Motorcycle Trader’s custom Yamaha SR400

Date 10.3.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader



Custom Yamaha SR400 giveaway


Find out how to enter here… 

In the last five years we’ve given away a Suzuki GT500, a Honda Fireblade, a Honda 150 in a unique Repsol paint scheme, a choice of three bikes (Honda Firestorm VTR1000, Yamaha FZR1000 Thunderace and BMW K100), two Suzuki DR650s and, most recently, a new Indian Scout.

What to do this year? The answer was easy when we found out Yamaha Australia was finally going to import the SR400. Motorcycle Trader has been pestering Yamaha for years to bring it in and it finally cracked under the pressure.


The SR400 is a direct descendent of the SR500 which was released internationally in 1978. The bike was motivated by the nostalgic memories of riders who wanted a British 500 single but wanted it made by the Japanese so that it was reliable and oil-tight. The expectation was also that the ‘new’ 500 single would have the performance of a Manx Norton but in a more user-friendly package.

The reality was a modest bike with average performance, indifferent styling and none of the expected character. It only lasted in Australia from 1978 until 1982 and it’s possible as few as 3000 were sold.

Despite this, the affection for the concept survived and, once the stock from the four-year sale period lost its fresh appeal, the survivors were picked up by backyard builders and became the basis for hundreds of specials.

Early adopters of the rapidly ageing bikes included the SR500 Club of Australia ( and Deus ex Machina, which used the SR500 as a basis for many of its custom-built specials.

At their low point in Australia, SR500s were available for $600 for a rough example and $1500 for one in generally good condition. When people started seeing Deus commanding $18,000 for an SR special, the penny dropped. Suddenly the price of any SR500 jumped to around $5000 and original Australian-delivered SR500s are now collector’s items.

This coincided with the grey import period where astute motorcycle businesses worked out they could buy SR500s and SR400s (same bike, basically, with a shorter stroke) cheaply in Japan and sell them at a premium in Australia. Regular MT readers will be familiar with ads asking between $6000 and $8000 for low-mileage imported bikes.


Yamaha Australia was watching all this with a great deal of interest. Despite ceasing importation in 1984, the SR500 continued to be produced for other markets and proved popular in Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries. It actually won the influential Motorrad magazine’s Bike of the Year award for two years running.

Yamaha had always made a 400 version of the SR500 for its domestic market where that capacity was cheaper to register and insure. Yamaha ceased production of the SR500 in 2000 but continued with the 400 until 2008. Fuel injection was needed to allow the ageing engine to meet international emission standards and the SR400i was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2009.

In Japan, the SR500/400 had long been a cult bike and there are five-storey department stores devoted to SR custom accessories. It’s arguably the father of the current custom motorcycle boom.

If you lived in Australia and you wanted to get involved in the movement, you had the option of finding a 1978-82 original or buying a 500/400 grey import. Yamaha Australia was well aware of this undercurrent support for the model and was surprised to find resistance from Yamaha Japan to the idea of releasing the fuel-injected model in our local market.

MT’s investigation unit thinks Yamaha Japan was worried that the 37-year-old design wouldn’t cut the mustard on Australia’s rough and long roads. The fact remains the custom movement is growing and the SR400 isn’t going to be bought by adventurers – it will essentially end up being the basis of a custom design exercise and will largely be restricted to city use.


Motorcycle Trader has its own ideas on how an SR400 should look. Having said that, all the ideas are different. I’m inclined towards a traditional café racer but I’m also full of respect for the street scrambler design exercise. Deputy editor Chris Harris is more inclined towards the urban rather than the traditional scrambler look while Cam Donald just wants it to be twice as fast. Guido already owns a small collection of 500 singles and favours only minimal modifications to make the SR400 look less old-fashioned.

Yamaha clearly understands its ‘new’ SR400 is never going to stay in standard form so it hasn’t encumbered us with unnecessary distractions.

It’s available only in grey which, for practical purposes, can be considered an undercoat. The basic bike doesn’t give you any more than a platform to express your ideas about how the bike should look.

Here’s what Yamaha had to say at the bike’s Australian launch last year.

“There can be no doubt the SR400 is the real thing with an authentic engine and chassis specification and original kickstart mechanism.

The character, soul and image of a machine is far more important than its acceleration figures or potential lean angle. In addition, the SR400 also offers many possibilities for those riders who want to customise their machine, whether that involved adding a few bolt-on parts or going the whole way and creating a café racer, a street scrambler or a bobber.”

Melbourne-based retailer and bike builder Mid Life Cycles has turned out some very pretty customs of its own and was a logical partner for the build exercise.

Courtesy of Yamaha Australia, we’ve turned over a brand-new stocker to Mid Life and it’s currently in the process of transforming it into a custom classic.

We’ll be covering the entire build story over the next four months in Motorcycle Trader so you’ll be able to see your new bike in all its stages of development.

We’ve asked Mid Life Cycles to make it a practical build rather than a show-stopper so you can copy it if you already have an SR400/500 and you like what we’re doing. To make it even easier, Mid Life Cycles will be producing conversion kits for the SR400 based on the MT bike.

You’ll be able to follow the build process by visiting or here at on a regular basis and the finished product will be unveiled at this year’s Penrite Broadford Bike Bonanza on April 4-5 where Spannerman will be doing a few gentle laps to help run it in.

Find out how to enter the competition here