Sands Down The Best

Few bikes actually deserve to be called iconic, but the Yamaha XT500 sits well with that epithet.
Only Yamaha’s third four stroke engine following the earlier TX and XS1 twins, the XT powerplant was designed by Shiro Nakamura who went on to design many more Yamaha motors in the 1980’s. Running ball races on all major bearing surfaces and using a dry sump design with the recirculating engine oil in the frame spine, the architecture was simple, effective and, above all, robust.

Created at the behest of Yamaha USA who wanted the gas mileage advantage of a four stroke on long trails, the XT pioneered the off-road use of inverted lay flat twin rear shocks attached to a simple tubular swinging arm and chassis. The first models had a low swept exhaust system prone to damage, but this was soon rectified with a high-level pipe.

Raced in modified form in motocross and multiple American off-road disciplines it was the equally iconic Paris/Dakar rally that raised the reputation to legendary status. 1979 was the first year of the Dakar and the French Yamaha importer XT500 bikes came first and second with Cyril Neveu taking the overall win. In 1980 the XT raised the bar yet further dominating the first four places; enough to raise an eyebrow in Munich and prompt someone to scribble GS on a Post-It note.

A lot of XT’s were sold and a lot have been misused so if you are tempted buy the best you can find. Prime bodywork is like gold dust but for most other parts there is wide interchangeability. Best prices are demanded for year one and two production but even outside this range a good XT will not be cheap – but then what price do you put on a machine that literally created the entire Adventure Bike category?

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issued: Tuesday, January 04, 2022
updated: Tuesday, January 04, 2022

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