This 1977 Yamaha XT500 has a fascinating story to tell. It’s the lowest-mileage example of the model we’ve ever featured – a model famous for winning the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies in 1979 and 1980 with Cyril Neveu in the saddle.
The reason this XT500 has such low mileage is that the first owner passed away after putting just 900 miles on it. The bike was then carefully stored away for 45 years, only recently being brought out and recommissioned for sale on eBay.
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Fast Facts – The Yamaha XT500
- Yamaha introduced the XT500 in 1975, aiming to offer a versatile dual sport motorcycle that could handle both on-road and off-road riding. The bike was deliberately designed to be as mechanically simple and robust as possible – the engine proved to be so well designed that a version of it is still in production today, almost 50 years later.
- The XT500 quickly became popular among off-road enthusiasts and adventurers. Its lightweight frame, simple but effective suspension, and reliable engine made it a favorite for trail riding, desert racing, and long-distance travel. As a result it’s been called one of the first adventure bikes.
- The XT500’s legendary status was solidified when it secured victories in the early years of the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally. In 1979, ridden by Cyril Neveu, the XT500 clinched its first victory. The following year, both Cyril Neveu and German rider Herbert Schek rode XT500s to finish first and second respectively, showcasing the bike’s endurance capabilities.
- The success and popularity of the XT500 laid the foundation for subsequent models in Yamaha’s XT series. Its design and performance aspects influenced the development of future dual-sport motorcycles, with Yamaha expanding and refining the XT range over the years to cater to evolving rider demands and a rapidly evolving genre.
Taking A Gamble On A Four-Stroke
When Yamaha released the four-stroke XT500 in 1975 it represented a significant gamble. Two-stroke motorcycles were dominating the off-road motorcycle world, having taken over from the simpler, heavier four-stroke scramblers and desert sleds of the 1960s.
A modified version of the Yamaha XT500 was ridden by Bengt Åberg in the 1977 500cc Motocross World Championship against almost exclusively two-stroke competition and he shocked the world by holding his own, and even winning the 1977 500cc Luxembourg Grand Prix.
This early surprise success for the XT500 was merely the beginning, the model would later win the grueling Paris–Abidjan-Nice Rally, followed by a win in the 1979 Paris-Dakar Rally, and a follow up win in the same event a year later in 1980 with the same rider at the controls – Cyril Neveu.
These victories would help establish dual sport four-strokes as the ideal motorcycle type for endurance adventure rallies – a phenomenon that persists to this day.
The Design Of The Yamaha XT500
The engineering of the Yamaha XT500 was one of those situations where simplicity won out over unnecessary complexity. Yamaha engineers developed a strong tubular steel frame, long travel telescopic forks were fitted up front with dual shock absorbers in the rear, and braking was accomplished with front and rear drums.
The engine was similarly simple, a single cylinder, air-cooled motor was developed with a single overhead cam, two valves per cylinder, an integrated 5-speed gearbox, as well as a single carburetor and a single exhaust pipe out.
Though they didn’t know it at the time, they had developed one of the toughest and longest-living motorcycle engines in history. A version of this engine is still in production today on the long-running Yamaha SR500/SR400 model.
The XT500 wasn’t particularly powerful, with 32 bhp at 6,500 rpm and approximately 29 lb ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. Owners quickly realized the engine was hard to kill, it could run on the varieties of low-quality, low-octane fuel that they would often find riding across developing countries, and the engine was so simple it could be fixed by almost any mechanic on earth. With their eyes closed. Using nothing but a hammer and a pipe wrench.
As a result of these factors, the Yamaha XT500 remains a popular adventure bike to this day. Yamaha kept it in production from 1975 until 1989 when it was replaced with the XT600 which had been available in some markets since 1982.
The 1977 Yamaha XT500 Shown Here
As mentioned further up, this is by far the most original XT500 we’ve ever featured. It looks like it’s been carefully restored but it hasn’t – this bike was preserved astonishingly well for 45 years, then recommissioned and carefully cleaned for sale.
The first owner bought the bike new from a dealer in Orange County, California in 1977. He tragically died a short time later after having put just 900 or so miles on the odometer. The bike was then dry stored in the dry California climate for 45 years in true time-capsule condition.
The bike was then bought as part of an estate sale. Since that time it’s been carefully recommissioned to preserve its originality but to get it running and riding. Reportedly, the only non-OEM item on the bike is the replacement set of Oakley handgrips.
It retains its original Bridgestone tires and the stock muffler, it also has a Yamaha accessory chrome luggage rack fitted. The bike now runs and is rideable, however the new owner would be wise to change the tires for some new replacements before any serious riding is attempted.
It’s now being offered for sale on eBay out of Boise, Idaho with a clear California title, and you can visit the eBay listing here to read more or place a bid.
Images courtesy of MotoViejo Store
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.