Yamaha RD350 review: Blast from the Past


Wouldn’t we all love to enter a time warp and rewind our clocks to relive some of the glory days of yesteryear? Well, we’ve found a way to go back in time, and from the pictures you might have already guessed what we’re talking about. If you haven’t, it’s the Rajdoot RD350. Swinging a leg over the stocky bike, I’m instantly shot back to more than two decades of biking nostalgia.

The stock 178mm front drum brakes were inadequate for quick stops.

The Escorts Group unleashed this very unique form of urban commuter weaponry in India between 1983 and 1990. The technology the bike used – a seven-port two-stroke parallel-twin engine employing reed valves and a six-speed gearbox – was completely unheard of and seemed totally outrageous at the time. During its stint in India, the RD was sold in two versions – High Torque (HT) and Low Torque (LT). The HT was made between 1983-1985 and was the more powerful of the two with an output of 30.5bhp. The left-hand engine cover on the HT had ‘Made in Japan’ inscribed on it. Additionally, both the silencers received a flat-end treatment and the exhaust note had an aggressively sporty grunt to it. The LT was produced from 1985 to 1989 and put out a respectable 27bhp in the interests of improved fuel economy. The silencers incorporated a soft taper at the end, similar to the RX, and the exhaust note was more of a humble beat compared to the HT.

Decades after its discontinuation, the RD continues to have a strong fan following and prices have skyrocketed in recent times.

The RD’s racing genes always endowed it as the top choice for performance racing junkies and had stolen the spotlight for bringing home gold at many an event. The bike you see here has undergone immense restoration and a lot of effort has been taken to retain the splendid stock look. It even retains the seven-inch twin leading shoe front drum brake which was inherently incapable of stopping itself within confidence-inspiring limits of the rider. To this date, many bike enthusiasts still maintain that the air-cooled RD350 is the best two-stroke motorcycle to have ever hit Indian shores.

This old-timer is still pure ecstasy on winding curves.

Once atop the saddle, you’ll be quick to realise the sheer size of the bike and it’s small things like these that add depth to the performance-riding experience. Moreover, tipping the scales at 143kg plus fuel and oil, this is one bike that feels planted and does not throw you around, given the right set of tyres. The wide-angled handlebars find your hands effortlessly and the rear-biased ride endows it with decent flickability, not quite like what today’s front-biased machines offer. The RD holds its line impeccably even through a series of bends, igniting the hibernating Rossi within you. The six-speed gearbox with a one-down, five-up shift pattern was geared extremely well and helped the bike tackle highway blasts just as well as it would do crawling speeds in urban traffic.

There’s no debating that a short spin on the RD is all that you need to get hooked. Once on the move, you’ll notice a second’s lag for the 347cc motor to respond but as soon as the power kicks in, it feels like a pack of frenzied hellhounds who have been unchained. The manner in which this twin-cylinder two-stroke beast howls its way to its 8500rpm red line is ridiculous, overwhelming, and just plain brilliant. When the RD hits the maniac power band, and you feel the strong buck of all 30 horses, your heart actually pauses for a moment before your brain tells it to keep at it. The pull is so fierce that you can feel your tendons clinging on to keep your elbow intact. Make no mistake, an RD in stock form can be ferociously quick. It hits 60kph in 3.55sec and catapults to 100kph in just 8.12sec before hitting a top whack of 150kph on the stock speedometer – which made a laughing stock of every other two-stroke motorcycle on the road at the time. If this motorcycle had sudoriferous glands, it would literally sweat performance.

Getting the twin VM28 carburettors to tune in tandem was an art few could master.

As inanely awesome as the bike was, it did have its fair share of problems too. The lack of basic maintenance knowledge left a lot of mechanics scratching their heads when an RD rolled into their garages. What’s worse was that this inevitably earned the motorcycle a demeaning reputation of spending more time at the workshop than on the road. Then there were the single-digit mileage figures the bike offered its owners. The RD was originally designed with a front disc brake in the US, but both Indian variants came with just a 178mm front drum brake option to save on cost. This in turn led to the most concerning problem with this RD350 – its inability to stop in time if traveling at a quick pace.

Lurking beneath that fuel tank is the aftermarket rddreams CDI.

A couple of years ago, RD diehards began to learn how to restore their machines and also spread the know-how through the internet. Members would help each other wrench their way out of problems. As the inherent flaws of the bike were analysed, it was understood that this bike needed a more efficient ignition as the points-system required constant attention. If overlooked, it would lead to overheating and hence rob the engine of power and super-accelerate wear before seizing the engine. An aftermarket CDI would eliminate this problem and in fact the bike you see here has been retrofitted with a digital one. It’s designed to work at optimum combustion times and hence makes more power, reduces heat and burns fuel more efficiently, which inadvertently results in better fuel efficiency figures. The CDI was only the beginning for those who craved for more from the RD.

The RD has aged gracefully without losing any of its charm.

Original RD spares are a dying lot in India and anybody who has stocked up on anything of true value will probably demand a fortune for it. Spurious spares are just as expensive but are not a viable option as they are unreliable, which is why many RD owners have begun to import their spares from the US. A few websites even deliver them right to your doorstep. Though exorbitantly priced, it’s a small price to pay in bargain for the large smile on your face after that ride back home on your RD. 

The RD350 was a motorcycle ahead of its time and continues to have a fond following of power addicts who plump for this trueblue blast from the past, warts and all.  


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