The Yamaha ‘Tuning Fork’ logo is historically important because Yamaha has been in the piano business since 1887, motorcycles didn’t come along until 1954…The YA-1 ‘Red Dragonfly’, 125cc of two stroke fun.
Post World War Two was a big time for small displacement motorcycles around the world and truthfully, other than here in America, they still are. Small displacement bikes are used by commuters, police, mail delivery, just about everyone, even your Dominoes Pizza in Mexico gets delivered on a 125!
Through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s the motorcycle business here in the U.S was dominated by the British and Harley Davidson. I know that some of you will disagree with me and that’s Ok…but the Japanese were coming and they were coming fast. It didn’t take them long to go from ‘Jap Crap’ to serious competition for the US buyers dollars. I use the term ‘Jap Crap’ only because it was a common feeling and, in some cases true, at the time.
Yamaha was the first to successfully to take on the Brits with the XS650 twin, it was also Yamaha’s first four stroke motorcycle. Following the heels of the XS650 Yamaha went after the big Brit singles. 1976 brought the TT500. Big torque,big powerband, Yamaha reliability and easy to start…by comparison to the BSA B50 and Gold Star.
The TT500 found its success in long off-road races particularly the Paris-Dakar where in 1979 (the first of the Paris Dakar Rallys) Yamaha took the top two places, the second year of the rally Yamaha took the top four! places.
The TT500 leant itself to heavy modifications the best of which was the Dick Mann chassis. I have ridden a TT500 with the DM frame and it did wonders for the bike. The TT as it is was a bit slow handling, not bad, you just had to plan ahead a bit more than on a lighter bike, but it is still a great bike. Yamaha hit a home run with the TT, it spawned the XT500 (the street legal version which also in my mind really created the Adventure Touring market that BMW then perfected) and the SR500 (Yamaha’s factory Cafe Racer…which I still love and lust after!).
I found a really nice TT500 on ebay today, yeah it’s got some flaws but hey…it’s old. It is a low hour (according to the seller…) runner. I would simply get it, give it a good through and love riding it. Or…search around for a Dick Mann frame (you can just call Dick Mann Specialties and get one…$$$$) and turn it into a really cool street bike. Or…get a Champion frame for it and go vintage flat track racing. The TT will be anything you want and be happy doing it.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures.
Not too many people are familiar with OSSA motorcycles much less Yankee. A quick history here…isn’t that part of the charm of this blog???
OSSA actually started out making movie projectors in the 1920’s, motorcycles didn’t come along until after World War Two. At that time a lot of motorcycle companies got into the business of making (or importing) smaller two stroke motorbikes…BSA, Yamaha and even Harley Davidson. It was also a time that Moto-Sport was growing. Europe was the international base for all things motorcycling…Moto-Cross, Enduro’s, Trials and Road Racing. The only Moto-Sport America can lay claim to is Desert Racing.
Up until the mid to late 1960’s American Desert Racing was dominated by Triumph, BSA, and Harley Davidson…big, heavy, single and twin cylinder bikes from Britain and here at home, then came the Europeans with their light weight two strokes and literally and figuratively left everybody in a cloud of two stroke smoke and dust.Husqvarna,Bultaco,Montessa,OSSA,DKW,Penton,KTM…the list goes on. The Japanese got into the game as well.
OSSA was primarily known for its Trials and Enduro bikes but also had some relative success in both Moto-Cross and Road Racing. In the late 1960’s Eduardo Giro (grandson of the OSSA founder) developed a Monocoque framed road racer that in the hands of Santiago Herrero won four 250GP’s. Sadly Sr. Herrero was killed at the Isle of Man in 1970. After the death of their racer, OSSA withdrew from roadracing and focussed on Trials.
Here in the United States, OSSA was popular in Flat Track racing, National Champion and racing legend Dick Mann won the 1969 Santa Fe National ShortTrack aboard an OSSA he helped develop…cool huh?
Now you know enough about OSSA to get you laughed out of any motorcycle trivia game. But this post is about the Yankee Z500, which is basically two OSSA 250’s mated together. The motor was originally developed for European road courses but they were also looking for versatility both on and off road. The Yankee Motorcycle Company was the importer of OSSA Moto Cross and Enduro machines and John Taylor, the head of Yankee in New York wanted to design and build a bike that would compete with the Euro’s but be better by being more powerful,better built, more reliable and faster. OSSA was well known for being reliable, some thing I can’t say about my beloved(?) Bultaco’s. Mr. Taylor enlisted the help of Dick Mann to design the chassis which had some unique features such as a rear disc brake, the first of its kind on a dirt bike. Also, low gear in the standard 6 speed transmission, which wasn’t allowed in AMA racing, could be disabled to comply with the rules. And one more cool thing about the Yankee…the top fork crowns were manufactured by Smith and Wesson. I guess you could shoot somebody if they got ahead of you on the trail? Just kidding, this is non-violent blog.
There were 762 Yankee Z500’s built. A couple of things happened here, first production delays. The first 500’s didn’t come the assembly line until 1971 and by that time the Japanese manufacturers had really stepped up their development and Yankee was now behind the curve. Secondly, no matter how good they rode, they were a bit on the heavy side for serious Enduro riders. So production of the Z model was discontinued after a short run. But I have a question, there was a regular street going 500, has anyone seen one here in the U.S? This motorbike looked to have huge potential? Why wasn’t it brought to market? Granted the road going two strokes were starting to fade by that time. Could it have competed with the Suzuki T500? Oh yeah!!. The Kawasaki triples?,Handling yes, performance no. The Yamaha twins? Probably so.
Today I found a really nice, I mean really nice 1972 Yankee Z500 on ebay. This bike has only 1880 miles on the odo, it is all original with the exception of the front fender which is a Preston Petty unit which is period correct. It is not a runner but the seller says it has good compression, kicks through and shifts through all the gears. My guess is that getting it running should be pretty easy, it has just been sitting decades. The bike is cosmetically in great condition it appears. So, I think someone should get this bike and make a very unique and cool cafe racer out of it…what else would I think?
Click on the pics below for more pictures and some info.
Every motorcycle and every motorcyclist has a story to tell. Some stories are far more interesting than others but I find most all very interesting if you dig just a bit.
What makes a motorcycle great? What makes it legendary? How does a rider become great and what makes him or her a legend? Simple questions with sometimes just as simple answers. For a rider it can be as simple as being born with good genes, being in the right place at the right time and having the right person to give the guidance and help to move you to greatness. In truth it is all the above and a smidgen of good luck. For a motorcycle to become legend it takes a bit more.
Some motorcycles are considered great just because they win races, lots of races, but in that scenario credit also goes to the rider. Motorcycles that change motorcycling become legends. The list is long of legendary motorcycles and the debates that go along with those choices is even longer.
Take the 1969 Honda CB750 SOHC, this was a motorcycle that set the world on its ear. Was it the fastest?…no. Was it the best handling?…no. But as an all around package was it the best?…ABSOLUTELY. The CB750 was declared the first ‘Superbike’. Triumph could have claimed that title if they had brought out the Trident sooner and with a disc brake in front instead of the drum (which actually worked really well), better electronics and more modern styling. Hindsight is always 20/20.
The Honda 750 became the perfect platform for modification to truly become a Superbike. Honda themselves put a lot of time, money and effort into the racing development of the 750. In 1970 Honda built Dick Mann the most exotic, expensive race bike ever built to race…and win…the Daytona 200. They actually built four of them but Mr. Mann was piloting the only one to finish, and win. That win was hugely important to Honda because were the days that the saying “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” was so so true. That motorcycle and that win propelled Honda to world leadership.
What I find fascinating though is what engineers, fabricators and designers do with motorcycles, legendary or not, to make them more. When the CB750 came out everyone from backyard builders to college degreed engineers started building a better CB750. The engine was, and still is, fantastic but the chassis was typically Japanese of the era which was described in the media as a ‘Flexy Flyer’. Rickman, Seeley, Harris and others built frames that transformed the mighty CB into the Superbike Honda envisioned. The most innovative of those was Tony Foale.
Tony Foale is an engineer’s engineer. Tony not only created the most unique chassis for the CB750 but also the suspension system that gave the Honda such superb handling characteristics. Tony wrote the book on chassis design both literally and figuratively. When I first decided to make a bike handle better I did all the basics a backyard guy could do in the garage my next project however I was given Tonys Foales’ book and my eyes became wide open to the possibilities. Most of what Tony did was way beyond my skill set…and budget, but the lessons learned were easily put to more simple applications as well.
I found on ebay this morning THE Honda CB750 to buy. Like I said at the beginning of this post, every motorcycle has a story and boy does this one have a story. Instead of me rewriting it just click on the pictures below for the story, many more pictures and few minutes of great motorcycle history and a couple of interesting characters. If you are looking for a bike to fit into a collection or better yet, to go vintage racing with this Honda is a dream come true. A creative sort could probably make it street legal and WOW would that be a sight to behold at your local Sunday morning hangout!
Oh, while looking at the pictures and reading the story, try not to drool on your keyboard.
Thumpers, singles, one lungers…I love ’em. A big four stroke single is a great motorcycle, and a small single is just as much fun really. There is something about the power pulses, the sound and the power delivery that make singles so wonderful to ride. I don’t know what it is, but when you start riding single cylinder motorcycles, your view of riding changes a bit. THe high speed may not be there but cornering speed that can leave a bigger bike in the rear view mirror…at least for a few seconds, will always put a big smile on your face.
I have been racing singles since the early ’90’s and yes, the racing may a bit slower than let’s say a modern 600 four cylinder but the fun factor and the commarardarie of the single cylinder lovers is something a bit special.
I have written before about the Yamaha TT500 my former father in-law owned and that I had the privilege to ride a few times. At that time I was riding a Husqvarna WR250 so jumping on a big, kinda heavy 4 stroke was interesting. I had ridden Triumph and BSA ‘desert sleds’ and raced a BSA 441 Victor, but to get on a modern big single was, well, life changing.
Jay’s Yamaha was no ordinary TT500. He bought the bike new, and rode in the New Mexico wilderness for about a year before he decided it could be better…next thing I knew, I was invited to ride a Dick Mann framed TT500. The stock TT was good but this motorcycle was truly amazing. The handling improvement brought out all the good the motor had to offer. Since that time I have been a fan of the big Yamaha singles. I have owned a TT500 (I bought a basket case, put it back together, rode it for a couple of months and realized it needed more work than I thought…it was sold shortly there after). Next on the list was an SR500, what a motorcycle, it did everything I wanted it to do. The SR was light, quick, great handling and most importantly…it was fun to ride!!! The SR too, was short lived in my garage, the desire for a Honda Hawk was too alluring and so the SR was sold. I still have the Hawk. My love of Yamaha singles came back to life a while back with the purchase of an SRX600, but it all started with that TT500 in New Mexico.
While looking for parts for my SRX on ebay today, I found a really great TT500 for sale at a somewhat reasonable price. This 1980 TT is stone stock…a good thing! I love bikes that are unmolested because you can either leave it that way or customize it to your own tastes without undoing someone else’s work. A little tidbit about the TT500 for you…when it came out it actually took the top two spots in the first Paris-Dakar Rally! The TT500 weighed only 282 lbs and put out a modest 27HP but it was the torque of the motor that made it so much fun to ride. Now, having owned a TT500 I can tell you this, even though it has a compression release lever and a little sighting window to tell when the piston is at top dead center, turn the handlebars to the left before you try to start it…that way your knee won’t hit the bars when the bike kicks you back…which it invariably will at some time.
This TT on ebay is a great bike to buy, it is already a great trail bike, can be lightened up to be a good vintage desert / enduro bike or just left as it is for a perfect do anything, go anywhere motorcycle. Turn it into a cafe racer? Nah, if you want that I’ll sell you my SRX…just kidding.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info about this really great motorcycle.
First and foremost, any bike that Dick Mann has touched is worth its weight in..gold?, titanium?, chromoly? Doesn’t matter, its going to be a great bike.
In 1970 something, I had a father in law that loved Yamaha’s. In his garage sat an RD350, an R5, a DT1, and an XS650. He never rode the R5 or the XS650, but truly loved his RD350 and the DT1. The XS was too heavy and the R5 wasn’t the RD. Ah well, there is no training some people.
One day while working as a lot monkey at Bobby J’s Yamaha in Albuquerque, this guy rides in on a Yamaha TT500 that didn’t look like any TT500 I had seen. Tank was right, seat was right, side panels right, it was a TT motor but something was different. I called my father in law (never a pleasant experience) and asked him to swing by the shop, if he was coming into town, and take a look at this bike.
Jay showed up a couple of hours later, looked at the bike, talked to the shop service guy and then left. Didn’t say a word to me…OK, he never liked me anyway because of a ride we took a year or so earlier and I left him in a cloud of Kawasaki H2 two stroke exhaust. Actually, I was so far gone, he only got the slightest whiff of Castrol, but that is an entirely different story for another time.
The TT got its new tires and off it went. Nobody really noticed anything about the bike so I just forgot about it as well.
A month or two later, under great duress, I went over to the outlaws, I mean in-laws, for dinner and was shown the new treasure…a Dick Mann framed Yamaha TT500. It was beautiful. In a moment of lunacy, father in law Jay asked me if I would like to ride it. Let me think about this…I couldn’t grab my helmet fast enough.
The TT was set up dirt only. Fine by me, we lived right next to about five million acres of desert, mountains and riverbeds. I had ridden his old TT500 before and thought it was a street bike dressed up to be an almost dirt bike. Riding the DMS TT500 was a whole new experience. A full tank of gas later I showed up for dinner with a huge grin on my face and looking for a pen and paper to get Mr. Mann’s phone number.
So, what has this got to do with the BSA Scrambler on e-bay? Almost everything…I’ll go back to the opening line here…”Anything Dick Mann touches is worth it’s weight in gold”. There are very few motorcyclists left that so intimately know how any type of motorcycle be it flat tracker, road racer, moto-crosser, trials or everyday street bike, will ride, Dick Mann is one of those very few.
This BSA is beautiful. The 650 motor is perfect in so many ways and when set into a Dick Mann frame, you now have a motorcycle that will do whatever you want it to do, when you want it to do it and, how you want to it to do it. These motorcycles are truly a riders motorcycle.
This is a motorcycle that right now is a bike that is under valued and I wish I had the money to go get it. Click on the pic’s below for more info.
I have written before about the relationship I had with my former father in law; you know, he didn’t like me because I rode faster than him, I liked English motorcycles and most of all because I married his daughter. Oh well. Once in a while he would try to like me, he would show that effort by letting me help him work on one of his motorcycles…how nice of him. He rode Yamaha’s and it didn’t hurt that I worked part time at the local Yamaha dealer, does the term ‘family discount’ mean anything to you??? Anyway…when he was feeling very kindly towards me, after we had just spent a morning working on his bike, I would get to ride it.
We lived on the outskirts of Albuquerque New Mexico at the time and just down the street was the great wide open, perfect for off-road riding. You could be riding in the dirt for hours just one block from your own garage. It was the perfect testing grounds…sand washes, hills, trails, power line roads and almost no one around. That last part was a little unnerving at times, remember this is pre cell phone. If your bike broke, it could be a long walk home.
My off-road ride of choice at the time was a Husqvarna WR250, Jay’s was a Yamaha TT500. The TT was a big, heavy locomotive of a motorcycle. I think it could easily pull an average travel trailer across the desert with no strain at all. However…handling was not its strong suit, it wasn’t bad, but compared to my Husky, it took a lot of effort to change directions. Jay loved his TT500 but he too knew it could handle better. Either through a magazine article or talking with someone he knew, he found that legendary racer Dick Mann was building frames for the Yamaha Thumper. A phone call and credit card number later a custom frame was on its way to Rio Rancho New Mexico.
When the frame kit arrived a few weeks later, I was just as excited as my father in law to get it built. We had already dismantled the stock TT500, laid out all the parts across the garage floor, labeled all the nuts and bolts in plastic bags, he even ordered new tires for his Dick Mann racer. We talked about how good he would do in an upcoming desert race…we were totally stoked. The frame kit was beautiful, I think we stood and admired it for a good thirty minutes before we started reading the instructions. Wait a minute, there were no instructions, Dick believed that if you were doing this project you could figure out how to put it together. To make a long story short, it did take more effort to get everything right. A few phone calls to Dick, a little grinding here and there, some swearing and two days later a totally different Yamaha TT500 was waiting to be ridden. The Yamaha locomotive engine was now in a chassis that could do it justice, it truly was a different motorcycle. I told (begged) my father in law that if he ever was going to sell it, call me first. He ended up giving it to his son (who is completely clueless when it comes to motorcycles) and I lost track of it.
Today on ebay I found a pair of TT500’s that brought back this story. Now, these two TT’s need a lot of work…perfect project bikes. One is complete and does turn over, does it run? probably not. The other is parts. I have a feeling you’re gonna need a bunch of those parts to make one good TT500. A TT500 is a great vintage four stroke motocross ride, great fun out in the desert and a perfect platform for………you know what I’m going to say next…a cafe racer.
Yamaha built their own cafe racer based on the big thumper, the SR500 and later the SRX600, both really fun motorcycles.
So these two bikes below could be turned into a great motorcycle for just about any type of riding you want to do. Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little more info. Oh, and all the stories you’ve heard about how hard it is to kick start big singles…they’re true. But the Yammie is easier than most, kinda.