Yamaha RZV500R: Original is Best
Return to Bike News

Yamaha RZV500R: Original is Best

By JeffWare - 25 May 2021

Words: Jeff Ware Photography: Heather Ware


Being able to tick ‘RZV’ off the list is, for me as a motorcycle mechanic at heart, something I have always wanted to do. I know it sounds weird, but when I was a young apprentice in the mid 1990s I really, really wanted to rebuild an RG500 engine and an RZ500 engine, so to finally tick those two off the bucket list is a great feeling.

The fairings are Chinese aftermarket items, with some additional custom painting by Phil Gollan. They went on in 15-minutes. Very impressive. The originals are stored away. 

Both engines are fascinating. The RG500 for its simplicity and efficiency of design and the RZV for a whacky engineering and complicated design. The RG is the easier to do, hands down, and much more similar to a real GP engine than the Yamaha motor, which is purely a road bike powerplant. I learnt a lot doing the RZV and I’m sure it will come in handy when I get my own one to restore. It will make things much easier…

Perhaps the best rear end to come out of the 1980s, the unmistakeable V4 tail. Mufflers are stock derestricted items. Seat cowl in an original RZV500R one. 

This was a love job, like all the restorations I do, I did it for the experience and because I absolutely love working on motorcycles.

The Fuel tank is original and not repainted. All it took was a polish up.

Phil painted inside all panels for us. The matte black really gives the bike that original look. For $500 AUD, these fairings are simply amazing. I used a fastener kit from Speedy Fasteners, which was $80 AUD. 

I spent around 12-months restoring the bike. It was a complete strip, nut and bolt job. The engine got four rebores and Wiseco pistons, the crankshafts were rebuilt, all new seals and bearing throughout plus all the usual stuff like clutch, waterpump, gearbox, YPVS… it’s all rebuilt.

As you can see, every single component was refurbished in this restoration…  

It was a fun yet complicated job that I really enjoyed doing. The chassis was also rebuilt; forks, all bearings, wheels, brakes, linkages, exhausts, the lot, and we fitted replica aftermarket fairings for road use, wrapping and storing the OEM items. In the ned it was a mammoth task but so rewarding to get an RZV500R back on the road in perfect condition…

One of the challenges was routing hoses, cables and wires exactly as per original. Any deviation causes drama later on, as there are just so many of the bloody things! 
The original exhausts, note the original wire for holding the fuel tank up on its back hinge. It was still in the original tool kit.


I rolled the RZV outside and fired it into life, filling the street with the sweet scent of synthetic two-stroke oil and caressing the neighbour’s ears with a sensual symphony of V4 bliss. It reminded me of warming up my RD250FN in 1992, as I’d head off to high school… I must have stunk of two-stroke fumes from 1991 to 1996!

The RZV handles nicely to be honest. Not as good as the RG500, and a lot heavier, however not as bad as I thought. The forks were too soft as you can see, however, this was sorted out later… 

The plan was to run the bike up to temperature, run it through the gears for half an hour around town, then head up to the hills and cane the living YPVS out of it until it has done a full tank of fuel.

Despite Hel brake lines and new brake pads, the front brakes are definitely not a strong point of the RZV500R. 

Heading off up the road on the first run was a huge relief, the RZV running silky smooth. I was surprised just how useable the V4 is compared to the RG500 rotary-disc valve square four. The two piston port cylinders and the two rotary-disc valve cylinders of the V4, along with the heavier flywheel and crankshafts, really give the Yamaha some decent mid-range and bottom end as well. I rode around for 30-minutes, running it up and down the slick shifting gearbox, just teasing the edge of the powerband as the YPVS starts to open, then short-shifting.

Brand new chain and sprockets, the wheels were painted by Phil Gollan. 
Spaghetti wiring and cables, original airbox with tiny inlet. 

I stopped at a servo and grabbed a chocolate milk and a sausage roll (champions breakfast) and as I devoured my pastry, mince and tomato sauce marvel (how do they make them so tasty?), I looked over the RZV500R while it cooled down. I just wanted to make sure the only fluid leaking this morning was the choc milk dripping down my chin. Everything looked great so I flicked the crumbs out of my beard and headed for the hills to meet The Boss.

The RZV500R is strong off corners in two-stroke terms, from 6000rpm onward. Fuelling is smooth and progressive.

Now the time had arrived to stretch those 14 throttle cables! I’m not huge on big running in periods and neither is Chappie, the owner, so we agreed to the plan in play.

The forks, anti-dive and calipers were rebuilt. Rotor inners and calipers resprayed. Hel brake lines used.
The dark screen came with the kit, handlebars are aftermarket as Chappie likes to sit a bit more upright, so we left those on. Even the headlight was polished and detailed back to new…

As I got to the twisties and started to explore the top-end more, I was really surprised at how the RZV starts to pull hard as the YPVS starts to open up. This is a good one. Like my RG500 did, this bike wheelstands under power in first and second gears. Not all RZV500Rs/RD500LCs do that. I’m shocked at how fast the bike is. It is almost as fast as my RG500…

The sound of the four exhaust pipes on song, bouncing off the sandstone wall, was simply breathtaking. Enough to get any two-stroke heart beating faster… 

From around 6500rpm to 10,000rpm the V4 howls and acceleration is rapid and strong. The sound is so unique and is, in my opinion, the best sounding two-stroke ever built for the roads. This one has the stock pipes, but we de-restricted the mufflers. Jetting is richer across the board by a step in all areas; pilot, needle, main… It is running safe but crisp enough and just right for run in. Oil pump is 1mm past the line for now…

The pipes came up so well. A decoke just with caustic soda, then lots of wire wheeling and light sanding, followed by three coats of heat proof rattle-can paint. 

Hammering up and down the twisties was such a thrill for me and I was impressed by the RZV chassis to be totally truthful. Compared to some of the heavy bikes I test these days for my real job a Editor of BikeReview, the RZV is on rails – not what it was in 1985! I didn’t go too silly on the bike. But I had fun and Heather and I did an enjoyable photoshoot on a smooth, reliable bike.

We repainted the sidestand and footpeg mounts, while the ‘pegs and other alloy parts were polished. The seat is original and not re-covered. 

When I got home and parked the RZV500R up in the shed, I opened an icy cold beer, smashed it, picked the scab off another one and admired my genius resto skills. The next evening, I ran the spanners over it, checked fluids, wiped it down and rode over to Chappie’s place and delivered it to him.

The fairings are Chinese aftermarket items, with some additional custom painting by Phil Gollan. They went on in 15-minutes. Very impressive. The originals are stored away.

Chappie has since had quite a few good rides on the bike, with no issues aside from persistent flooding from one of the carburettors. That was solved with additional fuel taps, same way it solved the issue on my RG…

Proud as punch after the first ride.

Protect your motorbike. Call Shannons Insurance on 13 46 46 to get a quote today.