Back in January 2018, we were approached by a small craft distillery in Western Montana about sponsoring their new project. But, this was not your run of the mill restoration. The guys at Montgomery Distillery had big plans. While wrenching on vintage bikes and distilling, the crew came up with the idea of building a motorcycle that ran on methanol that they distilled themselves. “While we’re at it, we thought we’d go ahead and run the bike at Bonneville and try to set a record” said general manager Ryan Montgomery in his introductory e-mail.
This ambitious endeavor was born when head distiller, Chad Larrabee, found an abandoned 1980 Yamaha XS650G in a nearby field in unknown , but running condition. Literally, off the beaten path. He purchased it from a farmer who owned the land it lived on for $100.
“Since we’re big fans of Mike’s XS (and will probably source quite a few parts from you guys anyway), we thought it’d be worth reaching out to see if you guys might be interested in sponsoring our project.” After a few exchanges between Ryan and our GM, an agreement was reached.
And so it began…the Salt Flats 650 build was officially underway, right in the very place the idea was conceived.
The distillery has an unused space in the rear of the building that, like any unused space, started accumulating junk after a few months. Being riders themselves but not yet pro wrenchers, Chad, Ryan, and the bar manager purchased some Honda CB350’s and decided to rebuild them together to learn the ropes, share parts, and generally have a valid excuse to drink beer together. Over time, this “unused space” morphed into a shop and, during their downtime, the crew would sneak up and wrench. After a few years of working on these vintage bikes together, the obvious experiment came to them to build a motorcycle that ran on fuel they distilled in-house.
Not long after that, the orders started rolling in and the rebuild was in action. This was the crew’s first full engine overhaul that they did themselves, with some tuning and testing expertise from Colin Cornberg at Number 8 Wire Motorcycles in Philipsburg, Montana.
The work was evident in the number of invoices that we’re accumulating. Engine overhaul, chain and sprockets, the exclusive XS Charge PMA and Ignition Kit, suspension and brakes, etc. (parts list below). The real magic, though, was all in the carburetion.
It started with Mikuni VM34’s, a benchful of jets, and a patient mindset.
“The alcohol used was the portion that’s normally discarded in the distilling process called the ‘heads’ “, says Ryan. “This portion comes off the still first and contains the more volatile alcohols: things like methanol and ethyl acetate, but it’s still mostly ethanol. There was some good literature on the internet for running on ethanol and methanol, but nothing on the strange brew we concocted. Therefore, it was a fun process of trial and error.”
“We strapped on bigger carbs with jets about 2.2 times larger than stock, and we advanced the timing quite a bit. Ideally, we would have upped the compression, but we were already near the limits of our skills so we decided to forego that.”
After talking with some local salt racers who have experience running on ethanol, they quickly convinced the Montgomery team to put it to the real test: the glorious salt flats of Bonneville. After hours and hours and hours of hard work, it was time to put rubber to road. They ended up breaking the land speed record in their class! The record was broken again later that week in the summer, but, as Ryan puts it, “we were champions for the 3 whole days”.
Salute to Ryan and his faithful crew on such an incredible build and feat! It is an honor being associated with a project like this from the talented team at Montgomery Distillery. Thank you for choosing Mikes XS!
[The distillery holds an annual event called “Spirits & Spokes” so if you’re in the Montana area, for check it and give the guys a pat on the back for us!]
“SALT FLATS 650”
1980 YAMAHA XS650G
NOTABLE PARTS LIST
Cam Chain Tensioner
Chain and Sprockets
Electrical / Ignition
Suspension / Brakes
Clutch / Cables
Maintenance / Tools