From Street to Scrambler…
By 1971, BSA and Matchless had both gone out of business, and with them the British 500 singles whose torque and character had proved perfect for such a wide variety of off-road conditions all but vanished. Yamaha saw this opening in the market and created the XT500, a street-legal enduro / adventure that would quickly become a legend of the great African rallies, winning the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies and setting the bar for a whole series of four-stroke singles to come.
Soon thereafter, Yamaha rolled out the SR500 and short-stroke SR400, street versions of the venerable XT thumper that retained its simplicity and character. The SR was kickstart-only, no electric starter, and the 499cc SOHC two-valve single-cylinder engine made 31.5 horsepower and 27 pound-feet of torque.
While it wouldn’t win any records at the drag strip, it was a true enthusiast’s motorcycle — a machine with a slightly different approach than its contemporaries:
“Everyone who rode the SR500E agreed: The motorcycle is enormous fun. Not an awesome motorcycle, not dazzling, not brilliant—but fun. Those riders who have grown up on electric-start twins and fours were intrigued by the single-cylinder Yamaha because it represents a different approach to connecting Points A and B on tarmac. The SR500E is a machine of essentials; a responsive, glove-fit motorcycle.” —Cycle, 1978
Recently, we heard from Aleksander Ilcewicz and Christian Boosen of Poland’s 86 Gear Motorcycles, who obviously have an affinity for Yamaha thumpers — we’ve featured their XT600 supermoto and XT500 restoration in the past. The SR was developed largely as a response to XT500 owners converting their enduros into street-oriented machines — but what about the opposite path?
“We were approached by a client who wanted to build a period-correct 70’s Yamaha scrambler bike, but did not want to invest in an original XT500.”
The value of solid XT500 examples has skyrocketed in recent years, so the 86 Gear crew picked up an ’82 SR500 for the conversion. They rebuilt the engine, modified and hid the wiring loom, eliminated the battery, reworked the frame to mount an XT500 tank and custom saddle, swapped out the suspension, added a chain tensioner, and outfitted the bike with a vintage-style headlight, XT fender, and Supertrapp exhaust.
The result is a Yamaha 500 scrambler pieced together from several different bikes, creating a singular machine that’s a hoot to ride:
“Its torquey engine and comfortable riding position make it a functional enduro bike for light trails and occasional jumps. People on the streets seem to like and appreciate this bike — riding this thumper around receives a lot of thumbs up.”
Below, we get the full story on this Yamaha “SRXT500” from the 86 Gear crew.
Yamaha SR500 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1982 Yamaha SR500.
• Why was this bike built?
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
We were approached by a client who wanted to build a period-correct 70’s Yamaha scrambler bike, but did not want to invest in an original XT500. We took up the challenge and picked the 1982 SR500 as the donor bike for this project. While we were halfway through the build, the owner changed his mind and decided to give it up. It changed hands twice, and spent almost two years in storage. Finally, a new customer saw it as an opportunity and wanted to continue its transformation.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
To improve the bike’s reliability and performance, the engine was rebuilt, the carburetor was equipped with a new set of jets. The airbox was replaced with a K&N pod filter. Wiring loom was modified to keep all the cables not visible. There is no battery anymore, just a condenser.
The custom-made seat and an original XT500 tank gave this bike its vintage scrambler look.
In order to fit the parts altogether, we had to reposition the mounting points for the tank, and rework the subframe to fit the new seat. To make more room for the tank, triple trees were sourced from a later XT500.
The front suspension with the front wheel was borrowed from a 1980 XT500 and upgraded with progressive springs. We left the rear wheel stock, but the rear suspension was upgraded with a new set of YSS shocks.
Longer than original suspension travel required the swingarm to be retrofitted with a chain tensioner (stock SR500 swingarm doesn’t come with one).
The bodywork was completed with a vintage replica of a UFO enduro headlight, an original XT500 front fender, and a customised rear fender fitted with a TT500 replica tail light.
In the end we attached the famous Supertrapp 3″ series dirt bike exhaust and set it up to work with the carb.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Not really, we used to call it the SRXT 500.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is light, nimble, and has a strong pull. The exhaust sounds pleasing to the ear on the low and medium rpm’s. It is quite easy to start, once you get the idea how to do it correctly. Its torquey engine and comfortable riding position make it a functional enduro bike for light trails and occasional jumps. People on the streets seem to like and appreciate this bike — riding this thumper around receives a lot of thumbs up.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The thing I am most proud of is that we were able to make so many parts from different bikes work together. It was challenging, but the end result was worth the effort. The owner loves it and it drives as good as it looks.
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Photos: Bartek Zaranek Photography