Snow Go: Northern Lights’ Yamaha HL500

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
Snow bikes are a great recipe for unbridled hooliganism. Take a dirt bike, fit it with a ski and a track, and hold on tight. But most are built using modern motocross machinery—and that doesn’t appeal to Orion Anthony.

Orion lives just north of Whistler in the alpine region of British Columbia, Canada—and spends a great deal of his time exploring the area by snowmobile. He’s also just launched Northern Lights Optics, a luxury eyewear collection that takes cues from early-days mountaineering and motorcycling.

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
“For this new brand,” says Orion, “I wanted to create something to provoke a sense of adventure and freedom, with a vintage twist.”

“I love touring the alpine on my snowmobile, but my sled is very modern; it has little relationship to the vintage feel of the collection. And while classic snowmobiles look cool, they are not effective for alpine touring in deep snow.”

“With several companies making snow bike kits, I thought maybe I could fit one onto an old MX bike!”

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
After some deliberation, Orion settled on the iconic Yamaha HL500: the bike famed for being the last four-stroke to win a Grand Prix before the reign of the two-stroke began. A little research led him to Rob Phillips of Husky Restorations in New York—a renowned bike builder with a number of HL replicas under his belt. One phone call later, and Rob was on board.

For the chassis, Rob ordered a custom-built frame from FrameCrafters in Illinois. The engine is a 1979 Yamaha XT500 mill, with a Megacycle cam and heavy duty valve springs installed “to give it a little punch.”

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
He also added his own steel-braided oil lines and modified the engine case for a shorter, steel-braided oil pickup line. The carb is a 36mm Mikuni item, kitted with a K&N filter, and the exhaust is a stainless steel, HL500-style unit with a built-in silencer.

With the HL having to run at altitudes ranging from sea level to 8,000 feet above, Rob had concerns over jetting. So he contacted Tom White at White Brothers for advice: “Tom’s the ultimate expert on these engines,” says Rob. “He gave me a carb recipe that worked perfectly, only needing a slight change in needle position for different altitudes.”

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
Moving to the bodywork, Rob fitted the tank and seat from the equally legendary 1976 YZ125. The fenders are generic MX parts, while the side covers were made from fiberglass. “Orion got a little creative,” says Rob, “and we changed the side panel numbers to NL500—as in Northern Lights 500.”

The original HL500 has 35mm YZ400 forks, but Rob thought it’d be best to go for something beefier—so he fitted 43mm YZ forks instead. Small modifications had to be made to the frame and forks to fit the Timbersled track and ski kit—but with the help of Arctic Cat specialists Route 99 Motorsports, the conversion went off without a hitch.

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.
Rob’s work wasn’t done though: he also built up a swing arm, wheels, rear shocks, and everything else Orion would need if he ever decided to convert the ‘NL500’ for dirt use.

When all was said and done, Orion dragged the NL500 along to Milan for the MIDO Eyewear Show, and his first visit to the Italian Alps.

“Riding into the Alps on a throaty sounding HL500 beast of a snow bike was over the top. But the highlight of the day was pulling up in front of Ristoro Pasini, the alpine restaurant and bar. The reaction from the people sunning themselves on the patio was priceless.”

Visit the Northern Lights Optics website to see a video of the NL500 in action | Husky Restorations | Images by Claudio Bader

Northern Lights Optics' incredible Yamaha HL500 snow motorcycle.