Little Miss Understood
1986 Yamaha SRX: One Lung Of Power
by dean adams
Summer, 1993

(1993) America. Land of the fifty-five mile per hour speed limit, one year waiting lists for Harley Davidson motorcycles and an almost unquenchable thirst for horsepower has been without a sporting single for some time now. The era of kick starters and de-compression mechanisms is well behind us, perhaps permanently, and it is important that we not loose sight of one of the finest singles of all time: the 1986 SRX600.

By almost all definitions the SRX is a fantastic all-round motorcycle, it debuted with a low price, distinctive looks, and handling just a click away from a lightweight racing-only machine. Moreover, if your tastes run to modifying your machine for high performance uses, the SRX is one of the very best motorcycles of the past decade. Here at SR we're resounding in our affection for the mighty SRX, three Peterson writers have owned this model in their personal collections at one time or another while Nick Ienatsch started his illustrious racing career aboard a none too stock SRX.

Where did it come from? As with most cult bikes, it all began with the clever ingenuity of the Japanese. After the whupping American dealers took on the original Yamaha SR500 single in the late seventies, not a one yearned to dust off another un-sold Yamaha street-only single in their showroom for a year or four.

Yet, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, the SRX enjoyed a vast following. Although they were stuck with a 400cc model originally, Japanese dealers had no problem tossing SRX4s out the door at an unprecedented rate. Japanese enthusiasts loved the bike and the mystique of the quirky single; they weren't hung up on the fact that it was as slow as Shinichi Itoh at the Nurburgring.

And so it was that in 1986 the Yamaha SRX 600 came to America, only to hear a dry, collective yawn from nearly everyone who gazed in the direction of the six and its meager little brother, the SRX250. In a world governed by triple digit horsepower numbers, multi-cylinder engine configurations and a sales audience that knew the class acceleration figures better than their own social security numbers, none too surprisingly, the SRX found that with one cylinder, forty horsepower and fourteen second quarter mile times, nearly everyone ignored its existence like a cheerleader's younger brother.

Historically, one-lungers have never had an easy existence in the Colonies. Remember Honda's Ascot series of thumpers? Shaft drive ... dirt track styling ... low price ... it seemed to have everything needed for a sales success. But, the bikes sat on the sales floor so long it seemed like a customer might possibly contact leprosy upon touching the fuel tank. Buying one, for most people, was unimaginable under any circumstances short of needing an expensive boat anchor.

Honda, ever the knee-jerk company, recovered quickly and threw another cylinder at the Ascot the next sales year only to discover most motorcyclists regard quirky twins almost as lowly as they do singles. Ascots are in the classifieds every day for less than, sometimes a lot less than, five hundred dollars.

So why import the SRX at all? Yamaha somehow got the noble idea that many Americans would be astute enough as a people to learn to like the SRX if Yamaha made it bigger and faster than the Japanese model. Wrong. Somebody, someday, is going to realize that the Japanese as a people are infinitely much cooler than Americans when it comes to niche motorcycles. Whereas the Americans virtually ignored the slim SRX, (after a season it was but a fading memory) the Japanese embraced the bike and Yamaha continued to improve the machine, adding a better chassis, another gear and electric starting in the late eighties. The Japanese aftermarket glamed onto the SRX and hasn't let go yet. The techno-lunatics over at Over Racing have designed and built a near-800cc SRX engine and a chassis featuring an OWO1 front end.

Thankfully, Yamaha Motor Corporation's US arm, on occasion, imports some market test be damned bikes, one of which is the SRX600. If you moseyed your way past the pathetic acceleration and seventies kick starter, enthusiasts found a considerable little emerald of a bike. The engine was merely an enlarged version of the XT/TT dual purpose powerplant, the chassis from the Japanese SRX400; its triple disk brakes and a heavenly dose of near perfect balance made it a joy to ride fast. In the right hands and with a slight down-hill grade the SRX, with it's light weight and friendly maneuverability, could taunt bigger machines costing thousands of dollars more. Many of the chassis equipment including the brakes and suspension came from the parts bins of other period high performance Yamaha models like the FZ600. Although it didn't bring buckets of rich saliva to mouths of sales managers, the SRX soon gained notoriety as a solid enthusiast bike and has kept that rep to this day. Decent examples sell for two grand, just a few hundred less than they did new. And SRX6s are holding there as well, in direct contrast to the depreciate-a-grand-when-it-rolls-out-the-door-world we live in today.

Where mainstream buyers saw inadequacies in the SRX package, enthusiasts saw potential. The machine featured one of the most unbreakable engines since the 1981 Gpz550 and some fairly trick equipment too, the unusual carburation with the single float bowl and four valve head top that list.

Yet, neat bike qualities not withstanding, take the SRX home, live with it for a while and you'll have a hard time bragging its virtues, especially when your riding buddies blast past you on any road with a straight section, almost sucking the speedometer needle from its mount. A few phone calls later catalogs begin to arrive in the mailbox, from the Brothers White and Rob's Horsepower Emporium in Bend, Oregon. Now were talking.

Once the peculiar carbs and hefty exhaust have been extracted and replaced by high performance, free flowing units, those hardy SRX owners with the command to modify will undoubtedly discover that the SRX in stock form was not unlike an Olympic sprinter with a dry cleaning bag jammed tightly over her head: whereas the stock machine stumbled and wheezed its way to redline, the pro-stock bike grabs great lungfulls of air/fuel charge and lunges when you gave it the spurs.

But like anything, the SRX is not without its wobbly spots. Internally, the small end of the connecting rod is a bit weak for most tuners liking, but Carillo and other rod houses are more than willing to whip up a one-off rod if given the proper provocation. That dainty rod and the fragile shift forks are the only immediate weak points of the SRX 600 engine. I rolled mine to the grid of its first roadrace with all of nineteen miles on the odometer and it survived two thousand race miles before my body, not the bike, said enough.

The Four Stroke Single organization has a core membership of SRX owners, some so in love with the bike they bought crated old stock from dealer warehouses for safe keeping. If you're into SRX theology you really owe it to yourself to get in contact with your fellow thumper enthusiasts; they'll tell you more about your bike than you probably care to know.

In modified state, the SRX gives the aura of racing days gone by. When Grand Prixs were held on pedestrian filled streets, the finish line in front of the town square; the trophy girl no doubt a dark European beauty. The crackling exhaust, booming out clouds of Castrol R would sound at home at the Isle of Mann in the late 1950s, a young man with the unmistakable Agostini jawline at the bars.

There is definitely something metaphysical there once you begin modifying the bike, an alter-ego emerges. Once the rear fender has been jettisoned and floppy turn signals dealt with accordingly, the bike begins to take on an almost Vincent Black Shadow mystique, what with the small chassis and airy looks. It's the only Japanese bike made that you could imagine James Dean riding around in Hollywood, assuredly with a Muzzy exhaust and the passenger peg brackets tossed under the seat of his Porsche.

After a re-paint (a dark green) all Yamaha insignia were left in the garbage can on my personal mount; for simplicity's sake only a Super-Single decal graces the tail section. The final Yamaha emblem on the case disappeared into a haze of aluminum dust when I pitched it at speed in turn ten at Brainerd in August of 1989. The bike has now become indiscernible as to manufacturer. The Muzzy exhaust booms louder than socially acceptable, leading some poor-sighted individuals to believe the bike was made in ... Milwaukee, of all places.

Occasionally an appropriately T-shirted individual will approach me at a riding hang out, spewing complementary phrases until he notices the single exhaust and lack of a second cylinder. "Hey, what the hell kind of bike is that anyway?" He'll demand, the tone implying he's been unknowingly kissing his sister. With a smug smile and feet ready to flee, I answer, "It's a Vincent, new one."

The biker usually breathes a sigh of relief, "Man, for a second there I thought that thing was a Japanese bike!"


Interviews & Stories From The Soup Archives
Scott Russell Retires
Lost at Ducati
Colin Edwards Right Hand Man: Adrian Gorst
The Eddie Lawson Timeline (A work in progress)
Old Imola Images
Do you have old racing images from the 60s-70s-80s? Send them here

Return to News


© 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Hardscrabble Media LLC