Yamaha RD350 – RACING DEATH – History of India’s First Sportsbike

For some reason riding a Yamaha RD350 still sends chills down the spine and that exhaust note is as melodious as anything – all this when the technology has evolved manifolds during these decades. If you are unaware, our road tester Shiraz owns not one but two of these gems! We are revisiting this (edited) article after a gap of few years to reinvent and cherish the brand that was “RD” specially for you the new gen bikers to inform you of something which was often termed as “Racing Death“.

Back in the 1980s, the RD350 was the very first super performance offering for the Indian motorcycling enthusiasts at a time (1983) when the only bikes we had were the Bullet 350, the Jawa (Yezdi) 250 2 stroke and Rajdoot 175 2 stroke. The other two wheeler commuters were geared scooters like Bajaj Priya, Chetak, Allwyn Pushpak, Vijay and Lambretta.

The original Japanese RD350 had 39-40 bhp on tap but the Indian Editions were detuned to 31 bhp due to lower fuel quality and to improve fuel economy (which, despite that was dismal – but then who cared 😉 )

Yamaha RD 350

Yamaha RD350 Variants – HT & LT

The RD was produced from 1983 to 1990 in India. The first edition was called HT (high torque) edition which produced 31 bhp of power. A few sets of RDs were given to the Indian Traffic Police to help them nab criminals (and compare that with what they get today 😀 ). The Indian Police were used to Enfield Bullets prior to that and the RD proved to be a handful for them but it also resulted in a lot of accidents by the officials.

The first HT edition of the RD350 had too much power for the average Indian Rider as, back then our market was not used to such a performance product. The RD was a crotch Rocket capable of hitting a top speed of over 160 kmph in 6th gear (despite the claimed top speed of 130-135 kmph by the company).

Such was the power emanated by the motor that it used to frequently wheelie at the hands of inexperienced riders, being a high revving 2 stroke the bike was uncontrollable except in the hands of experienced and matured riders. This prompted Yamaha to bring a detuned version – RD 350 LT (low torque) which had 27 horses to play with and which came with lesser pick-up, performance and slightly better fuel efficiency.

Yamaha RD350-(2)

Talking about “kitna deti hai” the RD used to return fuel efficiency of anywhere between 6 to 23 km/ltr depending on how it was ridden. Initially, the RD350 was fully imported but later, the bike was manufactured completely by Escorts Yamaha in India. The name RD stands for “Race Derived” (and not Racing Death – now you know 😀 ) performance and had technology from the Motogp bikes of the 1970’s. The bike had cult status all around the world since it was produced from the early 70’s in Europe, Japan and America. Yamaha stopped production of the RD350 in America in early 1980s due to stricter emission and sound norms.

Yamaha RD350 – The Indian Scenario

Unfortunately, the RD did not enjoy massive success in India in terms of sales. The running costs were the greatest deterrent for the Indian rider to buy the RD and the reputation of it being a “Lethal” bike ensured cautious dads putting the condition – “Buy any motorcycle but RD” to their young sons!

Yamaha promoted the bike with the line “For the few who dared to Dream and be different” but that’s what happened literally in reality. The Hero Honda CD100 (read user review) which was launched in the 1985 further dented the RD’s sales – yes, which simply means that there were no defined “segments” back then – people just had options to buy.

Yamaha RD350 Meet Bangalore by Abhilash Bharadwaj BikeAdvice (6)

Yamaha still continued to offer the RD350 LT. The RX100, another milestone and icon was later launched in 1985 and it continued to sell better than the RD. Finally the RD350 was discontinued by Yamaha in 1990 after some years of frustration. The “Fill it, Shut it, Forget it” era marked the demise of the RD350.

The RD350 was a bike way ahead for its time and especially in the Indian context, the motorcycle was not suited for the Indian consumer. It had way too high power for an average bloke to control and results were disastrous!

Yamaha RD350 Technical Specs:

For you number nerds here are some technical specs of the motorcycle. The RD was a twin cylinder “Reed Valve” air cooled 347 cc engine with each cylinder having a displacement of 173.5 cc. It had a slick 6-speed close ratio gearbox with 1 down 5 up pattern. The RD also featured “Torque Induction” ignition technology of Yamaha. The motorcycle could do 0-100 in about 7 seconds (which goes along with its top speed mentioned above) in its heydays. The RD could touch 150 km/hr in just 16 seconds and was the first bike to have a tachometer in India.

Unlike international models which had disc brakes, the Indian RD always came equipped with 150 mm drum brakes both at the front and rear. Coupled with those skinny tires the RD had scary high-speed handling and braking.

Despite everything, the RD is still the performance benchmark of any production motorcycle in India and even after 25-30 years no comparable Indian entry performance bike has even come close to it… yes not even your Duke and RC390s, which could be called as the new-generation affordable performance monsters for the masses.

Race-Spec RD350

The RD350 was modified for track use at the MMSC race circuit in Chennai and ran on Aviation fuel. The Race RDs were turbocharged and had smaller sprockets and wheels, which pushed the power upto claimed whopping 85 bhp. The top speed was in excess of 220 km/hr. The bike had just the chassis, suspension, large 25 ltr fuel tank, disc brake on both ends and a thin sponge cushion for seat as everything else was removed to reduce weight.

Yamaha RD350 Meet Bangalore by Abhilash Bharadwaj BikeAdvice (7)

The Race RD was very light and agile and was very different from the Stock RD. The Race RDs had modified powered up exhausts and the sound would be intoxicatingly addictive as well as deafening when they would zoom past on the track spewing blinding smoke all over it. I was in complete awe of the action taking place on the race track. The Race RD was the “Undisputed King of the MMSC Race Track” before it was discontinued from racing.

Salute the Grand-dad of Indian Performance Bikes

The RD was the first proper performance Sportsbike in India and it still enjoys a cult status in our country. Performance Purists still swear by it and we can find many RD clubs all around our country. The Yamaha RD had many editions like RD400, RD 500 LC (liquid cooled) all of which enjoyed considerable success through out the world.

Yamaha RD350 Meet Bangalore by Abhilash Bharadwaj BikeAdvice (1)

Related Articles

Truly, The RD350 was the Greatest Landmark bike of India, which paved the way for performance biking in India and Yamaha’s greatest offering for our country’s performance enthusiasts. None of the modern day entry level performance bikes can imbibe the same adrenaline rush as the RD did. The RD350 is a Legend and if you have not ridden one – beg, borrow, steal but swing a leg over before calling it a day…

Pics credit – respective owners