As amazing as motorcycles are today, there will never be anything quite like the noise, smell and speed of the classic Yamaha 2 stroke motorcycles of time gone by.
The 2 stroke motorcycles produced by the Japanese manufacturer were some of the best to ever hit the road and provided many riders over the years with the most fun they could have on 2 wheels. In this article I have explored 9 vintage Yamaha two stroke motorcycles, so let’s take a look.
In 1971, 16 year olds in England were restricted to mopeds equipped with pedals, with a maximum engine size of 50cc. This was on the back of an increasing popularity of the high performing 250cc bikes from Japan and the rate of which accidents were happening among young motorcyclists.
The FS1-E was first launched in 1973 and quickly became a popular choice for teenage motorcyclists, earning the nickname The Fizzy. The 49cc sports moped; had a top speed of 30mph, and just 3 horsepower at 5,000rpm, equipped with pedals to meet British regs but then later fitted with a conventional kickstart.
The pedals were pretty much just a token and a way around the regulations. In the right hands a tuned ‘Fizzy’ could double its top speed and this fed the attraction of being a bike for teenage rebellion.
Around 200,000 two stroke Yamaha FS1-E’s were produced for the UK and today you can find one for between £2,500-£6,999.
The ‘RD’ in RD250 stood for ‘Race Developed’ and the Yamaha RD250 really was developed for power and speed, it was the original ‘Hooligan’ bike. While the newer MT-07/09s aren’t limited to 250cc, far from it, the hooligan spirit lives on within those models who owe much of their soul and targeted audience to the 1970’s hooligan, rebellion motorcycles.
Yamaha built a simple machine that could be serviced by its owners without too much trouble. The simplicity also meant the RD250 was the perfect bike for after-market modifications. Notably handlebars and a new exhaust became an almost instant job for new owners.
The standard RD250 had a top speed of around 100mph and claimed power of 30 horsepower; it weighed 158kg wet and had a 6-speed gearbox.
Reed valves were the addition which made the RD range stand out from the rest and helped with performance, the earliest models came with drum brakes but later a front disc brake was added to match the stopping power with performance.
Initially the paint schemes were pretty bland, but Yamaha quickly changed this and offered a range of bright and bold paint schemes that have become synonymous now with race-designs from the ‘70s.
If you are in the market for a Yamaha RD250 in the UK you can expect to pay around £4,000 for a motorcycle in good condition; in the US prices are a little cheaper and come in on average between $2,500-$3,500.
The two stroke Yamaha RD250LC was a further development of the earlier RD250 and was released in 1980. The bike became one of the biggest icons of the decade and is highly collectable today.
The RD250LC was the go to bike not only for new riders but for amateur racers who wanted to test their skills and push both their own and the bikes limits on the track. The iconic Pro-Am series was created in the ‘80’s and spawned more than one professional rider, pulling them from obscurity.
Yamaha threw all their race technology into the development of the RD250LC. The engine was a 247cc liquid-cooled, two-stroke, parallel twin, which had a max power of 35 horsepower, max torque of 30.2Nm and a top speed of around 100mph.
A double cradle chassis paired with Monocross suspension and lightweight cast wheels were just some of the extra performance features. What they had at the end of the design process was a supersport 250 with cool styling to match.
The Yamaha RD250LC still has a following today with many owners restoring to race spec and still taking them to the track today to relive the glory days. There is a very nice, low mileage example for sale on Car and Classic that interested parties might want to have a look at priced at £7,199. It isn’t uncommon to see prices up at the £9,000 mark.
In the US you would most likely need to look to Europe for an import as tightening emission laws during the early ‘80’s meant that two-strokes were nearly obsolete.
The TZ750 is perhaps the most notorious Yamaha 2 stroke road-racing motorcycle from the 1970’s with a reputation that caused riders both to admire and fear it.
It was a TZ750 flat-tracker that won only one race before it was banned from the dirt for good. Kenny Roberts was the rider that won the 1975 Indianapolis Mile and beat off the reputable Harley Davidson XR750 for the victory. ‘King Kenny’ deems that race as the finest ride of a long successful career.
Initially the aim was to produce a race bike that could compete in the Formula 750 class which it would go on to dominate; it was a motorcycle that was the most cost-efficient yet high performing that a rider could get hold of at the time.
Initially the TZ750A was only 649cc derived from two pairs of watercooled TZ350 cylinders bolted to the magnesium crankcase of the OW20 YZR500 GP bike. The TZ750B from 1975 however, was a full 748cc in capacity, with claimed 105 horsepower and top speed of over 170mph.
The legend of the TZ750 is reflected today in the cost of one for collectors and race enthusiasts.
Padgetts Motorcycles in the UK has a race built TZ750 for sale priced at £75,000.
Rare Sportsbikes is showing an advert for an example from November 2020 advertising at $65,000.
Yamaha’s DT series played a huge part in defining Dual-Sport motorcycles as a new genre of the market. The DT-1 of 1968 was the first in the series and quickly sold the 12,000 units initially produced. The model was built to go off-road with sufficient ground clearance, knobbly tires, it was light and slim and powered by a motocross inspired engine and front suspension.
Up until the release of the DT-1, inexpensive, reliable, and powerful dirt bikes just didn’t exist. There were a few companies making dirt bikes but they were expensive and out of reach for the everyday rider. Changing all of that, the DT-1 was a 246cc, 2-stroke, air-cooled single producing 18 horsepower and a top speed of around 70mph.
It was a bike built to tackle any trail then ride home again without any issues, it was equally at home in the hands of a professional as it was a novice. Culturally the DT-1 had a huge impact in the US too, changing the image of motorcycling being strictly for outlaws and turning it into a more wholesome affair, considered somewhat athletic.
There was nothing particularly revolutionary about the technology or design aspects of the DT-1 however, it was the cherry-picked components that put together formed the bike that became a revolution on the back of it being built-for-purpose. A purpose that appealed to many 2 wheel junkies that wanted to be able to ride anywhere and everywhere.
Cycle Trader has one example advertised for $5,000. The average price in the US seems to be between $3,500-$5,000 with not many original bikes actually for sale on the market.
The UK the bikes are even more scarce and you would likely need to look at a US import.
The Yamaha DT200 was a motorcycle produced throughout the 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s. It was manufactured for the markets across the world with the exception being it was never imported into the US.
It was a liquid-cooled, 2-stroke, single cylinder, capable of 33 horsepower and a top speed of just over 100mph. It was a dual-purpose machine built for on and off road use and was built to be street legal in Canada where it remained on the market until 1996. The front disc brake on the DT200 was specifically made by Yamaha for their trail bikes.
The DT125 and WR200 were direct descendants of the DT200. The model had relatively low competition particularly in Canada up until 1993 when Suzuki introduced the TS200RM to market.
An original DT200 isn’t the easiest Yamaha 2-stroke to find, especially in good condition, those in the UK are best to look towards France/Germany.
The first Yamaha 2 stroke bike was also the companies entry into the world of motorcycle production – the YA-1. It was an Air-cooled, single-cylinder 125cc. Nicknamed the ‘Red Dragonfly’ thanks to it’s Red Chestnut paint scheme; in a time when motorcycles were mainly restricted to black paintwork, it really stood out in the crowd, further to which it was the first vehicle in Japan with a kick-start.
It was an instant hit thanks to the impressive performance it put on in its first year of production in 1955. The bike went on to win the 3rd Mt. Fuji Ascent Race in July 1955 and later in the year the YA-1 won the top 3 places of the ultra-light class of the 1st Asama Highlands Race.
The YA-1 was Yamaha’s version of the DKW RT125, which among others, BSA and Harley Davidson had also copied and turned into their own variations. In Japan alone, despite being priced quite high, 11,000 units were sold across 3 years according to Yamaha.
If you are lucky to find a YA-1 today you can expect to pay between £5,000-£8,000 in the UK or up to $12,000 in the US.
Yamaha RD350 YPVS
Known at its launch at the Cologne show, as the closest thing to a road-going racer ever produced, it was manufactured between 1983 and 1986.
The RD350 YPVS was a revolutionary Yamaha 2 stroke motorcycle with a 347cc engine producing 60 horsepower. The RD350 was already a pretty awesome bike, then Yamaha took it a step further and added the Power Valve system to it.
We get into the Power Valve a little further on in the article, but in particular to this model the system made the RD more approachable and riders could really get the most out of the 350 with less white knuckle fear that the original Yamaha RD350LC induced.
In the US and some other markets, the model was known as the RZ350
In the UK these bikes go for upto £7,000; in the US the one model I did find was a fully restored version with a steep asking price of $15,000 which I would expect to be the maximum that you could expect to pay.
The TZR250 was not for the faint hearted, it was a hardcore 250 when unrestriced it had near enough 100 horsepower, and weighing not much more than 100kg.
First introduced in 1986, there were 11 different versions of the TZR250 built between 1991 and 1999 and they were all brilliant in their own right as the fundamentals were essentially the same.
The first of the TZR250’s were built to replace the RD line, and started out with a parallel twin engine, before eventually being graced with a 90° V-twin. The Deltabox alloy frame kept the weight down and held everything together.
The TZR250 lost out on the track to Suzuki and Kawasaki’s offerings. However, it was somewhat more suitable to use on the road despite its racing stylings. This made it a very popular choice for riders looking for a race bike, but one that could handle real road riding conditions, at the time it was the best of both worlds.
The TZR 250 was a popular motorcycle in the UK and as such good examples can be found for as little as £4000. The TZR250 never made it to the USA though due to EPA reg’s so imported examples are rare and can fetch as much as $9000. If you are in the States and looking to own one, your best bet is to look north toward Canada.
The Yamaha Power Valve System
Yamaha’s Power Valve System was developed in 1980 and essentially it was a new system for effective exhaust timing control.
According to Yamaha Apart “This system controls the exhaust timing by means of a variable valve so that more effective timing can be ensured in accordance with each rpm level, so that more power output is obtained.”
Port timing is what determines how well a 2 stroke engine performs. If the bike has fast exhaust timing it will perform well at high speed in the higher power brackets, slow timing means good low-end torque.
The YPVS was a way to ensure that your Yamaha 2 stroke motorcycle could have the best of both worlds and get the best performance out of your bike in any situation. For example, high performance at high-speed but also when entering into a corner the bike would have a good mid-range and torque to pull away from the bend again.
The YPVS employs a spiral shaped valve located on the top of the cylinder’s exhaust port. This valve is operated by means of a cable from a computerized mechanical control unit which detects the ignition frequency and determines the required turning angle of the valve.Yamaha
The RD models were the first to get the YPVS and just by adding the new valve the RD350 increased by 10 horsepower.
It was a game changer for Yamaha 2 stroke motorcycles.
History of the Yamaha 2 Stroke Motorcycles
So, we have seen that Yamaha created some pretty awesome 2-stroke motorcycles that dominated in their various categories and set the bar for other manufacturers to compete with, but how did it all begin?
Well as mentioned earlier the YA-1 was Yamaha’s first entry into motorcycles and the foundation of what would follow over the next few decades. It was very quickly followed by the YD-1 and YD-2 which were 250cc versions, with up to date styling.
Performance standards of the Yamaha 2 stroke motorcycles was really set by the 1959 YDS-1 which quickly gained a reputation for blowing the popular 650cc British Parallel Twins out the water.
1960 saw the YA-3 as the first Yamaha motorcycle to be sold in the US market; by 1964 the Santa Barbara model was using the innovative ‘Autolube’ oil injection system, the first of its kind from any motorcycle manufacturer.
After this the 1968 DT-1 model defined the new wave of dirt bikes that would follow and created a whole new genre of dual-purpose motorcycles that attracted quite the audience.
Not to be put in a box and get stuck just producing quality bikes for on and off road, Yamaha developed the RD line which catapulted them to new heights in terms of 2-stroke performance for road-going bikes.
It is safe to say having looked at 9 of these Yamaha 2 stroke wonders, the company pulled themselves from relative obscurity with the YA-1 and took the success and ran with it. Targeting the US as their biggest market for growth and tailoring to its needs, before later when emission regulations were getting stricter, aimed at the European markets (who were trailing slightly on the emissions front) where they were just as popular.