I first saw the 490 in September of 1989 when I stopped by Loveland Yamaha, in Loveland, Colorado, to have the rear shock on my 1987 YZ 125 serviced. Like many motorcycle shops at the time, the used bikes were displayed outside the front of the store and I noticed the 490 as I walked in. I was considering trying out the “Open” class (500cc bikes) for the next motocross season, so I made a mental note of the bike.
At the time, I had just started my freshmen year of college ant Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Living in the dorms meant I had no place to keep my motorcycles, so they stayed at my parent’s house, which made for a lot of driving in order to go riding. Lacking anything to do one October afternoon, I noticed that my riding gear (helmet, boots etc.) was in my car and remembered that Loveland Yamaha had a short “track” on the dirt lot behind the store where customers could take dirt bikes for a short test ride. Clearly, the thing to do was to go to Loveland and see how long of a test ride I could get away with on the 490, as it was still there. (YZ 490’s were not super-appreciated in the motocross world and used ones tended to be slow sellers. I found out later that the 490 had been sitting at Loveland Yamaha for over two years before I became its second owner).
Taking a friend from the dorm with me, I headed to Loveland, talked to a salesman about the 490 and asked if I could try it out. He said yes and handed me a helmet, I told him I had my gear with me and went out to get my boots, helmet, goggles and gloves while he got the bike ready. We headed out back and I started riding the 490 around the “track” while the salesman talked to my friend. My goal was to ride for as long as I could, so I looked at the salesman every time I went by to see if he was telling me to come in; I was not going to stop until I had to. I managed to get a good 15-minute moto in before the salesman waved me in. I thanked him for the test ride and told him I would “think about” the bike. (I really wanted it but had no way to pay for it.)
In December of 1989, for my 19th birthday, my parents gave me the difference between what Loveland Yamaha would give me in trade for my 1987 YZ 125 and the 490 (about $300) and I became the proud owner of the 490. Winter in Colorado is not necessarily conducive to riding a motocross bike and I wanted to play with my new toy, so I decided to bring the 490 into the basement of my parent’s house and work on it there over Christmas break. (There was a garage, but I felt the need to work in the heated comfort of the basement). Getting the bike into the basement involved rolling it through the front room and kitchen, making a 90 degree turn in a narrow hallway and then descending a flight of stairs. Not an easy task and one best done while no one else was home to witness the stupidity.
Once in the basement, I stripped the 490 down to its frame and spent the next week or so going through it (mostly servicing the suspension and steering bearings that had been neglected for the two years that the bike sat outside in Loveland). A couple days before Christmas, the 490 was all back together, and with some help from my brother, I drug it up the stairs and out of the basement.
The day after Christmas 1989, my friend Mark and I set out to Grand Junction, Colorado to go riding. (While Colorado’s Front Range was snowed in, the desert around Grand Junction, while cold, was snow free and thus rideable.) This was the first time I really got to ride the 490 and Grand Junction provided the perfect environment in which to appreciate a 500cc two stroke. Grand Junction was also a good place to learn how to ride a 500cc two stroke; other than my joyride in Loveland, I had never really ridden one before and, as anyone who has spent time on one can attest, they can be a bit of a handful to control, even when you are used to them. (If you look closely at the photo of the 490 in pieces you will notice an obvious area of repair on the rear of the frame; this is where it had been brazed back together, most likely the result of being broken when the bike was flipped over as a result of too much throttle at an inopportune time. Damage to the back of the frame is pretty common on 500cc motocross bikes. While I would wreck the 490’s frame in time, this damage was there when the bike came to me.)
Not wanting to leave the motorcycles on an open trailer overnight, we kept them in the motel room with us. After the first day of riding, the 490 decided that blowing a fork seal was a good idea so several motel towels were sacrificed in an effort to save the carpet. Luckily, the Grand Junction Yamaha shop had a fork seal in stock and we were able to solve the issue the next morning. (We did all of the work in the motel room of course.)
Up next…Off to the Races in 1990.