My memories of our annual December holiday pilgrimage to Durban include the warm sea, crowded beaches, rickshaws on the Marine Parade, surfers and Yamaha XT500 scramblers. You see, right from the launch of these venerable “thumpers”, Durban has, until today, been the capital city for XT500s in South Africa. I think it was on our December 1976 holiday that my father, with family in tow, crossed paths with the first XT500 he had ever seen. His excitement at seeing a new four stroke single cylinder engine so many years after the British stopped producing this beloved engine type was contagious. We stood baking in the Durban midday heat for what seemed forever in my 14 year old mind, until the owner eventually returned, patiently answered a barrage of my father’s questions and then rode off. The exhaust note of the standard silencer was a bit of an anticlimax but it still did not dampen my father’s enthusiasm about a proper motorcycle engine once again being available and that this Japanese copy would be an improvement on the British originals. The XT500 soon became a common sight all over South Africa as thousands of them were sold. The SR500 street model was launched in 1978. Unlike the wildly popular XT scrambler version, the SR met with a lukewarm response from the South African public and sold in relatively small volumes. Boy, are we kicking ourselves now!
Yamaha developed the SR500 to meet the demand for an old school 500cc single cylinder powered motorcycle for those riders who preferred their motorcycles to be more simple than the four cylinder motorcycles which had become the popular choice in the 1970s. The 499cc sohc engine was started by means of a well timed kick and the 33hp available would provide a top speed of just over 150km/h. The XT and SR500 models have become legends for their reliability and ease of maintenance. South Africans did not warm to the SR500 back then, but internationally and in Japan they were better understood and are still loved. We stopped importing them in the 1980s but international production only ended in 1999, due to noise and emission laws. The very similar SR400 then continued the legacy in Japan and Europe until 2008.
Our featured 1983 SR500 café racer was built and belongs to Capetonian Brad, who also took these photos of his outstanding motorcycle. He purchased this one owner, low mileage SR500 specifically to build this creation. The motorcycle was stripped right down and then rebuilt by Brad to his design. The engine was opened but found to be as good as new. Looking at this motorcycle from the rear, you may be forgiven for thinking you are looking at a Docs Chops/Hageman Motorcycles Yamaha Virago creation by American maestro Greg Hageman. This is no coincidence, as Brad tried to include elements of his favourite builder’s style, without creating a copy. Hageman’s Virago is a more orange colour in comparison to the Aprilia gold used by Brad and the striping is different. Just about everything else on this motorcycle has been blacked out which contrasts beautifully with the petrrol tank colour. I have a preference for the retention of side covers on café racers, which is what Brad has done in this case.
A really strong feature of this SR is the seat. The seat-pan and bum-stop section is a metal fabrication. After padding the seat and placing a thin layer of foam over the bum-stop, everything was upholstered. The styling and design of this studded seat is epic. Many of these racer and brat seats make the motorcycle look as if the rear mudguard has fallen off or still needs to be installed. This rear end looks balanced and complete.The rear subframe was reshaped to accommodate the new seat-pan. Brad would like to make special mention of Willem who did the sheetmetal fabrication of the seat and the exhaust pipe.
The front fork stanchions have been pushed up through the triple trees to lower the front end and to match the lowered rear end with its short aftermarket shocks. A small headlight and mini gauges lighten the look of the front end. Clip-ons with bar-end mirrors are racy, as is the shortened original front mudguard.
Yamaha are relaunching a fuel injected SR400 internationally and I know that many of us are also expecting it to reach our shores in South Africa. I really hope it does become available here, but with our currency doing a swan dive, or should I say a dive bomb, we may be in for a nasty shock when we hear the price. Brad is currently on honeymoon in Mauritius. May his marriage bring to him as much joy as the sound of a thumper did to my father.