The Yamaha RD350LC, this is something truly special. In front of me is a chance to ride a motorcycle that's been worshiped by thousands. A few motorcycles actually mean so much to so many – every teenager rider in the early '80s either wanted, saved for or owned an Yamaha RD350LC. Even better, this particular example isn't some knockabout, well-worn 30-year-old-relic, but a machine meticulously rebuilt to a concourse level every bit as good as – probably even better than – when it was brand new.
But while a few friends or my husband are standing around me gaping in nostalgic desire, my memory bank is blank. I have no previous experience of the Yamaha RD350LC, never had a chance to long for one, never got to see which of my friends was the first lucky guy to get one. Because when the Yamaha RD350LC was forming a cult that would still be strong three decades later, I wasn't even born.
Still, I'm more than eager to learn. Fuel on, choke out, ignition on, fold the right-hand footpeg up to make room for the kickstart lever, then give it one sharp stab downwards. The Yamaha RD350LC needs no more, instantly crackling into life while the blue smoke pouring from piper either side build with each essential twist of the throttle . Sights and sounds are one thing, but it's the smell that gets me – that pungent, sickly, sweet sign of technical obsolescence. The closest memory it bring back is the Honda NSR150 or the in Malaysia popular Aprilia RS125 two-stroke motorcycles, but the Yamaha RD350LC is so much richer, so much more intense. A few seconds to gently warm and let the choke off, then pull in the feather-light clutch and click the down into first gear. A healthy handful of revs and I'm off, experiencing the kind of time-warp I was never meant to. I wonder how many people have ever ridden a 1980 Yamaha RD350LC with a back protector. Or even in full gear for that matter...
The steering is the first thing that stands out. On staggeringly skinny 90 and 110 section tires, the Yamaha RD350LC grabs full advantage of the slightest input. Suggest you might like to go right and it falls straight on its side – there's no middle ground, it just goes. The tires feel like they're actively trying to pull the motorcycle down even further. The only motorcycle I've ridden that steered anything like this was a highly tuned Honda CBR150R racer a few years ago. It requires a delicacy absent from anything today.
But while I'm trying to understand the handling I'm equally bewildered by the engine. Up to 7000rpm, about as far as I dare take it this early, it pulls reasonably but feels a bit boggy. As we head up the slightest of inclines the tacho needle starts falling, the engine asking for a lower gear.
Suddenly, with the revs up, everything in the engine has fallen into place. It's awake. From 7,000rpm to the 9,500rpm redline the engine is so much cleaner, sharper. It leaps through the 2,500rpm gap as if all internal mechanical resistance has suddenly vanished, then demands another gear expectantly. Even if it doesn't truthfully feel as savage or fast as the legends have it, it's fantastically keen and, if you're caught up in the moment and not paying attention, it's still enough to get into trouble. Heading into a corner faster than expected, the Yamaha RD350LC runs away like a runaway train with no engine braking and two front disc brakes offering little to no help...
But I'm getting an insight into what so many people have experienced before me, what enticed and charmed and downright staggered. Keep the needle high; spin through the close-ratio box like it's a race between your left foot and the redline; brake as late as you dare and use that hyper-reactive steering to carry as much corner speed as you can; then line up the powerband for the exit and let it all start again. It doesn't flatter, so don't expect the midrange to forgive, the brakes to pull you out of trouble or the skinny tires and spindly forks to stick you to the road – just be a brave and get on with it.
I can still see why it had such an appeal to so many: the Yamaha TZ350 Grand Prix connections and aspirations; 178km/h for a '80s machine like this; and a riding experience that rewards only the most committed.