Reader resto: Yamaha SR500
BITING ‘THE BULLET’
I stumbled across a bike show during a weekend ride on my Harley-Davidson Iron 883. There it was. A bike I wanted as a project: a Triumph Bonneville bobber.
Back home and bursting with enthusiasm, I researched all possibilities to build up my own. Fast forward a couple of weeks. My brother, Pat, excitedly calls, urging me check out his new bike. The bastard bought a ’65 Bonneville and he was planning on transforming it into a bobber. Dammit.
I was gutted. I must’ve left my browser open full of Triumph images and Pat must’ve seen it. In fairness, though, it was he who suggested Yamaha’s venerable SR500 and showed me what they can look with a bit of tinkering.
I guess it worked out in the end and, besides, my modified Harley kind of already resembles a bobber. The time had come to consider something completely different, so my search for a Yamaha SR500 began.
WE HAVE IGNITION
The bike was bought in 2011 from a Tasmanian farm and shipped across to Melbourne for a total of $2500.
The seller said it was complete and running but doubts quickly crept in about its mechanical condition when I collected it. It looked like a complete basket case as if it spent most of its life in a swamp. But the bike’s exterior didn’t faze me – I was too excited about my new toy.
So now I had a project with no specific plans for it except, at this moment, to see whether she started. The seller was true to his word.
With a little manipulation and a few kicks, the 30-something-year-old Yamaha roared to life as did the exhaust, which turned a bright, red glow. I figured it had something to do with an air/fuel mixture problem, but who cares? She started, and that was good enough for me.
My original plan was to do very little to the bike apart from the usual cafe-racer aesthetics – clip-ons, rearsets and a seat – and leave the rest with a ratty look as something to get me around. But the old adage, “The Devil finds work for idle hands” is so true as I waited for parts to arrive.
As my patience wore thin, I gave into temptation and began stripping the bike with the intention of cleaning it and put it back together, but, of course, one thing led to another and my plans for the bike changed as I increasingly grew inspired by other SR builds. Challenge accepted. I decided to create a head-turner.
It wasn’t until Pat and I pulled the bike down that the full extent of its condition was clear and, unsurprisingly, it needed a ground-up rebuild.
From this point on, the bike got the works: all new bearing, bolts and seals, all unnecessary brackets that clutter the frame were removed, and the frame was sand-blasted and powder-coated matte black. I wanted the bike to look especially clean and minimalist with just the right features to stand out.
We fitted the front end with Progressive front fork springs, new fork tubes and new seals all round. I reused the original alloy fork outer tube as they were still OK but had them polished. On went a brushed Billet alloy top yoke, clip-ons, a brushed-alloy front cowl, black, Billet alloy adjustable brake and clutch levers, Posh grips, a new speedo, Daytona indicators and an LED tail-light.
The engine was going to be the bike’s focal point with its single-cylinder thumping me down the road. I wanted the bike to go as good as it looks so I sent the engine off for some special treatment.
A full rebuild was the result. This and the paintwork are the only tasks we outsourced.
Its cases were wet blasted and it was upgraded with a big-bore kit: 90mm pistons running 11.0:1 compression, port and polished heads, twin oil feed and a big, Keihin FCR39 carb kit to quench the 535cc thumper’s thirst.
All this is audibly emphasised with a nice-sounding, two-piece, matte-black ‘short shot’ exhaust located below the frame for a sleek look.
The engine got a triple-chrome coating for that ‘bling’ look and it runs a 17-tooth front sprocket to help get it up to serious speeds. With all this power on tap, the original brakes clearly weren’t going to cut it so I opted for a 320mm Ducati-style floating disc and a four-pot Brembo caliper up front for equally impressive stopping power, which certainly does the job.
We modified the frame adding a welded hoop to accommodate a new seat, rear indicators and tail-light. Pat also tricked up the seat by molding an aluminium cowl to balance the look of the polished alloy tank and bikini fairing.
The tired, original suspension was next for attention. It was so badly punished it might as well have been Steve McQueen’s jump bike in The Great Escape. In went a pair of adjustable Öhlins coilovers for a smooth, controlled ride, eliminating the bottoming-out effect.
Trying to remain faithful to the original era of café racers, I shod the matte-black-painted alloys with classic Firestone tyres, emphasised by stainless-steel shorty front and rear fenders and a new, alloy, boxed swingarm.
The bike also got all new hidden wiring, a performance CDI unit, ignition coil and battery eliminator.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Mucking about with the electrical spaghetti was the most difficult task, even with a wiring diagram. And that was despite simplifying the job by binning a heap of unnecessary bits. I’d clearly go hungry if I did this for a crust.
Another difficulty was actually ordering correctly fitting parts. I’ve now got a heap of spares that either don’t fit or just don’t suit it. The other obstacle came from moving the bike to my brother’s house mid-way through the build which almost halted progress, leaving only weekends to work on it. Then there were the lulls of motivation when things went pear-shaped.
The bike you see here took Pat and I about two years to build, which could’ve been completed sooner if I could avoid the aforementioned but, hey, that’s hindsight. I should also thank my brother for lending me his tools (even if it was without his knowing) and his, shall we say, passionate opinions.
To me, my SR500 resembles a bullet that perhaps Dirty Harry used to fire his iconic .44 Magnum high-calibre revolver. It’s a powerful, lightweight and minimalist bike that cuts through the complexity of life – as well as traffic – and always puts a smile on my face. And for that reason, I call it ‘The Silver Bullet’.
Tom Gheorghiu’s Yamaha SR500 was displayed at the 2013 Oil Stained Brain – a Melbourne-based exhibition that showcases some of Australia’s finest custom-built bikes.