Party like it’s 1982

Plenty of the Ride Forever team were in attendance at the NZ Classic Motorcycle Show, held over Auckland’s Anniversary weekend at the Vodafone Events Centre in  Manukau.

The show was great, with hundreds of bikes on display ranging from a 1910 Douglas in need of restoration to an early 70s Yamaha RD350 that looked like it had just left the factory. There were three Triumph X-75 Hurricanes in the hall: when are you ever likely to see ONE, let alone three at once? There were Beezas and Beemers, Jotas and JPS Nortons. But one bike–original and unrestored with 37,000kms on the clock–seemed to attract more than its fair share of attention.

It was a blue and white RD350 LC, and it turned up on the Ride Forever stand courtesy of a friend. From the moment it arrived it attracted a constant stream of admirers. All, it has to be said, ‘of a certain age’. If we had gotten a dollar for every time someone said, “I used to have one of these”, usually followed by “but I crashed it”, it would have been triples all round by the close of the show.

blue and white RD350 LC

The temptation to ride the thing eventually proved too much. So, to the clatter of piston rings and loose exhaust baffles (remembering, of course, to flick the footpeg up before kick starting the thing), a mighty cloud of two stroke oil filled the Manukau air.

I completely understood the nostalgia everyone felt for this old RD. Almost all of us who started out riding in the late 70s and early 80s would have owned or at least ridden an ‘Elsie”. When they arrived they were so much better than what went before. Better, in fact, than almost anything else around, no matter how expensive. They handled like a dream, went like stink and would bring the hooligan out in the Mother Theresa.

But, as a bike journo spoiled by years of riding all things shiny and new, there was a certain part of me that expected the RD to embarrass itself. Particularly as the rear shock was doing a fair impression of a blancmange.

Setting off more in hope than expectation, then, it only took until the first time the tacho needle hit 6,000 rpm to understand what the fuss was always about. Get this little puppy in its power band and not only is it a giant-slayer, it’s hysterical fun to ride.

look at the details

Two-strokes make fantastic ‘bike engines. They’re light, powerful, and demand commitment and skill. Keep a two-stroke in its power band and it’s incredibly responsive. Let it drop under that magical zone and it’s just dead. The LC’s engine, like the air-cooled RDs that preceded it, is a classic of the genre.

I took the beast for a fang along Twilight Road, just out of Clevedon. It’s not massively long but it is satisfyingly twisty, and the Yamaha showed just why so many riders loved the LC. The geometry feels a bit strange at first, with more trail than most sporty modern bikes. So, despite the soggy rear the bike felt reassuringly stable. But with its narrow rear tyre it was also keen as mustard to flick into corners.  Keeping the left toe flapping, chasing the 47 horsepower available at 9,000rpm, and the early eighties experience was complete.

I have a mate in the UK who is rebuilding an Elsie from the ground up. The idea came up as a labour of love but, given so many mid-life riders have such fondness for these bikes,  it just might end up a sound financial investment. 

ride forever