The 70’s were arguably the heyday of the two-stroke but as the genre entered its final stages of a short life, Yamaha introduced the ultimate street stroker, light, fast, good looking and easy to maintain, every leather jacket clad teenager wanted one.
Why Elsie is so much fun
The original LC is a machine with a real cult status and for many good reasons. Its radical styling and technological advancements meant it led the pack from the first turning of a wheel. Easily able to out fox machinery many times it capacity, and power, with a combination of stunning acceleration and sharp handling, the LC quickly built a reputation as the street-racer to be on. Restoring one does seem to be a popular hobby although many parts are getting hard to find these days. The racers used to cut the rear mudguards and remove the indicator stems, so these parts have usually been used up in restorations, likewise with the exhaust pipes that stick out so vulnerably out of each side, the racer wore through them at best and flattened them at worst. Being a bike that many learned their two wheeled trade upon LC’s were much crashed in their day, meaning bent frames and damaged parts are the norm for well used examples. There can be no doubt owning an LC is almost a religious experience, you will be the centre of attention at bike nights and the subject of much envy. Many will mock the spindly forks and weedy looking brakes, and many owners would agree too but the LC was a leading sports machine of its day and as such should command much respect. Once in use, the bike ignores these taunts and gets on with the job, despite of the parts used it does handle and stops pretty well too.
Maintaining such an icon of the 80’s isn’t really a major problem, being a relatively high performance two stroke, most troubles are centred on the top end of the engine, which can be easily and cheaply restored back to as new condition. If the engine has any crank problems however this is where the costs can become prohibitive, Yamaha, in an attempt at cost cutting in the first instance and looking for a high profit spares opportunity in the second elected to make the crank a non serviceable item. The con-rods and big end bearings can be changed but anything deeper inside the centre of the crank, or the slightest damage occurring to the integral crank pins, meant buying a complete unit from Yamaha. Thankfully times have moved on and many engineering companies now have the equipment to do this in house.
These few foibles apart and the LC can be a reliable and fun way of re living the past; it has a good turn of speed and can still give a good account of itself in a fair fight. When fitted with a full pro-am fairing kit, like the example on test here, some say it has timeless looks too and who are we to argue. Although prices are rising almost daily, there is still a few good examples out there and, providing a bit of routine handy work is carried out every now and then, the LC can prove to be a practical machine for day to day use, and getting about in fine style.
Dancing with Elsie
In reality the LC is something of a pussycat, often rated to be a street legal TZ race bike it is only once the latter is sampled that the truth finally kicks in. Yes the LC is fast, and has a relatively keen step up into power band, but nothing like the brutally sharp and aggressive power possessed by the race machine. The LC is more of a styling job, fashioned in the image of the race bikes but lacking much of the performance and sharing no common parts or engineering thinking. Even, it is easy to get along with and use to the full, so the type did start many a promising race career, and gave us some great action via the televised pro-am series that saw up-and-coming club racers pitched against the nations elite competitors all on identical LC’s. once a key was drawn out of a hat to select a bike it was on with the show and boy, what a show it gave us, unashamedly bashing handle bars and other bits that stick out as the pack chased the same bit of tarmac in the same manner as 7 year-olds play football; this superb gladiatorial battle was all played out on the box on many a Saturday afternoon; maybe that is what turned Dickie Davies‘s hair white?
For such a sporty potential the end result is quite the opposite with the two-stroke twin proving tractable and easy to ride at slow speeds, allow the revs to rise around the 5500rpm mark however and the engine changes its view on the matter. The exhaust note hardens, while the chassis develops a nervous tingling as the full extent of the two pistons finally clear their throats and rush into action bang on 6000rpm. Before you know it, its all over and within 3000rpm the engine has cried enough, time to give it another gear and start the process all over again. This is bare bones biking at its best, no bells and whistles to play with, the nearest the LC gets to modernity is a self cancelling indicator system, if it still works after all this time.
The engine needs a constant diet of good quality two-stroke-oil, so a bottle will need to be tucked away under the seat for those occasions when a filling station doesn’t stock it, while on the subject of petrol you had also better be prepared to make friends with a pump or two as the LC can have a voracious appetite for the stuff, especially when the throttle is held back for long periods. What you do get however is a full on experience, unfeasibly narrow rubber that grips like a limpet and a spindly chassis that tracks true, the LC is a real back lanes scratcher that, when ridden with the required gusto, can embarrass many a plastic rocket rider leaving them choking in a cloud of blue smoke. The monoshock chassis, first seen on the racers back in 1975 and actually developed for motocross use way before then, is taught and can hold a firm line if made to, however pussy foot around and the LC feels limp and not at all a fine handling machine. It is the monoshock design that is largely responsible for the overall shape of the bike too, the need to get a shock absorber up where the air box usually sits meant many of the important components normally found under the saddle or the rear of the tank, now found new homes elsewhere and necessitated the fitting of the now instantly recognisable bulbous tank.
Yamaha RD350LC Model history
The LC arrived ahead of a whole raft of PR speak. Rumours abounded for around a year previous to the bikes launch, while a hastily assembled prototype was first seen at the 1979 Paris show. This version looked like an LC with its bulbous tank and sweeping lines however much of the finished article was yet to be finalised and the Paris bike sported running gear borrowed from many sources within the Yamaha line up. When the finished version did arrive in the UK many months later many changes had been implemented, thinner forks, twin discs and those evocative italic wheels putting the icing on the RD cake. Some thought it was a racer on the road, after all that is what the PR boys had been promising, whereas those in the know realised it was little more than an old style RD with a few trimmings. Much plastic was used throughout the bike in an attempt to save weight however it still tipped the scales heavier than the model it replaced, the RD400, thanks largely to the water-cooling. First test showed the LC to be hardly faster than it predecessor either, with a top speed of 110mph however the top tuners of the day soon had the new machine reaching speeds 15mph higher than this standard figure and before too long the LC dominated the production-racing scene in the UK.
Now thought of as a legend, the production run was a short one, the LC getting a brief period in the spotlight before an all-new power valve equipped model was released during the latter part of 1982, once again revealed at the Paris show. The later bike was a far better machine in many respects but it is the first LC that has lived on in biker’s affections, the 250cc version did remain in the sales line up for the UK at least. Many of these have since been converted into the more desirable 350cc model but the tell tale signs are usually still in place, the engine and chassis numbers giving the game away, 4L1 and 4L0 being the pre-fix for the 250 and 350 respectively.
Yamaha RD350LC Specifications
- Engine – liquid-cooled 2-cylinder 2-stroke
- Capacity – 347cc
- Bore/stroke – 64 x 54mm
- Power – 47bhp @ 8500rpm
- Torque – 30ft-lb @ 8000rpm
- Carburation – 2 x 26mm mikuni
- Transmission – 6-speed wet-clutch chain final drive
- Frame – steel cradle
- Suspension – 32 mm telescopic forks, monoshock rear
- Brakes – 270mm discs single-piston floating calipers, 180mm single leading shoe drum
- Wheels – 300 x 18 3.50 x 18
- Weight – 143kgs
- Top speed – 110mph
- Wheelbase – 1370mm
- Fuel capacity – 17ltrs
RD350 LC Timeline
The last of the air-cooled RD’s is built amid rumours of a race bike with lights fitted. The first LC was displayed at the Paris show in October albeit something of a lash up of old parts.
The bikes finally arrived but way too late for the start of the year some dealer had limited stock by June as production difficulties held up deliveries. The first batch of bike had endless problems with poor carburetion and leaking exhausts, the latter a cause of the rubber mounted engine
New Carburettor and exhaust pipes are introduced along with a new engine mount system to prevent excessive movement
No major mechanical changes for this year as the bike is just about right by this time, a new three stripe scheme replaces the iconic LC splash across the tank. The all-new YPVS is shown for the first time.
its all over for the original LC, some old models remain around n dealer showrooms as the new bike gets much acclaim, voted bike of the year by the worlds press.
Yamaha RD350LC Gallery
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