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.