The Yamaha R5, introduced in 1970, was the first of Yamaha’s new generation of two-stroke parallel twin “giant-killers” — a design architecture which would evolve into the RD350, RD400, and even the liquid-cooled RZ350/RD350LC. Lee Wilcox of Curbside Classic describes the first time he grabbed a handful of throttle on a 350cc R5:
“After a moment the bike began to scream. Literally. As the scream started something very strong kicked me in the butt. The handlebars began to rise and I felt like the rookie I was.”
Enter one of our favorite two-stroke fanatics, Eric Zanutto of California’s Zanutto Engineering, who started building bikes with his old man at an early age. Auspiciously enough, Eric’s first street bike was his aunt’s French blue 1977 Yamaha RD400 — what a cool aunt!
Fast forward nearly two decades, and Eric’s wife, Melanie “Yogi” Dyogi Zanutto (@theluckyyogi), decided she wanted a vintage two-stroke of her own. She’s owned and ridden many modern bikes, but this would be the first bike the duo built together. They picked up a rusted, mismatched ’71 R5 in Rancho Palos Verdes. The bike had an RD350 engine transplant, but it was in very rough condition. Together, the pair managed to salvage and refurbish most of the parts, building one of the sleekest, cleanest 350 Yamaha smokers we’ve seen — complete with a Kenny Roberts paint job they shot themselves!
Below, we get the full story on this glorious husband/wife build.
350 Yamaha 2-Stroke Cafe Racer: In the Builder’s Words
This is my wife’s first vintage bike and first two stroke, it’s also the first bike she’s helped me build. She has owned and ridden plenty of other more modern bikes though. Neither of us do this for a living, we both have day jobs, it’s just a hobby/passion of ours.
From a young age I started building old bikes with my dad. My first bike, that I got around year 2000 in high school was my aunt’s old French blue 1977 Yamaha RD400. That bike taught me a lot at a young age and it’s why I’m now pretty particular to Yamaha, two strokes, and old bikes in general.
My wife Melanie (@theluckyyogi) and I (Eric, @zanutto_engineering) picked up this 1971 Yamaha R5 with a 1975 RD350 engine transplant from Rancho Palos Verdes about a year ago. The bike was in extremely rough shape with rust on pretty much every part imaginable and a bunch of mismatched parts. In the end we were able to salvage most of the parts and refurbish them.
We completely tore the bike down to the frame and detabbed it, then had it powdercoated. We completely tore down the (RD350) engine, which was caked in a quarter inch of sludge (and black widow eggs), and rebuilt it ourselves.
We hand polished the drum brake hubs and installed new shouldered aluminum hoops with Buchanan’s spokes. All new EBC pads went in the hubs and new Bridgestone tires installed. Up front we hand polished the forks and installed an All Balls Racing tapered bearing set in head tube.
Progressive shocks went in the rear along with new bronze swingarm bushings, RK gold chain, Speedy Siegl Racing aluminum brake arm, and an Airtech Streamlining TZ250 fiberglass seat.
The gas tank had a lot of rust so we cleaned it out with muriatic acid and sealed it with Caswell epoxy tank sealant.
The engine itself, although we installed all new seals and gaskets during the rebuild, remained mostly stock mechanically. We did however install a Power Dynamo CDI ignition (not running a battery), RZ intake boots with cross over tube, Boysen reeds, KN y-boot filter, motion pro throttle, Jim Lomas expansion chambers, and we’re running the old Mikuni carbs from my 1984 Japanese spec RZ350RR.
Since the CDI ignition had a pretty complete wiring system, we finished off the rest of the wiring with a custom wire harness we made. Lastly, we did a Kenny Roberts themed paint job. Shot it ourselves in our backyard with a Devilbiss gun, finished off with a lot of wet sanding by hand and polishing with a rotary buffer.
Follow the Builders: @theluckyyogi and @zanutto_engineering)