Yamaha RD250: Air-cooled
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Yamaha RD250: Air-cooled

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By BikeReview - 24 May 2022

Words: Jimmy Walker Photos: JPMedia P/L

My first love, or rather my first ‘real’ bike, was a brand new 1977 Yamaha RD250. I was 17 at the time and a poor apprentice fitter earning a poxy 34 quid a week. Paying board to my mum took care of half my wages and my new road burner took care of another tenner a week...

This is a 1976 Australian delivered early C model that belonged to Jeff. It was quite rare being the last example with wire spoked wheels. 

There wasn’t much left for fuel, cigarettes, and beer but my mate and I had a cunning plan… why not go up to the local haunt and race the old British bike riders for beer?

Underseat storage and the two-stroke oil filler tank. 

We used to hang out at a place called the Dutch House, which was on the A20 at Eltham in South East London. This stretch of road was locally known as the ‘Mad Mile’ – from the traffic lights to the narrow bridge arch on a tight bend was reported to be an actual mile.

The front disc brakes were ok in the dry, just, but poor in the wet as they had no holes or grooves to displace water. 
Twin rear shocks, straight pipes before production bikes got expansion chambers with the RD LC. 

The race would start from the pub carpark and go down to the lights and back and invariably ended up in someone bottling it before the bridge or crashing.

The RD250 drank a lot of super leaded fuel compared to a modern bike. 
Even sporty bikes like the RD came with practical rack, large pillion space and pegs. Bikes were used daily not just for weekends. 

This worked out fine till one of them actually won. Anyway, I digress, my RD, registration number TYR923S, was purchased from Motovation Motorcycles on the Old Kent Rd (yup, the very same Monopoly board destination) on a cold Thursday in November 1977. All of my mates from college turned up to see me pick it up and subsequently stall it a few times on the way home. I was stoked; my previous ride had about 4bhp and was a whole 49cc.

The switches were basic back then, it was all about that motor. 
Original throttle grip from 1976.

I was told by the mechanic at the shop to ‘Take it easy for the first 500 miles and run it in’. Erm, yeah, six gears and 30hp was too much temptation. The howl of the stock exhausts, although muted, was music to my ears and so the tacho needle was pushed up as far as the redline within the first hour of ownership.

My joy was short lived, though, as two weeks later I hit a MK2 Cortina and was catapulted over the bars and onto the roof.

This very low mileage example had been unregistered since 1982 when Jeff purchased it in 2000.

The bike was a mess but salvageable. With less than 1200miles on her she was transformed: a rattle-can black paint job, second-hand Allspeed expansion chambers that needed welding, a set of ace bars and the head-down, arse-up posture was complete. The neighbors hated me. I worked shifts and early shift meant I left home at 4.30am…

My best mate at the time had a GT250 Suzuki and we were dating two sisters from a town about 10 miles away on the Kent borders. The regular Friday night blast along the dual carriageway was my antidote to the working week.

The RD came in a 125, 200, 250, 350 and 400.

That bike took me to work every day for three years and I even rode it 550 miles to Scotland to see my relos. I don’t recommend this: 75mph on a 250cc two-stroke for nine hours was painful. Over the years it ate sparkplugs and contact breaker sets [AKA points in Australia – Ed], as well as drinking two-stroke oil and petrol at a rate that would be frowned on these days.

 He has owned seven air-cooled RDs in his lifetime. 

I have owned seven air-cooled RDs in total; four 250s, two 350s and a 400.

The air-cooled RD250s had so much street cred back then that nothing came close. Sure the Suzuki had more power but looked old-fashioned, and the Kawasaki had three cylinders but was slower. As for the rest: well Honda’s 1977 CB250 Dream looked weird and ugly; the Italian 250s were overpriced and unreliable. Oh, but wait, Harley-Davidson marketed a two-stroke 250 single-cylinder street bike but that was also crap.

Jimmy Walker aged 21 in London. What a ratbag! 

So if you didn’t have an RD you were struggling in the cool stakes until 1979 when Suzuki’s X7 arrived, a true 100mph air-cooled 250 (if you weighed the same as a jockey). These days, well, I’m dying to sling my leg over Jeff’s blue 76 example (pictured) if and when it ever sees the light of day. Aaah, I love the smell of two-stroke in the morning.

Go on, do that on your YZF-R3 LAMS model! 

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