The Quail Gathering is the motorcycle equivalent of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance: a world-class display of rarified exotica and immaculate restorations, plus a few jaw-dropping customs to spice up the mix. To win an award at The Quail is no easy achievement. But this year, Niki Smart‘s incredible Honda XL500-based special won not one, but two trophies: the Custom/Modified category, plus the “Design and Style” award presented by Arch Motorcycles.
Niki’s cool custom board track, built around the engine of a 1981 XL500, was not your typical after-hours project – it took over a decade to finish and involved an army of specialists. “There’s a long list of people who helped me a little, and a few people who helped me a lot,” says Niki. Inspiration came from images of boardtrack racers that Niki saw at an exhibition. “I had never seen anything like the near-50 degree banking of the American board tracks. The beautiful bikes of that era were legitimate 100mph machines,” Niki enthuses. “For me, the tall skinny wheels and tires balanced nicely with the pure open lines of the frame and engine.”
A second source of inspiration came from experimental European racers from the second half of the 20th century. “Before the telescopic fork took over, there were lots of interesting proportions thanks to unique front ends.” Niki decided to use Hossack-style forks, and settled on the Honda XL500 engine. “It has the air cooled cleanliness and overall layout that I wanted. As well as being a four valve head with parallel twin exhaust ports, the late 70s to early 80s engines also had fairly pretty cases and covers compared to the later XL650.”
The colour scheme is intentionally dark. “I wanted to show the carbon fiber, but not in an overt manner – the contrast to the surrounding black is relatively subtle,” says Niki. There’s little in the way of decoration, aside from brass badges on the tanks. As a 21st century re-interpretation of a classic board track racer, it’s just perfect – and also an astounding showcase for Niki’s design and fabrication skills. And don’t forget to check best vintage bikes for more inspiration.