Yamaha SR500 Meets The Tardus
You may have heard about the Yamaha SR500. It’s a moderately capable single from the late ’70s which lives on in spirit in the form of the current SR400. Thanks to the likes of companies like Deus ex Machina, the original 500 has, at times, become an overpriced cult bike.
Being something of a cult figure himself, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Spannerman is a long-term member of the SR500 Club and somehow managed to rope in muggins. That was many years ago and my life has never been quite the same since.
Pull back a minute and think about this.
The SR500 Club was basically started by a few blokes late at night (the legendary bike mag columnist Mr Smith was a key player) for owners of a model that was available on the local market for just a few years and sold about as well as deep-fried cauliflower on a stick. You don’t see Kentucky Fried Cauliflower franchises out there, do you?
Despite that, the club was near enough to an instant success, much to the surprise of the people running it. Membership numbers are solid – and have been for years – while the value of the bikes, for a little while there, rose to a point where most of the members couldn’t afford to buy one.
Nevertheless, they’ve been racing them, modifying them and building them into some very tasty specials, including a supercharged monster. It must at times bemuse Yamaha that these things have developed a rich cultural life long after they faded away from the showroom floor.
It is, in fact, a humble machine.
Launched in 1978, the 499cc air-cooled four-stroke (‘thumper’ if you must) claimed a heady 31.5 horses at 6500rpm and was good for a reasonably solid 140km/h. Local brochures tried to make the connection between this and traditional English ‘thumpers’ of decades gone by, which produced some outrage among collectors of English singles.
You could hear them harrumphing from a mile away, pointing out their Velocette could outrun an SR and suck the headlight out on the way past. Or something like that. Probably, but I dare say the humble Yamaha would require a few less rebuilds. (Oh dear, I’ve now officially stepped on a hornet’s nest – watch for the outraged letters on this one.)
Anyway, I’ve recently bought my second SR. The story started some 15 years ago when Cousin Russell called from sunny Naracoorte in SA, asking me to check a bike for sale in Melbourne. I duly rolled up to confront a very original example, albeit wearing a larger than stock piston. It seemed like a good buy and Cousin R went with it.
Move on up to this year and, thanks to a long battle with illness, the bike hadn’t been ridden for a decade and Cousin R had decided to sell. For me, it was a no-brainer to take it off his hands. My previous example was long gone and it’s always nice to keep toys like this in the family when you can.
Ms M. Senior and I fired up the mighty Kingswood (built in 1979, the same year as the SR – she says the country’s never been the same since) and drove across to collect the bike. On the way back, there was plenty of time to reflect on what’s happened since those vehicles were made. If I remember rightly, I was blundering around on a Honda CB750 Four back then, with an 812 Yoshimura kit I’d installed myself.
Just as I was struggling to recall who was Prime Minister back at the time, we came across a Tardus in a paddock (above right). Not quite what you expect to find in the backblocks of nowhere. As a long-time Dr Who watcher, it got me wondering who the Doctor was back in 1979.
Jeez, the things you end up pondering on a long journey.
Sadly, Cousin Russell has passed away since that trip. At least the bike will provide more opportunity for time-travel, back to when he was fit and riding it himself…
This article appears in Motorcycle Trader Issue #299