Despite Rod Tingate being very much alive and well, it’s hard to get to the bottom of the Tingate 500 story. Rod’s engineering and racing adventures would fill an entire MT magazine but among his credentials is working the spanners for Kim Newcombe who, while riding a bike with a modified Konig outboard motor, came second to Phil Read in the ’73 world championship.
Konig aside, Rod always believed the simple solution was the best one and in the time he could save from making race bits for Australia’s top teams, he created his own 500 single based on Yamaha’s ubiquitous SR500. This included making an alloy tank and a fibreglass seat and tail section, giving the bike its distinctive appearance.
THE PLOT THICKENS
Legend has it that Rod built the bike just for one bit of road – the famed Reefton Spur just out of Melbourne. Rod cleaned up just about everyone he rode with, creating a demand among his friends for a similar bike. He built possibly half-a-dozen tank/seat sets but became frustrated and ceased production as some sat around for years in sheds as unfinished projects.
Mick Hone, former road racer and proprietor of Mick Hone Suzuki in Melbourne, is suspicious of how good a Tingate 500 actually is, claiming Rod was a rider of such exceptional talent that he could have beaten his mates down the Reefton Spur on a pushbike.
Among the original acquirers of the bits necessary to make a Tingate 500 was Australian racing legend of the ’60s and ’70s, Peter Jones.
Peter was working at the time as service manager for Yamaha Australia, which may have assisted him in collecting the bits necessary to finish the project. Peter’s key aim was to reduce the weight of the bike and this started with removing unnecessary components including the centrestand. The wheels are 18 inch, seven-spokers from the humble Yamaha XS250 but Peter cut the middle out of each spoke, creating a far lighter 14-spoke design.
The front and rear discs have been drilled and the lower fork legs have been machined in a lathe to reduce their diameter.
A hand-made, lightweight fork brace keeps the legs apart and air caps have also been fitted. Tingate goose-neck clip-ons complete the front end. Cornering clearance (important on the Reefton Spur) has been improved by repositioning the lower mounting points of the rear Koni shocks to bring them closer to the swingarm pivot.
A happy side effect of these changes is that the bike is very comfortable for riders six foot and over. Other technical features include an underslung rear brake caliper and braided brake lines. The driveline is from a Yamaha TT500. Peter went down this path to reduce the drag of the original chain and sprockets.
The tank/seat combination speaks for itself and, although Rod has said recently he feels it might be starting to look a bit dated, many observers reckon it’s the world’s prettiest bike.
Driving force Peter basically stuck with stock specifications for the engine as he valued reliability and service life over extra performance. The engine was lovingly put together, though, and the flywheels were machined down to TT500-specs (narrower and lighter) which allows the engine to rev more freely.
A fruity note is provided by the Tingate exhaust and the engine breathes a little more easily with a K&N air filter.
Rod’s own Tingate 500 has a 38mm carb and a cam ground to match the exhaust system and would be substantially faster but the Jones-built bike is quick because it’s so light.
Cut to 1990. When Peter finished the bike, it sat under a sheet at the back of the Yamaha warehouse and managed to cover just 300km in five years. Every time I visited to drop off or pick up a test bike, I pestered Peter about buying it.
WHAT TO EXPECT
He finally cracked and it now has around 12,000km on the odometer and is seen irregularly at SR500 Club rallies and other special events including the Geelong Revival.
I changed the gearing on the Tingate to the tallest possible combination so that the engine doesn’t wear out on long trips.
This is less than ideal for quarter-mile sprints and I’ll probably be in fourth rather than fifth gear when I reach the end of the 400 metres.
When the host bike was released in 1978, magazine road tests claimed a standing quarter-mile time of 14.94 seconds. My aim at Geelong was to take a second or possibly a bit more off that. Read how I went at the Geelong Revival here.
Apart from Tingate’s own bike, this might be the last one running. Long live the mighty single!