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Yamaha R5 350 1970-1972 Review

The Yamaha R5 350 was the first 350cc twin cylinder air cooled two-stroke motorcycle made available by the company to the biking public. 

Yamaha’s two stroke factory racers, the TD 250 and TR 350, had achieved unmatched success all over the world by the late 1960s. But the street-based counterparts to Yamaha’s winning racing duo, the DS6 and R3, were looking dated and were still using technology that was now over ten years old.

As a result, sales of Yamaha middleweight bikes started to decline when newer, more contemporary models entered the market. Motorcycles such as the Kawasaki Avenger A7 350 and four stroke offering from Honda, the CB350.

All of this changed in 1970 when Yamaha introduced the brand-new DS7 and R5 to replace its outdated street offerings. In addition to sharing similar platforms, these new two strokes shared so many components to make them almost interchangeable with the obvious exception being their engine capacities.

As popular as the Yamaha R5 became, it was succeeded quite quickly in 1973 with the Yamaha RD 350, ending its brief tenure.

Yamaha R5 Review

Despite having the same displacement as the R3, the R5’s new 347 cc two-stroke parallel twin air cooled engine was an entirely different motor. The Yamaha R5’s top end was freshly developed, allowing it to offer a broader power range than the R3’s, and it had horizontally split casings, a considerable improvement over the previous R3’s vertically split ones.

The R3’s 61mm x 59.6mm long-stroke cylinders were changed in favour of the 64mm x 54mm cylinders of the Yamaha R5. As a result, the piston speed at any given rpm was decreased.

These changes, coupled with a reconfigured intake and transfer ports, accounted for the majority of the engine’s improvement and helped increase the engine’s powerband without a reduction in peak horsepower.

The Yamaha R5’s refined engine was surrounded by a frame taken from Yamaha’s first-ever successful Grand Prix road-racer, the RD56 that had debuted on European racetracks back in 1963.

The frame itself, a double-cradle design had been based on the fabled “Featherbed” design that Norton perfected years before and proved to be just as good as the original.

Power delivery, braking ability, ride quality, and handling all worked together on the Yamaha R5 to create a motorcycle that shone not just on highways and backroads but particularly on racetracks where amateur club riders would modify their R5’s for production-class road racing.

Many had good results, with R5 riders frequently outperforming both the two and four strokes competing brands at the time for dominance in the 350 cc class and putting themselves on the top step of the podium at most outings.

Yamaha’s R5 was, like most consumer bikes at the time, equipped with cable-operated expanding-shoe drum brakes, relying on their own 183 mm diameter drum brakes front (double-leading shoes) and rear (single-leading).

Only Honda’s class beating CB 750 featured disc brakes at the time and even then this was classed as exotic.

Reviews from Cycle World praised the frame, swingarm and overall handling of the R5.

“Going around corners, the chassis is absolutely rock steady. So much so, that the rider gets a distinct impression that the wheels are running in a slot”

“This capable frame design is the direct result of knowledge gained from racing, with the benefit passed on to the consumer. Rigidity is one of the R5’s virtues.” Cycle World

As popular as the Yamaha R5 was, the improved RD 350 replaced the R5 in 1973 after just 3 variants were produced. The RD 350s 6-speed transmission, reed-valve cylinders for improved low-end responsiveness, and the new front disc brake all worked together to create a far more efficient and comfortable street bike and racer.

The RD 350’s nimble handling, however, remained the same since as its predecessor, the R5, its engine was supplemented by one of the greatest frames available at the time.

Yamaha R5 Variants

1970 Yamaha R5A

The original Yamaha R5 as above. Available with the tank, side covers, and headlight housing finished Metallic Purple and White.

1971 Yamaha R5B

While it put out the same 36hp as the previous year’s twin, an increase in torque and other refinements meant it easily boasted the best performance of any 2-stroke Yamaha had ever made.

Other tweaks included a new colour scheme of Mandarin Orange and White, directional indicators front and rear and a bigger, brighter brake light.

1972 Yamaha R5C

For the final production run of the Yamaha R5 just a new colour scheme of Mandarin Orange and Black was introduced before the R5 was discontinued in 1973.

Yamaha R5 Specs list

Yamaha R5 Price guide

 The value of the Yamaha R5 has been pretty static over the past decade (eluding inflation) with a good model fetching around £2,500 – £3,000.

Rare mint condition R5’s like the one above can fetch a tidy sum though.

R5 Restoration project?

With so many parts being used across the Yamaha R5, DS6, DS7 and RD series, obtaining spares is extremely easy. You can still get good aftermarket parts for it including heavy duty clutch kits and performance expansion chambers and exhausts.

These all sound great but are far from cheap, coming in at around 60-100% more than what you’d pay for the equivalent part on a modern machine with the exception of consumable parts such as tires.

 Yamaha R5 part suppliers

Is the R5 a future classic?

While the Yamaha R5 price has generally been static, its replacement the RD350 has seen an increase in value of around 25% only in the last few years, and this trend is expected to continue as collectors snap them up.

Like the original Honda V4’s, the more notorious racing descendants are today the golden gooses, with their predecessors being overlooked for the moment.

As a result, now would be an ideal time to get a Yamaha R5 before they attract the attention of professional collectors, and their value begins to rise. You will still have one of Yamaha’s greatest bikes to enjoy even if they don’t, and having that is certainly not a bad thing.

Verdict

The Yamaha R5 is a problematic bike for me to consider. It paved the way for the iconic RD350, RD400 and of course, the RD350LC (RZ350) and I have no doubt that it was and still is a great motorcycle for its time, but even if I had the room and the money, I couldn’t envision adding one to my “to-buy” list.

Every bike I aspire to possess, I would ride and purchase it for that reason rather than to sit under a dust cover and wait for its price to increase. I think the R5’s value will ultimately increase, but I don’t feel the urge to sling my leg over it and head forth.

If I ever did buy one, it would be as an investment only.

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