They say the only constant thing in this world is change. If so, then why has the Yamaha SR400 remained the same since 1978? This thought kept repeating itself in my mind as I rode the SR400 to Batangas City for our photoshoot session.
The SR400 is the short stroke version of the 1978 SR500, itself a roadster adaptation of the popular XT500 dual sport motorcycle. The SR400 has been in continuous production since 1978, and except for electronic fuel injection and the front disc brake, has remained exactly the same since it first rolled off the assembly line. Proof of its authenticity are the 18-inch wire spoke wheels, tube-type tires, analogue two-dial instrument cluster, handlebar switches, and that chrome front mudguard.
Perhaps the best indicator that the SR400 came from the 1970’s is its lack of an electric starter. Some may see it as a deal breaker, but purists will see it as charming. Part of that charm is learning the dying art of kick starting a motorcycle because there’s actually a sequence you need to follow to get it right.
To start the SR400 make sure the key is in the ignition and switched to ON. Also make sure the kill-switch is switched to ON because no amount of kicking will start the bike if it’s switched off. There’s a little glass window on the right side of the valve cover. Push the kick-starter slowly until you see a shiny metal in that window that means the piston is in the right position for starting. Below the clutch lever, you will see a small black lever; that’s the compression release switch. Be sure to pull and release that lever every time you kick-start, otherwise the kick-starter can throw you over the handlebars if the motor backfires. Then give the kick-starter a healthy kick. More often than not, the motor will fire up instantly. I was told that longtime SR400 owners no longer look at the tiny glass window. It may sound complicated at first, but in practice it’s actually very easy and dare I say, even cathartic in a mechanical sort of way.
Riding the SR400 is another blast from the past. At 785mm, the seat height isn’t particularly low. But since the one-piece seat is flat and narrow, reaching the ground is easy even if you’re not a tall rider. The riding position is upright with easy reach tall and wide handlebars. There’s enough space at the back for a pillion, who will also benefit from a sturdy chrome plated grab handle bolted on to the frame. As with most standard motorcycles, wind resistance could be a problem above 130 km/h. Thankfully, that’s as fast as the SR400 can go before vibration becomes a problem. For a smoother ride, short shifting the 5-speed transmission between 3000 to 5000 rpm is where the air-cooled 399cc sohc single cylinder motor is happiest, even if the redline is at 7000 rpm. The SR400 works best in the city where you could exploit its instant torque to get ahead of traffic. On the highway, the SR400 can cruise in 100 km/h all day, with just enough power for overtaking slow lane-hoggers. Top speed on a long straight road is 143 Km/h.
Unlike some retro motorcycles we’ve tested before, the SR400 surprisingly comes with a refined ride. I guess 40 years is enough time to sort out the suspension damping for the type of riding the SR400 will be mostly subjected to–relaxed highway cruising. The front fork may not be adjustable and the dual rear shocks are only spring preload adjustable, but they do a commendable job of providing a smooth ride over various road conditions, making the SR400 an ideal, albeit not very fast, long-distance tourer.
The SR400 is not about dissecting corners, but it sure can as long as you do not exceed its limited handling capabilities. Say for example in a corner, if you feel the peg feelers touching the tarmac, that means you’ve reached its maximum lean angle and grounding something more solid like the center-stand is not far behind. The front disc brake, while not the most powerful in the business, provides progressive and predictable amount of stopping power without overwhelming the skinny OEM Bridgestone tire’s grip. The rear drum brake could be summoned for more stopping power if needed. As with the original, this SR400 doesn’t come with ABS.
Authenticity comes at a price, apparently. At PhP 329,000 the SR400 is hard to justify especially if it costs as much as a modern 650cc middleweight twin with far more capabilities. If that bothers you, then by all means buy a modern 650cc middleweight twin. You may even argue that an XMax 300 will run circles around the SR400 while costing much less. If that bothers you, then buy an XMax 300. The SR400 is obviously not for everyone. It is for those who want an authentic retro motorcycle ownership experience without the common problems often associated with owning, maintaining and riding a classic motorcycle, such as spare parts availability and reliability. It’s not only retro, it’s retro cool.
Engine: air-cooled four-stroke single, SOHC; 2 valve
Displacement: 399 cc
Max Power: 24 bhp @ 6400 rpm
Max Torque: 21 lb/ft @ 5500 rpm
Transmission: 5 speed
Seat Height: 784.86 mm
Tire, front: 90/100-18
Tire, rear: 110/90-18
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/Drum
Fuel Capacity: 12 liters
Curb Weight: 174 kg
Price: Php 329,000
+: Authentic 70’s motorcycle styling and dynamics
C! Rating: 9 / 10