I found this bike in 2007 and knew it had been loved. The prior owner
carved custom handguards from aluminum bar, the owner before that
powdercoated the frame red.
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin on here?!” If, like Taggart in Blazing Saddles, you asked yourself that question when you laid eyes upon this bike, then you’d already have the answer. You see, in 1979 ABC’s hugely-popular show “Wide World of Sports” dreamed up a new way to cover motorcycle racing, by dreaming up a whole new type of racing.
The idea was to take the best racers from various disciplines (flat track, motocross, and road racing) and pit them against each other on one track, in one race. The star-studded cast of racers included names like Lawson, Lackey, Aldana, Rainey, and Shobert. Made for TV, as they say. Put a “super” in front of the whole thing and “The Superbikers” show was born!
For gearheads, the best part about this show was that it required a special multipurpose bike that could handle the demands of dirt track slides, motocross jumps, and road race knee-dragging. To achieve this, the race teams started with a large displacement two-stroke motocross bike, equipped it with better suspension and brakes, and added grippy rubber. These bikes spawned today’s super motard machines — that’s right, supermotos owe their existence to that most American of exports: television entertainment.
When the supermoto craze took off in the mid 2000’s, I thought café schmafy – what would really be cool would be to build something that harkened back to the “Superbikers” era. A RetroMotard, if you will. The Yamaha IT465 seemed like the perfect contender.
The power of the 465 mill was legendary. I mean, look at it. Just the way the cylinder and head dwarf the whole bottom-end says something. Most regard the 465 to be a better motor than its successor, the ping-prone 490. And, as an enduro, the IT465 had untapped road-going potential in its parts: It came with taller tranny gearing than its MX sibling the YZ465; it had a lighting coil; even the double-leading shoe front brake was advanced…well, advanced for dirtbike drums of the time.
I found this bike in early 2007 and I knew it had been loved. The prior owner carved custom handguards from aluminum bar, the owner before that powdercoated the frame red. I set about building it with an appreciation for these owners’ hard work. Wheels, proper lighting, and gearing were the main ingredients… at first.
(Above) The power of the 465 mill was legendary. I mean, look at it. Just the way the cylinder and head dwarf the whole bottom-end says something. (Below) With new high-friction shoe material from Ott’s Friction and arching them to the drums, the brakes work better than a tiny front drum has any right to.
The wheels were the trickiest. My goal was to run a 150 rear tire, since that’s the stock size for a DR-Z400SM and I knew plenty of rubber options would be available. Figuring out whether a 150 width would actually fit within the swingarm was another matter.
I measured and re-measured, but in the end resorted to eyeballing and optimism. I ordered up a 150 tire, a 120 for the front, a beautiful set of 17-inch Excel rims in widths to match, and Buchanan spokes. Portland legend The Wolf laced the up the wheels for me. Tires were spooned on the wheels, then I brought them home to the 465 dangling, shoeless, in my garage. It was provin’ time – slide those axles in and see what we got. To my delight the wheel/tire combo fit and cleared perfectly. Score one for the guess-crometer!
Next was gearing, which required a couple tries. I finally found the smallest rear sprocket that barely had teeth big enough to clear the diameter of the hub, along with the biggest front I could squeeze without the chain hitting the engine case. This is as tall a combination as could be concocted, but it’s still the limiting factor on the bike’s top speed of 85-90. The motor would gladly pull more if the gears were there.
Which brings us to the brakes. You’ve probably been wondering about them by now, if not by word one. Yes, I take plenty of (well-deserved) flack for them. But, with new high-friction shoe material from Ott’s Friction and arching them to the drums, they work better than a tiny front drum has any right to. Still, you find yourself using both front and rear. Every time.
With wheels, tires, lights and brakes sorted (sort of), the bike was ready to head out on the open road and start blowing up motors! It made its debut at the Sang-Froid Riding Club’s (SFRC) annual two-stroke street ride, which SFRC has hosted for going on 14 years now. Road-going two-strokes converge from every race shop, garden shed and artist loft in Portland to ring and ding through the city in a moving mushroom cloud of Blendzall blue. Once the ride got underway the bike ran great. A little too great I began to suspect as I reeled in an RZ at about halfway through the ride. And right then! Sure enough. The whispering death.
Autopsy revealed an Oreo-sized hole in the grapefruit-sized piston. Not an appetizing combination. A case-split ensued, some test rides, and then another split thanks to damaged crank bearing races. Years passed and cylinders were shaved to cure chronic base gasket blowouts. Along the way the suspension was upgraded with Race Tech fork springs and a fully rebuilt factory monoshock.
And, finally, there came the pipe. A year in the making it is the handiwork of Will Jones of Poor Bastard Cycle Works. It contains over 40 sections; a lobster tail of epic proportions. Will is an accomplished builder of pipes for Honda 160 racebikes but, amazingly, this was one of his first sectional two-stroke pipes. And in finicky-to-weld stainless steel at that.
Riding the 465 is as raw as it gets. Kicking it to life (big boot mandatory), the idle is something akin to the Tasmanian Devil when he stops spinning to talk to Bugs. You know the scene: bobbing-in-place barely able to contain himself, heaving breaths, foaming at the mouth, and snarling. Yeah, that’s it. But much louder. Jones custom-made the exhaust silencer as big as he could to contain the bark-blat, but even he jumped the first time he started the bike. And that’s a guy who builds racebike pipes for a living.
Putting the bike in gear invokes alertness in the rider that even modern literbikes cannot command. They have too much engineering to scare you to attention like this. With the RetroMotard, you actually have to concentrate to keep the tank off your chest in the first three gears. If I’m being honest, the bike really isn’t that fun around town. Its best asset in that environment is its ability to dart away quickly under the cascading cover of car alarms and an ever-present smoke screen.
But once out of town and on tight two-lanes, it is a grin-maker of the highest order. Renowned for its torque (not usually a 2T strong suit I know, but Google the motor and you’ll see), the 465 practically peels the pavement back when pulling out of turns. At one particular trackday, there were many dead-heat drag races with a KTM 625 SMC from the final hairpin onto the front straight. The KTM never pulled ahead so much as a wheel.
In the end, the track may be the perfect home for the IT465 RetroMotard. It has seen time (and many a bewildered look) at Portland International Raceway, Pat’s Acres, and The Ridge. The tighter the circuit, the better. The bike’s ancestors, the revolutionary racebikes of “The Superbikers” show, would be proud.