my 1983 rat cafe Honda VT500 "econo-build"
by Dave Giordanengo
(Pismo Beach, Ca, USA)
beat-up and left for dead for 14 years
My project bike began life as a 1983 VT500 Ascot, but had been left to die on the side of the owners house after a 1998 crash left it inoperable. Damaged in the crash were; fuel tank, front forks, both brake and clutch levers, handlebars, and seat. Missing were; front caliper mounting bolts (caliper hanging from brake line), fork brace, radiator cover, side covers, and turn signals. So, $200 later it was loaded up and taken home. Without much money to spend during the last year, the econo-build concept was my objective right from the start. I'd do all the work myself that I could, and try to get away with having as little done outside as possible. My goal was to get it built for $1000 total. Front forks replaced with VT500 Shadow forks off ebay for $100, rebuilt with new oil & dust seals, installed with 1.5 inches thru the top tree, lower the stance a bit, but a bit soft even with addition oil added; progressive springs will be added in the future, as well as rebuilt rear shocks. I've got a local shop who specializes in suspension work. I machined a fork brace to replace the missing OEM part, front fender from a Shadow. Gauges are from Drag Specialties, speedo has LED indicators, both are internally lit with blue LED lighting, very cool! Stock rectangle headlamp has been retained, though the ears were mounted to the bottom of the tree integrated mounts rather than the top, lowering the lamp assembly about an inch from stock. New front pads, caliper/master cylinder rebuilt, new brake switch & lever. Of course, clubmans and bar-end mirrors were a must, so next was fuel tank work to make the clubmans work. Fuel tank was heavily damaged in the crash, having a hole punched thru its side, several dents and scratches, and the inside completely rusted. With the dual tube frame on these bikes, the fuel tanks tunnel is very wide, making it quite difficult to find a cool tank for replacement. You've basically got two choices; an Ascot or Shadow tank. So, I worked with the one I had, breaking out my rubber mallet and ballpean hammer, then going to town on it! I formed relief areas for my hands and controls, then moved to the rear of the tank to relief areas for my knees. The tank went from a 2.5 gallon to 1.5 gallon tank, but that's cool as I use it around town and a few local twisties, nothing long distance by no means! I made new mounting brackets for the coils, as they neede to be moved forward in order to make room for the K&N cone pod filters added when I removed the airbox and snorkel. Carbs were torn apart, rebuilt and a Dyno-Jet stage one jet kit installed. New clutch cable and lever, clutch was fine, no attention needed. Plugs and fluids changed, as well as the oil filter. New rear brake shoes, new battery with longer + lead for relocation of selenoid and main fuse. Tail section of bodywork removed, rear fender was cut down, overflow bottle added in place of overflow attached to airbox. I cut of the resonator chamber from the collector and welded a plate to cover the hole, sounds really good too, very different sounding. Shadow heat guards were added, the rearsets were made by putting some old hardware and leftover aftermarket pegs together, using existing brakets and holes, all kinds ov clearance now, and it really like to lean over! I used the stock seatpan, adding some foam and doing a bit of carving, then had a professional do the cover, the most expensive part of the project, $150! I drilled two holes in the bottom of my taillight lens, allowing wiring for my LED license plate light, which is super glued to the underside of the lens. This let me chop the fender just beyond the taillight mount, to which I fitted a shaped piece of .032 aluminim sheet. Turn signals are Cycle Gear $17/set filament lights, front ones mounted vertically in the mirror perches intergrated in the front controls. Petcock rebuilt, Pirelli Sport Demon on the front, Bridgestone BT-45 on the rear, and it's a blast to ride. All the painting is rattle can, and all the aged patina is real, didn't want to clean it up, it's a rat cafe bike, it's supposed to look that way! I know, you're wondering how I did on my goal to keep it at $1000. Well, I missed my mark, and ended up spending a bit more, $1400. Yes, $400 above my goal, but now I have something I tore aprt and put back together, personalized by me, for me. I'm looking for my next victim now; a CX500. I like the twins and shaft drive, what can I say. (which you'd know by my other bike, a 2004 BMW R1100S BCR). This thing is a blast to ride, and more often gets picked for a ride thru town rather than the BMW! Get inspired, build one yourself, you'll have a great time during and after, and have no regrets over the time or money spent. My wife tells me to go spend time with your girlfriends, it's good therapy!
Great reclamation project Dave! I'm amazed you kept it to 1400 bucks. Enjoy the ride and thanks for the inspiration!