The Grand Prix Fantasy
Do you also remember that they never worked worth a damn? At least not on the RZ, producing virtually no anti-dive effect while robbing the front brakes of a firm feel at the lever. And do you remember 16 inch front wheels? The RZ has one of those, too. Sixteen inch front wheels were failed by-product of GP roadracing technology that found their way onto steetbikes in the early- to mid-eighties. They served a useful purpose on the larger, heavier superbikes of the day, helping to give them light, quick steering. But on a bike of the RZ's size it leads to rather confused handling - the front tire's odd profile gives a slow-steering, heavy impression. To make matters worse, 16 inch front wheels have a tendency to lock under hard braking, and can be a handful when trail-braking into a turn.
Overall, the RZ is a small bike: It has a low center of gravity, short wheelbase (53 - 54 inches), and a racer-like 26-degree steering head angle. Coupled with the 16 inch front wheel, these numbers would seem to indicate a very quick handling motorcycle. But at close to 470 pounds wet, it's a bit porky for a two-stroke. It also has an 18 inch rear wheel fitted with a high-profile tire (130X80). Add that to the fat, tall front tire and what you have is a bike that requires surprisingly more effort than it should to steer rapidly than the sum of it's components would indicate.
On the flip side, though, the 500 is extremely stable at speed. Firm springing and damping along with the rigid frame certainly contribute to this feel, inspiring confidence as you lean the RZ into 120+ mph sweepers. Don't get us wrong; the RZ is no handling slouch. We found that using a strong-arm technique along with a good dose of body English will reward the skilled rider on a fast stretch of pavement. And ample ground clearance equals extreme lean angles before anything touches down, the first of which is likely to be your knee.
When you first climb aboard the RZ, it just feels right. You sit in it, not on it. The controls are all placed correctly and fall readily to hand. The bike is actually quite comfortable, and given the engine's counterbalanced smoothness an all-day ride is not out of the question. The twin disc brakes up front, as well as the rear disc, are ventilated, an experiment Yamaha tried on several of it's street bikes in the mid Eighties. The front brakes offer strong, predictable performance with no fade, something very welcome on a two-stroke, which has virtually no (four-stroke-like) engine braking. A firm two-fingered squeeze is all that's required to lift the rear tire. The only drawback is a mushy feel at the lever caused by the anti-dive unit.
But the rarest, and trickest version - the RZV500R - was reserved exclusively for the Japanese home market. The RZV500 bristles with special pieces not found on the garden-variety RZ/RD-LC. Most notable is the beautiful, hand-welded aluminum frame, which is not only lighter than the RZ's steel unit, but also noticeably stiffer.
The front brake lines are braided stainless steel instead of the RZ's rubber ones, and the front forks are both air and rebound-damping adjustable. The brake and gear shift levers are cast from aluminum, as are the clip-on handle bars; on the standard RZ these parts are made from steel. Other individual differences are subtle, but together they add up to a 30 pound weight savings over the RZ. As mentioned earlier, though, the RZV domestic model had it's horns cut back because of licensing restrictions to a mere 64 bhp, fully 30 percent less then the export RZ.
The GP fantasy lives deep within all of us who enjoy sporting motorcycles. To be Eddie Lawson, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey. To be dicing on the world's most famous circuits with a Gran Prix two-stroke. The RZ500 gives you that feel. A lot of the OW-70's racetrack personality was built into this bike. To experience the excitement, sweeping through curve after curve, the front wheel getting light as you dial on the throttle, hearing - and feeling - that wailing two-stroke exhaust note rising, and the bike still accelerating...
Irregardless, two-strokes aren't for everybody, and they certainly aren't everyday motorcycles: First, since oil is combusted along with gasoline (via crankcase oil injectors), it does pollute, though the RZ500's combustion process is fairly adept at burning most of the oil. Also, in stock form the RZ came with too-tall final drive gearing, making fifth or sixth gear roll-on performance less than ideal, and two-up freeway passing slow. But that's a fact of life with most highly tuned two-strokes - it takes a couple or three stabs at the gear lever to bring the engine back to life. Then, whack the throttle, and you'll get another dose of that two-stroke fury.
On Sunday mornings, if you've been GP dreaming, the RZ500 is as close as you can get.Specifications
Manufacturer: Yamaha Model: RZ500 (RD500LC, RZV500R) Price: $3900 (U.S. Dollars, 1984) Engine: Two-stroke, liquid-cooled, reed-valved 50-degree V4 Bore x stroke: 56.4 x 50.0 mm Displacement: 499cc Carburetion: (4) 26mm Mikuni Transmission: 6-speed Wheelbase: 54.1 in. Seat height: 31.5 in. Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal. Claimed dry weight: 438 lbs. (RZ/RD model), 418 lbs. (RZV model)