Some motorcycles are famous way beyond the number of years they were available at dealerships. One such example is the Yamaha RD400 – the bike that (between 1976 and 1979) slotted between the RD350B and the iconic water-cooled RD350LC.
Yamaha had been creating highly successful air-cooled parallel twin two-strokes for many years before evolution delivered the RD400. As early as 1962, Yamaha was making production racers based on their reliable and high-performing road bikes as the YD-S1 became the TD1. And with the RD moniker in place, Phil Read secured the 1964 250cc World Championship mounted on an RD56.
Yamaha has always transferred as much racing technology to the road as possible, so it was no surprise that the early 1970's off-road adoption of reed valves crossed over to road bikes as the 350cc YR5 became superseded by the RD350-A twin. The RD350-B followed with a six-speed gearbox, front disc brake and reed valve “torque induction”.
As a logical successor, the RD400 appeared in 1976 with its characteristic “coffin” fuel tank, self-cancelling indicators and the option of cast wheels; the first Japanese bike to be offered with them plus the welcome addition of a rear disc brake if the cast option were taken. Echoing the RD heritage, many RD400's were "production" raced with great success thanks to the durability of the engine and ease of maintenance.
Subsequent models gained a neat colour-coded tail unit and side seat trims plus the famous “speed block” graphic style first shown by Kenny Roberts at the Imola Grand Prix of 1974. Practical updates included the adoption of electronic ignition over mechanical points and the relocation of the footrest mountings over the exhausts rather than under.
Even when the rumors of a TZ-based water-cooled twin circulated in the late 70’s the RD400 still represented amazing “bang for your Buck” with Yamaha creating a USA only final iteration, the RD400 Daytona Special complete with suzuki-esque “Ram-Air” cylinder heads, color coded bodywork (including front mudguard) and a tank/seat/side-panel styling that effectively formed a visual bridge between RD and LC.
Commanding high prices in the used market, any RD400 is not just a good buy, it’s also a very good bike. After all, it was alongside Bruce Lee in the film Game of Death. So, if you are marshaling the art of restoration focus your Fist of Fury on the keyboard and search the CMS stash of RD spares ready for dispatch – just enter the part number and don’t Enter the Dragon!
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