Dreaming time – SR500

I have long desired to own a Yamaha SR500. A big, single cylinder street bike. Fun to ride. Not a lot of power, but enough. Light, easy to ride, and distinctive.

The Yamaha SR500, the classic big single street bike
The Yamaha SR500, the classic big single street bike

Several times in my life I have run across one for sale, but never had the money to buy one. And, when I had the money, they were scarcer than hen’s teeth.

Yamaha took the SR500, and its successor, the SRX600 off the market in the US in the mid 1980’s, but the bike has lived on in many markets. There is a market for a reliable, easy to maintain, frugal with the petrol conveyance.

For 2014, Yamaha brought the SR400 back in the European market, and in mid 2014, will bring it back to the US. Slightly less displacement, but it is still the same basic bike.

Alas, my riding days are over. A shame, as I could totally see myself with one of these in the garage.

Getting old sucks.

Wow, what a race. Marc Marquez wins Laguna Seca

What an amazing race. Today, the USGP motoGP race in Monterey at Laguna Seca.

Marc Marquez, who became the youngest rider to win his first MotoGP race at Austin earlier this year, and who won the last round in Germany, went out and had a blistering race today at Laguna. Starting from second, he had an OK, start, but quickly got into 2nd place, following Stephen Bradl. Probably the best moment is when he went around Valentino Rossi on the corkscrew, on the outside and running it on the inside on the way down, just like Rossi did to Casey Stoner in 2008.

Marquez had a ballsy pass on turn 11 before the start/finish straight, and never looked back.

Marc Marquez is leading the championship points chase, and he has won three races this year so far (all of the races to date in the US). What will this man do in the future?  I can hardly wait to see him in the next race. Keep an eye out for #93, big things are sure to come!

Phew, glad that the Tivo recorded it, because I am going to have to watch this one again.


My first Street Bike – 1978 Honda CX500

Not long after I started riding off road motorcycles, I came of age to get a learner’s permit. At the time, with a simple test, I could ride a motorcycle on the street (with surprisingly less restrictions than driving a car). So I was on the prowl for a good ride. I didn’t need a tame “starter” bike, as I had learned all the basics off road, so I was looking for something a little more mainstream.

My first street bike, the "ugly duckling" CX500 was a very capable ride
My first street bike, the “ugly duckling” CX500 was a very capable ride

In 1978, Honda had launched their CX500, a 500cc v-twin, in an “unusual” configuration. It had the engine rotated 90 degrees, with the cylinders hanging out (like the venerable Motoguzzi). It was water cooled, shaft drive, and in all other aspects a normal bike.

I think I got it for $1,000 used (in 1981 or so. Again, someone had bought it, and upgraded). It was a lot of fun to ride, and it handled remarkably well. The stock Dunlop tires were quickly shagged (plus they were some ungodly hard compound that was just awful) and I switched to continentals that greatly improved the ride and the feel of the bike.

I rode the wheels off that thing, all over the south bay, along the coast, Big Basin way in Saratoga, highway 9 to skyline, and up to Alice’s. I probably put 25K miles on that thing in the 2 years I owned it.

It all came to a horrible end when I wrecked it. I was on my way to work, and some sunday driver (it was sunday) on her way to church pulled out in front of me. Swerving to go behind her, she backed up to get out of my way. BAM. up and over the hood of the car, a perfect roll and I was on the ground. Fortunately the bike decided NOT to follow me over the car. I walked away from that with just a bruised wrist, and a thoroughly wrecked helmet. The bike was totaled.

With the insurance money, I bought a street hooligan bike, a HOnda XL500, 1979 vintage. But that is for another post.

The first motorcycle I owned – 1979 Yamaha YZ125F

I have had a string of bikes during my riding career, but the first one I actually bought with my own hard earned money is still something I recall fondly.  I had been riding a couple of years, being a roaring hellion on the Xl125, but I was beginning to hit the limits of what that bike could do. The attributes that make for a great starter bike soon become limitations. The soft power, the low seat height (which meant ~ 3.5″ of suspension travel), were things I wanted to get away from.

The YZ125F. My first bike I bought.
The YZ125F. My first bike I bought.

Around this time, I started reading Dirtbike Magazine, and I fell big time for the Yamaha 1/8th liter motocrosser. It seemed to be the best package at the time. (The 79 Honda MXers had the abysmal 23″ front wheel that had NO tire selection). So, I saved my paper route money, and in early 1980, found a good used YZ125F for $600 (new they were $1,200). It would be a huge understatement to say I wasn’t excited.

Of course, it had been raced all season at the PAL MX track, but hey, what can be wrong with a 1 year old bike? Ha ha ha.

It ran OK when I bought it, but it seemed to be low in compression. I pulled the top end (something that was a regular occurrence on an air cooled 2-stroke MX bike), and the rings were way out of spec. Turned out that the “little bit of Piston Slap” was a clapped out bore. The top end probably hadn’t been done all season (when raced, you should replace rings every 8 hours of racing). No big deal, the local Yamaha shop bored it to the first over, and got me a set of rings, a piston, and gaskets.

The first ride was fun. It was completely different than the XL125. It had more power everywhere, it had a short ratio transmission (on a long straight, the XL125 was geared for maybe 75mph top speed, the YZ was probably tapped out at 45mph), and the suspension was magic compared to the XL. Truly lightyears apart.

I rode the wheels off that thing. Over the 5 years that I had it, we probably went riding 40 weekends a year, and it got ridden hard. But I did do the required maintenance. I think it was on the 3rd over bore, and I switched to the 2 ring Wiseco pistons to improve the life. Probably the best modification was adding a (very expensive to me) Metzler fron tire. Wow, what a difference in handling and control. Best $80 I ever spent.

The bike ran great until the big end bearing grenaded. Did a lot of damage to the cylinder head, and forced a splitting of the cages.  I diligently got it rebuilt, but by the time I was done, I had my eyes on another bike, the 86 Honda XR250R, so the YZ was sold (for almost what I paid for it, ironically) and I was in line for the new ride.

Some of the best urban hooligan riding of all time – Skyfall Intro

As someone who appreciates the art and practice of urban hooligan riding (riding a dual purpose motorcycle in a dense city, taking advantage of its size to go places never intended for vehicular travel). I used to scare the dickens out of people with some of the shit I used to do with my XL500, and (much later) XR650. Stairs, parks, alleys, and causeways between buildings were all acceptable shortcuts, and fair game.

SkyfallThe early scenes in Skyfall show a chase that starts in cars, switches to motorcycles, and to a train. Set in Istanbul, Turkey, it is well choreographed, and the riding is top notch. Bond (Daniel Craig, or actually a stunt double) is chasing the bad guy through alleys, on roofs, and in bazars. Masterful.

(I know, it is a bit late to finally be seeing the movie, but I typically wait for it to hit Netflix)

What I learned to ride on.

Probably in 1977 or so, I began my experience with motorcycles. I was too young to have my permit for the street, so naturally, we did the off road thing. Recently I have been reliving my youth, and sharing some experiences, so I thought I would go back even further to the first bikes I rode.

Hard to imagine a better learning point.
Hard to imagine a better learning point.

We had a pair of Honda XL125’s, 1976. Red tank, black plastic, mild steel rims, and the street legal trials tires. The lights were removed, and we did replace the rear tire with a true knobby, but otherwise, the bikes were stock.  Probably had 3″ of suspension travel, and since they were “road/trail” bikes, they had soft-ish suspension for that good in showroom feel.

They were both bought used. These were pretty common, if you recall the gas crises of the ’70s, that drove a lot of people to riding motorcycles, this class of mild, beginner friendly bike was a good learning platform. But you quickly outgrew the bike, so you bought something bigger, and sold your “starter bike”.

I do remember my first trip. We went to Metcalf, a riding place south of San Jose, and learned the basics in the big, open parking area. Clutch, shifting, braking, how to steer/turn/stop. Later in the day we tried some of the easier trails in the park, and I was hooked.

Yes, I fell a lot, got a bunch of scrapes, but there was a thrill factor that was impossible to ignore.

We rode the hell out of those bikes. I learned all the trails at Metcalf, then we moved on to Hollister Hills (another ORV park), and spent pretty much every weekend riding. During the week I fixed broken levers, did maintenance, lubed chains, checked the valves, etc.

I wonder whatever happened to those bikes. We rode them hard for probably 7-8 years, most weekends, and with just a modicum of maintenance, they all ran perfectly.

Next, I will talk about the first bike I actually bought myself.