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.

| July/August 2012

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.”

3/21/2016 10:44:09 PM

My first street bike! I grew up on dirt bikes but my parents would not allow me to ride the street. When I was 19 I bought all stock '75 RD 350 anyway in 1978. Yes! Second gear wheelies I learned to carry/shift in the air through 3rd and 4 gear, by then I would put it down before I scared myself too much! Lightweight and fast but I found it to be a somewhat flexible-flier in some turns at speed. The engine would howl with new spark plugs but performance would soon deteriorate, time for new plugs. Only had it for a year, sold it for more than I had bought it for after buying 1978 Kawasaki KZ650D(SR) that I still have. Graduated to new 1983 Honda VF750F Interceptor, wish I still had that! Last two bikes Honda ST1300 and now Gl1800 Goldwing. KEEP THE RUBBER SIDE DOWN!

3/17/2016 11:43:23 PM

I purchased a '74 when I was 15 1/2. Clip-ons, rear sets, chambers. Raced it through the canyons of Southern California for 4 years. Stopped counting my speeding tickets at 25 or 30 by the time I turned 18. Amazing motorcycle... every Sunday I was beating my friends on their Suzuki 500s and some other 750s down Stunt Road and Mulholland Drive.

7/29/2012 8:11:26 PM

Shortly after graduating high shool in May, 1976, my father and I bought two of these, new left over '75s. Had tons of fun on that thing that summer. Second gear wheelies were common. Even took it to the local 1/8 mile dragstrip. Still have scars from low-siding it while hanging off on a left hander. Took a great road trip on it from STL to Owensboro, KY. Two lanes all the way. Went into the Army in Sept and bike was sold while I was gone. That was a great summer.

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