The heyday of board track racing was the 1910s and 1920s, when riders on brakeless Indians and Excelsiors and Harley-Davidson slammed and thundered around rickety, steep-walled speedways in excess of 90 mph, just inches from the grandstands. Most tracks — “motordromes” — were built out of thin wooden planks, some with banking of 45 degrees.
With crude tire technology and speeds far exceeding the safety measures of the day, fatalities were common for riders and spectators alike — a veritable roulette’s wheel of carnage. In fact, after a particularly deadly race made the front page of the The New York Times in 1912, the press began calling the tracks “murderdromes.”
Still, nearly a century later, the board track era retains a mystique unrivaled in motorcycling history. Says builder Mark Miller:
“There is something thrilling about board trackers and the extremities from the turn of the 20th century where riders risked life and limb to race the motordromes.”
You may know Mark by his online handle, @nojoke2stroke, or the stunning smokers he builds, including his RD400 street tracker and “Street Lethal” Kawasaki KX500 we’ve featured. Mark wrenches as a hobby, building about one build each year. This past year, he set out to build a machine inspired by the board track era, but with modern touches like suspension and a 2-stroke engine from a ’74 Yamaha RD350. The frame and bodywork marry form and function into a one-off work of art:
“The one-off custom fabricated frame is wrapped by monocoque fiberglass body panel and seat where there are not fasteners holding it in place, but rather shaped perfect to snap into place.”
He shaped the cylinder heads to look like they were from an earlier era, and we particularly love the reverse clutch and brake controls on the drop-style handlebars, making the bike look something like the fastest, deadliest racing bicycle on the planet. Hell, in the early days of board track racing, that wasn’t far from the truth — as one newspaper reporter wrote in 1916:
“A motorcycle is a bicycle with pandemonium attachment, and is designed for the especial use of mechanical geniuses, daredevils and lunatics.”
Our friends at Return of the Cafe Racers recently ran a gorgeous feature of Mark’s machine, but we couldn’t turn down a story of our own on this 2-stroke board tracker. Below, we get more details from Mark himself, as well as some gorgeous photos from Jason Lehecka (@jlehecka).
Yamaha RD350 Board Tracker
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
2-stroke fanatic. Grew up riding and racing 2-stroke dirt bikes and have been fascinated with them since I was a child. Now just a hobbyist wrenching on my own motorcycles and dedicating time to a new build every year.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1974 Yamaha RD350.
• Why was this bike built?
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
This has been a build in my head for the past few years. I decided to put it down on paper and start this board tracker as my latest build. There is something thrilling about board trackers and the extremities from the turn of the 20th century where riders risked life and limb to race the motordromes. This era of motorcycle inspired the build, but I wanted a few modern touches like suspension and of course powered by a 2-stroke twin RD engine.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Ground-up build starting with a Yamaha RD350 neck and monoshock. Everything was built around the concept of the monoshock fabricated up the backbone of the frame. The one-off custom fabricated frame is wrapped by monocoque fiberglass body panel and seat where there are not fasteners holding it in place, but rather shaped perfect to snap into place.
Complementing this was a front number plate with a single mini LED light. 21” wheels front and back originated from a drum braked R5, the predecessor of the RD. The cylinder heads were shaped to look from an earlier era. Exhaust chambers were prototype “bleed pipes” from a race team in the early 80’s with slight repairs and modifications to fit. Retro board tracker handlebars with reverse clutch and brake controls. Frame and engine parts ceramic coated titanium color.
Outsourced work included the awesome leather by Matt Hurtado (@workingmanscustoms) and the superb body panel paint by James Gossett.
• How would you classify this bike?
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I was pleased with the outcome of the motorcycle, but I was really happy to get everything working in unison with the chassis, suspension, and power from the motor. This build will never be the first motorcycle that I choose to ride a long distance, however it is a blast to ride in short sprints and handles extremely well.