Saturday, April 21, 2007

a roach that runs.

So I remember Bubba Shoebert's Honda 750 flat tracker when I was a kid. I loved that bike with its fierce wheels, coupled to an engine and frame and barely anything else. Minimalism!

I recently discovered that there were many projects out there to build "street trackers", essentially, street legal dirt track bikes. WOW! My TICKET! My main influence stemmed from a guy who shared his project on the website. It started as an XR650L:

I wanted to do something similar to his bike, using the big Honda XR/XL thumper as a base to start from. But I didn't feel right chopping up my mint XR650L. I also didn't like the e-start on the "L". Not only does the starter motor clutter the engine, it necessitates a battery which I've always found to be kind of a weakness. I wanted kick start only to keep with the spirit of minimalism. So this left me with the XL600, made between 1983 and 1987. They have batteries of course to be street legal (vehicle code states that the lights have to be able to switch on, even when the engine is off). I plan on flaunting this rule and just going with a battery eliminator kit.

So I sold my L and began the project. I knew I'd need a lot of help with the heavy lifting fabrication work: getting the suspension lowered, modifying the subframe a bit, etc. Enter James Banke at down in Felton, CA. He does street tracker conversions all the time for clients, so this shop will be getting the chassis in order.

First step in the project is to find a beater that you won't feel bad about chopping up a bit. As James Banke put it: "you want a roached out runner." Honda XL's, and dualsports in general tend to degenerate to the roach strata almost before your very eyes. This poor bike is no exception. The previous owner could hardly make sure the bike was covered up during the many years it sat rotting against the sagging wall of the back shed where spiders could nest in the air box.

I wanted to hit the guy with a crowbar, but since he was kind enough to truck it to my place from up North, I decided to just let it go. Amazingly, the bike ran, barely. The guy would get it started by spraying half a can of starter fluid into the airbox, and then proceed to flail away at the kickstarter while standing up on the pegs with the bike on the kickstand. All wrong, but the bike at least started.

Once I got the bike, my first order of business was to tear it down and clean everything I could, just to see where the damage was. In actuality, the bike seemed to be in promising shape. Odo read 10,000 miles, and the paint was hardly worn off the side of the frame and engine cases. It was probably in pretty good condition until the last owner got ahold of it and left it out in the rain for 2 years.

Exhaust muffler pipe was a cheap rusted out aftermarket affair that had fused to the header. Had to be chiseled off.


  1. I am very glad to have find your website because I have the same project, based on a 650 Honda NX
    (Dominator in France).

    To do something like that:
    I will buy some parts at Omar's shop.
    I have read all your posts, excellent, can you tell me more about the fork,
    my problem is the same, how to low the bike, front and rear.

    Have you pics of the bike finished?

    Sorry for my english, I write from France.

    Jean Marc LEGEARD
    My email:

    My current bike

  2. Hey Jean Marc - Thanks for posting - Your English is far better than my French! Where in France are you writing from? I happen to be a huge fan of French Regional Cuisine, and look forward to colder winter weather here in Oakland when I can make a good Coc-au-vin and savor it with a hearty Cotes-du-Rhone!

    The fork took a lot of consideration from my fabricator, James Banke. We at first were looking for a fork from a mid 1990's Kawasaki 7X6 road racer because it would have about the right travel for this project, and still have a cartridge internal damping mechanism for good handling.

    However, none of the ones we found were quite long enough. We needed something closer to 36" in length if I recall. Most of the road forks were under 34". Also, and this is perhaps more important, we needed something with a leading axle configuration because that is what the XL-600 steering was designed around, and we didn't want to manipulate the actual angles much. Just height.

    The idea then came from one of James' colleagues to get a pair of used motocrosser forks, and lower them. The ones we used were from an 1990 CR500. Very cheap off of E-Bay, and the triple clamps fit right in (used different bearings, however).

    We had someone else do the actual lowering work on the forks, it cost $175. I believe all they needed to do was change the spacer inside to lower them. I'm sure you could find a suspension tuner near where you live who could do the work.

  3. Thanks for the response, sorry to be very late,
    I lost the adress of your blog and find it again only this morning

    Wish you an excellent year, waiting for new pics of your nice bike.

    Jean Marc

  4. Hi Jean Marc - Glad you're still following my blog here...hope your project is going well, too. happy new year!

  5. Happy new year also.

    I bought the bike but there is lot of things to do.
    A friend will do the mechanic for me, I have 2 engines, with the two it s possible to make a pretty good one, many things are new.

    While he is looking a the motor, I will take the bike at home to disassemble everything.
    I m watching the web to find the best bikes, as yours, I m looking for the best tank that will fit to the frame of NX650 (with oil inside).

    I will post to tell you.

    Best Regards


  6. Dear Tank Commander,

    Why do fat chicks get tattoos?

  7. I wouldn't know...and am not sure I would even want to know.

  8. Hi, here's pics of the project

    Many things to do!

    I need to lower the frame under the seat,
    find a place for the battery...

    After modifications, frame will be black epoxy
    and may be the bike orange and black.

    Jean Marc Montpellier France

  9. cool! i like the tank; looks like it's from an old TT/XT, right?

  10. Angostura Bitters -

    My buddy, Thierry Coup, mentioned that you were able to lower your rear end using a lowering link and the original xl600 shock. I am building a tracker also from an xl 600 and having trouble finding a shorter shock. Where could I find a lowering link?

  11. Hi Tommyg - I bought a lowering link made for the XR650L, made by a company called Kuoba. I wrote about it here: fits okay but I need to figure out how to make the bearing caps fit better.

  12. thanks for the link hook up. I will probably get one for the time being so I can get this beast going. I will still search for a shock, but this seems like a clean way to go. You kept your xl swing arm, right? Do you know what year xr swing arm will fit the bike, I would love to run a disc brake in the rear?

  13. Right, I kept the original XL swingarm. I don't know how well an XR swingarm would fit this frame...i'd be surprised if one would work with out any serious fabrication work but you never know.

    You should pose this question on the "XL-600" thread in the ADV rider forum. lot of those guys know the bike really well:

  14. You can lower the bike by cutting and relocating part of the frame...

  15. Check this blogspot for details, guy did a great job...

  16. hi simon, read a few more posts further along in the build of this web log, i believe some time in 2007, you will see that the frame was revised in said manner.