In 2004 I bought my 1981 model SR500 with 56,000 km from a Melbourne dealer for $2500 with the intention of getting familiar with a larger capacity bike before I bought something more interesting.
My previous machine was a neat little Kawasaki ZZR250 to learn on, which was a great bike, but you had to ring it’s poor little neck to get it going. The SR was a fairly tired old girl, but looked OK from a distance. I discovered later, after I bought it, that parts of the frame had a nice coat of rust that had been over-sprayed with black paint, presumably just to get through a roadworthy. Nice! It had an SR500 Club sticker on the fender, so I presume the previous owner was a member.
I grew to like the SR so much, even though it was temperamental, rusty and grumpy on occasion (much like myself), that I decided to keep and restore the old girl. The attached photos show before, during and after. I have kept it basically stock standard, with the exception of swapping the carb for an TT one (simpler), and the mirrors. I also replaced the dipstick with a Japanese designed-for-SR’s thermometer, which has been superb. The exhaust is a stainless steel set from Overlander Equipment in Warrnambool and has been great; much lighter than the standard pipes (and a bit louder, but not objectionable).
The companies I am happy to recommend for their work on my bike are:
Bike Magic, 11 Roberna St, Moorabbin, VIC. Ph 03 9532 0626. Contact : Graydon. Not the cheapest, nor fastest, but excellent quality workmanship.
Hydroblast, 12/20 George St, Sandringham, VIC. Ph 03 9597 0387. Contact Greg and Louise . Friendly and helpful.
Huntingdale Electroplating, 23 Shafton St, Huntingdale, VIC. Ph 03 9544 6079. These blokes do a lot of Harley work, so are familiar with plating bike parts, and I have never had any complaints with their work.
Yamaha City Spares, Level 1/329 Elizabeth St, Melbourne, VIC. Ph 03 9672 2500. Was a great help in tracking down rare spares.
And Mike Cowie (SR500 Club Member) for helping when I got a bit stuck with something.
Being my first resto, I read and re-read any manual I could find five times over to make sure I was doing the right thing.
It took 12 months from start to finish, and has certainly been an education. I was fortunate with the availability of new spares through Yamaha and ebay.
Regarding the engine , I was deliberately slow and methodical due to being my first engine strip down/rebuild, but generally all went well, with the only major problems being splitting the engine cases and removing the flywheel, which was a right bastard to get off. It finally came off with an almighty BANG which scared the cr@p out of me.
I found taking digital photos of every aspect of the bike’s strip down helped enormously during the rebuild. Thank God for digital cameras. I would recommend this to everyone considering a restoration. Take detailed photos of everything, before and during the strip down. I guarantee you will be grateful for having them as a reference when it comes time to rebuild. Also having labelled re-sealable bags and plastic containers for the copious fittings, bolts, etc. was a Godsend, along with those large cheap plastic storage bins to store all the bits and pieces safely. I bagged and labelled everything religiously.
Once I had it all back together, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and try and start her. After about four kicks, she fired!… then immediately began revving it’s guts out. I almost shat myself! Being aware that you are supposed to be gentle with rebuilt engines full of new parts, I switched off immediately. After many hours trying to figure out where on Earth went wrong (was the cam chain mis-aligned? was the carb faulty? did I forget to take my medication? etc., etc.), I discovered the pull throttle cable was misadjusted and misdirected through the frame and this was holding the carb permanently open. After fixing that, the sun came out. All was well with the world, and I had a shiny new/old SR500 to play with.
If you are thinking about restoring an SR, dive in the deep end and swim like hell and you will get to the other side eventually. Just be methodical and determined. Before you start, decide what kind of restoration you want to do. From a general daily rider, all the way up to a concourse rebuild, it all depends on what you want to achieve, your passion for the bike, and how deep your pockets are.
Accept the fact that NOS parts won’t come cheap, read every manual you can find, and be nice to the parts person behind the counter and he/she might try harder to get some of those Unobtainium parts you are desperately seeking. Fortunately, most, if not all, SR500 parts are still readily available through Yamaha or ebay. Track down a parts book for your particular model. That little book will be worth more than it’s weigh in Unobtainium.
With the recent official release of the FI SR400 by Yamaha into the country, I’m not sure what, if any, parts are interchangeable. That would be a good question for the lads in the Club to answer. However, there are quite a number of international companies that offer parts support to SR owners – Yambits, Wemoto, Vanem, Deus, and KEDO, to name a few.
If you find yourself getting to the point where you think it is all too hard, don’t fall into the trap of selling it in bits. I hate seeing incomplete restorations for sale on fleabay. Dont give up. Tuck what you have done away somewhere in the garage and have a break from it. Get back into it when you are ready. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from the SR500 Club lads. It might cost you a couple of beers, but the knowledge, support and enthusiasm within the Club is incredible and will inspire you to keep going.
I had to sell my SR, sadly. However, I sold it to another passionate SR enthusiast and I feel content knowing it has gone to a good home. I will always miss the old girl.