Of the things we love most, we often think about things we grew to love in our formative years. This is often true for music, vacation destinations, loves, and, yes, motorcycles.

At least this is true for me. Of the nearly 900 different motorcycles I’ve put between my legs during my riding career, it’s Yamaha’s splendiferous RZ500 that shines brightest in my heart. In 1984, the RZ’s 500cc two-stroke V-4 mimicked the one in Kenny Roberts’ factory grand prix racebike, creating one of the first fully faired repli-racer streetbikes.

The RZ500, however, wasn’t legally available in the U.S., thanks to the ever-tightening noose of emissions regulations that kept two-stroke oil-burners like the RZ away from American consumption. This wasn’t a problem for me, though, as I grew up in Canada where two-smokers were welcomed – lots of trees and sparse population density up north, eh?

I had fallen in love with motorcycles by riding off-road, graduating to a Honda CR125R when the earth was cooling back in 1985. Meanwhile, a few friends were getting into streetbikes, and I began to envy how they could simply ride their motorcycles out of their garages instead of first strapping them down in the back of a truck or a trailer.

My buddies Ken and Dale offered up the gateway drugs. First was a Honda CB400F, followed shortly thereafter by two-smokers like Yamaha’s RD400 and Kawasaki’s KH400. The exciting power-delivery nature of the RD and KH was familiar to me, as I had only ever owned two-stroke dirtbikes. However, my parents warned me that purchasing a streetbike would result in a new residence outside their cozy basement I was living in, so I continued to sate my moto aspirations solely in the dirt.

Meantime, I took a spin on a friend’s Honda Interceptor 500, a wonderful four-stroke sportbike with a sweet V-4 engine. It was the most lovely machine I had ever piloted, and I lusted for it. But then I was able to get behind the handlebars of Ken’s latest bike, an RZ500, and my grand-prix fantasies kicked into high gear. Starting it was part of its theater, as its kickstart-only provisions were actually a luxury relative to a GP bike. When I heard it cackle to life after a swift kick, visions of Kenny Roberts danced through my head because I knew this machine was indeed something quite special.

Yamaha RZ500

The most exotic RZ500 is the RZV500R sold only in Japan. It employed an aluminum frame and upgraded suspension, but its engine was detuned to a 64-hp factory rating to meet domestic requirements, down significantly from the 87 hp claimed for export-market RZs. Anti-dive fork systems were in play; large brake rotors weren’t.

Spurting oily smoke from its pair of undertail stingers (perhaps the first such exhaust on a streetbike), the RZ looked like the racetrack refugee it pretended to be, aside from its headlight and fenders. It was a street-going replica of the YZR500 factory racer ridden by King Kenny during the 1983 GP season. Powered by a liquid-cooled 50-degree V-4 housed in a perimeter-style box-section frame, the RZ500 was a mid-1980s sport-rider’s wet dream.

With it’s twin-crank layout, the engine essentially functions as a pair of 180-degree parallel-Twins geared together. However it worked, the engine sounded glorious, with four cylinders spitting out a cacophony of racket that sounded like it was either going to blow up or rocket it into low-earth orbit. Its powerband is, at its low end, surprisingly docile, with less breathing of fire than might be expected despite its servo-controlled Yamaha Power Valve System system intended to bolster mid-range power. But get it up on its pipe – around 7000 rpm – and the V-4 lunges forward with an urgency that seems almost frighteningly supernatural. Although its 80 horsepower at the rear wheel seems almost quaint today, its power delivery is guaranteed to keep your attention!

Yamaha RZ500: The Grand Prix Fantasy

I simply had to have one. And that’s how a stupidly fast and barely predictable two-stroke GP-replica sportbike became my first street motorcycle. I highly recommend streetbike noobs begin with something a bit less savage!

Today, lo the decades that have passed, I vividly recall the feeling of holding on the throttle at only about 20% in second gear and just letting the revs climb without additional throttle input. Revs gathered sluggishly at first, more like a GT80 than a GP monster, gathering rpm slightly quicker as the tach needle ascended. And again. And at 6500 rpm but still with 20% throttle, revs leapfrogged over each other like a powerdrill and quickly induced wheelies without even trying, culminating in a crescendo of ring-a-ding noise screaming to 10,000 rpm that would make King Kenny proud. There is simply nothing else quite like it.

Yamaha RZ500

The hit of power from a two-stroke V-4 inspired this photo and, later, an “Imprudent Driving” infraction. Photo by Ian Johnston.

It is that intense and oddly mystical feeling I’m reminded of whenever I’m asked a motojournalist’s most frequently posed question: What’s your dream bike?

For me, it would be that invigorating V-4 engine stuffed inside a modern sportbike chassis. You see, for as wild and fun as the RZ500 is, its steel-framed chassis and odd wheel sizes weren’t able to measure up to its motor. This became more apparent in 1985, when Suzuki introduced its lighter aluminum-framed RG500 Gamma, despite the two four-cylinder two-stroke motors producing similar horsepower. Although I dreamed of my RZ-powered dream sportbike, the upward-trending prices of RZ500s have kept my dreams in fantasyland and out of reality.

MO Quiz: How Well Do You Know 1990s Two-Stroke Sportbikes?

My pretend world meshed with my real life a few weeks ago while at the Circuit of the Americas for a ride on BMW’s uber-superbike, the carbon-framed and -wheeled HP4 Race, which was the most capable sportbike I’d ever ridden. After my sessions were over, I strolled through the pits and ran across a close approximation of my dream machine, owned by my newest best friend, Paul Stamper.

2018 BMW HP4 Race First Ride Review +Video

Yamaha RZ500

Stamper sitting behind his aluminum-framed RZV500. The front two cylinders feed Jolly Moto expansion chambers exiting on the right side, while the rear cylinders fire into twin undertail exhaust pipes.

Stamper was attending the trackday with his RZV500R, a higher-spec Japanese-market RZ that used hand-welded aluminum for its box-section frame instead of the RZ’s steel chassis. Despite the bike’s exotic pedigree, Stamper made several comprehensive mods his RZ to make it more suitable for his trackday use.

The most obvious update is the adoption of Yamaha R6 suspension, swingarm, brakes and wheels, a major upgrade from the RZ’s twig-like 37mm fork (with flawed anti-dive system) and its oddball 16/18-inch front/rear wheels. The early-generation R6 components are steps behind the contemporary leading edge, but they are more than capable for the power and weight of the RZV. Stamper says the RZ’s lightly modded motor cranks out 90 horsepower to its tire, and the bike scales in at a tidy 360 pounds with its tank full.

Yamaha RZ500

Stamper’s RZV500 rolls on R6 running gear, with the R6 swingarm adapted to operate with the aftermarket adjustable shock mounted Buell-style under the engine as used in the stock bike.

My heartstrings were yanked mightily as Stamper walked me around his RZ. I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to feel that two-stroke V-4 thrusting me around the marvelous COTA track, aided by brakes, suspension and tires that are generations ahead of the bike’s original moribund components. Stamper literally had the key to my dream.

It’s said that you create opportunities by asking for them, so I did. And Stamper graciously told me I was welcome to take his bike for a spin around the GP circuit!

My mind raced with anticipation as I hastily threw on my leathers while Stamper took his RZ out for a warm-up lap before handing it over to me. Would my lofty, nostalgia-tinted expectations be met, or would my blast from my past be a disappointing let-down after riding modern superbikes like the amazing $78,000 HP4 Race I had sampled just an hour earlier?

Yamaha RZ500

Stamper handing off his RZ to a rider whose dreams were coming true…

Hearing the RZ500 cackling in pit lane while I slipped on my gloves brought back a flood of memories from my long-ago formative years. It sounded just as awesome as I remembered, with a soft, snowmobile-like purr at idle that transforms into a shrieking high pitch at the blip of the throttle. Some might say that a two-stroke motor sounds unrefined relative to a four-cycle engine, and that might be true. But, to my ears, no other motorbike engine sounds as electrifying as the RZ’s.

Engaging the clutch reminded me of the RZ’s tall first gear, which made dragrace-style starts challenging on the street but would be no issue at COTA. The transmission swaps gears with a crudeness that would be unacceptable on a modern bike. These foibles, however, didn’t bother me in the least, as I was so thrilled to revisit familiar but distant feelings from the RZ. Even the seat, which is otherwise nearly inconsequential to a motorcycle, felt familiar to my butt cheeks, another reminder of the streetbike glory days from my youth.

Yamaha RZ500

A smile broader than Texas inside that helmet…

The stock RZ500s steer slower than many expect from a 500cc two-stroke, and Stamper’s wasn’t much different despite the altered geometry from his chassis mods. This inherent stability pays off in rider confidence, as the bike reassuringly didn’t feel sketchy in any way.

With COTA’s long backstraight in front of me after exiting a first-gear corner, I wound the nuts off the eager V-4 and was soon going faster than I ever did on my RZ. Acceleration forces were way below the 205-hp HP4, but they were much stronger than any production motorcycle displacing 500cc or less. In that moment, I felt like Kenny Roberts leading the Assen GP on his Yamaha.

Nearing the end of the straight, I had to guess when apply the brakes. I was probably about 50 mph shy of the HP4’s max velocity, but I also lacked the BMW’s incredible Brembos and wasn’t sure what to expect from the R6’s brakes. It turned out I had plenty of time to bleed off speed and backed off way before necessary, despite a two-stroke motor’s dearth of engine braking.

Yamaha RZ500

Knee down and grin up on the RZV500 at COTA.

The stadium section of the track was especially fun for me on the RZ, as the straights linking the corners were much longer than they were on the mega-powerful Beemer, so it allowed time to revel in the power delivery from the counterbalanced V-4 as it tach’d out just past 10,000 rpm. The RZV was confidence-inspiring while leaned over, and I flashed back to my first trackday aboard my old RZ when I could only aspire to drag my knee in corners like I was on this day.

After getting acquainted with the RZ on my out lap and not having it blow up or headshake me into a wall, I got more aggressive with my riding during my second lap and delighted in its unique feedback and faint familiarity. The HP4 Race was clearly much faster and abundantly more capable than Stamper’s RZV, but the smiles inside my helmet arrived twice as big and 10 times more frequent!

Stamper didn’t put a limit on the amount of laps I could ride, so I was determined to keep riding until the session ended or I ran the bike out of gas. Sadly, the RZ had exhausted its fuel tank as I neared the end of my second lap, forcing me to limp it back into the pits.

So, although my time aboard the RZV500 was incredibly brief, they were six of the most invigorating minutes I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. Sure, my experience was indelibly colored by rose-tinted nostalgia that brought back a flood of memories from my formative streetbike roots, but it was also a vivid reminder of the intoxicating nature of riding a GP-replica two-stroke motorcycle – a unique thrill for anyone, but especially to those who grew up idolizing racers like Roberts, Rainey, Spencer, Lawson and Schwantz.

“The bike puts a smile on my face every time it smokes out the four-strokes going into Turn 1 at start of day,” Stamper says about riding his RZ. “Even more enjoyment as the track comes in later in the day and I have the ability to run lines that the literbikes cannot hold. Corner speed makes up for all out speed, and it will run consistent 2:50 all day long at COTA with a 2:47 best. Going by Aprilia RSV4s and Panigales is just icing on the cake.”

Yamaha RZ500

Stamper aboard his RZV500R at Circuit of the Americas.

Adrenaline and excitement continued to sweep through my body for a long time after my ride on Stamper’s RZV500, which, for someone who has ridden all the best sportbikes in the past couple of decades, speaks volumes about the uncommon experience. Feeling the distinctive two-stroke powerband light up at the behest of my wrist to fire me around a modern GP circuit roused my moto soul in ways no other motorcycle could.

I’ll be eternally grateful to Paul Stamper for giving me the opportunity to ride his RZV and rekindle cherished memories while creating new ones. I’ve also called dibs for first right of refusal whenever Stamper decides to sell his bike…

Yamaha RZ500

The smile from dreams coming true.

  • Old MOron

    This is a great story. They say you can never go back, but maybe you can if just for a few laps. How very cool of Mr Stamper to let you turn some laps on his bike.

    “Revs gathered sluggishly at first, more like a GT80 than a GP monster.”
    Ha ha ha, my first bike was a GT80. I’ve thought about getting another one, but I’ve never been serious about it. It’s no RZ500.

    • Kevin Duke

      According to my list of bikes ridden, the GT80 is the seventh!

      • Old MOron

        I wish I were only six bikes behind you!

    • John B.

      THOMAS WOLFE, You Can’t Go Home Again (posthumously, 1940)

      “We can’t turn back the days that have gone. We can’t turn life back to the hours when our lungs were sound, our blood hot, our bodies young. We are a flash of fire–a brain, a heart, a spirit. And we are three-cents-worth of lime and iron–which we cannot get back.”

      • Old MOron

        And yet Kevin was inspired to dance.
        Is it kindness or cruelty that an aging man can feel young again, even if he is not so?
        (Not Kevdashian, I’m speaking in general terms.)

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        You know how ‘they’ say that when one’s number comes up, there is nothing that may be done?

        Well, I got an unlisted number.

  • mizkitty

    Should have added a Trigger Warning at the top of this one.
    My first bike in High School was a brand new 1981 RD350LC.
    White with the Blue stripe. Liquid-cooled. Mono-shock. DG expansion chambers.
    Sold it a few years later to get the RD500LC.
    Got stolen from outside my house in Vancouver in the early ’90s.
    Still miss that thing.

    • hipsabad

      ooh, that would hurt!

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      My Gamma was stolen from a locked backyard shed.

      • Kevin Duke

        🙁

      • Larry Kahn

        Was that in NJ @ 1986/7 by any chance?

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          Trawna. 1987?

          • Larry Kahn

            Where’s Trawna? Google says that’s slang for Toronto.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Bingo.

  • hipsabad

    i bought an RZ500 in the 80s when they came out (lucky canucks that we were) and i was in love in so many ways, however, going to this bike after my previous RZ350 was unexpectedly underwhelming on my favourite backroads as the bike was way too heavy in the front end for my liking. Kevin briefly alludes to this. It’s probably fine on a free-flowing track but on less than smooth pavement and with unexpected situations the bike was not as much fun as its smaller two-cylinder sibling. I later was able to ride a friend’s RG500–it felt yet wilder, more flickable!

    • mizkitty

      Yeah, the Walter Wolf special. RG500.
      Always seemed wilder than the Yamaha.
      Didn’t they have a rep for engine seizures though?

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Walter Wolf was just a graphics package. And, it was gearboxes that lunched on the Gammas. 1 litre oil capacity, and all that.

        • Kevin Duke

          Yep, always gearbox issues with the RGs.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Are you calling me names?

          • Kevin Duke

            I don’t think so… I thought I was agreeing with you!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            I thought you were calling this former RG owner a “gearbox”.

            Understandable, after seeing these Calvin Klein jeans:
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/be791f78ffd7d3556bd291a431aba98038c77d221f550e1d01abeb34964e6ba2.jpg (My hillbilly ex-girlfriend though she would make me more fashionable if she purchased these for me. Me, liking sex, agreed to wear them.)

          • Kevin Duke

            A worthy reason to wear them!

          • Old MOron

            Any guy who wears Calvin Klein jeans for sex is too lazy to wank. A-hahaha!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            The sad part is that she probably paid for them with my credit card.

            Seems only fair, though, as it saved me the monthly drudgery of posting a cheque to pay off her credit card.

        • Ian Christopher

          Let’s hear it for the cartridge style transmission at least so you didn’t have to split the cases.

    • Kevin Duke

      Yep, the RG definitely was lighter and more agile than the RZ. Motors were near equal in output. I’d be happy to take one around COTA if anyone offers… 🙂

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        I also had the Honda NSR400 triple. Been searching for photos. Anyone else have one of these?

        • Allison Sullivan

          They were pretty rare. I had a friend who had a MVX250 – the original NS250R – and those were even more rare. I’ve never seen one in the wild other than his.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            I bought mine used. 2000 kms. The day Ayrton Senna died. I left Shannonville early, to go get it that day. Ex-wife was taping the San Marino Grand Prix for me. The oldies radio station that only ever gave Leafs scores, announced the death. Sort of ruined my day.

            But, back to the bike. It was perfect. The only thing that would convince a viewer that this was not straight off the showroom floor, was the odometer. Got it home and took a couple of photos. Thought I’d end up taking more. Ended up selling it later that year. Ex might have the two (or three) photos.

            Only ever saw the MVX250 in magazines.

        • Kevin Duke

          I’ve sampled several Gammas and RZs, but never the NSR400. I remember the three-cylinder motor having a crappy exhaust note compared to the 500s. And, really, why have a 400 when you could have a 500…?

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Well, it was actually only 387(?) cc’s, and weighed more than the Gamma. I bought mine because I think they are beautiful, but by then it was on the insurance blacklist. It was claimed to have more power than the RZ350, but I’m not sure. Backroad performance seemed the same, and new, they cost more than the Gamma or RZ 500’s.

            Very pretty bike, though.

          • mikstr

            sounded like an outboard motor, lol

  • Buzz

    Dang, Kevin. I’m gonna go outside and dry fire my boat motor just to hear the cackle!

  • I’m not much one for nostalgia on past machines I’ve owned, but I very much would like to have another RZ500. It is the one bike I miss, other than maybe my RS125.

  • kenneth_moore

    Like a million other guys my age, my first bike was a Yamaha 2-stroke; an RD350. Age 16 and not a clue how to ride..it was the definition of “Imprudent Riding.”

    Great story Mr. Duke.

  • John B.

    Fantastic story Kevin! I have come to believe a life well-lived consists mostly of wide-ranging experiences and the people we meet along the way. I am glad to hear you had such a wonderful experience at COTA with the RZ and Paul.

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  • Chris

    Now that is an excellent story…and a great vid. Nice!

  • Bob Dragich

    130 rear tire??? Death awaits you.

    • Kevin Duke

      Yeah, that was the stock size! The bike I rode wore a 180/60-17.

      • Dan Nielen

        Great article Kevin. Reminds me of my own glory days selling them on Yonge St in the 80’s. Riding a freshly PDI’d first one off the boat that hit our shop. First ride was down the Bayview extension to test it out. What a memory that is for me. Had to have one. Had it 2 years and it got stolen. Many years later the addiction came back and I was fortunate to get the trilogy and others before the market went nuts. I told Stamper one of the items on my bucket list is to get my 1991 RGV500 hybrid to COTA and turn some laps with him. It may go unfulfilled due to the fact it’s so far, but that is still a dream of mine I hope can come true. Great read and happy you got the chance to relive your past on a version that is an insight into the potential of the bike had it stayed in production longer. Thanx for the memories!

        • Kevin Duke

          Good to hear your memories, Dan. If you had the trilogy, curious to hear your thoughts about how the NSR compared to the 500s? And tell me more about your hybrid RGV?

          • Dan Nielen

            My Canadian definition of the trilogy being RZ/RG/NS. State’s side I can see it meaning TZR/RGV/NSR. I do have one NSR left in my stable. It’s an oddball being a 1994 MC28sp with MC21 engine and electronics to deal with the de-restricion hurdle. I almost had that trilogy as well but decided to focus on the 500’s about 10 years ago. Several friends have the 1991 RGV VJ22 version so I am quite familiar with them, especially with my RGV500 hybrid being VJ22 based.
            All the 250’s are wonderful. When I sold bike’s in the 80’s it was actually the JDM 250’s I lusted for, and I owned an RZ500! I have been very fortunate and fulfilled that dream having several over the years, mostly NSR’s MC18 MK2 versions.
            My 1994 NSR250sp is almost incomparable to the stock 500’s, it’s so competent a machine on the street and nearly as quick. I think they are the closest thing to the current version GP bike, at that time, ever made in a production street bike
            As you eluded to wanting an RZ500 in an updated chassis, my RGV500 is exactly such. I actually have 2. One is very nice being a Lucky Strike Tribute and wearing Penske shock and Raceteked forks. All the NORMAL stuff like Jolly GP’s, Nissan Racing callipers and Nova tranny . It’s wearing Cleverwolf VJ23 glass and the aforementioned paint. This is how the world would have been in 1991 with an Rgv500 for sale. My other one is as if you took that and went to town on it. It wears Ohlins 3 ways. It has R/T forks with Brembo rotors and the 2 piece billet cnc callipers. Ohlins Rear shock with the remote reservoir and steering damper as well. It has the Attack adjustasble triples and CRG gp type clutch lever, Brembo master and Aim MXL cataloguer dash. Running Lomas SS/Carbon GP style chambers and has Marchisini forged magnesium wheels. The standard Billet pieces on both like the seat support and clutch cover as well as allot oil tanks. It is suited in Tyga GP500 FRP and has a VJ21 tank. Looks essentially like the Rossi NSR. I had better stop. As you can see, I am certifiable!

          • Kevin Duke

            Very, very nice! So, your RGV is a 500cc Gamma motor in a 250’s chassis? What improvements do you notice over the RG500’s chassis?

          • Paul Stamper

            How is this for a flashback

          • Dan Nielen

            The stock Gamma is a slightly larger bike than the RZ and the NS. All 3 are fairly comfortable and more upright than the JDM 250’s or modern sportbikes. In comparison to Stampers steel to alloy frame swap on the RZ, the 250 frame completely transforms the Gamma. It rides and handles like an RGV250 on steroids basically and feels only slightly heavier and slower in transition. Similar to putting the RZ engine in a TZR250 frame, it is transformative. I am working on an RG500 custom that will bring it up to speed like Paul’s RZV500. Similar mods with USD GSXR forks/calipers/swingarm and 17″ wheels are a big upgrade to the stock bike. The gain on the modded stockers is much larger on the RZ and brings it much closer to the Gamma in overall performance. The negatives on the stock RZ such as the heavy pipes and steel frame are 2 big differences from the Rg500 that are rectified. Tire/Rim sizes are a big issue on the stockers, limiting the bikes significantly.

          • Kevin Duke

            Sounds wonderful! Please tell me you live near SoCal!

          • Dan Nielen

            Although I will be riding a 2 stroke today, unfortunately it is a Ski-Doo! I’m north of Toronto, but wish I was in SoCal and could ride these all year long!

          • Kevin Duke

            I’ll buy the In ‘n’ Out burgers if you come down!

          • Dan Nielen

            That would be great. I’d have to win the lottery first but seeing as I’ve already won the Gamma lottery, never say never!

          • Dan Nielen
    • Ian Christopher

      This brings up an interesting point. While riding my vintage machines, especially at Deal’s Gap, people comment on the small tires pretty often. “How can anyone go fast one those skinny tires?” This always kind of puzzles me. People have been going fast on skinny tires for a long, long time and without question, the skinny Pirelli Diablo’s and Michelin Activ’s of today and light years ahead of the old Avon’s of yore. Not saying my old GS1000 will outrun a competently ridden…well any modern sportbike, but it hustles just fine on those skinny bias-ply’s.

      • Allison Sullivan

        Never seems to stop the classic racers at the IOM, doing silly speeds on what look like mountain bike tires …

  • JMDGT

    My riding buds at my Grandparents Farm had two stroke dirt bikes. Another buddy had a two stroke Yamaha street bike. I think it was a RD250. I knew how the worked and the value of two strokes but always thought the sreet versions to noisy for my tastes. They are a real advantage in a number of ways. Great story.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Were you in Japan, Australia, Britain or the U.S.S.R. at the time?

      • JMDGT

        Ohio.

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          Then, it was not an RD 250.

          • JMDGT

            It was a two stroke 250. It was a Yamaha. I’m guessing at the model number. It was a maroon red color. Any idea what the model might have been?

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            DS7?

          • JMDGT

            I don’t know that doesn’t Ring a bell. It was a nifty little bike. The dirt bikes were enduros. I had a lowly SL100 at the time. We all wanted Elsinores.

          • hipsabad

            i came very close to buying an RD200 in Canada in 1972 as my first new bike

          • JMDGT

            The bike my friend had was a great little machine.

          • Rocky Stonepebble
          • hipsabad

            i don’t recall that paint scheme, i think it was two-tone like the XS650 which i later bought, but the rest looks very familiar.

            “always ready to take off and go”–ha, damn, those were innocent times

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            “ha, damn, those were innocent times”

            When a man was proud to kick mommy nature in the goolies with a blue smoke spewing deux-temps, all whilst feeling comfort from the cold bottle of riding whisky packed in the inside pocket.

          • hipsabad

            i had a Suzuki T250 Hustler, too, that was also a smokin sweetie. But the most memorable (good and bad), and the one now longed for most, was a Bultaco Metralla. So damn handsome, and with such perfectly intuitive handling/geometry…it pains me to think of it

          • Rocky Stonepebble
          • Kevin Duke

            Ooh, that’s pretty! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that model before.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            It is, isn’t it? If I recall correctly, this is the 1976 model which was not imported to the land of Skatey-Fighty. By then, us tree-juice drinkers were on to the RD400.

            (As an aside, an old work friend once gave me his seized and generally yucky Daytona. I took it on condition that we’d race it. Me wrench, him ride. I eventually gave it back to him and he insisted he reimburse me for the costs. Was mostly labour and brake fluid. We rode the snot out of it – illegally – and he eventually gave it to his brother. I don’t think he ever understood what he had.)

          • hipsabad

            looks more like the 77 RD400

          • CLARITY

            I still have my 77 rd400 .The wheels were not painted and only the sidewall edges were polished,.

          • mikstr

            wow, very sharp looking!!!!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            It wasn’t a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike?

          • JMDGT

            Not a big bike but a motorcycle. Around the size of a CB350. Maybe a little smaller. I remember he had it but not being a Yamaha guy I didn’t pay that much attention to it. It was a nice machine and he kept it super clean. It may have been a 200. As far as two strokes go some guys I knew in high school had Kawasakis. I believe they were two strokes but bigger bikes. I was just learning to ride on the road back then. It is funny how some of these articles make me think about those old bikes and riding back in the seventies.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Was it more fun than a barrel of monkeys,
            That two-wheeled bike?

            https://youtu.be/WwWaPOlzWnI

          • hipsabad

            even had one of those Cub/Passport/whatever Hondas. It came later in my narrative arc, bought it on a lark in a 2 year scooter phase. Never loved that tranny. But there’s a guy, Ed Marsh, iirc, who’s crossed the globe and ridden across Canada in the winter on one of these and he makes it look like a riot. Total inspiration!

            https://c90adventures.co.uk/

          • TonyCarlos

            Why couldn’t it have been an RD250?

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            They were not sold in America. That was a Japan/Australia market bike in the time JMD describes.

          • TonyCarlos

            My memories of the 70s are oddly clouded by smoke, but I do know there are an AWFUL lot of mid-70s RD250s for sale in the US for a bike that supposedly was not imported.

            https://www.smartcycleguide.com/motorcycles-for-sale/yamaha-rd-250

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Well, there you go. I guess I am an idiot. I was under the impression they were not imported to the U.S.

            I wrongfully thought they were a Japan/Antipodean market (and certain license restricted markets-Britain) bikes.

            Please feel free to taunt me. Did you not get the aircooled RD350’s that morphed into the 400’s, like us?

          • TonyCarlos

            We did get the ACed RD350. I owned one.
            By the time they morphed into 400s and liquid cooling, I had moved on to BMWs.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            The 400’s were still air cooled. When they went to liquid cooled (LC), they were back to 350 cc’s. That was 1981.

            I never moved on.

          • Ian Christopher

            Neither were Gamma’s but they made it here.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            That was my first thought, but Tony showed far too many 40 year old bikes for sale in far flung America for them to be reasonably thought of as grey market.

    • Rocky Stonepebble
  • Larry Kahn

    Club raced RZ350 couple of years, got a Gamma 500 and that was like the RZ350 on acid. Of the 70 bikes I’ve owned the Gamma would be way near the top of the “should have kept it” list. Sold it to move to California from NJ so at least a worthy reason…

  • Allison Sullivan

    The smell of blue smoke in the morning …

    My second bike was an ex-race RG250. it was a hell of a step up from a GSX250, but I loved that bike fiercely. It would alternate between scooter and racebike with a flick of the throttle, it weighed nothing, and it scared the bejesus out of unwary CB900’s. I can’t say I really ever got on with the Japanese domestic model RG400 that replaced it, even though it was a much better bike.

    I would love to go back and ride a smoker again. It would probably terrify me 🙂

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      If you’re ever east of Trawna, I may just let you have a toodle on a 1990 350. May.

  • Matt O

    I have never had the pleasure of a two stroke street bike. I need to change that

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Too late.

      • Matt O

        A very used vintage bike would be an option. Nothing like this slice of history though.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    The U.K. RZ’s (RD’s there) were rated at ten per cent higher HP than the Canadian bikes. The Japanese bikes had (as you have said) the groovy aluminium frame. The horsepower was a voluntary measure at the time. IIRC, it was actually the Great Britain (and some parts of Europe) motor with jetting and easily reversible electronics changes.

    There were basically three versions: Japan, U.K. (and some others) and Canada and the rest of the world. The Canuck and ROTW bikes were built to a cost point and came with lower horsepower (really rich jetting) for warranty reasons.

    I seem to recall A Brit-Bike-Mag (Which Bike?) slapping a tuned RD 500 motor in a Jap market frame back in ’86. Apparently, it was quite easy to import the Japanese market bikes to many other markets.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/07c2244514e5b1923ad39fec903bf6db19c0f52fe821b52cb7162fe4b55942a9.jpg

    • hipsabad

      that pair once lived in my ‘stable’, yowza!

      It’s funny, the thing i missed most when i left strokers and went back to the cam drama was the lack of engine braking, i loved the smoothness of it and also I believe it sharpened my braking sense having to think in terms of their action alone.

      But now, I’ve grown to love engine braking again, ha!

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        I near killed myself on 13, once, riding with two former racers that were on four-stroke twins (a Duc and a Honda). Up until then, I’d never owned a diesel. I’d forgotten about engine braking. Well, the brake lights on their bikes never seemed to go on, so I’d be buggered if I was going to tap the brakes.

        Near rear-ended the both of them a few times. lol

        • hipsabad

          Yeah, i hear ya! Similarly, my buddy was recently behind me on some beautifully curvaceous tar (he on his new 690 Duke, me on a 400 Sumo) and afterwards he told me he wasn’t able to get a read on my corner entries as there was no brake light indications–only to realize later that it was all engine braking.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            LOL! That’s what these guys were doing to me. Vulcan mind games.

            Where abouts were you?

          • hipsabad

            You singular or you plural? I was in front. We were riding out to tip of Cape Flattery, Wash. after ferrying down from Canada

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Oh. Thought you were in Ontario.

          • hipsabad

            i like Tdot but Ontario doesn’t cut it–i need to ride year round

  • B.Hoop

    Lust, covet, etc. ….

    5.8 gallon tank! I’m guessing even with that the range wasn’t the greatest?

    • Kevin Duke

      Yeah, the fuel mileage is atrocious! High 20s to low 30s.

  • Michael Washburn

    Awesome story, brought back memories for me too. I first heard an RZ500 pass me while driving a car while I lived in Spain, what a sound! So right before I moved back to the US, I had an ’88 RG500 Gamma imported from the UK. What a bike! I’ll always regret selling it, those 4 cylinder strokers are just magic. Here’s a photo of me with it back in 89: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/35092df1848fa99f5ba8e5d31cfe8e02a46b3bdbc9e88f11bebc92f8af76bafc.jpg

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      I believe it was the Dutch that got the Rothman’s liveried bikes. They looked extra racy! lol

    • Rocky Stonepebble
  • Paul Stamper

    Just finished reading your story. Great!!!! First apologize on the fuel, but you saw my smile was as big as yours to see a rider truly enthused about a nostalgic bike and the work to get it where it is. Even in the mid tier track groups the bike holds it’s own, even with my limited skills. It was all summed up the Monday of the RR event, your ride, and the BMW RR rider I talked to after a session. At pit in I apologized to him if some of my passes were too close, as in numerous, and his reply was his bike is faster on the straights. My smile only got bigger. You my man are a wonderful story teller.

  • Old MOron
    • Kevin Duke

      Admittedly, I’m a much better rider than I am a dancer!

  • Rapier51

    It’s always nice to read stories about things that people love. While KD isn’t quite in my white hair category it sounds like he’s discovering that age isn’t always such a bad thing. Not as long as you don’t get roped into the inward spiraling loops of resentment now overtaking so many, especially the ones that had to little to resent but are being taught to resent, and then forget what they love. Keep your mind on the things that you love.

  • mikstr

    Imagine what a modern, DI 500 V4 two-stroke could do? Clean, light and relatively tamed all the while keeping that stellar, steroid-driven acceleration that can only come from a two-stroke, instantly making every cammer feel slow….. Build it…. Can-Am!

    • Kevin Duke

      Suter has its 576cc V-4 two-stroke MMX500 it’ll sell you. Not street legal, but it looks amazing: http://www.motorcycle.com/features/suter-mmx500-unveiled.html

      The pleasure of its claimed 195 hp is available for around $125k from Arch Motorcycles, the U.S. importer of Suters (Moto2 bikes, too) and producer of the KR-GT with Keanu Reeves, which I got to test a couple of years ago. I really hope to get a spin on that lovely MMX someday soon…

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Ugly as f*ck.

        I think I still have the issue of either “Cycle” or “Cycle Guide” that had a cover photo (Nov./Dec. 1984?) of all three. NSR, RZ and Gamma.

        That was when I vowed to own all of them. Mind you, at the time, I vowed to own them all at THE SAME time. I had the shiny new ’83 Rz350 and my pals all goaded me about the race replicas.

        I searched high and low on the web for that, to show you. If I still have the mag, it is in my maw’s basement. (Or, a landfill in Scotland).

        That MMXAXZZFV POS of which you speak, is no NSR, RZ or Gamma.

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c72c4e98cf5f06f38766dc2ae26b8f68956dbbe823923bde1f97e00e62ad9235.jpg

        • Kevin Duke

          Having been an owner of a Hurricane 600 on the heels of my RZ500, I’m surprised that I might’ve missed the issue in your photo! I have the CC issue that compared the RG and RZ on the dyno that showed the Yamaha had maybe 1 hp over the Suzuki on the top end. I’ll try to pull out out of my mom’s basement when I visit for Xmas!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            I had both of those issues (I subscribed to about six or seven bike mags and about ten car mags counting the F1 publications – the cost of the British ones near killed me. lol).

            I found the Hurricane dull, after either of the RZ’s (350/500). Was probably the power delivery of the two-strokes.

          • Kevin Duke

            The Hurricane was a better motorcycle in every way except excitement…

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            That’s why I mentioned the power delivery. And, it was ugly. Also, it did not do too well in production 600. The go-to bikes were still the 2-strokes.

        • Kevin Duke

          Dunno why you call the MMX a POS. It’s several leagues above any NSR, RZ or RG. No nostalgia to it, but it’s gotta be pretty farking awesome!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Looks, Kevin-baby, looks. Could Sophia Loren cook like Julia Child? I doubt it, but she had cache, and what counts. And this shallow, superficial guy is going to take shiny object over useful tool every time.

            After all, we all know it is Ginger over Mary Ann, and blonde Samantha over brunette Samantha (Serena) every day of the week.

          • Kevin Duke

            I get what you’re saying, but perhaps you’d appreciate riding the Ginger if you had the chance…

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            That doesn’t make sense.

          • Kevin Duke

            The possibility of enjoying riding Ginger/Suter makes sense to me…

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            I had already implied that the Ginger/Samantha (or, Wilma, for that matter) was the RZ/RG/NSR with my looks over substance comment.

            And, you may ride Suter all you wish; I’ll stick to Ginger.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7425c16b926b1fa57e6e085cdf908a2ef48705113e707791cebb6f904b4db51a.jpg

          • Kevin Duke

            Oh, sorry, I misinterpreted you. I’m a Mary Ann guy. As for 500cc two-strokes, I’ll ride any of them thrown in front of me!

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Yeah … I figured you for Mary Ann. I’ll ride any of them.

            Also, I’ll ride any of the two-strokes.

            😉

      • Ian Christopher

        I would love to see the a production 500 two-stroke with the rider aids like the Sutter and really with modern engine management a two-stroke could be made to burn just as clean or cleaner than a four-stroke. There was a report about this once upon a time, I’ll have to dig it up again.

        • mikstr

          Look up BRP’s E-TEC engine technology….

          • Kevin Duke

            Whenever I hear about contemporary injected two-stroke snowmobile and outboard designs, I’ve always wondered if they’d be able to pass EPA and Euro-4 regs. Still haven’t heard a definitive answer on that.

      • mikstr

        Suter engine tech is very old school compared to what is out there now; it’s not DI (and thus could never be street legal), and not affordable. You really have to get your butt down on a Ski-Doo snowmobile with an E-TEC engine to see what is possible. Time to get in touch with your Canadian roots….

        • Kevin Duke

          Suter’s plan, they say, is to develop a DI system for the engine. That and 5 bucks will get you a cup of coffee, but…

          • mikstr

            Hope they have deep pockets…

  • Paul Stamper

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e22b9705351818d33e0e122e418fdaf5e61d147e67909a17553b1e37ca2420fa.jpg

    Here is your flashback Kevin. And too think this was my first track bike

    • Kevin Duke

      Beautiful! Love the white wheels!

  • Dan Nielen

    Here you go Kevin. Got one for you if I ever make it down! New top my Bucket List! You, me and Stamper at COTA. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5558f365a37d291e78ec19d18e53e83e23ff3229af376a65f0882681a946970f.jpg Wouldn’t that be a blast from the past!

    • Kevin Duke

      OMG, now that’s an enviable garage! Love the Doohan lids, too! You, me and Stamper at COTA would be a dream!

  • James Stewart

    Kevin, If you get nostalgic for your SECOND (much more practical) bike… i can fix you you up ! At a much lower price than that fancy 500cc 2 stroke made from Un-obtanium.

    Why… it’s the CBR600F2 Rat Bike ! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/37c7e8177c2d6409412bafc29d15733643cea2b2c72367916220c3e452097778.jpg

    I’m a dirt bike guy so my first street legal bike was an 83 Honda XL600. Great bike – unless you need to actually kick start it. Then a 500cc Honda Interceptor – which was a good match for my room mate’s RZ350 Ring Dinger. I think he had to ditch the cat pipes and get expansion chambers/jet kit – the Interceptor was just too close in performance.

  • jeff benson

    Had the Yammer R5. A real rocket for the time. Weighed less than a Ninja250. Progress lol.