Custom: See See SR500

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You know modern cafe racers. Thousands of hours spent on paint, authentic NOS components too valuable to see rain. Frames chopped-by-hand at home. Just like their chopper equivalents five years ago, they’re about as functional as rolling paperweights. But, Thor Drake tells us this SR500, which took only eight hours to build at his Portland shop, can (and has) land jumps like this all day.

Photos: Ray Gordon

“Yeah so the jump ramp or, as we call it, ‘Happy Death’ is a two-foot-high, half-assed, crafted launcher,” Thor tells us. “In Portland, you can pretty much do whatever you want, so we put the ramp in front of our shop and started jumping. No permits of any kind. A cop passed by and waved at one point. I think the cops dont really care in our neighbor hood because most of the crime is people shooting meth and larceny.”

“The bike jumped really well, part of my goal was to build a light and nimble street bike. Inspiration for the layout came from old Evil Knieval bikes. I was trying to look low on the bike when I was jumping, so a few time I bottomed out going off the ramp.”

“I wanted to build a bike that was ‘cool’ or at least ‘classic’ looking but more importantly rideable and fun. Maybe not the most sexy bike but peppy and fun to ride.

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s the eight hour build captured on time lapse video.

“It wasn’t until I had completely rebuilt it that I realized what I had, and what the SR was capable of,” continues Thor. “The true grit of a motorcycle, the soul of motorcycling, and the simplicity of 1 of everything except wheels. A bike that was fun and wild!”

Thor points out a Cycle Magazine review of the SR500 in 1981 as being a good summation of the experience: “IS PROGRESS A RED HERRING? The Yamaha SR500E – lean, clean and crewcut – might make you wonder. Could it be that swift march of technology is carrying street motorcycles into future more fanciful than fun?”

“As luck would have it a friend and owner of Nemo designs wanted a bike that looked like non other, a Deus SR400,” says Thor. “Well, as cool as those bikes are, I wanted to build a bike that had purpose, a bike that you could take to the track one day, and cruise Main Street turning heads the next. The bike would be a SR500 that looked like a vintage dirtbike, flattracker, with cafe styling. AKA The Dirt Rod.”

“This bike is incredibly fun to ride. The upright bars are a hat tip to the late Evil Knievel. All aluminum body parts make the bike light and sleek. The motor has some nice tune-ups, big ol’ Mikuni pumper carb and ¼ throttle reacts with neck-breaking action. All the underwear has been painted Nemo blue, which reflects off all the shiny parts with subtlety. The Dunlop K-180’s were an obvious choice being that they are popular. Wide and really gummy, these shoes make the bike fun for rousting around town. Braking was supplied by McKernin Machine and a full Brembo set up. One-piece all stainless super trap was hand-crafted fusing all the pieces together by Heath Exhausts. Just because I had them in my old tool box, some NOS vibration grips for some nice finishing touches.”

The SR500 will be on display at Portland’s The One Motorcycle Show on February 5th.

  • hedrives

    Cool bike, but I must call shenanigans on the “took only eight hours to build.” There was a ton of prep work done beforehand. Maybe 8 hours to assemble would be more accurate.

    • Rosario


      • scottydigital


        however long it took, I do not care, that is one badass lookin scoot, and that pic of the jump is RAD AS FUK

    • whoisthor

      you are, in fact, correct. 8 hours to assemble with some fab work involved. Come to think of it I started at 11 and was finished by 6 so less than 8 really.

  • Michael

    Bitchin bike….Hipsters have way too many gallery shows.

    • Grant Ray

      Yeah, because exposing a new demographic to motorcycles and bike culture is a bad thing, right? You’re in media and marketing, for crying out loud. You should know better!

      And stop acting jealous, you got your invitation :)

  • robotribe

    Note to self: enjoy liberal amounts of hoonage in heavily meth-trafficked areas. It’s all good.

    • Case

      Truth. If you’re going to break the law, you have to do it where the cops are interested in people committing actual crime, as opposed to getting super bent over traffic ordinances.

      Loved this bike, btw. A custom you can ride? Hells yeah. I’d like to know how much it cost though. Just for comparison’s sake.

      • Scott Pargett


  • Mattro

    portland has such an amazing bike scene. it’s gotta reach critical mass at some point and donor bikes will be too scarce to service the bubble, but outside of super-cities like nyc and la, nobody’s got it going on like portland, right now.

    very jealous. i’m just glad portland seems to have some kind of hipster exchange agreement with us here in louisville. a lot of knowlegeable bike guys seem to filter through from portland.

  • Mark D


  • Shaun

    Yeah, maybe we’re all going up our own ass with tech this and tech that….this is a cool bike.

  • dux

    Needs knobbies and more dirt!

  • iconmotosports

    Bet we know where that ramp came from!

    • Wes Siler

      Gah, I’m just going to move to Portland. You guys have too much fun.

  • iconmotosports

    Mattro, you’re right the donors are scarce these days. Please donate to the cause by giving us your moto. Tnx.

    • Mattro

      i’ve got a gs450 basket case i’ll let go for a mere $1800 and a brakeless cx500 custom that’ll only cost you $3k!

  • Tommy

    This is rad. Especially after I just picked up a xt500 barn find for next to nothing last night. There really needs to be more ride first, looks second bike builders out there. Bike were made to be ridden first, looked at second.

  • Dan

    It seems to me that motorcycles are getting completely swept up in the computer tech thing these days. I’m not comfortable with that and there seems to be little choice with new bikes.
    Along comes electric powered bikes.
    They have the potential to be simpler, not more complex for home servicing.
    I, for one, am listening.

    Great lookin bike Thor!

  • Cheese302

    i just want to ride it, that bike says nothing but “ride, you’ll love it” to me.

  • gregorbean

    Man that thing is gorgeous and looks like a ton of fun to ride too. I keep coming back to this story today to look at the pics, I should just save ‘em to my comp already…

    Hopefully I can make down to Portland that weekend for the show and see it in person.

    • Mr.Paynter

      I’m back for a second look toda too. I want one!

      I feel evil. I have a friend who’s battling a bit financially at the moment with a running SR 500 and a bunch of spares outside!

  • holdingfast

    Oh SR500 how i love thee.

  • Steve

    Coolness on two wheels. Really hope the cafe thing doesn’t go mainstream- this is the working mans thing, not the rich man’s… self-expression with tools, not wallets…

  • Paul

    Plain awesome. Nice to see a bike that you can actually ride. Most folks in these parts are about 5 years behind anything, so we still get the fat rear tired stupidity.

  • Brad

    Roland Sands, please pick up the white courtesy phone. Roland Sands?

  • Gregory

    This is why I love living in Portland, OR.

    As they say in RoboCop, “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

    I wonder what they could do to my more-or-less stock KLR? Let’s say… $1’000 and a free reign on expression?

    I’ll be at the One Motorcycle Show. I don’t think my reflective vest is very hip. But I stick to my belief that motorcycles are FUN… and dangerous, cold, muddy, loud and lonely.

    Portland, OR
    2007 KLR 650 with milk crate