Yamaha SR 500 in the top test

Yamaha SR 500 in the top test

40 years single and proud of it

Single for 40 years, never being lonely and certainly not wrinkled. In its time, 40 years ago, the Yamaha SR 500 represented a courageous alternative to “higher, faster, further”. And today? Let’s take off our hats to a rolling, thundering, kicking icon. In the form of the extensive top test.

It thunders, snorts, sniffs and bubbles. Sometimes, when taking off the gas, she spits a bit, almost ashamed. Not this synthetic, artificially generated show-offs by injection mapping, no. But an honest, design-related carburetor spritzling. The sound of the good old days. On record, through the tube amplifier. Not streaming on bluetooth headset. Just the soundtrack of one Yamaha SR 500 was enough to turn a normal day into a good one. Your air-cooled, carburetor-fed 499 single-cylinder knows how to turn each of its work steps – intake, compression, ignition, exhaust – into an audiophile happening. Soft, analog, crystal clear and full-bodied. High fidelity in four bars.

Yamaha SR 500 in the top test

40 years single and proud of it

Johannes, the SR and the kickstart …

On top of that, this is also not a normal day on which colleague Schmieders privately cherished, with progressive fork springs, cones, steel flex and retrofit oil riser to the exhaust valve, usefully modified Yamaha SR 500 2J4 from the year of construction 1981 can drive the long slumber out of the crankcase. It’s the first really warm day of the season. We found the Zollernalb district, where grass is finally green, bushes and trees are sprouting and where the little birds chirp with the two valves. We gave her fresh fuel for the occasion, even Super Plus, a carburetor cleaning, an oil change, new Michelin Pilot Active. The old Metzeler ME33 "Lasers" must have been lignified at some point under Helmut Kohl, better brush cleaner sloshed in the tank. She still has no inkling of the ordeal that will bloom her at the end of this homage.

Video from the top test of the SR 500

It is still doing what a Yamaha SR 500 does best: If something steams its way up the narrow streets of the region at a comfortable speed of three thousand, it slowly loosens itself after a long period of inactivity. Admittedly, the standards have shifted enormously. At that time, 40 years ago, 27 hp was the middle class. From today’s perspective, where beginners are allowed to saddle 48 horses and where the middle class pushes hard in three digits, the supposed steam hammer (which was not true then) has become a little hammer. But it gets the best out of its open 33 hp.

Doped with a blob of Teflon

Wide handlebars stretch high and wide behind the disco ball of headlights over a hint of motorcycle. You can change direction with ease via the narrow but eagerly gripping tires. Spillerig the tubular steel chassis, as if carved from bamboo, but honest and direct the feedback, the immediate experience of acceleration, deceleration, lean angle, compression and grip. Unexpectedly sensitive the fork (okay, we doped it with a blob of Teflon), and 30-year-old Konis are guaranteed to beat 40-year-old original shock absorbers. The single disc brake is also animated – namely to let it roll. And so the whole thing works, the bottom line and within its scope, well, well … Fluffy. Liquid. Earthy. Free of depth, thus also free of complexes, with a certain, simple elegance. That and the extremely casual seating position on the Yamaha SR 500 make the day not just an acoustic delight. The helmet is open, there is spring blossom in the air, the scent of high-octane, grease and some exhaust gas. Below deck, the 87 mm piston hammers with its 84 millimeter stroke, unrestrained by the balancer shaft, not only setting the whole machine in motion, but also the driver’s imagination. Noticeably pleased that he is allowed to return after all these years.

Also a journey through time. If there were no euro coins tinkling in your jacket pocket next to your smartphone, you could easily imagine yourself shifted a few decades back in time. Old motorcycles tell stories from the past. The Yamaha SR 500 take place in the atmosphere of wonderful cliches: You can literally see them, the engine overhaul in the shared kitchen, the fluff-bearded second owner in a knitted sweater. The rolling tobacco. “Nuclear power, no thanks!”, Fill up for five marks and 20 pfennigs. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter, but please never, never change it. SR 500 driving kicks, listening to an SR and their stories, tremendous.

Huge legends about the Kickstarter

Kick hard, that would be the inevitable keyword. A story that ignored the starting procedure of Yamaha’s half-liter street stew on foot, it broke with good tradition. In retrospect, probably prophetic foresight to forego the convenience button that was quite common at the time.


The picture is of course nonsense: Once kicked, the SR reaches a top speed of 133 km / h (manufacturer information). There’s nothing left to chase after.

Larger-than-life myths should soon grow up around the Kickstarter, it should not make a small contribution to the legend of the Yamaha SR 500. So it is not only passed down from the ancestors that they separate the chaff from the wheat, the unworthy from the fingers of oil. But also from the lever suddenly kicking back, from damaged legs and split ankles. Once a young woman is said to have catapulted to the moon when a Yamaha SR 500 failed to kick it …

But things are not that complicated: Take the machine off the main stand, put it in idle and then operate the choke or idle gas increase, depending on the ambient and oil temperature. The vacuum-controlled fuel tap can be ignored (has no OFF). Then find the top dead center (TDC), it becomes noticeable when pedaling in the form of juicy compression. Now the decompression cable on the left end of the handlebar helps to pry out the exhaust valve, allowing the piston to be carefully positioned behind TDC. Novices are shown the "kick indicator", a sight glass on the cylinder head, the right position, real guys naturally have that in their ankles. Let go of the deco, let the Kickstarter come up. Pause, focus. At this point, believers ask Saint Ignitius, the patron saint of all Yamaha SR 500 pilots, for some sparkling assistance. After all, “a disrespectful kick” has to be taken. If the procedure succeeds, rrraaatsch, obopopopop, admiring glances and respect at the ice cream parlor are certain (“Ui, an old warhorse!”), Maybe even women’s underwear. If not, ratchet, fump, ratchet, fump, argh – of course the material is to blame, a disgruntled look down communicates this to the bystanders. Possible excuses are: carburettor not properly adjusted, fuel stale, Jupiter in the wrong ascendant. This is followed by pity, a broken self-image and, at most, your own sweat-soaked boxer shorts when you try to push it on. The kickstarter, lever arm of fate.

XT 500 success produced the Yamaha SR 500

More important than the Kickstarter is the rest that is attached to it anyway. Even in its day, the Yamaha SR 500 was something really special. A courageous alternative, against the spirit of the times. Some background: Through the wild 70s, the big four from Japan trumped each other with ever stronger, ever more complex machines, of course with ever more power. DOHC, four-valve technology, the in-line six-cylinder, the fall of the 100-horsepower sound barrier, full fairings, soon water-cooled V4 engines, monoshock, anti-dive – the motorcycle world around and after the market launch of the SR 500 had only one attitude, namely high-tech. Higher, faster, further.

Then this: Encouraged by the resounding global success of the simple XT 500 in 1976, Yamaha shows the zeitgeist the bird, and two years later the enduro is accompanied by a road version. SR for "Single Road", which freely translated means narrow road and underlines the intended purpose of the new thing, which has been classic from birth. From the shelf came the XT motor and steel loop frame, each modified with a view to road use. Add the fork and attachments of the XS 650, sauce over it, done. Low-cost insurance with 27 HP, 33 uncorked, and 173 kilos light with a full tank. Air-cooled, two-valve, free of balancer shaft like starter. Drop tank, stereo struts, spoked wheels. How anti-modern the Yamaha SR 500 was at that time can also be seen from the fact that the widespread cast wheels were only offered at an additional cost. Timeless purism on two wheels. Yamaha had a keen nose for the secret heartfelt desire of some motorcyclists annoyed by the arms race, who wanted a simple motorcycle from the type of the extinct European street single-cylinder BSA GoldStar, Velocette Venom Thruxton, Moto Guzzi Falcone.

At times Germany’s most successful motorcycle

Obviously many had this wish, because the Yamaha SR 500 became a hit right away, at times even the best-selling motorcycle in Germany. The importer Mitsui sold 23,000 units in the first six years, and by the end of 1999 it should be exactly 38,328 units in Germany alone.

One of them is allowed to go through the tough top test procedure for the 40th birthday party. We cannot imagine a higher deference. Does the SR see it the same way? “Respect age!” She whispers to us with her honest patina, but it’s no use. Fast slalom, slow slalom, brake measurement, driving performance. And the roller dynamometer. Now she has to go through there.

Test bench, handling course, brake test

Let’s make it short: the Yamaha SR 500 has done well. It shook itself, shook itself, resisted, it hurt a little while watching it – but then it put more than a respectable 32.2 hp on the crankshaft.

To the delight of all present, she not only took the fast and slow slalom harmlessly, but almost calmly. Not really stable, but nimble, somehow handy, primarily thanks to the narrow and really good grip tires. It rattled wildly left and right, chipped its notches (later, however, than you think), at some point went from static to sliding friction at the rear, but remained nicely controllable on the wide handlebar.

It was more difficult with the brake measurement. It started with getting the necessary 100 kilometers per hour on the speedometer with a given short run. And she found it even more difficult to dismantle them. If, on the first few kilometers you got to know each other, you could have thought that the Yamaha SR 500, equipped with steel-flex cables, was only a set of sharp surfaces of acceptable deceleration far away, the repeated forced braking at ( almost) 100 km / h makes it clear: That is not so. Although the rear drum was busy blocking, the 298 disc at the front bent open like a disc spring on the second attempt, touching the single-piston floating caliper. And thus made it unmistakably clear in a duet with an increasingly violent cracking steering head bearing (sorry, Thomas): "Gentlemen, that’s enough."

Well, it wasn’t meant very seriously either. What we really just wanted to say with all of this: Dear Yamaha SR 500, happy birthday! May you keep kicking forever.

MOTORCYCLE conclusion

More than just a motorcycle. The Yamaha SR 500 is rolling, thundering, sparkling cultural asset. Simple, straightforward, formally elegant, full of character. Such a great success that it was an integral part of the street scene for many years, the "Beetle on two wheels". And kicks and kicks and kicks … It’s great that she no longer has to be on every street corner. Whether Thomas will give up his?

Model history

As a coherent first draft, the Yamaha SR 500 only needed careful model updates during its long construction period. An overview.

1978: Sales start of the master model type 2J4; 27 gold open 33 hp
1979: Cast wheels available for an extra charge of 150 marks, larger headlights
1980: thicker lower cooling fins to stiffen the cylinder, reinforced kickstarter freewheel
1984: Thorough revision, from now on as Type 48 T; 27 or open 34 HP, 18- instead of 19-inch front wheel, oil riser pipe to the exhaust valve ex works, lighter piston, narrower handlebar, numerous other modifications
1987: Tank volume increased to 14 liters
1988: Optional duplex drum at the front for an additional charge
1991: Power reduction to 23 HP (compression 8.3 to 1, changes to pistons and camshaft) due to strict exhaust and noise regulations, dethrottling possible by expert opinion to 27 HP
1992: Only available with drum brake
1993: Side stand with ignition breaker switch
1998: Limited anniversary model
1999: Sale of the last copies

The competition


Honda FT 500 (l.) And Suzuki GN 400 (r.).

Honda FT 500
Single cylinder engine, 27 hp, weight 175 kg, top speed 145 km / h, 5448 marks (1982).

Suzuki GN 400
Single cylinder engine, 27 hp, weight 155 kg, top speed 140 km / h, 4652 marks (1982).

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