Yamaha RZ350

Motorcycle of the Year Candidate: Yamaha RZ350: 2 Stroke Purist Weapon

Yamaha RZ350

Years Available: As this particular iteration, 1984 only
Engine Size: 350cc
Motorcycle Style: Sport
Appropriate Beginner Motorcycle? NO
(It may have a small engine, but it was a potent racer)
Pros: Incredible replica racer, intensive true sport motorcycle
Cons: Suspension was very sensitive; different engine mechanics and riding strategy compared to 4 stroke sport motorcycles.
Estimated Used Price Range: $1,500 - $4,000 ($2,399 New in 1984)

"We promise you. This motorcycle will never bore you or gently romance you with lulling softness. The RZ is as intense as a medieval call to arms." (Cycle magazine, June 1984, p.71)

The Yamaha RD350 of the 1970's was given a good going over for this new RZ iteration, and it was aimed primarily at enthusiasts, purists of sport riding. First off, know that it is a 2-stroke engine. Engine braking simply does not exist with 2-stroke motorcycles as it does for 4 strokes. Let off the gas with a 4 stroke and the engine will retard its forward momentum. Let off the gas with a 2 stroke, and you'll coast for quite a while. This creates a different riding strategy. "Four stroke riders without two stroke experience will find the RZ amazing and peculiar" (Cycle magazine, June 1984, page 75.) The forward momentum is pretty much all off or all on with these guys. We're told that the Yamaha RZ350 works great on the freeway, but not well at all as a commuter where stop-and-go traffic plays havoc. Engine heat pegs the temperature gauge to the red easily, despite the radiator's best intentions.

One-tenth of Yamaha's production costs went into the exhaust system and mufflers. Two -strokes aren't exactly ecologically the soundest of power sources, and much engineering attention and tinkering was necessary to bring the emissions to 49-state standard (California has not had the pleasure of the RZ350's company, alas.) The RZ doesn't do two-up riding. Passengers aren't allowed despite the seating. And, reviewers have complained about the Yamaha RZ's suspension settings. Very fickle, the shock absorbers need constant tweaking and experimentation depending on what type of riding, and over what type of road conditions you want to ride. The RZ is blessed with excellent brakes - your "safety net" on those hard charging backroad hooligan sessions. And one other small detail - the RZ is kick start only! Another nod to nostalgia-replica-racing, no?

For me, there's just something special about sub-500cc sport bikes that I find ethereal. I've been fond of the replica racer Yamaha FZR400 from the late 1980's and the Honda CB1 400cc naked sport bike. Both earned a spot on my dream garage roster.

See, I'm not a big fan of top speed capabilities of motorcycles. Riding a motorcycle much above 90 mph just isn't my idea of fun. But taking the twistiest (think 25 mph turns) on a lithe, light, maneuverable little fighter is a blast. I had a few motorcycling friends when I was stationed at Kelly AFB in San Antonio. I had my new Kawasaki EX (Ninja) 500, they had a Hurricane 1000 and a new Kawasaki ZX-7 (with a rear tire the size of an SUV's). For sure, they left me behind on the gradual, swooping turns - I wasn't willing to go past 100 mph... But I lost them on the 25 mph turn segment, though. Flick-flick-flick... I like working gears, acceleration, and positioning over all-out speed. (Pay no attention to the Yamaha V-max in my carport.) Plus, the law enforcement response to slower speed fun is less severe than zipping along at three digits.

But what's out there now, if not an RZ 350, FZR 400, or CB1?

The Ninja 250 is. A good choice for beginners, but the littlest Ninja has plenty to offer experienced riders, too. There's plenty of engine exploration on a motorcycle with a redline of 14,000 rpm. The FZR and RZ had neat replica racing styling, though, styling that the Honda CB1 and Ninja 250 just don't have.