Yamaha RD350LC – Rebirth of the 2 Stroke

It was 1980 and two-stroke fans in Europe were eagerly awaiting the release of the Yamaha RD350LC. It had been delayed due to disruption with production and the smaller RD250LC had actually already been released earlier in the year. 

The bike was a huge hit and is looked upon as one of the most influential and best two-strokes of the era.

It succeeded the RD400 and was later replaced by the RD350 YPVS (Yamaha Power Valve System).

It was never officially exported to the US, but was available North in Canada; the later evolved RZ350 and YPVS models were made available in the US however.

While built in Japan until 1986 the later editions of the model were produced in Brazil up until 1995 but these later models were a far cry from the original RD350LC that existed solely between 1980-1983. 

Table of Contents

Yamaha RD350LC Review

Yamaha RD350LC is considered one of the most influential 2 stroke motorcycles of the 1980's
This 1982 RD350LC was sold by Bonhams auctions in 2020 and it went for £6,325

Background

In the late 70’s the British market mainly consisted of teens-30 something riders that took advantage of the 250 learner law to get the fastest, sportiest bikes available on the market which were predominantly air-cooled two-strokes from Japan.

The US were imposing tougher emission sanctions on manufacturers and this essentially killed the sports/performance two-stroke market in the land of the free. 

Yamaha were on a mission to knock Honda off the top spot as the number 1 motorcycle manufacturer, but with a dwindling US audience they knew they had to shift gears and focus on their European customer base.

The racing TZ range had done well but it was coming to the end of its life as performance from other manufacturers was out-doing them. It was also time to reboot the RD range and so the LC project was born and had its scope focused totally on Europe. 

In order to top the performance of the old RD’s it meant that water-cooling and a cantilever-type monoshock rear suspension setup were key, inspired by the TZ’s. Although the engine definitely had more in common with the RD’s than the TZ range. 

Yamaha were so focused on the British market with the new Yamaha RD350LC they went as far as to employ several Brits to work on the project in its various stages. 

This included Paul Butler who would later be team manager for the Marlboro Yamaha GP team, but was at the time working as Yamaha’s Product Planner. Bob Trigg, one of the leading forces behind the Norton Commando, was also brought on board to assist with the project.

So let’s take a look at what they all came up with and why the RD350LC is such an historical legend that is admired by many.

Yamaha RD350LC Review

Engine, Transmission, Power

To be absolutely clear there is nothing relaxing or easy about riding the LC (aka Elsie). The engine is unforgiving, brutal and encourages bad behaviour. 

If you want something a little more tame then looking at a later model RD350 variant is the way to go. 

The liquid-cooling from the TZ range aided the fact that the power was actually increased on the RD350LC over and above the RD400 that it replaced. 

The 400 would struggle to hit 100mph and almost buckle under you begging to be slowed; whereas the Yamaha RD350LC would hit 110mph and beg you to keep going past the red line.

The technical advancements from the racing line were obvious in how the RD350LC performed. 

It was essentially a race bike with street legal features such as a headlight. 

The RD350LC was not interested in sitting below 6,000rpm. In higher gears if you were below this then power to accelerate just wouldn’t be available. 

The engine would shake in it’s mounts and force you to go down a gear and get up to speed. 

After that point though the Yamaha RD350LC was like a rocket. 

Like many race-going two stroke machines of the time it took a certain finesse, trickery and witchcraft to fully master the gears and acceleration. It wasn’t a bike that was just going to sit back and take it easy, it needed to be ridden and worked to get the most out of it. 

The engine had been tuned in such a way that once you hit 7,500rpm the power would hit all at once just like a race bike. The port timing, exhaust tuning and carburetion would come together powering the bike rushing forward. 

Separate cylinder barrels and a one-piece cylinder head were taken from the RD400 and the bore x stroke reproduced the older RD350’s dimensions. 

However, it was the TZ lessons that had the most impact on the LC, such as crankpins being integral with the outer flywheels and the inner flywheels pressed over them which added rigidity to the lightweight crank.

The water-cooling system was effective to keep everything as it should be in a racing environment although many suggest it wasn’t quite as brilliant at keeping things cool in traffic on a hot day. 

Chassis, Suspension, Handling, Brakes

When it comes to the Yamaha RD350LC chassis, it saw a complete overhaul over and above the preceding RD400. 

The new chassis was stable, rigid, and felt secure at speed and in the corners; contrarily the RD400 was often criticised for jumping all over the road when things got a little rocky. 

The RD350LC has a slightly longer wheelbase and a monoshock rear suspension set up that increased its stability in all road environments.

What you would find with the suspension is that it was a little on the firm side, both front and back and so it would often mean that if you stopped quickly things were somewhat abrupt and harsh. 

The riding position was commanding, sporty, and encouraged a crouching position. There was room on the seat to throw yourself around to tackle corners like the pros. 

Steering was precise and agile with the rigid chassis boosting confidence.

Where things would go wrong is when the rider didn’t have the finesse with the gears. Neutral was hard to find, but the real kicker was hitting a corner wrong and having to quickly downshift in order to regain momentum and keep the speed up. 

While amateur racers would love this behaviour typical of a race bike, everyday riders who needed a bike as actual transport could be put off, favouring something a little simpler to ride. 

However, let’s be honest nobody really bought a Yamaha RD350LC with all its hype expecting it to be a bike for commuting? Surely not.

Another little annoying feature for some was having to push the right foot peg up in order to kick start the bike. 

There were no complaints about the brake setup at the time with twin discs at the front and a drum brake on the rear. 

Although by today’s standards they would be considered weak and combined with the raw power of the bike it would certainly take some getting used to for modern riders. 

Awards

The Yamaha RD350LC won MCN’s ‘Bike of the Year’ Award twice in a row, ‘80,’81. 

It won the Isle of Man TT Formula Two in 1980 with Charlie Williams in the saddle. Charlie averaged an impressive 96.24mph.

There was a 9 month delay between the announcement of the model and the first production units arriving. However, during that period Yamaha had already sold 10,000 units in Europe. This just proves how eagerly anticipated the LC was. 

What the Bike Press Said

The original LC, though, had it all – looks, speed, glamour, accessibility and innovation – and it’s nice to know that, at least in some ways, it was British, too.

MCN

They’re fast enough to be fun without having to look for speed cameras all the time, and the handling and brakes are perfect for the amount of power and weight they have. almost every modern bike is better than an LC in every respect but, 28 years on, Yamaha’s iconic stroker still, as a package, looks and feels dead right.

Visordown

Specifications

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Two-Stroke, Parallel Twin, 347cc
  • Liquid Cooled
  • Compression Ratio-6.2:1
  • Induction – 2 x 26mm Mikuni slide-needle carburetor
  • Ignition – Flywheel magneto CDI
  • Kick-Start
  • Max Power – 47 horsepower at 8,500rpm
  • Max Torque – 40.2 Nm at 8,000rpm
  • Clutch – Wet Multiplate
  • Transmission – 6 Speed
  • Final Drive – Chain

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Tubular Mild Steel, Double Front Downtubes 
  • Front Suspension – 32mm Stanchion Tube Forks
  • Rear Suspension – Single Shock Cantilever, 5-Way Adjustable Spring Preload
  • Front Brake – 2 x 267mm Disc 1 Piston Caliper
  • Rear Brake – Drum
  • Length – 2080mm
  • Width – 750mm
  • Height – 1090mm
  • Wheelbase – 1365mm
  • Seat Height – 785mm
  • Ground Clearance – 165mm
  • Dry Weight – 143kg
  • Wet Weight – 149kg
  • Fuel Capacity – 16.5 litres
  • Fuel Economy – 43mpg

Yamaha RD350LC Top speed

The RD350LC had an estimated top speed of 114mph and claimed the standing quarter mile in 13.8 seconds. 

How Much is an RD350LC Worth?

In the UK you will be looking to spend anywhere from £7,000-£14,000 for an RD350LC. Based on the price of the one sold at Bonhams and shown at the top of the page, value is on the up.

The 7K to 14K price range comes down to the bike’s condition. 

However, it is also important to read through listings properly as I have found some adverts stating RD350LC but actually found it is was a later edition YPVS which is not the original bike listed. 

The RD350 YVPS replaced the LC. It looks similar and is sometimes listed as an RD350LC

So you will want to avoid paying over the odds for a bike that isn’t the one you think it is. The easiest way to know this is that the original RD350LC was only produced from 1980-1983. 

The only confusion may come is that for 1983 the original LC was sold alongside the new YPVS so you will want to clarify with the seller exactly which model it is. 

The Yamaha RD350LC is also quite a difficult bike to find in completely original condition without having been messed with. Afterall, these bikes were the original Hooligan bikes that encouraged riders to get the most out of them.

On Car and Classic there is a completely rebuilt LC for £13,500 shown below and it looks immaculate. 

How much is an RD350LC worth? This one is for sale for £13,500
A mint example with the owner wanting £13,500

In the US prices range from $6,000-$10,000. You can check one listing on RareSportsBikes that is priced at the lower end of the spectrum. 

As the RD350LC was never officially released in the US they are even harder to find than in the UK. You are best looking towards Canada to import one across the border.

Owning an RD is a fairly cheap experience, as long as you don’t have to fix it. Some parts such as bars, pistons etc are fairly easy to get hold of, but others are as rare as rocking horse shit. Want some new plastics? Forget it, you have to get onto eBay and be prepared to pay upwards of £50 per panel and then get it painted in the colours you want.

Visordown

Verdict

When I covered the RD250LC I stated that I loved it, mainly down to the fact it was an outlaw bike, one that essentially caused the UK Government to immediately review their learner licensing laws.

While the 350 didn’t rush laws through it was just as much of a boundary pushing rebel, that all that saw or rode fell in love with and it paved the way for the diabolical RD500LC.

It was a good looking machine that performed like nothing else in the top of its class and for many at the time was well worth the wait that production delays had caused. 

The Yamaha RD350LC is a bike that continued to evolve right up until 1995 but the fact is the original 80-83 LC was in a world of its own and was never replicated with its successors. 

How many bikes exist where the evolved models aren’t better than the predecessor? 

Not many is the answer. 

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