Sick RD: Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

Yamaha RD350 Giant Killer from California…

The Yamaha RD350 is one of our favorite two-stroke street machines of the 1970s. The 39-horsepower parallel twin could compete with larger bikes due to its excellent power-to-weight ratio, and the RD350 quickly became a popular production-class road racer.

Tongue in cheek, some riders claimed that RD stood for “Racing Death” or “Rapid Death.” Says Motorcyclist of the RD350:

“Dirty, foul-mouthed, deliciously quick and relatively affordable, it was (is?) a Giant Killer for the ages.”

Enter Greg Tomey of Valencia, California, who spent more than three decades racing in the deserts and on the motocross tracks of Southern California.

Greg, who’s owned more than 50 bikes over the years, decided to build an ultimate RD, utilizing an array of RD400, aftermarket, and NOS parts. Says Greg:

“The concept was to recreate the look of a 70s cafe bike with a street-legal edge.”

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

From the original, re-anodized DG heads to the Yamaha speed block paint, this is one of the meanest, sexiest RD350’s we’ve ever featured. Below, we get the full story on the build.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

My name is Greg B Tomey from Valencia, CA, and I am a motorcycle nut who grew up racing amateur motocross and desert in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Everything from 80cc to open class, with owning as many as 50 bikes both street and dirt over the years.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

The yellow RD350 that I sent pictures of started as a 1974 RD350A with many scrap pile parts from an RD400 including triple crown and forks. The rear disc was from an RD400 and made to look stock.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• Why was this bike built?

The bike was built as a personal bike for both riding and showing.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

The concept was to recreate the look of a 70s cafe bike with a street-legal edge.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• What custom work was done to the bike?
  1. Frame up build.
  2. Paint and decals by The Original Coach Craft in Fillmore, CA.
  3. Saddleman seat with fiberglass seat pan on stock hinges and lock.
  4. RD400 mag wheels powder-coated with polished spines.
  5. RD400 rear disc assembly (replacing rear drum brake).
  6. RD400 triple crown and 34mm forks with needle bearings.
  7. CNC aluminum clip ons.
  8. KTM left controls.
  9. 1/3 turn whirlpool throttle assembly.
  10. Original DG heads scooped and re-anodized.
  11. Electronic ignition.
  12. 30mm flat side carbs with K&N filters.
  13. Moto Carrera Millennium right exit chambers, polished.
  14. Moto Carrera CNC rear sets.
  15. Drilled front and rear rotors.
  16. Yamaha R1 LED tail light.
  17. Honda CB rectangular headlight.
  18. Custom wiring harness.
  19. Barnett clutch and springs.
  20. Works Performance shocks.
  21. Bronze swingarm bushings.
  22. Oil pump removed and blocked.
  23. NOS cylinders and complete crank assembly.
  24. Boyensen reeds.
  25. Polished cases and crown assembly.
  26. All internal engine parts. New seals, rods, pistons (every nut and bolt).

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• How would you classify this bike?

Cafe Racer.

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

The bike!!!!!

Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer Yamaha RD350 Cafe Racer   Yamaha RD350 Cafe RacerYamaha RD350 Cafe Racer


  1. It’s not surprising that this article doesn’t show the front of the bike. A SQUARE headlight–really? I can only guess that the builder ran out of money and had to use the headlight off of his lawnmower to finish the project! 😀

    • Man, I LOVE a square headlight — it’s so 80s, you know? Personally, I dig it, but that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla ice cream 🙂

    • Silk Customs

      There is always at least one Jealous Shit talker out there who can barely ride a Clutch let alone afford the Headlight on this Bike.
      This Bike is One of the Baddest RD Custom builds out there and your talking about a headlight, Friggn Hilarious. I am sure Greg has 20 different Headlights he can switch out but he put this one on to Piss you off !!!

  2. We apologize deeply that we did not call you for your professional advice when we designed it, I promise that we will consult you you first in the future.
    Besides the ugly square headlight did we do ok ?
    Sick RD

    • Always thought the R5/Rd ‘s were the best motors under 500cc ever from Japan. Your’s is quite a beauty!! Any idea what kind of power she’s putting down? Had a stock RD 350 in 74 with TR3 pipes simply bolted on. Would bury the speedometer!! A real pig til 6 grand. Then Mach III’s could be had…..easily if they were stock. Great looking bike. job well done…….

  3. A lot of guys like round headlights on motorcycles for the same reason they like round breasts on woman. Enough said. By the way very nice bike, I bet Jay loved it.

  4. Love it! If you take off the headlight and front fender it looks just like the flat tracker I used to race in the 70’s! You can swap the headlight with a number plate and hide a couple of small LED headlights somewhere for an even more aggressive look.

  5. In a straight line it’ll be great. Too bad he didn’t know how to make it actually handle.

    See, the original RD350 was way too unstable in the corners. Or in a straight line. Forks were too thin, ditto the swingarm, spoke rims weren’t stable enough and so on. It was a head-shaking mess.

    On the RD400 they beefed up the front forks a bit, still not enough, but to stabilize it they put heavy ass cast rims on there that were deliberately overweight to stabilize everything with gyroscopic effect. It was a cheap way to make the thing more survivable, but it eliminated any kind of light flickable handling that the thing should have had.

    The proper answer is to upgrade the forks and triple trees way up, to something like 38 mm or thicker if you’re going to go with conventional forks to keep the right look, put cartridge emulators in them, beef up the swingarm bushings with bronze inserts, put some really good rear shocks on (one thing this guy did right by the way) and then put really light rims on it, aluminum hoop over spoke is best, and then at every point where two spokes cross each other wrap them with some steel wire and solder them down to stabilize the rims without adding a lot of weight. Plus a fork brace, and be extremely careful with the angle on your fork tubes. It takes time and effort but this is how you do it properly.

    The end result will dive into a corner like nobody’s business. This is basically how I had my old XS650 built circa 1988 or so except we didn’t have cartridge emulators back then. That thing could go from vertical to full battle lean faster than any bike I’ve ever piloted since. That’s how to build a serious handling classic looking cafe racer.

    This is just copying the idiocy Yamaha did on the 400. It’s at least less insanely dangerous than the stock 350 but it doesn’t have the potential it could.

  6. Jim Simpson, you are a Moron

  7. All winded talk. By most people nev er owned one. It doesnt long as the person is happy with the out come. I got 2 and waiting to be restored.

  8. Interesting comments…looks great Greg brings back a lot of memories of canyon scratching in the infancy of cafe racers in the early 1970s …love the period extra cooling head & the inverted shocks to save unsprung weight. The guy above Jim Simpson is blowing a lot of hot air but not smoke like these bad ass Yamaha Twin two strokes did over the years…my 72 R5C Production racer was plenty stable straightaway and cornering. My 350 in production AFM trim (clubman bars, stock Mikunis & stock pipes) could stay with any larger bore twin 4 stroke up to 100 mph (including the rarely seen 650 street twin Yamaha, Triumph Bonevilles, Norton Comandos, etc). Then he’s trying to tell the owner/builder (you) how to make it handle and saying that is how he did his XS650 (apples and oranges here). Not sure which planet he arrived from but he obviously knows very little about these Yamahas. What I tell guys like him are “When you start paying the bills on my stuff, your opinion will matter, but since you’re not, who cares what you think?”

  9. Larrie Mann

    This is one of the most beautiful RDs I’ve ever seen. Great job and know you must love it every time you get on it. I just bought a 72 RD350 and need help in upgraded parts. If anyone can give me a shout, please do. [email protected]

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