Yamaha RD250/350 Road Test

Yamaha RD250/350 Road Test

RD250 road testStyling in favour of um, dare one say it, a British shaped tank and there you have it, Yamaha’s current middleweight offerings resplendent in groovy 1974 colours of irridescent blue, red or green We all know about inflation, revaluation of the yen etc. etc ad nauseam, but does this revamp really justify a price tag of £460 (250) or £500 (350) nearly £100 up on the pre­vious YR models? This is light-weight motorcycling at heavyweight prices, so the offering’s got to be pretty hot to encourage prospective purchasers to shell out to these sorts of tunes.

RD350 Road Test

Not only does it look nice but the finish is durable, our machine having done over 6,000 miles in the hands of testers with hardly a blemish. Weighing in at around about the 350tb mark, ready for the road, it’s no longer really a lightweight – indicators, 12v batteries, five (six?)” speed gearboxes, autolube tanks, pumps and plumbing, all this sophistication has done the same fory the smaller capacity classes as it has for larger ‘machines; bikes are becoming obese. Does it matter? The Yamaha’s a small enough machine, the weight well concentrated low and In the middle not to make it noticeable even at low speeds, and it’s really only when picking the back end up to squeeze the machine into a small garage already bulging car, with three other bikes, motor mower etc that the weight’s apparent, No, as a road bike the weighty extras make for the rider’s much easier life, so we’ll just have to accept the weight increases. Saddle height at 31 inches suits my average 5ft 8m admi­rably, footrests so right that you’re not even conscious of ’em. bars slightly upswept and brought back, a very reasonable town and country compromise though everything at speed would benefit from flat bars. The seat’s well sprung but rather too short and narrow at the nose, making for a less than ideal two-up riding position. All in all a well thought-out, comfortable layout, certainly one-up.

First question once aboard, the kick-starter duly piodded and that ghastly “clackety clack” tick-over established, must be “wot’ll it do.” A whiff of throttle raises the exhaust note to an all too willing wail, and it’s immediately obvious you’ve got some ponies beneath you. First gear s engaged with a bit of a clunk, a fist full provides the necessary revs imposed by the highish first gear, a result of modifying the original six-speed spec, and you’re off, wheel barely kissing the tarmac — 8’/2 grand’s reached in about as much time as it takes to throw out the clutch lever and wind the throttle drum back to the stop, then it’s hoick into second, the front end goes all light again you’re thinking “Christ, and this is a 250!?!” and the needle’s nudging the red line again, hoick into third, it’s light but not so worryingly, you’ve time to watch the needle this time, then into fourth and things are starting to steady up, it’s a bit of a struggle to reach the red, then into fifth and it’s all over, sitting upright that is — all over?! You’re sat at an indicated 90mph, bolt upright and holding it! Down on the tank and the speedq’s up to 100 — even allowing for the usual inexcusable Jap instrument error, that’s quite some speed from a road-going 250cc motorcycle.

This is no Ducati Mach 1, all speed then clutch slipping in traffic. The Yamaha is totally civilised and perhaps for once those ghastly badges mean some­thing, for despite all the high speed thrills available to the rider, there s a very reasonable degree of torque there also. Top gear can be engaged at 2000 rpm or so, and while it’ll hardly pull up the side of a mountain, it’ll increase its velocity (it’s hardly acceleration) under such conditions without gassing up or indulging in any of the nastier two-stroke habits. While it s delightfully and surprisingly willing to potter about at low revs the 50mph speed “limit and derives to conserve juice giving us plenty of opportunity to explore this aspect of its performance, power really only starts at 5,000 revs Changing up at this point will keep one up with all the traffic that’s not really having a go, but it’s after this that the exhaust note starts to change from the electric motor pun once the tin-can clatter of low revs, and the overrun is passed into a choked wail, gathering force up to 6,000 and then starting to teally scream, flashing up to 8’/i m the lower three with a noise that contributes markedly to the adrenalin raising nature of the ride. Play­ing racer? You betcha. but all the time the exhaust’s well muted and it s difficult to imagine that many would take offence to its rapid passage.

This kind of perform­ance from a 250, however, is highly cri­tical A slight headwind, an uphill slope and top gear’s reduced to but an over­drive indeed speed dropping under many circumstances once fifth cog’s selected. Carburation proved troublesome on our machine, despite Mitsui’s claim to having modified this aspect satisfactorily, having reduced jet size from 120 to 85, and top speed was reached by rolling off the throttle slightly, indicating continued richness Climatic conditions also affected the 250 noticeably, cold damp nights being especially good at reducing fifth gear to an ambling pace, performance only holdable in 4th— no wonder the sixth gear’s locked up by the modified selector as the slightest divergence from idyllic settings would presumably make it unusable, even allowing for the larger rear sprocket fitted on the US Spec six-speeders. However, 70mph cruising is quite feasible one-up, the addition of a pas- senger making surprisingly little difference to acceleration and ciuising speed though the high top gear’s even more noticeable on hills or in headwinds Cruising at high speeds is hardly relaxing, but it’s quite possible, though comfort, both rider’s and engine’s, would be impmved with lower bars. However, the 250’s not presumably intended as a long distance touier though I’ve little doubt it would do it on occa­sions. It excells as a country loads blatter, when the throttle and gearbox are in con­stant play — then, it s fantastic without the excess power of big bikes available to step the back end out in ovei enthusiastic moments.

The gearbox is most unremarkable, and therefore must be good — I hardly noticed it after the clonk into first Changes can be made with or without the clutch as fast as you like, although the selection’s perhaps a bit notchy. The only criticisms that can be levelled against it is a nasty habit of jumping down a gear on occasions, the selector just a shade short of being fully positive and therefore holding the cog for a while following a less than perfect change. The lever itself is a little on the long side for my size 9s, the big toenaii doing the changing rather than the instep unless the foot’s lifted off the rest and slid forward an inch or so.

The internal ratios themselves are well chosen, red line changes keeping the motor well into the power band of 6K plus revs, and it’s only the overall gearing that might be que­stioned, both at the top and bottom. Still, the sixth speed’s available to all with but an engine strip-down and removal of blanking-off parts change of rear sprocket from 37 to 40 tooth and that’s solved — easy when you know how! The clutch is smooth and light, offering no vices, no sudden, snatchy cam action, though the crunchy first gear selection following” frosty morning start ups indicates the alterations that occur as temperatures rise to working norms.

The clonk still exists then, but is far less pronounced and could probably be eliminated altogethe’r with careful adjustment Slip never occurred despite the healthy abuse that the thing was subiected to on occasions — when will some manufacturers learn to make slip-free clutches that don’t need Mole grips to operate due to high spring poun­dages? Clutch withdrawal permits kick starting in gear, a useful feature if embarrassed by a stall especially when associated with the u;,ual all but un-discoverable Japanese neutral — that s one idiot light that is necessary! Once used, the pedal is tucked well out of the way, as is the cold-start lever, proving an annoyance when starting from cold, with the subsequent desire to de activate half a imile down the road A half inch extension would make all the difference when fumbling round the carbs at night with mitt-encased paws.

So much for the ‘go’ – what about the stop”? Fan-bloody-tastic! That disc brake is one of. the best brakes I’ve ever come across, giving excellent feel coupled with the nght degree of liyhlness This is an absolute 100 per cent necessity for disc brakes on roadsters — far too many are abundantly powerful and very light but possess so little feel one’s forever squealing or locking up the front’ end, terrifying to use in the wet. No danger with this one though; care is obviously needed on greasy surfaces but the brake can be squeezed to the point of locking, released and then re-applied to give very rapid deceleration on nasty surfaces. On diy surfaces, braking power is limited seemingly only by tyre adhesion. It’s so powerful that hard application when cranked into a bend produces noticeable oversteer on right-handers as the forks twist under reaction. As is unfortunately all too common with discs, there s a noticeable time-lag between application of lever pressure and application of pad material in wet weather as the yuck is wiped off the disc’s surface but it was never worrying, as the good sensitivity prevents sudden locking occurring once dried

The rear brake’s an excellent comple­ment to that beaut up front, being powerful without the excessive power that results in real wheel locking under heavy braking, as weight transfer forward lightens the rear end — a nice brake for lazy, traffic weaving! Minor annoyance regarding the brakes is the hydraulicaHy activated front brake light switch in addittion to the conventional mechanically operated rear brake larnp. The brake lamp indicator idiot light informs you that the front switch only-operates under fairly hefty braking, so the back brake is required to inform following traffic where-it would otherwise not be used

Handling up to 70mph or so is excel­lent, it’s low and light, and even on the Japanese tyres with which it’s shod, you can fling it through “S” bends as quick as you like, no ponderous bulk to pick up, haul over centre and force down t’other way While on slower bumpy bends, coming out of roundabouts, for instance, the Yam feels as steady as the proverbial rock no head shaking ass wriggling etc, the universal Japanese rear damper pro­blems show up on faster bumps, the back end kicking about a bit. For the average 250, the handling’s really superb, but this ain’t no ordinary 250, so it can’t be judged by these standards. It s so fast that faults show up and above 70 these damper problems are ever-present Fast sweeping bends even billiard table smooth.’uns induce a wallowing pitching of the back end, nothing dangerous taut indicating a certain nervousness in the handling The semi-iaised bars may well contribute to the problem through their lightening effect on the front end, as the rider’s pivoted backwards by wind pres sure, thus pre-loading the rear shocks It s a minor gripe that a change of bars and a change to Girlmgs would probably put right but hell you’re paying a lot of bread for bikes these days, and they should be right to start with It s the usual Jap problem of handling being a lap behind engine developments, though to be fair to Yamaha they’re perhaps only half a lap behind. A great pity as it only requires a buying department decision to put this right into the top league as far as handling is concerned, though side winds result in some nasty, worrying skittishness

Suspension’s pretty good too, the front fork action soft without being mushy giving a very reasonable range of move ment, while the previously maligned rear shocks contribute well to the comfortable ride. However, though most surface irre gulanties are nicely ironed out, bad pot­holes produce immense jarring crashes from the front end, the fork movement swallowed up transmitting a fair belting to the arms. While is is hardly suprising it is surprising to find certain innocuous looking surfaces producing a disconcerting yo-yo effect, as minor irregularities conspire to catch out the suspension, probably a coincidental harmonic disturbance of the compliance.

So there we are; it’s fast, stops like throwing an anchor out, handles well and has a comfortable ride. It can’t all be good, can it? Too right, I’m afraid, there’s a big minus that’s ‘orribly typical, the fuel consumption, and how! Even keeping to its commuter role, charging up at 5,000 revs before the soaring revs occur, it’s difficult to better 47mpg — if you’re really trying to burn rubber it’ll drop to 35mpg or less In the 1,000 miles plus that we tested the 250 we averaged but 40rnpg — my 2-litre car averages over 30! That’s the price you’re paying for 500 and 650cc performance from 250cc! Purchase price air ain’t much different either, thanks — plus feature of the middleweight is the nice light feel to the machine with its easy controls, and the joy of winding that motor up to 6000 rpm and then feeling and hearing it play racers, wailing rapidly up to-the red Line — minus feature is the lack of torque, though for so highly tuned a two-stroke twin it’s got surprisingly good low down pulfing power, but hardly in the big-bike class.

Besides the hefty thirst, perhaps excus­able in view of the performance available, though still disappointingly heavy when trying for fuel economy, the bike has some other less excusable complaints, princip­ally in the area that the.Japanese tradi­tionally excell the electrics. The headlamp can only be described as pathetic; dip beam’s reasonably spread and well cut off, though rather too close, but the 35w main beam is dangerously ineffective, lacking in sheer power and abysmally directed, a black hole right on the centre line of the light cone being especially disconcerting There’s no excuse for the lack of power as the generator’s quite capable of running at least a 50w unit. We ran electrically heated gloves and boot insoles, with lights, and experienced no problems, so why not stick in a light to match the performance, please Yamaha it’s another thing, like the dampers, that an owner can easily put to rights, but why should he? The dip-switch operates arsey-tarsey for some strange reason, as it seems to on all Japanese machines, though it’s well placed for the casual thumb but up for up it surely must be.

The proximity of headlamp flasher and horn buttons is also cause for annoyance They re too close to differentiate easily, but just too far apart to operate concur­rently should the necessity arise, yet actual worst of both worlds. Aesthetically pleasing, the handlebar switch gear may be, but functionally it could be vastly im­proved, as lighting arrangements are con­fusing at present. In theory, the ignition Key provides four alternative switch possi­bilities, light and ignition off, ignition only on, lights and ignition on, lights only on, the key removable on positions one and four. However, a switch on the left hand bar brings the lights into play in all but the first position, so why all the complexity ‘ heaven only knows. Without a pilot light, there’s little incentive to leave the lights on when parked, as the bar switch is then live, leaving any Tom, Dick or Harry free to turn the headlamps on, and you free to curse and swear on returning to a suitably flattened battery. It’s a strange, totally illogical set-up that’s so unlike the normal carefully considered layout found on Japanese machinery. Needless to say, the horn requires ear plugs to be worn before sounding — sorry, I mean sounds as if ear plugs are being worn!

To summarise, then, if you’re prepared to pay for the juice (two star cheap), the RD 250 will offer as much excitement as almost any other bike, especially on winding country rnain roads. The five gears give indicated speeds of 36, 49, 67 and 88 mph at max revs, 100 mph at 8,000 rpm available with a crouch on top. Unless long two-up and loaded trips are your scene, this Yam will probably do anything you ask of it, and highly enjoyably too — nice one Yamaha, and thank you Mitsui!

Our 250’s characteristics explored over a couple of weeks, time came for its return to the importers. What should catch the ever optimistic eye on rolling up at Mitsui but big brother, the RD350. An amount of wheeling and dealing having taken place, the 350 was duly released, to our tender mercies The bane of journalistic life, press day, rapidly approaching, we were unable to assess the 350 over as long a period as the RD250, but since it’s almost identical to the little ‘un, impressions proved more speedily absorbed.

The most noticable thing about the similarities is their contrasts — read on, you’ll see what I’m getting at in this apparent contradiction! That extra 100 cubes transforms a very fast, buzz-box, toy racer into a but little faster, infinitely more flexible, readable bike, almost unrecog­nisable despite the identity of exterior appearance. While the detail criticisms regarding items of hardware remain, many of the characteristics change.

The 250 needs stoking along if you re intending to fly — no such hard work on the 350 is necessary. A powerband cer­tainly exists, starting at about the same point, five grand, but it’s nowhere near so concentrated. Instead of a period of calm proceeding that elevator like blast off once it all gets together, the 350 pulls right from low down at a steadily increasing rate, with a still noticable increase above 5000 rpm. There’s none of the slightly gassed up below when accelerating, and indeed the big ‘un can be opened wjde from 2,000 in top. and will just pull away with no complaints whatsoever. The 250’s power is just enough if used to its maxi­mum, which means screwing to the red line before catching the next cog — the 350’s got an abundance of power and so doesn’t need this rowing along Peak power’s developed at 7,500 a thousand below the red line, and really feels it too — there’s absolutely no need to push the mill beyond this, the chop into the next gear producing probably more rapid accelera­tion than pushing to the limit

It’s this and the wider power band that changes the machine’s character so total­ly. No longer is there that psychologically satisfying change of exhaust note right on a given point on the rev counter scale, the fun of keeping it there on winding roads requiring constant attention to the gear stick. The 350 transformed into a far more practical road machine, more relax­ing to ride and, in the end more econo mical. Fuel consumption’s marginally bet­ter, due to less frequent gear changing needs, and the sparing of red line revs should endow the machine with greater longevity The bigger motor makes for infinitely easier town riding, with no need for more than a few revs before dumping the clutch to make smart getaways on the orange drag whereas the 250 needs several thousand up if it’s not to gass-up a little and spoil matters.

In almost every respect the bigger bike’s better – it’s really a case of the 250 being a scaled down version of the 350. rather than the other way round, and the weight of the bike reflects this. No longer is top merely an overdrive, no longer does acceleration tail off markedly with changes into 4th and 5th, and on this machine, that sixth gear could certainly be made use of without the critical settings required to produce a usable cog on the 250.

However, the greater amount of power available does throw further doubts on the deficiencies in the damping department, this becoming more obvious with the greater rearward weight transfer under acceleration and the higher speeds corn­ers can easily be taken at. It also means there’s more room for mistakes on the big ‘un, and the torquey wide power band could cause embarrassment with heavy handed tap operation on dodgy surfaces, as it’s now quite possible to step the rear end out in a power slide, something the 250 would only do if you arrived at the sudden start of the power band midway through a corner, well banked over.

On balance, the 350 must be judged as a much better machine than the 250, in­heriting most of the quarter litre’s good points, with but few of its bad points in­tensified in the enlarged version. Parado­xically, however, it loses some of the 250’s excitement and fun, becoming a very good, but rather uninspiring bike. The 350’s a small, large capacity bike, nothing unusual, easy to ride thanks to the good torque characteristics, and requiring the caution that needs to be applied when dealing with big bikes. The 250, on the other hand, is more fun, as it can be flogged mercilessly without getting into trouble too often – try that on the 350 and you find yourself running out of road frequently, sliding about under power, and pawing the air frequently. It’s also so easy to get the most out of the 350, requiring less of the concentration and co-ordination needed to keep the 250 bubbling along, and while it’s more relaxing, it’s very satisfying to on occasions put your skill to the test, and the 250 provides that test.

The 350’s a sports touring machine with far fewer compromises than the 250. Hills, headwinds, etc no longer provide a challenge, they’re simply minor skirmi­shes, disposed of with but an opening of the throttle, rather than a cog change. The practical within me cries out that it’s a better machine, but the emotional res­ponds with that nagging question “Yes, but is it as much fun?” — the answer here is no, so it’s a question of balancing workhorse or fun-tool requirements one against the other — you choose!

It’s interesting also to reflect on the differences between close tolerance, mass production components, as the 350 fol­lowed our 250 immediately, and we were able to judge detail changes which might otherwise have escaped our attention, had we been distracted by riding other machines in between times. As previously mentioned, the two are identical but for pots and pistons plus a few other minor parts, but the 350’s front brake proved disappointing after the beaut on the 250. The 350’s, while still very powerful, with good feel, reacted worse to wet weather than did little ‘un’s, and seemed somehow to lack that fine edge to the effectiveness and sensitivity that brought forth the accolades for the 250’s. Good, yes, out­standing, as was the 250’s no, even after adjustment of the screw and lock-nut act­ing on the master cylinder piston, permit­ting setting of the lever’s free play to achieve maximum sensitivity for each rider’s hand size, a so simple but so useful feature. As compensation, however, main-beam proved far better, providing a more even s’pread of illumination, though still rather short on candle power after my own bike’s fantastic 60 watt Lucas QH set-up. Still, a reasonable beam, so per­haps our 250 wasn’t typical of the breed. Yes, both proved very pleasant machi­nes, well designed, manufactured and finished, with nice detail touches like fac­tory balanced wheels front and back — it’s no wonder they sell well, though under present circumstances, I can’t help won­dering how much longer such thirsty two-strokes will continue to be made.