Steel worker, Gary Shipley has one big regret, and parting with his beloved RD400E is it. Having started his biking career at the age of sixteen, as so many others did, on a Yamaha FS1E, Gary progressed on to a 250 Kwak triple and then onto a Honda CB400 before leaping at the stroker twin, buying the air-cooled Yam in October 1980, a good few months after the new boy LC was launched. “I knew the all-new LC would be a bunch of trouble, so opted for the older air-cooled twin instead” recalled Gary “The white and red RD was in my local dealers and must have been one of the last new examples available in the UK. It turned out it was the correct decision for a variety of reasons, the LC having a constant stream of problems throughout the first couple of years following its introduction. First of all, the carbs weren’t right and then the exhausts failed and cracked, while all the time my RD400 just kept on running. It wasn’t too far off performance wise either, a lot of proddy racers stayed loyal to the RD400 that year, and on the road the differences were all but negligible.”
The RD400 did have its own bunch of problems however “The ability to lift the wheel, and take off like a scalded cat, got me into a fair bit of trouble” Gary remembered “It got me a 6-month ban for wheelying down Scunthorpe high street, the copper making things ten times worse by stating I pulled on the bars on purpose, which I hadn’t, but the judge took a dim view and acted accordingly. Then I got nabbed twice for speeding, attracting undue care and attention charges too; the RD was going to get me into a lot of trouble, so it had to go. With the RD sold, I bought a Mini for a short time, but the lure of two wheels wouldn’t go away, in the end I bought a Yamaha DT125MX to get about on but. Despite being great fun to ride, the little Yam was an unlucky machine, eventually a lorry reversed over it, I could still ride it home but the bars were twisted, as was the rest of the bike.”
This was the start of a 10-year hiatus from biking. In 1990, Gary met his wife Janet, she had been a biker too, having owned a succession of Honda 400-4s and, before too long, the pair was firmly back in the biker fold.
Gary quickly hunted down another RD400, this time a D model, and set about restoring it, although only enough to have it road worthy as the idea was to ride it rather than polish it. The RD was sold and an RD350LC soon followed, but this came with its own set of problems, including an ever failing water pump, and a strange whine from the gearbox when in 6th gear.
“I did spend a lot of time and money on the LC and the project took over a year, but I realised at the end of this time that it would never be the bike a well sorted RD400 could be.” Said Gary, feeling he had to own an LC at some point just to see what he had missed “ The LC was sold and modern bikes beckoned, a Suzuki 600 bandit came first then a DR350 for a bit of fun. I bought a Honda Firestorm too and loved owning that, a very much underrated machine in my book, that lived alongside an MZ Mastiff for some time until I crashed the big trailie in the snow while on the way to work, that was the end of my two wheeled commuting. I then bought a 600 Monster and it was during many visits to Ducati dealers that Janet spotted a mint 748 Biposto which she bought me as a surprise Christmas present, what a gift? I will never part with that bike as its perfect in every way.
“However, despite having quite a collection of top notch motorcycle in his garage, selling that original RD400 back in the early 80s was still bugging me, I had kept all of the original documents for the Yamaha and often flicked through them on trips down memory lane. I promised myself I would, one day, own another, and a search to replace it began.
Prices were rising fast; especially for mint and original examples, but in December 08, I spotted one for sale in Classic Bike magazine. The price wasn’t too bad as it had some original parts missing, but it was tidy, and looked the part too. I intend to mix restoring it with riding it during the summer months, it can be my retirement project and I am in no rush to get it done. I will just keep an eye out for the correct parts as they pop up at the right price, its when you are in a hurry that the high prices, sometimes demanded for rare parts, have to be paid, so I will just take my time. The RD been a long time coming around so there is no panic to get it completed. As for the future, I have an eye on the new Ducati Hypermotard, one of those would look nice tucked up next to the 748 and the ride should be every bit as exciting as the RD was in my youth.”
Yamaha RD400 Gallery