I subscribe to Motorcycle Trader and have been enjoying reading about reader’s restorations. I have restored a couple of bikes over the decades, the most recent of which was a 1981 Yamaha XT500H.
I was unsure if anyone would have been interested in a restored trail bike. The ones I have seen so far have been mega-buck restos of road bikes to concourse condition, or close to it. Then I read about Bruce Hale’s Beemer (MT #257). He had done a good job on a limited budget and it looks very neat, even though it’s not quite concourse.
You commented in your introduction that selecting a bike for restoration is based on various factors, including availability. My reason for choosing the XT500 was simple: I bought one new in 1981 and rode over most of Australia on it in the five years I owned it. They were like the KTM 990 Adventure of the day and it was a ‘ride to work, trail ride on the weekend and holiday trips’ type of bike. Its life included a ride to Cape York in 1982 when the Telegraph Track was the only option. My brother, myself and a few mates rode all the way from Victoria there and back – all on XT500s. It was sleeping in tents on the side of the road and living on a diet of beer and pies – fabulous times and real ‘roughing it’ motorcycle adventuring.
My bike was a brand new XT500H that I had delivered to my workshop in the crate in 1981. Out of all the bikes I have owned (and there have been dozens of them), it was the one I always regretted selling. But you know the story: when there is a house full of kids and you need to move on to another bike, the original has to go or the petticoat government opposition will not even consider the suggestion.
When the time arrived in which I could revisit the idea of another XT, it was a case of initiating a search on eBay and waiting until one came up that I could win. I quickly found out that XT500s are a bit of a classic now and good money has to be paid to procure a reasonable example to start with. I ended up getting this one for $2450. It was in Brisbane – it was also very rough and not running but mostly complete.
I got it home and put fresh petrol in, cleaned the points and it went second kick. It was very smoky and rattly but just hearing it thump away brought all those memories back.
The rear shocks were past repair, the exhaust was not original and everything was rusty. Everything else was mostly damaged but at least it was all there. I was surprised to find that a lot of new parts are still available from Yamaha dealers. Apparently, all the new old stock (NOS) is kept on the shelves and is available as spares until the stock is sold. There is also a lot of NOS available on the internet as well as good used parts.’
I bought a complete, new, genuine Yamaha seat from the US and a good set of original used rear shocks. I found an “as new” exhaust on eBay and things like sprockets, countershaft sprocket cover, and various missing lugs, brackets and clips were still available from Yamaha.
The first thing was to pull it all apart, send the frame to be powdercoated and all the small parts to the platers for zinc and chrome plating. The XT500 has an alloy tank with a brushed-alloy, clear-coat finish on the sides; it’s important to find a good one as you can’t fill and paint over any imperfections. Mine had two dents on the left-hand side about the size of a 20 cent piece. Luckily, they were above the fuel tap and I was able to remove the tap and get in and pry the dents out to be high spots. I was then able to block them off with 600-grit sandpaper and get rid of them altogether. I had the local sticker man cut the decals and stripes and painted the centre of the tank and side covers silver with an automotive acrylic spray can. Then I used a clear top coat and achieved an almost factory finish.
I was able to buy a used, original, front plastic mudguard that was sun damaged and powdery so I rubbed it back to fresh plastic and painted it using plastic primer and, again, spray-can automotive acrylic.
A good rear mudguard is as hard to find as a reliable TX750, and very expensive if you do find one, so I ended up getting a badly damaged one on eBay. The rear guard is steel and double skinned and very hard to get back into shape. This one had been on a bike that had been flipped doing a wheelie so there was only one thing to do and that was to spend a lot of time and use a lot of bog to bring it back to life. I’m very pleased with how it turned out in the end but I would recommend paying the extra money for a good one if you are doing a restoration on one of these bikes.
Mechanically, the engine got a valve grind, new rings (still standard size), stem seals, camchain and gaskets. I bead blasted and painted the barrel and head, the engine side cases were powder coated and the crankcase was rubbed back and painted as an assembly, then the case screws were replaced one at a time with stainless items. Of course, all wheel bearings were replaced with new ones.
I had the most trouble with the wheels. The rims were badly oxidised and pitted so I put them in to be gold anodised again. I got them back but they were still pitted and rough as guts. It would have been nice to know this before spending the $150.
Then I looked at buying new gold rims but the profile is no longer available, so I decided to have them powder coated as a stop-gap measure until I could find a good set. The guys did a good job of matching the colour and I had stainless spokes made and fitted. I’m still after a good set of gold-anodised, 19in and 21in, 40-hole rims of the era if anyone out there has some.
COOL, NOT CONCOURS
My XT500 is not a concours example or a completely original restoration – the wheels have been powdercoated, the stainless spokes are thicker than original and I have used stainless bolts and stainless Allen screws all through it. The colours were dragged from my memory but, to the untrained eye, it looks like a brand new XT500H and it rides like one too.
I finished it a couple of years ago and it is fully registered and great fun for tooling around the Sunshine Coast and starting conversations with old blokes like me. I have a few bikes in the shed including a TT600R, a trials bike and a new 2012 Goldwing but the XT500 is the bike that anyone who visits my shed drools over the most and the one of which I’m most proud.
It’s like the drover’s old horse and it can take me where the others can’t: down memory lane. It reminds me fondly of my youth and of the most versatile, fun and reliable bike I’ve ever owned.
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