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‘79 Yamaha SR500 – Old Empire Motorcycles

Posted on February 9, 2015 by Andrew in Café Racer, Classic. 39 comments


Hurricanes. Typhoons. Comets. Tempests. If you need any more evidence that the world’s weather is going to hell in a carbon-based handbasket, look no further than poor old Blighty and her Old Empire Motorcycles. The Pipeburn Bike of the Year runners-up in 2014, they’ve been suffering the worst luck weather-wise since their inception. And to make matters worse the catastrophes look set tho continue with this, their Yamaha SR-based ‘Lightning Mk. I’. Hang tight, boys. Hang tight and ride like the wind.


This bike mark’s OEM’s first attempt at a build this world-renowned thumper as the basis for a design that clearly intends to distinguish itself from the masses. Taking cues from its namesake, the English Electric Lightning, this cold war-inspired custom features a bespoke monoshock swingarm, a shortened front and a handmade tail unit that comes together quite well, yes?


“Built around a 1979 Yamaha SR500, our first thought was how to create something different, yet not too radical as budget was limited” says Rafe, OEM’s chief pilot. “After looking at the framework underneath, we figured a monoshock would fit perfectly in the end of the top tube (a.k.a. ‘the oil tank’) so we went about building a subframe onto the original swing arm that’d be suitable to mount a custom Hagon monoshock based on a Kawasaki zxr400’s rear.”


The boys decided to drop the sharp end right down, machining the tube by inches and adding some new, stiffer springs with heavy oil. Then the yokes were machined down to mount the warning lights an the twin 48mm gauges were tucked neatly down in the handmade shroud above the headlight.


“Although the tank looks like it wasn’t touched, it has been retunneled and moved to sit lower and further forward to keep the lines of the bike true. The original rear section was promptly cut off and replaced with a far nicer, flowing unit suitably braced with a second top tube that the rear of the tank now sits on. Custom LED rear lights housed in the tail section complete the look.”


The running gear stayed stock, apart from the rear wheel being relaced by the boys to a 19’’ rim and shod in Avon Roadrunner rubber. Ditto for the rubber up front. Mechanically the engine was judged to be fairly sound, but as a matter of course the 6 volt system was upgraded to a very modern 12 volts. Further visual refinement was added by way of blasting the engine, painting and blasting the casings, and vapour blasting the carb.


“We outsourced the paint to a local gun; they completed the simple but effective paint job beautifully. We think it’d just enough to get your attention without being too in your face” says Rafe.


Other details include the custom, big-bore exhaust and end can, a modified intake manifold, a Recon charging and ignition system, Barleycorn Engineering clip-ons and rear-sets, and a handmade leather seat.


Brake lights are stacked, à la the jet plane that gave the bike it’s name

“All in all we are really pleased with the outcome and we cannot wait to tackle the Mk. 2 so we can push the design even further. The Mk. I is also up for sale, please contact us for more information.”


[Photography by Ian Jubb]

  • bsa

    Good name for a bike that looks like it’s going fast even standing still. Love those tail lights too.

  • B. J. Parker

    These guys put together some classy builds.

  • John Wanninger

    Who can hate on this?? But seriously- WHERE did you find that front brake reservoir cap. I still have the factory one on my SR, but its chalked out like the cliffs of Dover…

  • ben

    This bike isn’t very original. Aside from the two little brake lights instead of one, there isn’t anything that hasn’t been done a thousand times before. But it has a certain ‘on purpose’ look where others look like a random assemblage of shit just bolted together. Instead of trying to stand out in a sea of a billion cafe racers, they went for a quality look instead, which in turn makes it stand out.

  • Kuiper Max

    The gas tank hasn’t been lowered, its been raised at the back. There is barely enough handlebar clearance with the tank to actually be able to steer the bike. With about 1 1/2 inches of fork travel, well no one is going to be riding it anywhere. The cantilever swingarm bears nothing in common with a ZXR 400 rear end design. You can’t upgrade a bike to 12v when it already was 12v from the factory. The carb and oil breather will just suck in grit and wreck the motor in the first week.

    Its an art bike, not a riding bike. Honestly. Art students going nowhere fast.

    • Fe MdN

      un-servicable? maybe if you don’t know how to lean your bike when you turn. suck in grit and wreck the motor? maybe if it were a dirt bike and there were no filter.
      as for the “saggy mommas ass” and “art student” comments, just keep that shit to yourself, you self-righteous hater. go fist yourself, max.

      • Kuiper Max

        You have no idea. Go ride a bike fast with virtually no front suspension, it will throw you off before you blink. Water and grit thrown from the unguarded rear wheel will go straight into the engine breather and the carb.

        The tail design is ugly, like droopy wax. Art is all about getting a reaction, it got one.
        I lament the passing of the British gift to the World of talented design.

        But the quality of abuse is better, innit, aye, bro, yo. Why have you so much emotion tied up in this thing?

        Please don’t tell me what to do friend. I care about as much for your abuse, as ugly kids making silly faces at me from the back window of a car as I careen through traffic.

        • Blake Proudfoot

          British gift of talented design? You mean, down the list from the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, etc. The clipons are fine, but I agree wholeheartedly on the front fork travel, as I find that completely ridiculous.

          • Kuiper Max

            Hardy any good design emerged from places other than Britain before the mid sixties. Most German cars were hideous. The Japanese couldn’t design a car that didn’t look ridiculous. Most Italian cars were tiny,ugly horrors. The Brits designed T series Bentleys, E type Jags and the Mini.Designs envied and still lusted after as timeless, even today.

            Hard to believe now, but the Brits once lead the World around with technology, fashion and design. Now its just the greedy, the chavs and legions of social workers.

          • sethasaurus

            Dude, just change your name to Kuiper Maximillian Shit-talker.
            I’m not even gonna bother backing that up. Everybody can just laugh at you.

          • foiled again

            What’s your problem with social workers, you fascist?

          • Blake Proudfoot

            If your limiting design to automobiles, that’s one thing. But I still could not agree less. I don’t diminish what British minds accomplished but to say they were leading the way and that the. Most German cars were hideous? Perhaps. But jaguar e types, the mini and bentleys hardly composed the majority of English cars. In my opinion Bugatti created some of, if not the most beautiful cars from the 30’s-50’s. Only a single marque yes, but one of many that were churning out non British examples of beauty. All that said, I do agree that the Brits have fallen behind. I would take an Ariel however 🙂

          • Kuiper Max

            The Mini was the most fashionable small car in the mid sixties.Rock stars, Royalty and billionaires drove them. No other small car in the world could compare to it for design or style.

            Bugatti was never a serious production car.

          • Blake Proudfoot

            Who cares of the production numbers. Irrelevant to the conversation. Economics yes, but I was under the impression we were talking about design. Guess it changes according to the point you want to make.

          • Kuiper Max

            Regardless of production numbers, the Mini is still a design icon.

          • Blake Proudfoot

            Sure it is, as are many others. So is the BMW R32.

          • Kuiper Max

            An icon needs to be original, and not a copy. The BMW r32 was a copy of the British ABC.

          • Blake Proudfoot

            The horizontal twin yes but as a whole, no.

          • sethasaurus

            Arrr, what the heck 😉

            So you’re talking pre-60s? T-series Bentley was made from ’65. E-type – from ’61. Mini was produced from ’59.

            Look at the BMW R7, 1920s-40s era Mercedes, pre-war BMW roadsters, basically anything from Ford (US), Packard, Duesenberg, Chevrolet, Cadillac (the list goes on). You had.. Triumph, Austin, Humber, Wolesley, Rover- ugly, ugly, ugly (ok GT6 was kinda nice looking), Bentley, Jag, Daimler, some ugly Fords (older Anglia/Pops were ok).

            What about Art Deco? Look up some Czech designers and get a clue.
            Look up Raymond Loewy, Francis MacDonald, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (British, but Scottish, really).

            Basically, when you weigh it up, most nations had their luxury cars (the likes of Bentley, Rolls, Aston Martin) throughout the ages.

            What about the Taj Mahal, St Catherine’s Palace?

            Look at Arabian, Japanese, Chinese script and compare it to our clunky 26-letter alphabet.

            I’ve left out a lot, but the point is Britain is not better. Nobody is better. You are not better.

            Get your head out of your hole and see some things. You can keep your mini.

            Not-a-hater, just havin’ a laugh.

        • Fe MdN

          You mean you make faces back at the kids, or you follow them and wax-poetic of how they are above reproach and you care not for the unsightly contortions of their visage? If you don’t have anything nice to say about the builds posted on this page, either post up your own or shut your fucking mouth, dick-breath.

    • The peanut gallery seems to be particularly loud today…

      • foiled again

        As is the peckerhead gallery.

    • Gedigedi

      Yo dude, my XT500 is 6v. If you want to come over show me how it is 12v, I would really appreciate it.

      • Kuiper Max

        Every SR 400 / 500 that has ever left Hamamatsu has been 12 volt. This bikes bones are SR 500, not XT 500.

  • yamahappy

    I do like what they’ve done to the ass end, but with the front suspension all but eliminated I wouldn’t want to actually ride it anywhere.

  • very tidy

  • bobfalfa

    The Scottish double positive applies..”Aye Right!!” and applies to the text as well

  • Fast2Furious

    There’s a lot of really great stuff going on with this machine but the front suspension is for all intents and purposes useless. Would a reasonable amount of travel really destroy the look of the bike. My poor quality Photoshoping not with standing this gives you at least an idea of what it would look like. With apologies to the builder.

    • thumpthump

      that at least looks rideable. unless you’re going for the presenting panda look, why go to all sorts of trouble to jack up the rear and eliminate most useful travel at the front? i guess that art students wanna ride too?

  • Astounded

    This thing is an abortion.

  • Guy

    Appreciate the negative comments as i dont understand enough about bikes to know where function has been ignored for form. Why such a lot of aggro in the comments? Seems a bit precious, whys everyone so afraid of the “haters”, from the response of the non haters seems like they are the ones a bit aggro no?

    • Think it is like a lot of bikes on here, nice to look at but ‘probably’ crap to ride, unless they somehow got lucky with frame geometry when modifying. This can be annoying if your more interested in riding than looking.

    • Kuiper Max

      Guy, It’s mostly the many voices of experience, and not negative in the least.

    • cagivarider

      “Why such a lot of aggro in the comments?”

      Intercultural misunderstanding:

      self-perception of english speaking users: polite, encouraging
      self-perception of e.g.german speaking users: critical, honest

      The former regard the latter as unfriendly, the latter the former
      as superficial. 😉

      Kind regards

  • Kuiper Max

    Why are the ‘anti-hater-baiters’ the most offensive and stupid?

  • Robert Lawton Ridgway

    maybe it’s just me, but something about the lines of this bike keeps reminding me of the vincent gray flash 500cc racer….. beautiful bike all around, and deff. one of a kind.

  • Kuiper Max


  • bobfalfa

    O/T and a point of order, and a rant
    Britain is NOT England,
    Blighty is an English reference and referes to England ,
    The Scots ,Welsh and Northern Irish really loath.that crap.
    Well I do,
    If you talk about design, Italian bikes (and cars) have great design , but
    quite honestly are terrible build quality. Have you listened to a
    Ducati or a Ferrari they are a bucket of spanners.
    If it not pleasant to drive it’s not worth having,In fact it’s worthless and has no purpose
    Kuiper Max is correct it’s an art bike……For the hedge fund managers to buy
    and place artistically in their drawing room, because it’ll be undrivable on any European road and a British road ? I don’t like the trees so much I’d want to embrace them
    I really wasn’t going to comment, but yet another bike got to me
    Honestly an XT500 and a set of supermoto wheels would be a wiser move, and you wouldn’t need to clean it

  • Hussain Jamshidi

    Won’t you burn your thigh with that exhaust sticking out like that and so close to the seat?