The last of the air cooled two stroke Sportbikes in America. “Really great performance for not much money” is how Cycle Magazine described the Yamaha RD400. The RD series from Yamaha, no matter what size, was a motorcycle that I like to say has a ‘high giggle factor’.
My first experience on a Yamaha RD was when my step-dad bought my mom an RD250. He and I rode a lot and he figured that she would like to ride as well. After a couple of in the cul-de-sac lessons mom decided that motorcycling was not for her. Now what to do with the little Yammie? Ride it!!! Being that Michael (step-dad) was a die hard Brit bike guy, I got the pleasure of flying past him on tight twisty roads on this ‘little’ two-stroke. Great fun.
In the late 70’s and into the 80’s the Yamaha two strokes were dominant in club racing. The twins were light, they handled great and were easy to make faster. Yamaha, at the pro level, had already proven its little twins could beat bigger four strokes. Young people could get into performance motorcycling and still be working at McDonalds.
What made these little bikes so great then and still popular today? It’s called ‘feel’. Off the bottom any four stroke will pull away from a two stroke but, once ‘on the pipe’, a two stroke has a responsiveness that can’t be matched. Some will say that the powerband on a high performance two stroke is much like a light switch, it’s on or off and no in between. For some two strokes that was true, but by time Yamaha brought the RD400 a lot of that was cured (kind of?) mainly because of trying to meet emission standards, particularly here in California. But nonetheless, a good two stroke has that instant response when your right wrist wants it.
The RD motor is great but what really sets the motorcycle apart is its handling. The RD’s are incredibly intuitive, they know you want to turn before you do! In 1979, Yamaha gave the RD400 a better suspension, moved the foot peg mounting bracket above the muffler, which gave the bike better cornering clearance, but it still wasn’t uncommon to drag the mufflers…that’s how good these bikes handled, and lighter wheels and brakes. Less unsprung weight makes for quicker more responsive handling. handling. The RD series was always a very confidence inspiring motorcycle, and a very fun ‘hooligan’ bike.
I found a really nice ’79 RD400 Daytona Special on ebay today that is selling for a very reasonable price (so far). It is not running, has the normal ‘patina’ for a bike it’s age, that means some rust here and there and faded paint. I’m thinking that all it needs to be a good rider is a a new battery, clean the carbs, air filter, you probably would want to put a new set of tires on it and just go through it with a fine tooth comb. Don’t bother doing a full ‘restoration’, just make it rideable and have a blast. This is probably one of the easiest winter projects I can find.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info. This really is a cool bike to have…too bad I have too many other projects in the works and not quite enough room. One last thing, for those that like traveling on a smaller bike, the RD400 was probably one of the best you get. I would not think twice about traveling cross country on an RD400.