The Yamaha R5 350 Twin
Under the Radar
The Yamaha R5 350 Twin.
Yamaha R5 350 Twin
Years produced: 1970-1972
Claimed power: 36hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 91mph (period test)
Engine type: 347cc air-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin
Weight: 322lb (dry)
Price then: $779 (1971)
Price now: $1,000-$2,500
Try to find a 350cc or smaller streetbike today like the Yamaha R5 350 Twin and you’ll discover the pickin’s are slim. Honda has only one, the 234cc Nighthawk; Kawasaki two, the 124cc Eliminator 125 and the 249cc Ninja 250R; Suzuki two, the 249cc retro-style TU250X and cruiser-styled GZ250. And Yamaha? Ignoring the 249cc V-twin cruiser in its new Star Motorcycle line, you won’t find a single 350cc or smaller machine carrying the Tuning Fork logo.
That wasn’t the case back in the early 1970s, when small-bore bikes still ruled and the so-called 21-inchers (350cc = 21.35ci, hence the 21-inchers moniker) were among the hottest contenders for the motorcyclist’s dollar. Besides a smorgasbord of small-bore bikes from Italy, England and Germany, there was a full plate of small bikes available from Japan, including Yamaha.
By 1970, Yamaha had emerged as one of the leading Japanese motorcycle makers, behind Honda but ahead of Kawasaki and Suzuki. While Honda continued to embrace the 4-stroke ideal, Yamaha, like its other Rising Sun rivals, was still putting most of its faith in 2-stroke technology.
Despite the introduction of its first-ever 4-stroke, the 650cc parallel twin Yamaha XS-1, Yamaha wasn’t about to walk away from its 2-stroke twins and singles, which had brought Yamaha success in the consumer marketplace and on the track, and Yamaha knew there was still a lot of performance — and dollars — to wring out of its smaller bikes.
Yamaha had introduced its first “big” 2-stroke, the 305cc Big Bear, in 1966. That was followed a year later with the all new YR1 Grand Prix, whose short-stroke 348cc twin benefited heavily from lessons learned on the track, and finally, in 1970, the YR5, or the Yamaha R5 350 as it was known in the states.
The Yamaha R5 350 was in many respects the crown jewel of Yamaha’s continuing 2-stroke program. While it put out the same 36hp as the previous year’s twin, an increase in torque and other refinements meant it easily boasted the best performance of any 2-stroke Yamaha had ever made.
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