1975 Yamaha RD350: Best Bang for the Buck
The Yamaha RD350 was THE Seventies poor boy racer. Fairly cheap, relatively easy to work on and fast through the twisties, the RD350 is still great fun today.
The Yamaha RD350 was THE Seventies poor boy racer. It was relatively cheap, relatively easy to work on and fast through the twisties.
Photo by Nick Cedar
1975 Yamaha RD350B
Claimed power: 39hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 95mph (period test)
Engine: 347cc air-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin, 64mm x 54mm bore and stroke, 6.6:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 352lb (160kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.2 gal (12ltr)/35-40mpg
Price then/now: $1,224 (1975)/$1,500-$4,000
School is out and the cool kids, the ones with the feathered rocker hair, Led Zeppelin T-shirts and worn jeans, are headed for the parking lot. Two swift kicks and a Yamaha RD350 chatters into life.
That ring-ding-ding sound is unmistakable as the helmetless owner threads his way through the after-school traffic, narrowly missing a mother driving her daughter home. Mother is appalled. Daughter smiles. She is thinking about sneaking out of the house to meet that insolent creature on his bad boy bike.
The RD350 was THE Seventies poor boy racer. It was relatively cheap, relatively easy to work on and fast through the twisties. Unlike the many stoplight-to-stoplight dragsters of the early Seventies that had to be muscled through corners, the RD was light and flickable, just the thing an aspiring racer needed to hone cornering skills. “It was brutal, fast and wheelie prone,” says Zeki Abed, the proud owner of the original-condition RD in the Image Gallery.
Unfortunately, teenage racers are not the best at caring for their toys. Although a best-seller in the mid-Seventies, finding a Yamaha RD350 in good shape today isn’t easy. The RDs that weren’t thrown away in Turn 7 or slid out on a patch of gravel on a mountain road were still usually ridden hard and often put away wet, the maintenance schedule forgotten.
Our feature RD is one of the few lucky ones. Mostly original and in excellent running shape, it was bought new by an engineer, who kept it until just a year ago when he sold it to classic Japanese motorcycle collector Zeki, who treasures it because it makes him feel like a kid again — a bad kid. “It’s the bike I never had,” Zeki says. “It’s the bike that would blow away everything up to a 750.”
Getting there: Yamaha history
Although Yamaha is now the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, in the early 1960s it was just one of a group of Japanese manufacturers struggling to catch Honda, the industry leader. In 1962 Yamaha introduced the YD3, a 250cc sporting 2-stroke twin with electric start. A successful export, it encouraged Yamaha to concentrate on 2-strokes, with an eye toward aspiring club racers.
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