BIG SINGLES RULE!
Yamaha released its road-going single in 1978. The world was waiting for a reliable version of the big singles that had carried riders almost from the time motorcycles were invented. The glory days of Manx Nortons, AJS and Matchless were still fresh in people’s memories and it was expected that when a Japanese manufacturer turned its mind to that configuration, the result would be spectacular. What everyone wanted was something that looked like the racing Norton, was capable of 160km/h, was oil-tight and would do 100,000km between rebuilds. Instead, they got the SR500.
It was in many ways peculiar. The styling wasn’t traditional but wasn’t contemporary either. It didn’t have the low engine-speed grunt of its historical predecessors but it didn’t really have a top end, either. 140km/h was about it. Surprisingly for the period, it didn’t have an electric start, and in the short period between the Brits and the SR500, the world had forgotten how to kick-start a bike.
Sales in Australia were poor and the model officially only lasted four years until 1982. It was better received elsewhere in the world, particularly in Germany, so it continued in production, eventually becoming a 400 to comply with Japanese registration requirements.
Production was interrupted around 2010 while Yamaha developed a fuel-injected version of the engine to comply with tougher emission requirements and a 400i is now available in some markets.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN AUSTRALIA
With such a short model run, SR500s were relatively rare on Australia’s roads and had all but disappeared by the early 1990s. A hard core of owners persisted, though, who recognised the bike’s virtues: simplicity, real-world performance, a link with the past and the potential for cult credibility.
A number of owners had individually been collecting the names of other owners. The late, legendary bike journalist, Peter Smith, had a soft spot for the model and Melbourne-based Paul Newbold wrote to him suggesting Smith start a register of owners. Smith replied he had no wish to become a clerk for a bike gang but offered Paul support if Paul decided to do it himself. Paul had seen a modified SR500 in Streetbike magazine and contacted its owner, Chris Manhal, who also had a small list of fellow owners.
The first meeting of the club was held in December, 1998, and among the nine who turned up was the engineering guru, Rod Tingate, who had independently been doing some performance modifications to the SR500 engine along with fabricating parts and bodywork.
It was a great club for the less wealthy. A worn SR500 could be purchased for around $750 and a pristine stocker would be lucky to fetch $1500. Through the dedication of the early club members, services were built up to attract other SR500 owners. These included a complete collection of published road tests and technical articles, specialist tools which could be borrowed, links with the providers of SR500 parts and accessories and a range of SR500-related merchandise. Paul Newbold designed the club logo and MT readers see it regularly modelled by Guy Allen as he appears to wear little else.
The first national rally was held in Koetong in north-east Victoria because one member’s mum was the publican. Much bad behaviour was demonstrated, mostly by the club’s office holders who clearly felt they should lead by example. Is it still possible to conduct drag races on the Murray Valley Highway in the middle of the night?
An ‘incident’ at the third rally at the same location saw the highway closed by the police so a helicopter could land and remove the injured. The rally was relocated to Tooma the following year and while it was farther away from police scrutiny, the ‘glitter’ incident prevented the club from returning the following year.
Since 2004, the national rally has been held at Bethanga near Albury and the club has forged a close relationship with the local community. We use the local recreational reserve and the event is catered for by the local service and sporting clubs. This brings ‘outside’ money into the small township and if you visit the clubrooms in the recreation reserve, you’ll now see a plaque on the wall thanking the SR500 Club for funding the new cooking facilities.
The many visitors to the rally each year tell us it’s one of the best rallies left on the Australian calendar. Put it in your diary for 2014 – it’s usually the third weekend in November.
OUT AND ABOUT
With about 150 members, the SR500 Club hosts a variety of interest groups. Club runs have included a week-long tour of Tasmania and there’s much activity around building SR500-based specials. The ‘SR500 Special’ award is hard to win these days at the national rally and the acceleration of interest in SR500s courtesy of businesses like Deus ex Machina has made SR500s harder to get and considerably more expensive. There has been a boom in importing SR400s from Japan and Yamaha Australia is still considering releasing the new SR400i here. Stock SR500s from the ’78 – ’82 period are becoming particularly hard to find.
The club sponsors members who make a contribution to keeping SR500s in the spotlight. Sponsored racers have included Andy Brebner, Nick van de Zand, Rick Kwok and Greg Phillips. Stew Ross, who runs the ACT arm of the club, also received sponsorship to help him take his record-breaking SR500 to the salt races on Lake Gairdner.
It’s not just the bikes that are out and about: club merchandise turns up everywhere and our t-shirts and windcheaters have a cult following of their own – it’s a cool brand. Thanks to the interweb (www.sr500club.org), there are now members in the UK, USA, Japan, NZ, Belgium and the Netherlands. You never know when or where you’re likely to see the SR500 oval.
The club is also authorised to issue club plates in Victoria which has made a big difference to the number of older bikes on the road.
Through good management and commitment from both the executive and members, the SR500 Club has had a remarkably trouble-free run from its inception. Inner-club arguments have been rare and the monthly meetings at the Limerick Castle Hotel, corner of Errol and Arden Streets, North Melbourne, are always a source of pleasure.
You don’t have to own an SR500 to join but, sensibly, the club doesn’t judge its success just by counting members. There’s a preference for members who want to be involved in club activities and who appreciate the simple values symbolised by this terrific little bike. Visit the club web site to find out more, including how to join, or write to us at PO Box 500, The Patch, 3792.
Australia has around 2000 motorcycle clubs and every one of them has a story. If you’d like to see your club featured in MT, write 750 – 1000 words and collect a set of your best pictures. If you need help with this, contact deputy editor Chris Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clubs are the lifeblood of our motorcycle culture – let’s celebrate them!