’74 Yamaha RD350
What attracted you to it?
My wife [HB columnist] Melanie and I were in Nashville visiting a friend who had a lightly modified RD, and he was insisting that I take it around the block, claiming I was going to be very surprised by the power. I was skeptical, to say the least. I pulled out of his driveway, through first into second then wound it out. Once it got on the pipe the bike took off violently, power wheeling into third gear, and I was screaming a list of curse words inside my helmet. I could not believe the punch that little bike packed. I obsessed over the bike the whole way back to Knoxville.
How/where did you get the bike originally?
So, the very next day I was at Biker Rags browsing around. I was talking to Jeff, the owner, about my experience with the RD just the day before and how I couldn’t believe how quick they are. He could tell I was obsessed. He then asked if I wanted to go check out his collection of bikes, and when we did I noticed something back in the corner. He had a ’74 RD, the exact bike I was talking about. It just so happened it was the only bike with a “for sale” tag on it. I still think it was meant to be.
How is riding a two-stroke street bike different than the predominant four-cycle engines?
It’s a different power delivery; you need to have your shit together. The bikes take a little more finesse, especially if it’s heavily modified. The power-to-weight ratio is amazing, and the sound of a two-stroke on the pipe is worth it on its own.
Why did you decide to modify it?
The top end was starting to sound a little noisy, and power was lacking (or I was getting too used to it). I decided to do fresh bores, pistons and rings. While I had the engine out I decided to go through the whole motor. Since I had the motor out I thought I might as well powder coat the frame. One thing leads to another, next thing you know you’re justifying expansion chambers because you bought a new air filter. I know I’m not alone on this. When I realized the power potential with the two-stroke twins, and a little work, how could I sell myself short? They’re giant-killers.
What was your goal with the project?
I have a heart for café racers and vintage race bikes. I wanted a café that would perform, that’s the heritage of those bikes. Not to mention there aren’t many 2T café racers out there. It’s just a bike that’s a couple number plates away from a track day.
How long did it take you?
It took about three brutal months at the beginning of summer last year. I wanted to get the bike back on the road before the end of the season so I could ride. I spent almost every waking moment working on it. I had a vision in my head and I was going to make it happen. I had to draw a line, though, and stop picking the fly shit out of the pepper or it was never gonna be finished. I’m very thankful for how supportive Melanie is; I couldn’t have done it without her help.
What parts did you add/where did you get them?
Ferrodo Racing clutch, Wiseco pistons, K&N filter, Progressive fork springs, Moto-Carrera Millennium GP pipes, RZ350 manifolds, tail section from Hotwing Glass. I removed more parts than I added, and anything I added made it lighter and faster. The list of modified stuff is huge. Aside from all the hours of internal go-fast work I did with a dremel, I got the majority of my parts from Economy Cycle and HVC Cycle, both specializing in vintage 2T motorcycles. I also got parts from members on the usa2strokers and 2strokeworld forums. That’s a good crowd.
Do you consider the project finished, or are there other things you’d like to do?
It’s never finished. It’s a rolling project at this point. I have some stuff up my sleeve, so we’ll see what happens.
What kinds of comments does the bike get?
“What is that?” is what I hear 90 percent of the time. I get some really funny questions, too, usually having to do with the fact that it’s smoking. Most are compliments, though. I can count on shooting the shit at the gas station almost every time. Stoplights, too. The ones who recognize it tell me about how much they wish they never gotten rid of their RD. These little bikes seem to have that effect.
What do you think your next project will be?
The next project is my ’74 Yamaha XS650, a four-stroke, but that can easily take the backseat to another 2T build. I have wanted to build a vintage 2T race bike for a while now…