You know modern cafe racers. Thousands of hours spent on paint, authentic NOS components too valuable to see rain. Frames chopped-by-hand at home. Just like their chopper equivalents five years ago, they’re about as functional as rolling paperweights. But, Thor Drake tells us this SR500, which took only eight hours to build at his Portland shop, can (and has) land jumps like this all day.
Photos: Ray Gordon
“Yeah so the jump ramp or, as we call it, ‘Happy Death’ is a two-foot-high, half-assed, crafted launcher,” Thor tells us. “In Portland, you can pretty much do whatever you want, so we put the ramp in front of our shop and started jumping. No permits of any kind. A cop passed by and waved at one point. I think the cops dont really care in our neighbor hood because most of the crime is people shooting meth and larceny.”
“The bike jumped really well, part of my goal was to build a light and nimble street bike. Inspiration for the layout came from old Evil Knieval bikes. I was trying to look low on the bike when I was jumping, so a few time I bottomed out going off the ramp.”
“I wanted to build a bike that was ‘cool’ or at least ‘classic’ looking but more importantly rideable and fun. Maybe not the most sexy bike but peppy and fun to ride.
Here’s the eight hour build captured on time lapse video.
“It wasn't until I had completely rebuilt it that I realized what I had, and what the SR was capable of,” continues Thor. “The true grit of a motorcycle, the soul of motorcycling, and the simplicity of 1 of everything except wheels. A bike that was fun and wild!”
Thor points out a Cycle Magazine review of the SR500 in 1981 as being a good summation of the experience: “IS PROGRESS A RED HERRING? The Yamaha SR500E - lean, clean and crewcut - might make you wonder. Could it be that swift march of technology is carrying street motorcycles into future more fanciful than fun?”
“As luck would have it a friend and owner of Nemo designs wanted a bike that looked like non other, a Deus SR400,” says Thor. “Well, as cool as those bikes are, I wanted to build a bike that had purpose, a bike that you could take to the track one day, and cruise Main Street turning heads the next. The bike would be a SR500 that looked like a vintage dirtbike, flattracker, with cafe styling. AKA The Dirt Rod.”
“This bike is incredibly fun to ride. The upright bars are a hat tip to the late Evil Knievel. All aluminum body parts make the bike light and sleek. The motor has some nice tune-ups, big ol’ Mikuni pumper carb and ¼ throttle reacts with neck-breaking action. All the underwear has been painted Nemo blue, which reflects off all the shiny parts with subtlety. The Dunlop K-180’s were an obvious choice being that they are popular. Wide and really gummy, these shoes make the bike fun for rousting around town. Braking was supplied by McKernin Machine and a full Brembo set up. One-piece all stainless super trap was hand-crafted fusing all the pieces together by Heath Exhausts. Just because I had them in my old tool box, some NOS vibration grips for some nice finishing touches.”
The SR500 will be on display at Portland’s The One Motorcycle Show on February 5th.