Yamaha XT500 – The bike that won the first two Paris-Dakar rallies

The Yamaha XT500 will probably always be remembered as the motorcycle that won the first Paris-Dakar rally, in 1979. Then, just to prove that it was no accident, it won the event again a year later. late in 1980.

In the decades since those wins, the XT500 has become a popular choice for those looking for a vintage enduro bike thanks to the fact that it’s hard to break, easy to get parts for, and great fun to ride.

Quick Facts – The Yamaha XT500

  • Yamaha released the XT500 in 1976, it shares much the same engine and transmission as the Yamaha SR500 and TT500 off-roader.
  • The engine is a single cylinder with a single overhead camshaft, it has two valves, a 5-speed transmission and chain drive to the rear wheel.
  • The XT500 would remain in production from 1976 to 1989, and it would win many races including the Paris-Abidjan-Nice, the Paris-Dakar Rally (twice) and the 1977 FIM Motocross Luxembourg Grand Prix.
  • The XT500 you see here is listed as a former stunt bike that has since been fully restored and has only been ridden in dry weather since. It has matching engine and chassis numbers, and it is sold from Oxfordshire in the UK.

The Great Gatherings of the Desert

By the 1970s the era of the big international desert rallies had arrived, races like this had existed before of course, but there was something new and somehow more extreme about races like the Paris Rally -Abidjan-Nice and the Paris-Dakar rally.

Video above: This clip shows footage from the 1979 Paris-Dakar rally, including the winning Yamaha XT500 in action.

In these events there was very little support, most participants usually did not finish due to accidents or mechanical failures, and at least in the beginning there was very little media coverage. People didn’t do it for the fame, they did it for the challenge.

Although not explicitly designed for endurance racing in the desert, the Yamaha XT500 would prove perfect for it. The reason for this was almost certainly the robustness and mechanical simplicity of the engine and transmission.

The XT500 would win the Paris-Abidjan-Nice rally and the first two races of the Paris-Dakar rally, after which the bigger adventure bikes would start to dominate, bikes like the BMW R80G/S which would win in 1981, 1983, 1984 , and 1985.

The Yamaha XT500

When the Yamaha XT500 came out in the mid-1970s, the world was in the midst of the two-stroke enduro craze, and a four-stroke motorcycle like the new Yamaha must have looked a bit out of place.

Picture above: This episode of Harry’s Garage focuses on the Yamaha XT500, and Harry discusses its history and importance.

Looking back at this point in motorcycle history, it is now possible to identify that the XT500 has a connection between the iconic but primitive scramblers of the 1960s and the more modern enduro bikes of the 1980s.

The motor from the XT500 would prove remarkably useful to Yamaha, they fitted it to the SR500 street bike and TT500 off-road bike, as well as the XT500, plus a dual sport bike.

This engine has a single cylinder with a single overhead cam operating two valves, there is a single carburettor at the inlet and a single exhaust, and power is sent to the rear wheel via a 5-speed gearbox and a chain drive.

Although they did not know it when designing the engine in the mid-1970s, it would prove to be Yamaha’s most durable engine design.

It is now in production, with upgrades over time from 1976 to the present day – it is still used in fuel injected form in the Yamaha SR400.

The 1977 Yamaha XT500 shown here

The bike you see here is a Yamaha XT500 from the second year of production, 1977. Although details are scarce, the listing indicates that it was originally used as a stunt bike before being fully restored in 2006 .

It remains a matching number bike and it should be noted that it has only been ridden in dry weather since its restoration.

It’s finished in the white/red/black livery this model is known for, it seats two, and it’s fitted with cross-spoked wheels fitted with ‘knobby’ Continental and Trelleborg tyres.

The bike is of course road legal, making it a very usable vintage dual-sport bike.

It’s currently offered for sale on Collecting Cars outside the UK, and you can visit the listing here if you want to find out more or register to bid.

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Images courtesy of Collecting Cars

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