We can thank Yamaha for the current big, single-cylinder trail bikes that give us such an unexpected laugh on the road, and yet still manage to plug through mud and up and down green lanes when the urge to get deep down and dirty takes us. For that matter, we can thank Yamaha for whizzy, high-tech two-stroke learner bikes, but let’s stick with the trailies for now.
The bike that revived our lust for big trailies was the XT500, which arrived in Europe in 1977. By this point, we’d been brain-washed by the Japanese that high-revving four-cylinder bikes were the only fruit. Even smaller capacity road bikes were getting the four-pot treatment – Brits went mad for the Honda 400/4 in the mid-Seventies.
No wonder then that no-one really ‘got’ the XT500 at first. Why, it was too heavy to be a real off-roader, and too high to be a road bike. Years before, the Brit manufacturers had been pretty good at bikes like these, but who remembered that in the 1970s?
Yamaha made the XT500 a bit lighter, and went on to sell ship-loads of them. Smaller versions followed, the other Jap manufacturers followed, and the single-cylinder engines found their way into all manner of faux-customs, roadsters and racers. The single was back.