In May of 2008 I sold my only non-project bike to a friend, and I found myself without a daily rider. Gas prices were at an all-time high, and I really needed a bike.
At that time I had two projects going: a '60 H-D FL and a '71 Norton Commando. Both were at a standstill mostly due to my lack of skills. I really didn't want either bike to be my learning tool, they both deserved better. So of course I decided what I needed was another bike project. One that didn't cost much, and I didn't really care about, so I could learn from my mistakes.
I had really liked some of the SR500s I had seen being built in Asia. To me, once you got rid of all the unnecessary crap the motor looks like a big XR75, and I was into that. After a couple weeks of searching an '81 popped up in Vegas. The price was right, and I was long overdue for a night of Vegas debauchery. The deal for the bike was quick and painless, but let's just say the rest of the night wasn't.
Once I got it home it took me a couple of days to figure out the starting procedure that goes along with a 500 single. You can find anything on YouTube including TDC on an SR500. I rode it a bit to make sure it was mechanically sound, and then I tore it down. My goal was to be able to ride it around at an event that was five weeks away. I only had a vague direction and no parts, so the first thing I did was go buy a little MIG welder starter kit and hit the Interweb scrambling for parts. I'm a motocross racer at heart and had been building my own race bikes for a dozen years, so I figured "go with what you know."
I found low-rise bars with a flat bend, a set of simple hand controls, grips, and pegs. Now I had somewhat of a direction.
Like you would do with any good woman, I started on the front and worked my way to the back, every day taking on a section of the bike and not leaving the garage until I was finished and happy with the day's results. At week four I had finished every detail of the bike except the gas tank. The large top tube of the SR frame is also the oil tank, so there's no simple way of just slapping a tank on it. Somehow I convinced Brandon at Mullins Chain Drive to tunnel, notch, and mount a Mustang tank I had laying around and to do it overnight. Not only did I learn a lot in those two afternoons I spent at Mullins, but I don't think the bike would've turned out nearly as well without that tank.
I had many late nights in those five weeks. My neighbors hated me and my angle grinder to the point where on the night of my deadline a cop came walking in the garage. Once he saw what I was up to he rolled his eyes, gave me the standard noise complaint crap, and then proceeded to stick around and talk bikes for another 20 minutes. Once Officer Moto left, I put some gas in the tank and took it for a first ride. The next day was the event, and I had made it!
I had a ton of people wanting to buy the SR500, but it's seriously so much fun to ride that I just can't sell it. Plus, it didn't cost me much, and I don't really care about it.