(first posted 2/26/2012) This is Don Emde. There’s a good reason for his big smile. He’s a privateer, and has just won the 1972 Daytona 200, considered to be the most prestigious bike race in the United States. This is the story about the little bike that made his big smile possible; a classic David and Goliath story with a few twists. It’s one that has captivated me for years. It could have been you or me pictured here, inasmuch as one didn’t need to be particularly well heeled to own this bike. Except in the talent department.
I told everyone the story about my Italian Harley Hoglet. I’m pretty sure that nothing contained in that story would indicate I possessed much prowess as a rider. I learned how to ride the Hoglet in the mountains and on the street. I even took it to the drag races where my chain broke at the entry to the traps and I slid through with my rear wheel locked. I also survived being driven off the road by drunken soldiers in large cars, Somehow along the way, I felt I had developed the skills necessary to handle more horsepower. I also came to think more horsepower would make me safer. I still think that was true.
All the soldiers and one of the other sailors who had bikes had settled on the BSA 650 or Triumph 650 as the cool bikes of choice. I felt woefully inadequate with my 1 cylinder, overweight, Harley 250. I watched one of the airborne guys (who I felt was insane before this incident) wheelie across the street and centerpunch a barracks. I also enjoyed watching those guys when their British iron chose not to start; I knew there were also disadvantages to their choice. It ruined your whole exit scenario to leave the club and have your bike defy you. It is really sort of humorous to watch a drunk trying to kickstart a British bike. It was helpful to know that the Japanese were making a much better 650.
I decided to take my bike and my easy credit to the Yamaha dealer and let him beat me up with a good price on the Yamaha XS1b. The year was 1971.
Looking back I realize the salesman did not know his product. He looked at my Hoglet and told me he wouldn’t let me test drive the 650 first. He would let me ride the much smaller, lighter, and milder R5 (350cc). I thought he made a lot of sense although, my Hoglet didn’t weigh much less than the 650.
The 350 was a study in lightweight power with excellent balance. Before we had gone the first block I knew I must have it. I hit the two lane blacktop that led back to Fort Detrick for my test drive. In town I was just going 30-40 and burbling for all the world like a well tuned chain saw. When I hit the city limits I decided to see if it couldn’t do a little more.
I seem to recall going 50 and more than likely was in fourth gear. The bike was smooth as silk and I probably had a mouthful of bugs due to the smile on my face. When you grab a handful of throttle on a two stroke twin or triple things don’t just happen immediately unless you already have it near the boiling point. A two stroke has a sweet spot commonly referred to as a power band. It may be very narrow, say from 5000 to 7000 rpm. It may not be nearly so narrow. But the band on this little Yamaha was pretty narrow.
So with a smile on my face I grabbed a handful. Nothing happened. After a moment the bike began to scream. Literally. As the scream started something very strong kicked me in the butt. The handlebars began to rise and I felt like the rookie I was.
I know. What a punk. I’ve said so many times over the intervening years. Those of you who have experienced a two stroke hitting that sweet spot understand just how unprepared I was. Those who have only ridden four stroke street bikes need not criticize. You are just as unprepared as I was. I was also that guy who liked to have a couple beers and hop on my bike. At times like that you need time to think. This bike afforded no time between thinking and doing. I might have been ok taking it home. However, I certainly had no business taking it to the club and I spent a lot of time there.
With the smile still frozen on my face, I took the bike back to the dealer and thanked him for the experience. I stayed very happy with my Hoglet until I transferred to the southwest desert. Then I sold it and bought another four stroke. I have owned two stroke bikes since that time but I was ready for them and they weren’t nearly the hot rods that the little Yamaha was. In fact, if I had the money I spent buying, building, and tearing up bikes I would be more comfortably retired.
I forfeited my shot at being Don Emde that day. I never looked back. I don’t know your story but you are welcome to comment below. Don, however, was uniquely qualified and the Daytona race that year was storybook.
Don became the second leg of the only father/son winners in Daytona 200 history;
Don’s father Floyd won in 1948;
Don’s dad represents Indian’s last win;
The Yamaha 350 is the smallest capacity bike to ever win the Daytona 200;
Don was the first Yamaha to win the Daytona 200; (13 straight wins)
Don was the first 2 stroke to win the Daytona 200; and,
Don was that rare privateer winner.
What was special about the Yamaha? The R5 that I rode was part of an alphabet soup product line that Yamaha developed after an extensive study of the Adler bike produced in Germany. They became the everyman race bike. I cannot begin to tell you how popular they became and if you are old enough, there is no need . So many 750 riders were embarrassed by this bike that it was probably the most loved and most hated bike of it’s generation
Two strokes became very popular in racing because they were lighter and stronger. They have no valves and they have no cams like we are accustomed to seeing. They were not only lighter but the center of gravity is lower. Since they have no cams etc, it is obvious that tuning involves other factors. Tuning is determined by the size and shape of the piston ports as much as anything. There is blowback in this design in a couple ways. Pistons force the charge back towards the carburetor. Unburned charge is blown out the muffler by the rising piston. To combat these problems Yamaha developed the reed valve with the RD series bike. This, of course, made for a one direction flow on the inlet side. This came the year after Emde won.
On the outlet side a tuner would install an expansion chamber. The very small outlet made for a rebounding pulse that forced the unburned charge back into the cylinder before the piston closed the port. Functionally, much like supercharging as it used outside force to sweeten the pot. Obviously much different also as it is all on the exhaust side.
If it’s so crude and sounds like a chain saw, why would anybody want it. It sure isn’t economical with fuel and is arguably less efficient than a four stroke, however, for hauling the freight it is certainly effective.
It has about 60% of the torque of a four stroke according to some of the old tuners. How can it be competitive? The answer is simple. Every stroke is part of a firing rotation. It is 60-70% as efficient but twice as often. When it gets into the power band that it is designed to have, it is just bad. However, it is sure different and scary if you are unprepared.
A humorous note (for me anyway) was the occasional hot rodder who would saw off the ends of his mufflers to reduce back pressure. Inevitably they refused to believe that it was they who had shot themselves in the foot. I understand there can be a similar consequence in altering a rotary engine exhaust.
What made Yamaha different was the lack of “unobtanium” in the engines of their racing bikes. The biggest difference between the works racing bike and the street bike was the weight. The frame for the works bike had all the brackets for street stuff ground off and was about half the weight of the street model. In other words, the bike that lubricated my underwear that day had the same engine (minus professional tuning efforts) that the “go fast” crowd was using. Yamaha made a batch of dollars by racing what they sold. The street frame had a 27 degree rake for a little more highway stability and the (TZ ) racing unit had a 25 degree rake for quicker response. I see a resemblance between the Miata today and the Yam350 of that day. They were everywhere because they were affordable.
Don’s father Floyd retired from racing and opened a motorcycle shop in National City California. Having done my obligatory Navy duty in San Diego, I recognize that as one of the small communities of that metropolitan area.
Don became one of the top amateur riders in California during the late sixties. In 1970 he had a split AMA racing license. Champions were made by a combination of points earned for road racing, off road, and flat track event. Don was considered an expert in road racing and an amateur for the off road and flat track events. You could not be a “one trick pony” and become the AMA#1.
He rode a Yamaha prepped by a Southern California tuner named Mel Dinesen. Dinesen was just outstanding. Because Emde did so well in 1970 he was signed by the BSA/Triumph (BSA owned Triumph) effort for the 1971 Daytona 200 competition. He left Dinesen without burning any bridges and took the big contract. The BSA contingent for Daytona was huge. If you are a fan of bike racing these names will be familiar. If not, please be assured there are AMA#1’s and European legends contained in the group. In that BSA/Triumph team were: Mike Hailwood, Dick Mann, Dave Aldana, Jim Rice, Gene Romero, Don Castro, Tom Rockwood, Gary Nixon, and Paul Smart. For a 20 year old it was pretty heady company.
Dick Mann had ridden a 750 Honda in the 1970 Daytona 200. It was the only time Honda tried Daytona to that point and he won. Honda was so happy that they stopped the racing effort and fired Mann. He was so upset that he returned the following year and won again on a BSA. Surprisingly, Emde finished third behind Mann and Gene Romero (both AMA#1’s).
Now you might think that finishing third at the most prestigious motorcycle race in the world would ensure a young racer of a contract the next year. Emde thought so. So did BSA. Unfortunately the business affairs of the world sometimes destroy perfect endings. The next year when the mail showed up it contained a release, not a contract. BSA was bankrupting and the new company was to be Norton Villiers Triumph. A holding company. That company was going to field two bikes the next year and neither of them would be ridden by Emde.
Luckily, Emde had left it open to return to Mel Dinesen. That is a lesson he should have taken to heart. They put together a ride with Team Motorcycle Weekly with backing from Yamaha. The ride was a 350 Yamaha that had been developed with the Daytona 200 in mind.
You might wonder how a 350 could possibly win against 750’s. Good question. It sure wasn’t horsepower. The racing version weighed much less than the street version and the rider looked like he could slide through a drinking straw. The Yamaha is reported to produce less than 40 horsepower while the Suzuki and Kawasaki 750’s both produced 75 or more. The problem was that tire and chain technology did not keep up with the horsepower.
Emde says that there must have been 50 Yamaha 350’s in the race. I couldn’t confirm how many, but they were the poor man’s hot rod. Emde rode a very conservative race and paced himself the whole way. Daytona racers were expected to get 200 miles out of a set of tires. He did. The Kawasakis and Suzukis did not finish. He took the lead on the 48th lap of a 53 lap race. He won by about 100 yards over the second place bike.
After winning a David vs. Goliath race like this you might think that a young guy would have discovered all the secrets of success and that they would live happily ever after. Not so.
Thinking that the tire and chain technology would catch up to the horsepower capabilities, Emde hitched a ride with Suzuki for the 73 Daytona. The Suzuki team was told the night before the race that the tires would not last for the duration of the race. The Kawasaki team (Yvonne DuHamel and Art Baumann) crashed into each other very early and left the race. The Suzuki team started developing electrical gremlins and dropping out. Emde babied his tires and finished 7th. He suffered the indignity of watching Jarno Saarinan take first on….. a factory backed 350 Yamaha. Even worse, the Mel Dinesin team took third place with his bike. The following year the little Yamaha didn’t have enough to win but neither did Suzuki or Kawasaki. Yamaha upgraded the mighty TZ and just kept on going.
Emde retired in 1973 to pursue other business interests. He had a severe crash that year from which he says he never completely recovered. Probably more importantly, that was the year that his friend and mentor Cal Rayborn was killed. I doubt that the Daytona results of 1973 gave him any reason to want to stay active. He says essentially, that events just made it stop being fun. He has stayed associated with motorcycle sports and his pursuits are an interesting read. The whole Emde family is an interesting read with even his sister being involved in competitive racing. Google them.
The 350 Yamaha had also taken Yvonne DuHamel to a second place finish behind Cal Rayborn’s factory Harley. Had DuHamel pulled that one out he would share the distinction of being father/son winners of Daytona. His son Miguel has won four times. Some things are just not meant to be.
There are a lot of untold aspects of this story. It’s easy to find. Feel free to kick in with any comments. I think the larger than life stories of some of these riders are just phenomenal. Personally, I think it’s harder to ride a bike well than to hit a baseball or throw a football. But that’s just me.
The power curve of my buddy’s 80cc Kawasaki 2-stroke always seemed so untamed compared to my 4-stroke Honda. I can’t imagine trying to race and keep the ass planted with it coming on and off the boil so easily…
Yep, the RD350 (and the later iteration the RD400) were awesome bikes… I almost bought a used TZ350 race bike, back when no one wanted old race bikes… guy wanted $800… I decided it would NOT be a practical street bike! The other claim to fame for the RD350: first bike that one of the kids in my class was killed on… back in 1972 or so, on the Santa Monica Freeway…
i loved reading this story real great,its funny a couple of years ago i had this strange 200cc 2 stroke honda scooter called a pantheon,it was a 1998 model an import a bit battered and ragedy,but mechanicaly good…THAT THING WOULD SEE OF MOST BIG BIKES,LOL,LOL,it just used to fly..its so strange but when that power band come in the rear would squat the front lift ..whoosh..of into hyperdrive,lol,lol all from a little 200cc 2 stroke.
RD 350s were the shit back in the day they could do 105 mph straight from the packet handled ok and simple to repair and if you under stand exhaust tuning theres lots more power in there great story really takes me back
re: Rotary engine exhausts
Yes and no. No, there is basically no benefit to back pressure on Wankels. On a few models, Mazda did use back pressure at the manifold to open the 6PI (six port induction) system. For those who don’t know, rotaries ARE like two-strokes in that the size and shape of the intake and exhaust ports controls tuning the way a camshaft does in a four-stroke piston engine. In some models in the 1980s (the 1984-85 GSL-SE RX-7 and the 86-88 naturally aspirated RX-7), Mazda added an additional two intake ports to the usual four intake ports. These were only opened at high RPM, and Mazda used exhaust back pressure to open them.
Obviously this is an issue it you open up the exhaust, so in later models, Mazda used other means. On the 89-91 naturally aspirated RX-7s, Mazda used air from the air pump. On the RX-8, they used electric actuators.
Aside from this, back pressure is the enemy to making serious power in a rotary. On turbo cars, less back pressure equals better boost response and, with a big enough turbo, more boost. On naturally-aspirated cars, the sort of porting required to make big power requires very high RPM running. In fact, on highly modified rotaries, the power band tends to *begin* at 7000 RPM and continue on past 11,000 RPM. These setups demand minimum back pressure.
However, an unrestricted Wankel is LOUD. We’re not talking Mopar Max Wedge loud, or even straight-pipe Harley loud. We’re talking old-school turbojet-powered 707, ear-splitting, 140 dB LOUD. There are two reasons for this – all Mazda rotaries (other than the RX-8) use peripheral exhaust ports, which allow a short, straight, direct path for the exhaust gases to exit the engine. The other reason is that the exhaust gas temperature on Mazda rotaries is higher than on piston engines.
Nearly all Wankels, even full-race cars, are equipped with mufflers. This isn’t for tuning, but because even most race tracks have a dB limit, one that even muffled race-tuned rotaries have a hard time staying under.
Now, there IS exhaust tuning with Wankels, but it is more about the length of the individual exhaust runners, and where they finally meet up. Despite what appears to be dual exhaust under the second generation RX-7 and the RX-8, the exhaust runners do meet up into one pipe before splitting again. Typically, the shorter the exhaust runners, the lower the torque peak.
There is some disagreement over whether a fully-separate exhaust for a two-rotor is best for peak power. Mazdatrix swears by theirs, but others indicate that the best power levels are achieved by essentially running the exhaust runners as far back on the car as possible, then bringing them together only right before the exhaust tip.
I had a 1990 RZ350, which is still the fastest bike I have ever ridden. Not, perhaps, in straight line 1/4 mile stuff, but on a twisty road nothing could touch it.
By this time the RZ was liquid cooled and had the Yamaha powervalve system so the powerband was not nearly as abrupt but at 7000 rpm the thing just wailed. This bike also had the suspension, brakes and frame to handle the power. It was a real blast to ride.
My highway bike was a 1977 BMW R100RS which couldn’t keep up with the RZ going downhill. The insurance for the 1000 cc bike was three times the 350, a bike on which countless teenagers greased themselves.
I loved the RZ and I should never have sold it, among many other cars and bikes I should have never sold.
Good Stuff and an enjoyable read! Thanks! Loved seeing those names again. ‘On Any Sunday’ featured more of those guys, Dick Mann, Jim Rice, Cal Rayborn, Romero, Aldana,, Lawwill….. great movie.
I think I’ll have to go search out my DVD, now!
I enjoyed writing this a lot. I enjoyed watching this play out as a fan the first time around but think I may have enjoyed re-researching it even more. The two strokes always amazed me. The strangest one I owned was a Jawa 350 but thats another story. A different mission for that bike – 70mph and 70mpg all day long.
Joe L. thanks for the comments on rotary engines. I owned an rx3 and there was a part of it that exhaust that ballooned like an expansion chamber. A mechanic gave me that warning and I knew it to be true about the two stroke. I am very short on knowledge there but this is a tale not a technical paper. Your comment improved that a lot.
I just got out of the hosptial today. Between submitting the story and it hitting the net I had a gallbladder yanked. Out of the hospital now and glad that some of you enjoyed the story.
(and keep the stories coming!!!!!)
Definitely feel better!
I am thinking your RX-3 may have had a thermal reactor. Some cars of the 70s used these instead of catalytic converters. They were cheaper and less exhaust restriction, but basically dumped raw fuel into the exhaust to burn up all those unburnt hydrocarbons, and fuel economy suffered greatly. They were a big part of why the early rotaries got such awful mileage.
Nicely written Lee. Thank you for your kind words about my role in the story. Don Emde
You and your cohorts were my favorite “sports” stars of any era. I got in the business of making a career overseas. You appreciate anyone making something look easy when you know, for a fact, it is not. When I really was so I could have the time to follow the sport again, again the AMA had changed everything.
You know how sometimes you can add by subtraction. This isn’t one of them. When number ones had to excel at roadracing, circle track, and off road you had the very best competing against the very best.
Thanks for living the story. There are way too many Goliaths and not nearly enough Davids.
The two top Daytona underdog stories of the classic era were definitely Don Emde’s win and Alan Shepherd’s near win on an MZ in 63.
There is cool tech story about Yamaha TZ350s when Phil Read was racing them as a privateer in GPs. His tuner was Helmut Fath the legendary sidecar racer and builder, and one day in the dyno shed Helmut was thinking about intake charge temperature, so he took a watering can and started pouring water on the crankcase and watched the power output increase so he made up some water cooled cases which became a common mod on GP two strokes until the early 90s. Of course there is a flipside to charge cooling, Back in the 30s JAP was struggling with low power output on a speedway engine until one of the engineers took a hammer and broke off some of the cooling fins. It turned out that the alcohol fuel (normal for speedway) was running too cool and breaking off the fins got the cylinder to optimal temperature.
Great story! One question, how was Cal Rayborn killed?
I used to ride bikes. I had a 1978 Yamaha SR 500 that I put 10K miles on. That thing beat me to death. One (BIG) piston going up and down, up and down. My hands hurt just thinking about it.
I gave up on bikes 22 years ago. I decided I had used up enough of my 9 lives and I thought it was time to stop pushing my luck.
I am sketchy on parts of this. I’m not sure anybody knows.
He was going into autoracing evidently and was in New Zealand for something to do with that. What is known is that he rode a 500 suzuki in a heat and the engine froze which threw him into a wall. I understand he was killed instantly.
Years later I saw a story in a bike magazine that said it was likely he had been running on (at least partial) alcohol which increases friction. It wouldn’t be the first two stroke that froze even if on gas.
Whatever the reason, in a two year period there were three losses that I felt pretty deeply. During the 71 Daytona, Rusty Bradley a young racer from Texas was killed. There was more promise there than you could imagine. Mentioned by some in the same breath as KR. Jarno Saarinan was killed as mentioned when a bike just ahead of him went down (possibly) due to an earlier oil spill. And then there was Rayborn.
Anyway, it was years before I could follow the sport again and when I tried, it was different. I just packed off to Panama and set about makeing a Navy Career. It’s a lot of fun looking back. I think the DuHamels would make an interesting story but am not nearly as familiar with Miguel as his dad.
Racing Death, the bike was known as in these parts. A sales failure in a market needing commuter mopeds, it was, for many years, the most powerful bike sold in India, and still remains the most powerful bike ever manufactured here (which is a shame, really). Production ended in 1996 or so. It is nearly invincible on the track and equally prone to kill adolescent riders on streets. A legend, really. I really wanted one, but good examples are unobtainium, and the market is being swamped by rich posers who want “Torque Induction” plastered on the bike sides. Used prices range from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 1,20,000 ($600-$2500). Needless to say, totally not worth it.
The R5C was my first bike. Thankfully, for my survival, as it turned out…the engine was one step short of trash. It started and ran; but it had little power and overheated from carbon and hot-spots on the cylinder head.
I got it for a couple hundred bucks from an old Pole who kept it for his grandson…who didn’t want to be seen on such a thing. He sold it in disgust.
I bought it thinking it a good training model – and it was, really. But it was 12 years old and decomposing rapidly; it needed a new throttle cable and sliders (the cable was a Y unit with sliding throttle obstructions, not butterflies) and an engine overhaul.
I had my first good-paying job and was ready to test my credit. I bought the opposite of this machine: The SR 500 single.
Oh, if I’d only had someone to guide me through the various purposes of various models. I’d never have gotten an R5 as my first; and once I had it, I’d have never made the jump to a thumper.
A sound that’s disappeared from UK streets.Most RD 350s had a short and brutal life,thrashed and crashed by teenage hooligans.
Yes Gem not everyone who piloted a RD350 was a Don Emde nor were many of those bikes kept in good shape for high speed far too much powerband and not enough traction on wet roads made RDs quite a lethal device dont ask how I know, but a mate of mine souped one up, to call it challenging to ride is being kind, while manageable sort of on dry roads, a shower of rain changes that instantly having a degree in engineering meant he had studied exhaust tuning and a few hours with some sheet metal and a gas torch produced a RD 350 that nothing could catch and very few could ride successfully, lots of fun trying though. The muffler system resembled that purple weapon pictured above.
Sounds similar to one my brother’s mate built in the 70s. His was a tuned wheelie monster that sounded like a chain saw on steroids. Horrendous fuel consumption and a light switch powerband nothing much could keep up with it( in between rebuilds & blow ups!)
I know at least two people who died riding 350 Yamaha two strokes. One was not unexpected; it was a kid with a lot more money than sense. I don’t think he had his bike more than two weeks before he failed to negotiate a turn at high speed, ran into the side of a brick building and struck said building head first. The other one nobody really knows what happened other than he left the road and went down an embankment about 40 feet and ended up in a creek. There were no witnesses to the accident so we never knew if it was excess speed, mechanical failure or what. This guy had been riding for years and riding a motorcycle was one of the three things he was good at; the other two were playing guitar and fathering children.
I was blessed to own and ride a 1981 RD359 LC for 6 years, Though I sold it 30 years ago I still ride it in my dreams!
Pretty good timing on the re-release of the story, seeing that Daytona Bike Week begins next weekend, and the Daytona 200 (a shadow of what it was fifteen years ago, much less forty) is the Saturday following.
Going down to St. Augustine this coming week for the Searle’s Raid re-enactment, but won’t be sticking around for Bike Week this year. Next year? Definitely. Haven’t attended the 200 since 2006, and watching it on TV, or computer link (since they can’t get TV time anymore – did I mention the race is nothing like the old days?) just isn’t the same.
Interesting that the author and all of the commenters don’t presently own 2 strokes. I can’t be that much of an enigma rarity in having 10 on the road. Never took a break from riding them having the same ’72 CS5 200 and ’71 R5B since the early seventies (55,000 miles each). The collection has bloomed to multiples of said above, a ’77 RD 400, a Daytona Special and an RZ (bought new). The R5 (now with an RD 350 motor) still manages to impress despite having two hundred plus street-fighters in the stable. I live on a dirt road and blast down the hill in the drum braked two strokes while carefully descending the hill on a ‘big tired’ Z1000 or FZ6. Once out on the main road, the two strokes get flogged as they’ll never be faster once the intake charge heats up while the UJM’s get babied up to temperature. The ’79 RD 400F has the most seat of the pants torque on these secondary roads. It comes at the cost of no top end vs. the RZ. It’s late December and I needed to fire up the DT 50 LC in 15 degrees temperature last night and catching a whiff of the two stroke on a turn around still flashes me back to when I was 14 and took delivery of a year old CS5.
Obviously late to the game here, but a great read and a great subject! 74 RD350 was my first bike, after learning how to ride on my dad’s CB160. My friend Billy had an RD with cafe bars, and I wanted that bike so bad I could taste it. The RD was everything dad’s CB was not–fast, loud, obnoxious and downright disrespectful! Racing every sucker I could find, I still have no idea how I survived my teen years. You’ve inspired me to learn more about the R5, and I appreciate that as well.
Got this a couple weeks ago.
1971 R5B 350 Port timed.
A few thou.more were made before the RD.
A little worse for wear due to being locked in storage.
Last tag TX.1991.
Less than 2500 mi. engine had carbs removed.
P.O. gave up on getting it running ,glad cause crank
dried out and leakin would have seized it.
Plan to assemble and see whats missing.
Mildly restify keep the semi stick and period look,
and some patina.
The frame is low on paint so to fend off rust it will
After a couple thousand miles of oil and neglect.
I should have look what was around used in late 70’s thru
Just owning for a few weeks has been a nostalgic
and pleasant adventure.
The day after I brought it home had Surgery so
recovery time has been going thru the internet
doing research and reading and a little pre Dr,OK
reassembly from box & pile of parts.
A little motivation to push recovery,lookin forward
to gettin it fired up.
Gettin back on the Horse that keeps me going
in my retirement.
Thanks for the story and remembrance of History
and memories of when Disco,Hot Rods,& the smell
and sounds of the 2-strokes.
Racing on Whites Canyon Rd. and other Blvd’s
Adrenaline.20’s hormone and other Rushes.
Too much plus more,,,, was just enough.
I owned and road a 1971 R-5B (orange & white gas tank) during 1972-72, putting about 20K miles on it. While Cycle magazine had declared it the “winner” in a 1970 350cc comparison test and Yamaha claimed “race-bred” power and handling, I very quickly found out that a Honda CB-350 would outrun it, particularly if you didn’t put a new set of plugs in the R-5 immediately before the run. At first I was very frustrated and bewildered about this situation, but later I came across the Cycle World tests of both bikes and learned that their CB-350 had been almost 1/2 second quicker in the 1/4 mile than the R-5 (15.1 vs 15.5 sec.). I also got the chance to ride several CB-350s and found that they were easier to get off the line than the R-5 and covered ground much faster than their engine note would otherwise indicate (the R-5 always sounded fast…it just simply wasn’t as fast as it sounded). The idea that a stock R-5 would “embarrass 750s; however, is quite simply preposterous and mythical. While an R-5 could, possibly, give a single-carb, 4-spd Triumph or BSA 500 a hard time, it would simply be an appetizer for a CB-450 with a 5-spd box. As well, the R-5’s tranny ratios didn’t help as there were significant gaps between 1st and 2nd and 4th and 5th gears. One had to wind 1st gear pretty tight to avoid bogging when you shifted into 2nd (despite the R-5’s relatively wide power band for a piston-port engine) and you could get caught in city traffic situations “between gears” (1st being too low, while 2nd was a bit too high). As well, 4th was useless as a passing gear above 60-65 mph. The handling was also less than stellar, being that the R-5 had too little weight on the front wheel (at least with the stock handlebars), a short wheelbase and quick steering…can you spell t-w-i-t-c-h-y? While the light front-end enabled you to pull easy (and many times unintentional) wheelies (reinforcing the illusion of speed and power), it also made the steering and handling rather dicey coming out of corners, particularly on a road with slow, tight curves (just the kind of road where you might think that you could catch that CB-450 or Triumph Daytona 500 that had just blown you away on acceleration). A CB-350 was much steadier, particularly on bumpy real-world roads. And like most 2-strokes of the period, points and plug life on the R-5 were also issues…aggravated by the fact that Yamaha didn’t have any check-valves in their Autolube system (Bridgestone, Kawasaki and Suzuki all had them), which contributed to over-oiling, particularly at idle. I eventually gave the R-5 to my Dad and got a left-over ’72 Honda CB-500 Four, riding and racing it with AAMRR and WERA for 3 years and 30k street miles and being much happier. I will give Yamaha one thing, though… “The Sow’s Ear to Silk Purse” award for converting the R-5 into the 1973 RD-350, which corrected almost all of the R-5’s shortcomings (except for plug fouling), but was really no quicker than a rotary-valve 1969 Kawasaki A-7 350. I will forever wish that I had bit the bullet and bought a Bridgestone 350 GTR instead of the R-5…6-spds (no gaps), rotary valves (quicker and a wider power band), rubber-mounted engine (no vibration), more weight on the front wheel and a much better highway bike for running home from college on weekends. The racing series TRs and TZs; however, were a different deal altogether with all aluminum cylinders, silver-plated titanium rod bearing cages, magnesium crankcases on the factory specials, etc…and no one else offered race-ready bikes in such numbers. The Yamaha racers also benefitted from the sheer number of tuners and riders who were racing them and constantly tinkering to make them faster, better handling and more reliable. Don Vesco and Kel Carruthers, for instance, changed the lower frame rail loop and engine mounts to move the engine forward in the frame and shift more weight onto the front wheel to make their TR3 actually handle. Many fitted Kroeber or other electronic ignitions so that their sparks were as good at the end of a race as at the beginning. The subsequent Yamaha 250 & 350 racers benefitted from and incorporated such changes from the factory. It should be noted; however, that NONE of the Yamaha 250 and 350 roadracers of the 1960s and ’70s used reed valves like the street RDs. They were all straight-up piston-port engines with 1000-1500 rpm powerbands (as Cycle magazine said…”the world’s fastest light switch”). And btw…. Honda’s first effort in the Daytona 200 was not the 1970 CB-750 effort. In 1967, Honda provided race-kitted CB-450s (turning 11,000 rpm) to “Team Hansen” (Bob Hansen was Honda’s National Service Manager). Swede Savage finished 10th with a broken tach cable and a non-functioning rear brake on one. While Don Emde’s 1972 Daytona win on the last air-cooled 350 racer and Jarno Saarinen’s 1973 win with the water-cooled TZ 350 were certainly remarkable and admirable (I remember them well!), they also represented the limits of tire development at the time, as well as the fact that horsepower in the bigger bikes was overwhelming Japanese frame and suspension technology. Tires, frames and suspensions of the time simply couldn’t handle 100 bhp engines. ‘Course then came the all-conquering reed-valved TZ-700 4-cylinder in 1974 and another story began!
I had an R5-C in the mid ’90s and I have a ’72 CS5 200 now, both lots of fun. The CS5 is, to me, the perfect back-of-an-RV bike: easy to load & unload, light enough to affect the RV’s handling only minimally, and fast enough to go almost anywhere at almost any legal speed. The front drum is as good as some discs I’ve owned, and I’m not a good enough rider to notice the handling deficiencies of the “incomplete” stressed-member frame. Just one thing: how has nobody commented on racing legend Yvon DuHamel’s name being misspelled here?
i owned a stable of r5s. most i bought with bent forks that resulted from driver error. at a very young age i learned that motorcycles are dangerous and speed kills. this motorcycle taught me well. i was 16. now 62 and still ride. learn to look far ahead because thats where you will be very quickly on an r5. ridden on one wheel high speed and two up was my method of dating girls.on one ride in the black hills we were passed by a z1 and a t120 . full throttle on the r5 was enough to fall in and keep pace with them all the way to town. at the stoplight both riders looked over at the little bike with two up on it smiled and rode away solo.
Does anymore information exist on any attempts by Yamaha to produce its own cars beyond its involvement with what became the Toyota 2000GT by way of the earlier Nissan A550X prototype and role in the Nissan Silvia GSP311 as well as the preceding Yamaha YX30 prototype?
Did Yamaha for example ever develop a Kei Car like rival Kawasaki did with the early 1960s Kawasaki KZ360 prototype?
Find elements of Yamaha’s history interesting in a sense based on the link below that prior to developing the engine for the YX30 prototype, they had had purchased a MGA twin cam from a US Occupation Forces army officer (as officially unable to buy foreign made vehicles) and a Facel-Vega Facelia, another DOHC powered car. These were tested and dismantled to gain knowledge and understanding.