28 YAMAHA RD 350LC Evergreen Elsie There’s something just so right about an LC and that is as true now as it was 35 years ago. Race legend Niall Mackenzie gives us his personal take on the RD350LC that he restored. Let me start by coming straight out and saying that I’m not going to bore you all stupid here with a potted history of the Yamaha RD350LC. Better men (well, better journalists) than me have charted the history of this iconic piece of Japanese engineering, but I’ll give you a very brief low-down followed by a much more personal one. Back in 1980, Yamaha really changed the biking world with both the RD250 and RD350LCs. The 250 could be ridden by learners and the little LC was a true ton-up legend for fledgling riders everywhere. And then there was the 350LC. Here was a bike that just seemed to click with a whole generation of bikers – me included – and regular updates kept it near the front of the pack until the late 1980s. In 1983 Yamaha unveiled the ‘Powervalve’, with more power, poise and the Yamaha Power Valve System which upped torque and made the bike even more usable on street and track. Later generations of LC would improve on these original models still further, but these two generations of machine were truly where it was at – and for me the original LC is still the best. I still have some vivid memories of riding my original 1980 350LC (not 1981, as I reported in the August issue), so I’d like to share them before I get into this month’s road test on my own recently restored 109X. I mentioned in an earlier issue that after a running in period of 500 miles, my original bike was serviced, cured of a nasty splutter and fitted with beefed up exhausts to prevent the manifolds cracking. From that point on PUS 581W was a whistling missile so being a red blooded 19-year-old I was keen to ‘subtly’ try it out against the chip shop competition. My first challenges were Suzuki X7s, Yamaha RD250LCs, XS and RD400s, but none came close so I went hunting for bigger game. Suzuki GT550s and 750s would accelerate quicker but they didn’t like anything that vaguely resembled a corner so were no threat unless we ever ventured on to the local M9. One dark winter evening I thought I had finally met my match when a fairly tasty rider showed up at the Pines chippie on a fairly new Suzuki GS750. I noticed him hanging off Wes Cooley style as he came through the S-bend on the approach into the car park so I thought he would be well up for some fun. As he put the wrapper from his Haggis Supper in the bin I was ready with helmet on and engine warming up. No words were spoken but I’m pretty sure we both knew what was about to happen and that Central Scottish honour was at stake. To begin with things were fairly evenly matched as I could catch up on corners whatever I had lost out on straight stretches, but then I stumbled on my trump card. On the next section of Denny’s Spine Road I had lost about six bike lengths to GS man, but as he braked for the Glasgow Road T-junction, I surprisingly found myself still on full gas and outbraking him by a mile. I was stopping and setting off again before he even made the junction and never saw the man again. I had always thought my LC was special but for me that was a defining moment that proved Yamaha had built an amazing little bike that was way ahead of its time. DID YOU KNOW? It wasn’t until 1981 that the LC family ﬁrst cracked the 100mph barrier. A standard road-going quarter-litre bike managed 102.5mph at the MIRA test track. Before that historic run, the previous quickest little stroker had been the 1978 Suzuki GT250C at 94.8mph So what do I think of my latest RD350LC 35 years later? If I’m honest I still feel bad for selling that original bike. I have a good idea of where it is and the guy isn’t selling. Fair enough. To my shame I re-entered the world of LC ownership a good decade or so back, but a few years ago I was offered a deal I thought I could not refuse so I sold it, but the desire to own another LC has been building since that day – but why? Being a two-stroke there isn’t anything to compare it against nowadays so in many ways it stands alone. I guess the last decent ringdingers were the race replica V-twin 250cc Suzuki RGVs and RS Aprilias; but with aluminium chassis and USD forks they were much more closely related to their lighter and sportier racing counterparts, so a back-toback test with an Elsie wouldn’t be fair. I’ll still stand by saying that back in 1980, the LC was as much ahead of its time but also of its time as a New Romantic synth band. The great thing about an LC though is that it still asks to be ridden hard and doesn’t provide any nasty surprises when you do. The ride Before we swing a leg over her, it’s time to get into character. So on went my freshly ironed iconic Pro-Am T-shirt before squeezing into my racing TT leathers I proudly picked up from Barnard Castle all those years ago. Okay, they were a bit unyielding but that fabulous black silk lining helped me slip in without too much hassle. I left my LC ticking over as I got my clobber on so with the temperature needle just moving off the stop I was good to go. A few revs is all that’s needed to pull away smoothly and a 350LC is perfectly happy at low rpm as you work your way up the gears. Obviously that isn’t where the fun lies so after five or six miles and with the temp gauge bang in the middle it was time to find a powerband. It’s at 6000rpm where the real excitement starts with strong acceleration to the 9500rpm redline; however, my motor is more than happy to rev freely to 10,000rpm between shifts. The great thing is that 4000rpm spread of power makes the motor really flexible so keeping her on the pipe through the rolling Leicestershire lanes is a doddle. On my one and only pre-restoration blast when my bike sported Keihin filters and Allspeeds, the carburation was absolutely perfect so I assumed she would be equally as sweet when I put everything back to standard. Unfortunately this isn’t the case as I have some hesitation around 5000rpm but I’m hoping a needle position change might be the cure. One thing is for sure, she has plenty of punch after the midrange burble clears as I found myself rolling back the throttle on more than one occasion with the speedo nudging 110mph on long straights (on private roads of course). I was pleased with this top speed reading as my bike is wearing a slightly bigger rear tyre that will lower the gearing. YAMAHA RD 350LC 29 Although it is easy to get tucked in (one hand on the fork leg ProAm style if you’re really serious), the normal riding position is quite upright but with much better ground clearance than the old air-cooled RDs. And because I move around the bike more than in my early 1980s novice racer days, getting more weight on over the front seemed to give a more planted feel than I remember. I may have been impressed with the brakes 30 odd years ago but they certainly don’t come close to what we have now on modern sports bikes. That said, I could still get the front to lock if I pulled hard enough as I tried to re-enact the old GS750 outbraking manoeuvre down Denny’s Spine Road. What I did like though is the feel and performance of the rear drum brake as it greatly assists the lack of stopping power from the front. Having plenty of weight over the rear makes it very usable and helps to keep things stable at the same time. The general handling felt nimble which may or may not have been helped with the later model’s stronger rear spring; however, I was reminded on a few occasions why a steering damper is necessary for racing. While you never get any violent ‘head shake’ on LCs, they do tend to weave at high speed. This in itself isn’t particularly dangerous but it does get tiring after a while so a cheap damper is a quick and simple way to fix the problem. My bike actually came with one fitted but being quite anal about keeping things standard I’ve chosen to put up with the odd 80mph wobble. Buying & owning It’s little wonder that LCs have become popular again. Well, when we say that, we know they’ve always been popular and held their own pricewise, but they are a modern classic still on the up. Even at the turn of the last century you could probably buy a nice enough, average condition LC for around £500-£700 – my mate James Whitham did! The main problem was always finding one in as standard a condition as you could. LCs were one of the most molested machines in the 1980s, a mantle probably taken over later by GSX-Rs. Mine was better looked after than most (same owner for around 25 years) but it still had Allspeeds on it and came for £1800. Don’t be fooled, that was a good price and there are a lot of sharks out there who are willing to make your wallet suffer for your nostalgia. Although I looked into buying this one, I had some basket cases offered to me for more than £2000, so do shop around. From speaking to the experts, you really need to try and ensure that frame and engine numbers match up. Sensible, I know, but the LC was a much-raced and abused machine and many 250s were converted into 350s with the addition of the bigger barrels so you really need to check that history if you want an original 350. If you want to make your own ‘LC Johnnie’ special, then maybe you’re not so worried. You pays your money… Parts and spares do seem to be readily available and I can’t stress enough how important it is to join the forums or clubs like the VJMC where you will benefit from lots of advice and knowledge. Price-wise for a minter now is heading north of what I sold mine for a few years ago (around £3000). I thought back then that this was the I raced one: Niall Mackenzie From the moment my jaw dropped when I saw a picture of the new RD350LC in MCN I knew I was having one. The very next weekend Bill Fleming Motors in Glasgow had my deposit and PUS581W finally landed in the September of 1980. The combination of losing my licence and a new 500 production series being launched in Scotland got me thinking that racing might be the future so preparations began. To be honest getting my bike race ready took only a day and required very minimal mechanical skills. Mirrors, number plate and stands were removed, while three plastic circles made from containers from the local paper mill bolted in front of the headlight and on to the grab rails provided the number backgrounds. The front foot pegs were replaced by the rears which were bolted on to the top front bolt of the foot peg hanger. The gear linkage was replaced with a straight lever which immediately gave me one up – five down race shift. The only other addition was Ace bars and the sump plug was wired and the original tyres were replaced with KR124 Dunlops. My bike was fast from the showroom but I ran her in with care. That said I’m sure fitting Boyesen Reeds along with tidying up the piston windows and transfer ports with a small file helped me compete with the highly tuned Stan Stephens and Terry Beckett rocket ships from the south. I also used Bel Ray two-stroke oil which may or may not have helped, but it certainly smelt nice. With my bike race prepped I showed up at Carnaby in the March of 1981 and finished third behind the fastest LC riders in the country at the time... the next week I won my first ever race at Knockhill and the rest, they say, is history! IN DETAIL Above left: The beauty of 109 is that with one owner for so long we know the mileage is bang on. Above right: Originally 109’s barrels were natural finish. Now she’s black all over once more. You don’t look daft ftt on an LC in full leathers thanks to proddie racing. 30 YAMAHA RD 350LC TECH SPEC YAMAHA RD 350LC Engine: 347cc liquid-cooled, parallel twin-cylinder twostroke Bore x stroke: 64 x 54mm Compression ratio: 6:0:1 Fuelling: 2 x 26mm Mikuni Ignition: CDI Power: 47bhp @ 8500rpm Torque: 30lb-ft @ 8000rpm Clutch: Wet, multi-plate, cable actuation Gearbox: 6-speed Final drive: Chain Frame: Twin loop cradle type mild steel frame, cantilever monoshock Brakes: Twin 270mm discs single-piston calipers, rear: drum Tyres: 90/90 x 18 110/80 x 18 Weight: 143kg Performance: 115mph Not as good as modern, but still good if looked after. peak of prices for a good 4L0 but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A quick check on the internet and you can even see the less cool/ less desirable F models going for anything from £2000 to £4000 and even some RD350Rs going for £1500+ which makes you wonder where it will all end. When it comes to taking the bike back to how it was, then much of the bike is basic black, so you can strip it and repaint – and paint is better than powder coating. Some parts are easy to find, some hard – many of the RD aficionados will swap parts, so sometimes if you have a bike with some non-standard bits (like I had with exhausts) you can swap for standard. Lots of the big names on the forum or in the clubs will carry a vast stock of parts great and small. Let me tell you that often this isn’t to corner the market or to force prices higher. Instead it’s often a hoarding complex they have for the future of their own restorations which then leads to more altruistic tendencies: lots of these guys are pukka bikers who are happy to help out for a fair price, not rip you off. So, again, join the forums and the clubs as there is strength in numbers. Even things down to the small stickers on speedos or fuel tanks are being replicated now, if you want that 100% LC look. Conclusion way to satisfy it – go and buy one or like me restore one, albeit with a little help from your friends. The end result is purely magical, as these machines really do bring back the memories and roll back the years. So, overall, my first day’s riding since 109S’s rebuild was for the most part a great success. Apart from the slight stutter around 5000rpm, mechanically she ran like a dream. The handling was good and all the electrics worked perfectly so to all intents and purposes I could have been on a brand new bike. On checking her over back at base I wasn’t surprised to find a few nuts and bolts that had come loose (mainly exhausts) but that is what shakedown tests are for. With me and the bike enjoying a glorious summer together, and the ability to shoe-horn myself into those original leathers, it was great to be transported back to a special carefree time of my life when the Human League were at the top of the charts and a tank of fuel cost only a fiver. I’m not going to make the same mistake a third time: this LC is a keeper and may we have many more pleasurable days together this year and beyond. Thanks to ● Chris and Tim at CJ Ward Stove Enamellers ● Dave (Guitar) Yates at Elite Windows ● Kevin (LC God) Schofield ● Evans Coolants ● Racepaint UK ● Samco Hoses • Avon Tyres ● Moto Direct ● Motul Oils ● Redline KTM ● reproductiondecals.com This test is less about the legend of the LC or why you should get one, but more about how good my LC feels. After all, if you’re reading this, looking at Joe’s gorgeous pictures and feeling that massive pang of nostalgia, there’s really only one Frame numbers and fings… With the LC proving to be popular as a race bike and a target for thieves, it’s little wonder that the golden rule of ‘check the frame numbers’ rings true. Especially with a number of RD250LCs sprouting larger capacity barrels in a bid to be more ‘grown up’. The first 350LCs were 4L0 in Europe, 5J5 in South Africa and 4U0 in Japan/Australasia where it was sold as the RZ350. In his early career, Mick Doohan rode and raced RZ250s and 350s. In Europe from June 1980-81, the start number for engine/ frame was 4L0-000101, for 1981 it was 4L0 100101 and 1982 4L0 200101. In Japan the 1980 RZ350 was coded 4U0 000101 and in 1982 it was 4U0 020101. In South Africa (where it was also a popular race machine) the frame/engine code is 5J5. Sales of the RD350LC in the UK were strong. In 1981, 1354 machines were sold, while in 1982, 1823 of the blighters left the dealerships. Best thing was that the US never got the bike due to emmissions regs/not being interested until the YPVS came out, but that didn’t stop Mike Cameron, from Colorado, buying two and taking one to second place in the Aspen SixHour race. Bryan Trevor and me shake on the £1800 for 109! I did want to haggle, but that was a bargain, really?