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Retro Yamaha SR400 has kickstart only

Yamaha SR400 safety levy
An On Any Sunday moment as I contemplate the film sequel

Yamaha’s SR400 typifies Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

As modern motorcycles become more and more technological and electronic, Yamaha is going retro with its SR400 which arrives in Australia at $8999 and has kickstart only. The SR400 is a reaction to that explosion of hi-tech. It reflects the dark and grungy move among young custom bike builders which rejects the chrome and bling customisation typified by American Choppers. It’s not really a technical thing, but a cultural movement, much like the 1960s hippie movement at the height of the space race.Yamaha SR400

Sociology aside, the Yamaha represents both a tug at the nostalgic heart of older riders and an appeal to the fundamentalist movement among young riders. Furthermore, it’s learner-approved, so it will appeal to the burgeoning market for newcomers and returned riders.

Yamaha began making the single-cylinder SR500 in 1978. Production ran until 1999 with no styling changes and few modifications except a move from drum to disc front brakes. Yamaha also started making a smaller version, the SR400, with a break in production from 2008 to 2010 when it returned triumphantly at the Tokyo Motor Show with fuel injection.

Yamaha SR400
Deus Ex Machina’s custom version

Imported versions of the bike have been big hits among customisers such as the trendy Deus Ex Machina. Now Yamaha Motor Australia is importing the SR400 to cash in on the new trend.

It may seem like a retrograde step for a modern manufacturer, but it is a clever move and it by no means denigrates the modern technology of the tuning fork brand which leads the way among the Japanese manufacturers with new product. In fact, Yamaha is about to go into production with not one, but two, electric bikes, the PES1 and PED1.

Meanwhile, the SR400 with EFI and a kickstart is a quirky and entertaining ride. Yamaha Motor Australia marketing manager Sean Goldhawk says the time is right for a kick-start-only bike. “Some guys are really proud of how they can start a bike with a kick start,” he says. “It’s like a ritual that owners like to master.”

Yamaha SR400
Yamaha SR400 kickstarter

But don’t think the SR400 will be as quirky and unreliable to start as many of the old kickstart bikes. With EFI it starts every time. It just takes a slow push of the kickstarter to find dead centre which you can see in a little window in the cam cover. Then it’s a light kick to start. Easy. Every time. It has such low compression at 8.5:1, you can even start it by pushing the kickstart with your hand.

The lightweight 174kg bike is powered by a single-overhead-cam, air-cooled 399cc four-stroke single which really wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, but is plenty of power for commuting or putt-putting to your favourite weekend cafe. It purrs along with a comforting vibe and a muted note.

The engine sits in a narrow, double-cradle steel frame which makes the bike feel very slim from the comfy bench seat. It’s also easy to pull up on to its centerstand for parking on the footpath next to your table at your favourite cafe. Range should be almost 300km from the 12-litre fuel tank and fuel-miserly single, although you probably won’t take it on inter-city tours, anyway. It’s not built for highway touring, but for urban crawling and meandering down tight country lanes.

Handling is rudimentary but capable of tackling most urban potholes and its light weight makes it very flickable through the peak-hour traffic. Stopping is good enough for the lightweight bike with a single front disc brake and a rear drum that has a handy pointer indicating brake-shoe wear.

Rider ergonomics are sit-up-and-beg style with an everyman and everywoman seat height of 78.4cm and a narrow perch so you can easily get both feet on the ground.

It comes in a choice of grey, grey or grey, but there is a host of cool accessories to make the bike look more cafe racer, or you can chop, slice, dice and paste to satisfy your own custom whimsies. It also features old-style switchgear, chromed metal fenders, and simple analogue speedo and tacho. There’s no clock, but the calendar says 1970s!

Yamaha SR400 has an In Any Sunday moment on the beach at Port Melbourne during the press launch
Yamaha SR400 has an In Any Sunday moment on the beach at Port Melbourne during the press launch

Yamaha SR400

  • Price: $7999
  • Engine: SOHC, air-cooled, 399cc, four-stroke, fuel-injected single
  • Bore x Stroke: 87 x 62.7mm
  • Compression: 8.5:1
  • Transmission: 5-speed, multiplate wet clutch, chain drive
  • Suspension: telescopic forks, rear swingarm, twin shocks
  • Brakes: hydraulic 268mm disc, 150mm drum
  • Tyres: 90/100-18M/C 54S; 110/90-18M/C 61S
  • Length: 2085mm
  • Width: 749mm
  • Height: 1094mm
  • Seat: 784mm
  • Wheelbase: 1409mm
  • Rake (Caster Angle): 27.7º
  • Trail: 111mm
  • Fuel: 12-litre tank
  • Economy: 3.5L/100km
  • Wet: 174kg