1996 Kawasaki KX500 Rebuild

Story by Marty Estes | Photos by Marty Estes and Adam Booth
Chris Green grabs a handful aboard the rebuilt Kawasaki KX500.

We set out to re-build a KX500 to see how good it can be with more modern parts, and also how it stacks up against a modern 450. Ron Lechien even came out to ride the bike a few times and gave us his opinion. If you haven’t seen the print story, head to the newsstand in late July and pick up the September 2012 issue!

We started with a neglected 1996 KX500, purchased from a friend for $500. It had been ridden hard and put away wet, but appeared to be mostly “beginner crashed”, not ridden into the ground by a fast rider at any point. Still, it needed attention. The biggest problem area was the frame, which needed a lot of work pre-powdercoat due to loose and broken motor mounts. 500s produce an enormous amount of vibration, and bolts loosening and falling out are a common occurrence. If you’re not vigilant in checking them (with Loctite and a torque wrench in hand), problems will occur. The previous owner(s) put hours on this bike with a loose motor and around every mounting point (except for the swingarm) there were vibration-caused cracks to repair. So lesson number one when buying a used 500 (or any bike for that matter) – bring a flashlight and look very closely at the entire frame. Remove the seat and tank if you have to!

In the end, the restoration was very expensive. Looking at it from an “I want to make an old bike better than a new one”, it doesn’t make much sense. I was restoring (or saving) this old KX500 to bring it back to its full glory. It’s not worth anywhere near the sum of the parts that went into it, but the reality is that this was a “love of the sport” project. The big KX500 is a bit cranky at the track, and takes work to ride fast, but the bike is beautiful and totally unique. At the track, those who remember riding or racing open bikes search you out, and its great just talking about motocross. The 500 used to be the pinnacle of the sport, and it’s really fun to own and ride one.

Below is a summary of the teardown and build, with details on the parts used.