bracket as the headlight’s to mount a one gallon Rotopax tank, which I had seen on one of the Icon bikes in PDX at The One Show in 2013. I also made a second mount which carries a waterproof Kriega pack bag. So depending on whether you are running around town or heading out on a longer ride, pull two bolts and you are set. My friend had given me a bunch of new parts from a closed down motorcycle shop. One of the items was an ATV crash bar. I had already installed a bash guard but felt like it needed a little more armor to get the look I was going after. I had to reduce the width so I cut, sleeved and welded the crash bar to build a mount to weld to the frame. Other little things like removing the steering lock to get the proper look for the headlight, lengthening the kickstand, adding 16.5″ shocks for the back to get max travel, rebuilding the forks, tapering the bearings and so forth wrapped things up.”
“The paint was decided early on, graphite on the wheels and motor, semi-gloss black frame, dark silver tinware and black seat. The exhaust wrap came, and it had a bronze tint to it which I liked enough to rethink my color options. I had been set on the monochromatic look but reconsidered before heading to the paint store. I chose a color to match the bronze then started contemplating a new seat color as it was en route. The last touches included having emblems cut, vinyl templates made and paint and clear for the first stamped bike I have built. I also added hand guards, some larger and more aggressive pegs, replaced bolts with stainless Allen bolts, installed a quality crafted lit push button in the rear fender for power and lighting and Cree LED front and rear bulbs. One thing I don’t want to forget is some credit as usual to Modern Metals for helping me get everything reassembled, buttoned up, wired and running smoothly when it was crunch time.”
“It’s been a while since I had something to send out, but I wanted to make sure I was content with the end result, and I am. I’m never a 100% satisfied but I’m close. I was able to finish it in time to make it to the Rockerbox Motofest in WI where it won Best in Show. It is not necessary to win an award, but it sure is nice to know that what you are doing is also striking a chord with others. I will keep doing it as long as I can fund it. There are plenty of bad days, but a few good days can make it all worth it. Good news…while I was contemplating, ordering and waiting on others, I started working on a Honda FT500. I think it is going to come out pretty cool, and hopefully I will get it out without too long of a hiatus. Oh yeah, and there’s a ‘78 Goldwing on the other lift. Burly bagger, maybe?”
Check out Scott’s website for more details on his other projects, and keep an eye out for details on the 2015 Kentucky Kickdown. If you can’t make it, then just go to Louisville anyway and grab a burger at Hammerheads, I urge you.
Pics by Nicholas Karem