1984 Yamaha RZ350

A Yamaha RZ350 modified by past AMA champion Jamie James

| May/June 2006

Yamaha RZ350
Years produced:
Claimed power: 39hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 115mph
Engine type: 347cc liquid-cooled, 2-stroke parallel twin
Weight (dry): 150kg (331lb)
Price Then: $2,399
Price Now: $3,500
MPG: 33 (est.)

The A385 out of Newton Abbott in Southern England is a semi-mystical piece of motorcycling real estate. Written into folklore by decades of daredevil youths testing their mettle along this sinuous blacktop roller coaster, it was — and still is — my favorite piece of road. Carving smooth lines on my old Laverda triple one summer’s eve back in 1984, playing tunes with the un-muffled, three-into-one Harris pipe, my state of bliss was suddenly, violently interrupted by a Yamaha RZ350. It sounded like I had been dive-bombed by a 400lb housefly, and I was left in a cloud of unburned race fuel with my nostrils wrinkling and my eyes watering.

I pulled over a few miles later in Totnes, the center of New Age hippy culture at the time, and found the culprit hanging out with his mates. Pulling hard on their cigarettes and unable to stand still, these men most certainly weren’t smoking the same stuff as the locals.

They were petrol heads, as London’s Ace Café owner Mark Wilsmore calls them. I had stumbled across a small band of two-stroke-addicted adrenaline freaks with single-syllable nicknames and more broken body parts than a crashed truckload of porcelain dolls. With the Yamaha RZ350 (YPVS in the UK) as the weapon of choice, conversation was limited to stilted monologues fired between cigarette draws and was totally focused on their raison d’etre: Two stroke derived speed!

Twenty years later, I’m feeling their addiction. Diving into a hairpin turn, dropping into first gear, I effortlessly flick the bike on its side before yanking the throttle back to wide open. The front wheel rips skyward and the engine screams its blood-curdling accompaniment as I shift to second while climbing over the front end to force the wheel back to earth. The manic sound exploding from the Toomey pipes is jacking pure adrenaline through my veins as I grab another gear, then another, before brushing the front brake lever and quickly slipping down two gears. With the engine howling on the over-run, I am on my knee through the turn and back on the gas so fast my left foot can barely keep up with the next set of up-shifts. Riding the deserted mountain roads around my North Carolina home on a wildly modified Yamaha RZ350, I’m writing my own prescription for some two-stroke withdrawal therapy sessions later in the week.

Back in the day …
When the original RZ350 hit the streets in the early 1980s, it was the closest thing to pukka race bike money could buy. Weighing in around 350 pounds and producing 50 shrieking two-stroke ponies, the water-cooled parallel twin came wrapped in a cradle-style frame and featured mag wheels with triple disc brakes. It had race-inspired graphics on the bodywork and a small bikini fairing to duck behind at speed. Spawning a burgeoning cottage industry of go-faster parts, heavily modified RZs ruled the back roads of Europe for many a year. Though they never attracted quite the same level of enthusiasm here in the U.S., they did enjoy a period of popularity with local club racers, and this particular RZ actually started life as a race bike. Owned and ridden by AMA Superbike Champion Jamie James, it was parked after a crash and had sat in his workshop ever since, until the winter of 2004-2005. That’s when Jamie and Doug Crawford, a good friend and a tuner from Jamie’s Yoshimura days, decided to see what a little modern technology could do for the old warrior.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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