In this author’s opinion, Cycle World's June, 1970 test best summarizes the overall performance of the 350cc twin: “Winding roads, traffic or 70mph freeway grind, nothing seemed to make much of a difference to this stout two-stroke. Power is on tap from well down in the rev range to around 8,000 RPM, where it begins to taper off. Mid-range torque is noticeably better than with previous models, as the R5 pulls like a 500 when you twist the grip in fifth. The R5 may be described as a quick handling machine. As it has most of its weight down low, there is little top hamper to inhibit the rider from pitching the machine aggressively through its favorite set of bends. We would like to see the wheelbase extended slightly to slow down the handling and put more weight on the front wheel. The R5 offers substance and appearance, equaling the performance and fun of more expensive super bikes.”
The first RD350 model introduced in 1973 was a 347cc, two-stroke twin, featuring a seven-port engine with Torque Induction. It had Yamaha’s Autolube lubrication system, which meant no pre-mixing of the gas and oil, a primary kick starter and a 6-speed constant mesh transmission. It also sported some neat features of the period such as a steering damper, stop lamp outage indicator, and a panel type instrumentation dash. Front wheel disc brake was standard as well.
By 1974, the RD 350 had already earned a spot in the hearts and minds of sport-bike riders who really appreciated its nimble handling and responsive two-stroke engine. It was nicknamed in some circles, “The Giant Killer” for its overall performance against much larger machines. In 1975, the RD 350 was the biggest version sold and its list of loyal riders grew with every passing year. The RD 350 was dropped at the end of the model year of 1975, and in 1976, Yamaha introduced the RD400, increasing the stroke of the little RD 350 to 399cc. The US market was changing due to pollution issues but Yamaha decided to move forward with the larger RD400. In 1979 came the RD400F and then, a limited special edition series called the Daytona Special were sold. These are now highly collectible
New for 1984 was the RZ350L, and this model was targeted at buyers who missed the powerful little two-stroke street machines of years gone by. For the 1984 release, Yamaha used a much cleaner and quieter engine, and this time it was liquid cooled. The trick yellow and black Kenny Roberts paint did not sell well in Europe, but was a big hit in the USA for obvious reasons. In 1987, the RZ350 was pulled and would not return.
In 1977, a good friend and I walked in a dealership in Danbury Connecticut Danbury Yamaha) and plunked down $1,100 each for a pair of matching, blue 1977 Yamaha RD400s that were sitting on the showroom floor. I have fond memories of commuting and sport-touring on those RD400s for the next few years. The first overnight/weekend trip I ever took on a motorcycle was on this bike, strapping a duffle bag on the back and riding north up to the Adirondack Mountains and historic Lake George, NY. They were fast and reliable, with a excellent handling and brakes to match. John Cerilli