Any conversation about it The good ol’ days of motorcycling will eventually include the words, “They don’t make them the way they used to.” And then someone will mention that Yamaha RD350.
the fiery two-stroke was loved when it was released, got even wilder with development, and has been missed since it was discontinued. Given the motorcycle industry’s current obsession with nostalgia, the time has come for a modern interpretation of the legendary RD – but there’s no sign that Yamaha plans to revive it. Eventually, increasingly stringent emissions laws pushed the kibosh onto two-stroke development.
Custom builder Renato Frateschi remembers the RD350 well – particularly the later RD350 YPVS F2, which caused a sensation in his native Brazil when it was released in 1987. (If you don’t know, it was called the RZ350 in the US.) With over 60 horses on offer and a paltry curb weight, it was an instant hit.
Like many others, Renato misses the RD350. So when he and a client couldn’t quite agree on a direction for a custom build, he came up with a radical proposal. “Look, I have an RD350 chassis and a fuel tank here,” Renato said to his client, “and I think we can do something amazing with it.”
The customer agreed and Renato set about sourcing a motor for the bike. As the cost of an original, well maintained RD350 powerplant would have been beyond the budget, the idea was to create a modern homage to the legendary Yamaha. So he decided to use the four-stroke twin-cylinder grinder from the entry-level Yamaha R3 Sportbike.
Fitting the modern parallel twin into a vintage RD350 frame took some effort, but that wasn’t Renato’s only challenge. Those following the project were quick to point out that the R3’s performance is a far cry from the RD350. So Renato did the only logical thing he could: He added a turbocharger.
A small turbocharger was imported from Japan and mounted discreetly just in front of the engine’s exhaust ports. Renato placed it there to fit into the bike’s design – but the placement also helped minimize turbo lag.
Next he had to find space for the air intake, injectors, sensors and an ECU chip that would allow him to set up the bike (via smartphone). So he designed and 3D printed a neat box to house everything. The R3 engine still looks dainty but now packs a sneaky punch.
As for the chassis, Renato made a number of modifications to accommodate the engine and strengthen the frame for a safer ride. It also managed to pull it off without ruining the RD350’s classic lines.
The modern theme continues with a variety of upgrades to the Yamaha’s chassis. It now rolls on 17-inch wheels (as opposed to the RD350’s original 18-inch units), with a Triumph Daytona 675 swingarm and rear shock. The front calipers are Brembo units; They are mounted on CNC machined aluminum spacers and clamp 300mm discs.
For the body, Renato used digital methods to get everything right. First he created a rendering of the complete bike so the customer could see exactly what they were buying. Once this was charted, the fairing, tail section, front fender and bow pan were all 3D printed from a tough ABS plastic.
The tailpiece is inspired by Yamaha’s iconic TZ racing series and features a unique wraparound taillight design. The front end is reminiscent of the design of the Suter MMX 500 racer, while the twin headlights pay homage to the 1987 RD350 YPVS F2. Taking center stage is the original RD fuel tank, modified to accommodate the R3’s fuel pump.
The finishing kit includes a CNC machined upper triple tree with new clip-ons, grips and bar end mirrors. The exhaust system is custom; Its twin mufflers add a little hat tip to the RD350’s twin pipes.
Renato nicknamed his creation “RD Turbo” and wrapped it in a matching livery. Glossy red ‘Speed Blocks’ sit on a matte black base; another nod to the motorcycle that inspired this build.
It took Renato two years to build the RD Turbo, pushing the limits of his abilities and those of his suppliers. There were many hurdles, from how to fit a new motor to an old frame to 3D printing parts with unusually large surfaces.
But it all came together in the end – which it proved is possible to build a modern version of the legendary RD350.