Roots of the R5e II: Ducati Singles, The Yamaha TD3, the R5, and the RD350

Back in the ’70s an ’80s, we were fascinated and obsessed with bikes that could only be called “cafe racers”, but were more rooted in the Italian small-displacement race bikes of the late ’60s than anything else.  For the record, British bikes, and the whole “ton up” thing which I’m told was happening at the time was something I knew nothing about.  We would have never considered running anything out of Britain and trying to call it a motorcycle, at the time – and that was when you could get a 441 Victor for all but free.  In a bunch of crates, but nevertheless. Tempting though it may have been, a basket-case BSA 441 Victor had nothing up against a Ducati 250 Diana with a race tank.

The shop that I bought my very first bike at, a Honda CL100, had this bike, literally sitting on a shelf- a tiny, 90cc multi-cylinder Honda roadracer.

To further twist my young mind, a friend of mine found one of these, quite literally in the cellar of a barn: a Giazzoni 50cc roadracing bike, which, for the time that I knew it, and owned it as well, never had that slick rear-exit chamber on it, and never actually ran.

Then, there were the Ducatis.  I’d already become obsessed with singles, and the Ducati “Diana” 250s that the Perica brothers collected suited both my Italian roadracer tastes, and my appetite for big torque.

However, the first bike I actually built was a Yamaha RD350B.

Over the course of a winter, I think around 1980, I blueprinted, ported and polished this little sweetheart, and made all the usual modifications to tighten it up.  I think most of my guidance came stories from Cycle Magazine, with the aim of duplicating the “Box-Stock” privateer roadracing bikes that were so popular, and even then, legendary, at the time.  Here’s the final product, and the only photograph I have of the bike, shortly before I sold it:

It was a street bike, a daily rider, so I opted out of the expansion chambers and settled for the stock pipes with some venting commonly done – drilling out the baffles.

The Yamaha RD350 was the production version of a long line of two-stroke, two-cylinder race bikes of the 250 – 350cc range, ultimately reaching the 400cc displacement in the RD400s of the early ’80s.  Dubbed the “750 killers”, they were everything a private roadracer needed.   Crazy fast, light, and cheap to maintain.  For a street bike, just a plain blast to ride.

The most direct roots of this bike were the TD2 and TD3 series production roadracers.  The TD3, in particular, ran essentially the identical frame to the RD series, and laid the foundation for much of the innovation that tricked down to the street bikes.  Here’s a great source of information on the TD2 and TD3, here, on CycleChaos.  There’s a great post on ClassicYams about the TD2 and some personal history, here.

Then, I found this photo.

For all the early Italian roadracing aesthetic, this was the bike that I was ultimately led to.  The 1972 Yamaha TD3.

I found a 1971 R5 frame on Craigs List.  The R5 pre-dated the RD350, and had a slightly more primitive motor, with no reed valves.  It also had drum brakes.  It was, however, an identical frame, both to the RD series, but also to the production race bikes.  Here was the core of my build – a true, lightweight, classic roadracing frame.

I found more information on the bikes from this project thread, the TZ350 and 250 website.  Here, as well, is where I discovered Rick Merhar, of Accu-Products and got him to sell me the top only of one of his awesome reproduction fiberglass TD3 tanks.

The R5e II is an amalgamation of bikes and models, but it’s a tribute to a lineage that was the core of roadracing in the 1970s.  Using a frame from a 1971 R5, modifications common to the RD350 privateer roadracing bikes, and a tank from a whole family of racing motorcycles that wrote history, it’s a tribute to a lineage that is the core of what I feel is the heart of motorcycling.

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