"What do you think of when you think of a Desert Sled? The idea is simple. It’s a motorbike that you can ride anywhere. Fast. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the desert. It just so "
Yamaha XT500 Paris-Dakar
Before the eighties had fully taken hold of the aesthetic; long before the availability of factory specced adventure tourers; before bloat-tanked Ténérés had littered the byways of Europe and beyond; before superbikes with full fairings and colourways like toothpaste brands – there was the one pot thumper.
And the most resonant expression of this simple design was the Yamaha XT500.
The launch of the XT500 was a bold punt on the part of Yamaha – who had responded to the American thirst for a simple, rigged and reliable long distance trail bike by producing the four stroke, 500cc single.
Though at the time these burbling simpletons were generally considered to be past their sell-by date – Yamaha innovated by using lightweight materials such as magnesium for the crank case and aluminium for the fuel tank. There was also a newly designed cradle frame as well as an integral oil tank.
When you threw these elements into the mix the XT’s slim, rugged frame was more than able to deal with the thumping up-and-down vibration of the single cylinder. A few years after its initial appearance in 1975, the bike eventually caught the imagination of riders in the European market like wildfire.
The XT won the first two places in the inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979 and then placed in all the top four spots in the 1980 event. A new generation of fans with a passion for adventure motorcycling was born all over Europe- and the team colours to which they aspired was the sky blue of the Yamaha team.
Yamaha’s soon-to-be-ubiquitous Ténéré brand grew out of the XT500 – and would become synonymous with the word adventure among European motorcycle fans in the years to come.
There’s a simple rawness to the Paris-Dakar specced version of the XT (above) – and this rawness is reflected in the video below.
Makes you want to dump the Tom Tom and head out into the wilderness.
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