A Journey Through Time: My Love Affair with the Yamaha RD350

Yamaha RD350

Biking in India has transformed dramatically over the years. Today, technological advancements have introduced motorcycles that make stunts like stoppies and wheelies less complex, thanks to the Pulsar generation. For those of us born in the '70s, biking meant something entirely different. We rode on machines that were raw and untamed, powered by two-stroke engines that literally smoked the streets of India. I count myself fortunate to have owned a few of these iconic bikes.

In the 90s, the biking community in India was divided into distinct tribes – the Bullet tribe, the Jawa/Yezdi tribe, the RD350 tribe, and the enthusiasts of modern bikes. My own motorcycling journey began with a humble TVS 50 (50cc), progressed to a Hero Puch Turbo Sport (65cc), and then to a TVS Suzuki Shogun (110cc, 14bhp – a powerhouse in the 90s). However, the crown jewel of my collection was the RD350 (350cc, 35bhp) – India's very own superbike.

The Shogun technically belonged to my brother, but I rode it for about a year before he took it back to college in Hassan. That’s when I knew it was time to upgrade to a bigger machine. Living in Tirunelveli, in an era before the Internet, the RD350 was virtually unknown. I had never seen one. Through word of mouth and fellow bike enthusiasts, I learned about this legendary motorcycle. From that moment, I was determined to own one.

Convincing my parents to let me buy the RD350 was no small feat. Like most parents, they were concerned about their teenage son’s obsession with speed. After months of persistent persuasion, I finally convinced them. I strategically avoided mentioning the word “Yamaha” – a name that struck fear into the hearts of cautious parents. Instead, I described it as a bike that resembled the Bullet, a big, fat, slow-moving piece of metal. They reluctantly agreed, thinking it was a safer choice.

Thanks to my cousin Arun, I had the opportunity to test ride a friend's RD350. The bike was in immaculate, stock condition – a 1984 model LT version priced at Rs. 35,000. This was quite steep, considering the Shogun cost less than Rs. 30,000. Nevertheless, the deal was sealed, and I brought the RD350 home to Tirunelveli.

When my parents first saw the bike, they were puzzled. It did look big and imposing, but the "Yamaha" emblem made them uneasy. When I kick-started the engine, the distinctive roar made them second-guess their decision – a decision they couldn’t reverse. The rest, as they say, is history.

For those unfamiliar with the RD350, it was often mistaken for a "modified" bike or a Rajdoot. I had to frequently rev the engine hard to prove to RX100 riders that this was a machine not to be trifled with. Finding mechanics who understood the RD350 was a challenge, leading me to rebuild the bike from the frame up not once, but thrice. Eventually, things settled when I moved to Chennai.

Sadly, I never had the chance to take the RD350 on long rides. My memories with it are filled with the exhilaration of hitting 160kmph in the rain, countless "experiments" that went wrong, and racing through the streets on a single engine (the RD350 had two carburetors). But the moments I cherish the most are the simple rides with Mina and Ninja around Nungambakkam. The bike was always smooth, and its distinctive sound announced its arrival long before it came into view. Mina and Ninja loved it too!

I'm not typically sentimental, but I am emotional. I took immense pride in building and owning this bike for nearly 15 years. The time and money spent on it were nothing compared to the joy of riding this magnificent piece of art. In 2009, head over heart, I decided to sell my RD350 for a CBR 1000RR. I knew I was parting with a collector's item, but I believed it wasn’t fair to hoard too many rides. So, I let it go. Those who knew me well joked that the RD350 might end up in my living room, but it was indeed a tough decision.

Yamaha RD 350 Honda CBR 1000RR Fireblade

The day I sold the bike was one of the most emotional days of my life. It felt like a piece of me was leaving. For the rest of the week, I carried a heavy heart, but today, I ride a bigger and better bike. I’m unsure if my CBR 1000RR and I will ever share the same bond I had with my RD350. Perhaps, I'm stuck in a time capsule, but one thing is certain – the Yamaha RD350 will always hold a special place in my heart. Long live the RD350!

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