Looking for the Magic Bullet: 1974-1976 Yamaha RD200

The Yamaha RD200 was targeted at the beginning motorcyclist who wanted an inexpensive and fun way to get around.

| November/December 2015

  • The Yamaha RD200. Note the low handlebars.
    Photo courtesy Yamaha
  • 1973-1977 Suzuki GT185
    Photo courtesy of the Rizingson Collection
  • 1973-1976 Honda CB200
    Photo courtesy of the Rizingson Collection

Yamaha RD200
Years produced:
Claimed power:
18.7hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed:
84mph (period test)
195cc air-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin
5-speed, chain final drive
290lb (wet)
Price then/now:
$995 (1975)/$600-$2,500

Like Goldilocks, Japanese bike makers tried every size to find one that was just right. During the late 1960s, you could buy bikes starting from 50cc at almost 10cc intervals, including 65, 80, 90, 100, 110, 125, 150, 160, 175, 200, 250, 305, 350cc and more. The 200cc class emerged around 1970 as a practical option for commuting, with just enough juice to make a sometime weekend tourer.

Launched for 1974 as the Yamaha RD200, the bike’s roots can be traced all the way back to the 1968 180cc CS1. Although “built on the same scale as the RD125B,” said Cycle in June 1975, the RD200 was 35 pounds heavier. Yet compared with the RD250, the 200 was as much as 50 pounds lighter and also physically smaller, with a seat height of just 29.5 inches and a 49-inch wheelbase.

Yet it had plenty of big bike features. Inside the 195cc, 180-degree 2-stroke twin was a four-main-bearing crankshaft with needle roller small- and big-end connecting rod bearings. Lubrication was by Yamaha’s Autolube system, and fueling by a pair of 20mm Teikei carburetors with the fuel/air charge pulling through four-petal reed valves. Helical primary gears drove a wet clutch and 5-speed gearbox. Electrics included a combined 12-volt DC generator/starter motor unit for push-button starting, though the kickstarter was retained. Interestingly, none of the other RD models including the RD125, the RD250, RD350 or RD400 had electric starting. With the RD200, Yamaha clearly had its sights on the beginner motorcyclist looking for a cheap and fun way to get to work and around town.

In most ways the RD200 was quite conventional. The power unit was suspended from a single-downtube spine frame with a telescopic front fork and a rear swingarm. Tires were a 3 x 18-inch rear and 2.75 x 18-inch front with drum brakes at both ends for stopping. A disc finally replaced the twin-leading-shoe front drum starting with the 1976 RD200C.

Riding the RD200, testers found the power to come on strongly above 4,500rpm (with the torque curve flattest between 6,500 and 8,000rpm), but with little power below that — in spite of the “Torque Induction” reed-valve system that was supposed to boost low end power. As with many small 2-strokes, slipping the clutch was usually necessary for a clean getaway from rest. Pushed to its limits the RD200 could run a standing quarter-mile in 17 seconds at 77mph, with a top speed of around 84mph. Not exactly
breathtaking, but not bad for its small size; UK’s Bike magazine found that “the RD is happy to cruise at 60 to 70 mph all day.”

5/11/2016 5:07:57 PM

Hey Rizingson. I'm trying to figure out how that happened. It's not our policy to use other people's photos without asking permission. I'm wondering if those images were on somebody else's site and identified as we used them. I'm trying to confirm that, but either way, my apologies. We're really not trying to fool anyone and would much rather give credit where credit is due along with providing readers a hot link to the provider's page if there's more to see. If you can, could you email me? I'd like to make sure we get this corrected to your satisfaction. Thanks. Richard Backus Editor/Motorcycle Classics rbackus@motorcycleclassics.com

5/10/2016 8:21:41 AM

Interesting article, but was surprised to find that the pictures of the CB200 and GT185 were photo shopped copies of photo's I took of my own bikes. Crediting them to the courtesy of Honda and Suzuki was disingenuous at best. I also own a mint condition '74 RD200A as well. Regards Rizingson Vintage Motorcycles

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