Bikes Of A Lifetime: 1990 Yamaha RZ350 – Two-Cycle Terrific!

For those actually paying attention, the main reason I got rid of my 500 Interceptor was the high costs of keeping the thing on the road. I still loved sport riding, something which neither the XJ750 nor the Seca did particularly well. For this reason, for my next bike, I chose a 1990 Yahama RZ350. And what name did I give it? “Hell on Wheels.”

Quite simply, the RZ350 was the wildest bike I ever rode. The combination of light weight and lots of power made the RZ a total blast. Perhaps I should qualify “lots of power.” I have ridden a lot of motorcycles in my life and whenever I am on a big bore bike like an 1100 cc bike, all I can think is, “This is a waste of money. I can’t possibly use this kind of power.” Sure, I’ve heard the argument, “Well, traveling two up in the mountains, you need that power.” Well, I never did; every mid-sized bike I had was more than powerful enough.

 The RZ350 was completely redesigned for 1989. There was a new engine and chassis and in many ways it was the swansong of the two-stroke bike in North America. I found mine in the same store where I had bought my Seca 650 just two months before. The RZ had been bought new for $3995 plus freight and taxes and ridden a grand total of 3000 km. Its inexperienced owner was afraid it and rightfully so; this was not a bike for beginners. In fact, with all of 3000 km the rear brake was worn out, telling a lot about his riding ability. The store took the Seca in trade for what I paid for it, and the difference, including taxes, was $1500. A fair deal in my opinion.

The RZ350 was an amazing machine. The Yamaha Power Valve System varies port height to give much better low end torque. On the opposite end, at 7000 rpm the motor screamed like a banshee and ripped to the 10,000 rpm redline. This was accompanied by vibration that blurred the mirrors, clouds of blue smoke and wheelies. The handling on twisty roads was breath-taking; the bike was so light that insane cornering speeds were possible. Herein lies the bad part: this bike could bite you in the behind faster than any bike I have ever ridden. As an experienced rider it was not a problem for me, but for one with less than say, five years’ experience, the RZ350 was best passed up.

Another great thing about the RZ was it was actually easy to live with. The riding position/bar/peg relationship was not radical (by today’s standards) at all. You could ride it for an hour and half or so without heading to the chiropractor. It was not, however, a long distance bike; it was just too highly strung for long distance work, and this resulted in the purchase of a touring bike, the subject of next week’s BOAL.


The RZ350 was an excellent daily rider. I kept it for three years, unheard of for me. Had I not relocated out of the country I would have kept it forever. It was fast and loads of fun. The best part was it was not expensive to operate. The only thing I ever had done in a shop was an annual carb sync which ran all of $50. The tires were not huge, so not too expensive, and since the bike was light, they wore pretty well. The best part was here in British Columbia, bikes under 400 cc qualify for cheap insurance. Even though the thing was as fast as the wind, it insured for like $250 a year. Go figure.

I recently started looking for an RZ350 and found, much to my surprise, clean examples go for $5000 and up. The only one I would consider buying was $7000. I assume this is because so many were raced and generally had the bark beat off them, there just aren’t many left. Sad, really, since the RZ350 was an excellent long term bike to own. In fact, I loved it so much, in winter it was stored in my living room as an art piece!