I must admit to feeling slightly ancient on the recent media launch of the newly-reintroduced Yamaha SR400. You see, I was on the media launch of the original SR500, back in 1978, when I was working for Yamaha’s advertising agency, Harris Robinson Courtenay.
Quite a few of us in the agency were bike buffs, and three of us owned Velocettes, so a road-going bike single (as opposed to the dual purpose XT500) was fairly exciting. We even designed a new ‘500 Single logo’ for the side panels, which Yamaha retro-fitted to each SR500 sold, and, in conjunction with artist Alan Puckett, did a poster and press ad with the SR500 ranged alongside Pommie stuff like a Norton ES2, BSA Gold Star, Matchless G3 and of a course, a Velo. The SR500 went on to enjoy a long sales life, and to provide the platform for innumerable home-brewed café racer concoctions, before fading from the scene. It never went completely away however, because in 400cc form (to comply with Japanese road tax concessions) heaps of grey market jobs came into the country, and still do. But just recently, Yamaha took the decision to re-list a slightly refined SR400 in the 2014 model line up. Why not a 500? Well, it seems the tooling no longer exists, and it’s not just a sleeve-down or bore-out job, as the 500 has a longer stroke (84mm) than the 400, which shares the 87mm bore. In other respects, the 2014 SR400 is very close to the original model that was last made in 1999, save for fuel- injection and a fairly substantial muffler. Surprisingly – for this would have been a comparatively simple fitment – there is no electric starter, but Yamaha claim that modern fuel management makes kick-starting a snack. Well, it probably is a snack if you’ve been brought up on big singles, but I am not completely convinced that the younger generation will share this sentiment. If you follow the procedures (including watching carefully in the little window on the camshaft) of getting the engine over top dead centre and following through with a long, steady swing, it generally fires up in one or two attempts, although it is so quiet that with a bit of background noise it’s hard to tell if the engine has commenced or not. Which brings us to a point that was drummed home to us journos; that Yamaha see this model very much as canvas for the individual owner to exploit with décor and all manner of after-market stuff, most probably beginning with the muffler. Speaking of décor, I will be glad when Yamaha gets over its current fixation with drab grey – how about a nice Matchless G50 maroon, or BSA blue? Already, a number of places, such as Gasolina in Melbourne where the launch was held or Deus ex Macchina in Sydney and Ellespede in Brisbane (all of which will be selling the new model) have a range of bolt-on stuff ready to transform the SR400 from mild to wild. Around town, the new model is a dream, being so light and nimble, just like most singles. Part of the credit for this must go to the standard fitment of Metzeler tyres (albeit Brazilian-made ones). The acceleration qualities feel a bit strangled, but this should improve with a few miles on the clock when the engine has a chance to free up. The brakes are more than adequate and you’ll never run out of ground clearance. The SR400 is slim and feels quite tiny, and the substantial dual seat is very comfortable. I gave the SR400 a gallop down the Tullamarine Freeway and once it reaches 100 km/h, the engine sits in a comfort zone of about 4,500 rpm and it hums along very nicely – I enjoyed the experience so much I took the long way home! So for $8,999 you get what is already a pretty good and very practical motorcycle, and if the mood takes you, the basis for a bike that embodies your own taste and style. How long before someone comes up with an exchange crankshaft to really bring back the SR500?
BELOW LEFT Just like the old 500! Well, sorta, but it’s still a faithful recreation of a genuine classic. BELOW The original SR500 advertisement artwork of 1978.
Classic, not plastic – not a digital gaugeto be found.