Yamaha XT500 Specs and Review (Enduro Motorcycle)

Adventure riding is a tradition that dates back to the 1920s. At the time, no specific bike appropriately fit the niche, not even Harley Davidson’s J-series or Yamaha’s own 1968 DT-1. It was not until the late ’70s that adventure bikes came into play – and Yamaha silently led the pack with the XT 500.

The Yamaha XT500 was an Enduro-styled motorcycle that laid the blueprint for next-generation XT bikes, including the highly lauded XT660Z Ténéré. Produced from 1975 to 1989, the XT500 dominated the Luxembourg Grand Prix, Paris–Abidjan-Nice, and Paris–Dakar rallies of the late ’70s.

The Yamaha XT500 motorbike is known for its retro design, free-revving abilities and responsive power. It may not have been every rider’s trump card. The XT500 won the hearts of 4-stroke lovers who love big-bore singles. Get to know more about “the best dual-purpose street machine available” (Cycle MagazineThis article is from 1976.


Silver 1978 Yamaha XT500 Enduro Motorcycle

The First Adventure Bike

Function is what the Yamaha XT500 falls under. This bike can be classified as a current-day adventure (or touring), and falls within a group of motorcycles that range from street-legal cruisers to dual-purpose Enduros. They are known for their sturdy frames, large fuel tanks, and reliable performance both on- and off-pavement. They are easy to maintain and require little servicing. They can be used for long-distance travel and sometimes can even carry two people.

Many commuters, as well as off-roaders, find it inconsequential to classify the bike. But for the purist, a clear description of the XT500’s competencies is crucial to understanding how it helped shape the sub-segment. These bikes are the ultimate in hybrids. Like Ducati’s Testa Stretta, an adventure bike (even back in the day) is four motorcycle types – sports, touring, urban, and Enduro – rolled into one.

The 1976 Yamaha XT 500 and 1980 BMW R80 G/S are the two main contenders for the title of the motorcycle that created the adventure segment. Ultimately, the R80 takes the credit for introducing the segment to the market in the ’80s. The public’s leaning towards BMW is expected since many riders feel the R80 had one-upped the XT500 in style and substance. The G/S is also a plus. Gelände/Straße in the bike’s nomenclature translates to “terrain”/”road,” which aptly summarizes the purpose of the two-wheeler.

Not exactly second-fiddle

The XT500 Yamaha Yamaha is no less an adventure bike than R80. The XT500 Yamaha was the undisputed rally raider back in its heyday. However, one other vehicle embodied Yamaha’s “spirit of adventure” better – the 1983 Yamaha Ténéré XT600.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the category definition was established. Furthermore, the qualities of adventure bikes then and now have a night-and-day difference – and this is true for both Yamaha and BMW and other name brands. The bikes of yesteryears were rugged and unrefined, less reliable, and unsuitable to driving long distances overland. Either that or they were an entirely different breed – as with the 1988 Honda Africa Twin XRV650 Adventure Sport.

Conversely, present touring bikes cover a broader spectrum and have a specific look and feel more geared towards the “adventure lifestyle” manufacturers use as a strategy to boost sales. These bikes are extremely feature-rich, user-friendly, and can potentially limit a rider’s ability to truly enjoy the outdoors. A hassle-free ride is not necessarily a negative thing. However, it can only be an adventure if it provides spiritual and cultural gains – lessons that can only come from encountering some trouble or challenge along the way.

This is why the Yamaha XT500 is the best vehicle for this kind of life-enhancing riding experience.

1976 – 1978 Yamaha XT500 Specs & Features (XT500C/D/E)

Engine

The dirt bike comes to life – thanks to an air-cooled, 4-stroke SOHC engine with an 87 × 84 millimeters (3.42 × 3.31 inches) bore-stroke ratio, 9.0:1 compression ratio, and 2-valve-per-cylinder design also found in Yamaha SR400 and SR500 bikes. Engine displacement is 499 cm3 (30.45 in3) delivered by a Mikuni VM34SS carburetor (32 mm for pre-production and ’77 models). The XT500’s engine configuration lends to its 100 mph (160.9 km/h) top speed, maximum horsepower of 30 (30.4 PS) – 40 bhp (40.6 PS) @ 5,800 – 6,500 RPM, and maximum torque of 39.2 Nm (4.0 kg-m, 28.9 ft-lb) @ 5,500 RPM.

(TIP: The power mill can be swapped out for a TT500’s, a same-size Mikuni flat slide pumper carb, Mikuni VMS36, round-slide 38-mm Mikuni, or Mikuni HS40. These carburetors are often pre-jetted and require less maintenance.

Fuel & Lubrication

It has a forced pressure (dry sump) lubrication system with an oiled polyurethane foam air filter (dry, form rubber for the ’78 model). The tank capacity is 8.8 L/2.32 US Gallons, but it gives off a great fuel economy of 59 mpg (3.99L/100 km). Starting with the 1978 XT500, fuel capacity was increased to 12L/3.17 US gallons.

You can also use other viscosity grade depending on the ambient temperature. Otherwise, use SAE 10W-30 (20W-40 for’ 78) 4-stroke oil or its equivalent for best results. The manufacturer recommendation is an SE API-certified motor oil (now obsolete) – API-grade SJ+ oils meeting JASO T903 MA standards would work perfectly on the motorcycle.


White 1976 Yamaha XT500 Enduro Dirt Bike

Drivetrain

The ground is powered by a 5-speed constant mesh return system left-foot-operated and a wet, multiple disc clutch assembly. The vehicle’s superb handling and maneuverability are due to its 520 O-ring chain with 103 links + joint, which handles wheel spin. The vehicle’s manual transmission has a four-up-one-down shift sequence (1-N-2-3-4-5). With this powertrain combo, low-speed wheelies can be accomplished with a simple flick of the Yamaha XT500’s throttle. The stock gear ratios can be viewed below for reference.

Secondary Reduction Ratio 2.625 (42/16).
Transmission Gear Ratio (1st(*()2.357 (33/14). Transmission Gear Ratio (2
nd(*()1.555 (28/18).Transmission Gear Ratio (3 rd(*()
1.190 (25/21)Transmission Gear Ratio (4Th(*() 0.916 (22/24)
Transmission Gear Ratio (5Th(*()0.777 (21/27) Ignition & Lighting
The XT500’s fully transistorized CDI (Capacitor Discharge Initition) is activated by pulling the compression release. This will position the ratchet kick-starter and rouse the beast. An A.C. Magneto with a rated output of 14.5V ± 0.5V 11A @ 5,000 RPM serves as its charging system and powers up the dirt bike’s lighting, horn, self-canceling flashers, and other electronic accessories (if any). Ignition timing is 7° BTDC @ 1,100 RPM (initial “F” mark) and 26.5° BTDC @ 6,000 RPM (full advance).Batteries‘76 to ‘81 models required a   (view on Amazon) with dimensions of 99 x 57 x 111 mm (3.88 x 2.25 x 4.38 inches – L x W x H), while later-year versions had a YB3L-B battery with dimensions of 98 x 56 x 110 mm (3.88 x 2.25 x 4.38 inches – L x W x H). In the unlikely event that one of the batteries is out of stock, you can swap them. Additionally, the bike required an NGK BP7ES or Champion N-7Y spark plug with a 0.7 – 0.8 mm (0.028 – 0.031 inch) gap.

The best way to replace a dead battery is with a 12V upgrade kit and a charging regulator. If you do not want a charging regulator, 

 (view on Amazon) has a charging voltage within 0.5 to 1 Amp. Otherwise, it will end up frying your battery, as the current from the generator is well above the battery’s charging limit (especially true for AGM battery formats). Also, remember to keep the battery’s charge up during the off-season to prevent it from acting up.

A battery eliminator may be included with your conversion kit. You can run HS1 lighting using H4 reflectors instead of stock. However, I strongly suggest further research on these options to ensure the brightness of all your bike’s lighting systems is not compromised. It has been reported that H4 lighting can cause dimming of headlamps when other bulbs are used (for example, brake lights).

Tires & Brakes6N6-3B-1 batteryStock rubber is tubeless 

 (view on Amazon) at the front and 4.00-18 4PR tires at the rear (3.50-S19 4PR/4.00-S18 4PR for’ 78), which lend to the XT500’s responsive steering and versatility on- and off-road. They mount on aluminum spoke wheels measuring 1.85×21 and 1.85×18, front and back. A hydraulically operated front single disc and rear drum brake comprise the wheeler’s tire-and-wheel assembly and provide the bike its halting power.battery maintainerEuropean releases have dual hydraulic discs and the same-size tires on cast aluminium rims. Both cross-country and beaten roads will find the XT500 suitable for either. All models recommend a tire pressure of 200 kPa for the front (2.04 kgf/cm2, 29, psi) and 227.5 KPa for the rear (2.32 kgf/cm2, 32 psi), respectively. Many desert racers consider 

 (view on Amazon) to be good replacement tires – should you be looking for recommendations.

Suspension

Enclosed in the half-duplex cradle is a front telescopic fork and an inverted rear swingarm with progressive-rate Kayaba air/oil shocks – providing wheel travel of 6.2 inches (160 mm) and 7.6 inches (195 mm), respectively. Caster angle is 27.5° with a trail length of 117 mm/4.6 inches (later increased to 30.5° caster and 5.3 inches of trail after ’78). The distance between axles (wheelbase), is 55.7 inches. Turning radius is 2.2m (7.22ft), and ground clearance is between 160 mm (6.5inches), to 215 mm (8.4inches).3.00-21 4PR tiresAlthough seemingly unremarkable for some off-roaders, the bike’s ground clearance and long-travel front forks were enough to soak up the worst of terrains when riding off-pavement. The frame was lightweight, with a low center gravity. This allowed for better handling and stability. The large-diameter top tubes contained an oil reservoir and were located inside the chassis. They worked well with a dry sump.

DimensionsMaxxis M7304D Maxxcross Desert TiresOverall vehicle dimensions are 85.4 x 36.6 x 44.9 inches (2,170 x 930 x 1,140 mm – L x W x H) for Yamaha XT 500s sold in Northern Europe. There are minor variations in the length, width and height of dirt bikes across markets. The smallest and most narrow version of the dirtbike is found in non-European countries. Ideal seat height is 33 inches (830 mm). The bike’s curb weight is 159 kg (351 lbs) in Europe. It weighs 163 kg (359 lbs), for those sold outside the region. Despite being a one-up, the XT500’s long, flat saddle can carry two passengers (including the driver) – but this is only advisable when cruising city roads.

Exterior

The Honda ATC 350X frame is made of high-tensile metal. Other Yamaha XT500 parts are lighter aluminum. Its framework was not outstanding but was still preferred, moreover its road-legal version – the SR500. The use of down-tubes as the bike’s oil reservoir allowed for a slimline and eradicated the need for an oil cooler.

There were three model series for the XT500 in the U.S. – the first one being XT500C/D; the second one XT500E/F; and the third one XT500G/H. Each model had a different frame, so their fuel tanks and seats are not interchangeable. The ’76 XT500 is especially rare partly due to its exhaust pipe sticking out a little. Moreover, the 1978 Yamaha XT500s received two-toned tanks in America, while Europe got alloy tanks.


Red 1976 Yamaha XT500 Adventure Bike

Yamaha XT500 Price

Auction listings for the 499cc Yamaha XT are priced between $1,543 – $14,500. Resale units that have been resold are usually post-80 models. They are in great condition with minimal to no scratches and bumps. Rare 1976 XT500s are in excellent condition, if not impossible to find. They can be purchased for $8,000.

The following table provides a reference guide. It consolidates all Yamaha XT500 models, including their list prices, retail values, and trade in values. Units sold in Europe after 1989 are not included in this table. 

(English)

Model Year & Trim

List price

Trade-in/Retail

1976 Yamaha XT500CNada Guides$1,408

$855 – $3,610 1977 Yamaha XT500D $1,428
$815 – $2,425 1978 Yamaha XT500E $1,548
$425 – $3,195 1979 Yamaha XT500F $1,898
$425 – $5,360 1980 Yamaha XT500G $1,898
$425 – $3,195 1981 Yamaha XT500H $1,998
$425 – $2,010 1982 Yamaha XT500J N/A
$730 – $3,195 However, many units from 1981 are available online with high mileage and hours. Many of these pre-loved vintage wheelsers require major cosmetic and engine work. Veteran owners recommend that you perform a complete carb clean-up and replace any seals or bearings. You may have to perform a complete engine overhaul in the worst-case scenario. Yamaha
Yamaha Motor Company Limited is a world-famous company that pioneered the ATV industry. It is also known for producing the best personal watercraft, motorsport and off-road vehicles in the market. The company was founded in 1887 as a piano/reed-organ manufacturer. In the end, it expanded to motorcycle production. The firm made great strides in many automotive industries since it parted ways with its musically-inclined parent and has not looked back. Today, Yamaha continues to uphold and reflect its mission of “Kando” by creating life-enriching products and services. Conclusion – Yamaha XT500 Review The Yamaha XT 500 is a classic that helped the evolution of adventure bikes from 500-cc single-seater machines, to posh, 1,008-cc bikes on steroids. Although the Japanese legends remain a dominant force in motorcycling, KTM Austria is challenging BMW to become the new benchmark in the adventure bike market. This is good news for riders who have access to a wide range of bikes that are road-oriented, sport-oriented, or capable of dirt riding.

The question now remains – “Are you going for a performance-oriented dirt machine capable of traveling around the world or a dependable city cruiser that can take you wherever you need to go?” The answer to this ultimately lies on the rider, which determines the bike’s application. The Yamaha XT500 is a versatile bike that can do both.

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