Lightweight Monster: Yamaha RD400 Café Racer

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

“Like riding a lightweight monster…” –Derek Molinski, Bikeshop DM

In late 1975, Yamaha introduced the RD400 — a stroked and updated evolution of the 350, featuring a rubber-dampened engine, disc brakes, longer reach spark plug, different gear ratios, and more. Cycle World called the 44-hp roadster the closest thing to a perfect motorcycle they’d ever tested, and it sold like hotcakes.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

By the late 70s, however, the end of the two-stroke era was nigh. The Kawasaki and Suzuki triples had been laid low, and the American market was moving toward four-strokes, cruisers, and cleaner air. It was only appropriate that the RD would be one of the last holdouts.

“So it has come to pass, as we climb the mountain of bureaucratic red tape and finally see below us the Valley of the Shadow of Clean Air, that the first name in two-stroke performers shall be the last to go. Hallelujah: We can still do the reed-induction boogie.” –Cycle Guide, 1977

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

In 1979, Yamaha paid tribute to the bike’s racing legacy with the RD400F Daytona, a factory special that included higher pegs for better cornering clearance, lower seat height, a shrouded cylinder head, a larger tank, and various other improvements.

“The 400F encourages the unwary to go too fast, accelerate too briskly, stop too hard and wheelie too often. Anyone with the narrowest streak of anti-social behavior will find the RD the perfect conspirator. It is Dennis the Menace on Yokohama tires, and is the most fun street motorcycle currently available for sale.” –Cycle, 1979

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

Enter Derek Molinski (@bikeshop_dm), a former body repair tech whose early obsession with building cars ended up leading to motorcycles, which are (usually) less expensive and take up less space. Then there’s the community aspect:

“Motorcycle community – this is likely my favorite part of motorcycles. I have met some of the greatest people in my life due to riding/building bikes.”

Derek is involved with the Moto Social in his hometown of Winnipeg and works out of a single garage, concentrating mainly on two-strokes. This build began life as a 1980 Yamaha RD400 Daytona Special:

“Yes, it is a Daytona! I catch a lot of flak for ‘ruining’ a Daytona, but believe me, it was not pretty. I found it in rural Manitoba, left outside by a barn!”

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

Derek decided to go with a cafe-style build, achieving those sought-after horizontal lines with a one-off steel tail, angular 76-78 tank, and rear monoshock setup, complete with an extended and reinforced swingarm. The motor was completely rebuilt with DG radial heads, mild porting, and HVC Cycle GP pipes. The result is a lightweight monster that begs to be flogged around town:

“It’s hard not to bring the RPMs up, and rip it from light to light. Riding it slow does it no justice.”

Below, we get the full details on the build, as well as more stunning photos from Venzon Photography.

Yamaha RD400F Daytona Cafe Racer: Builder Interview

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

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

My name is Derek Molinski. Currently living, born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. My obsession with motorcycles stemmed from an obsession with cars and building cars — however, that just got way too expensive. I am a retired body repair technician by trade, and currently working for an insurance company.

I started out at a young age tinkering with my old man in the garage, doing oil changes and greasing front ends on older cars. He really taught me basics when I was young. Fast forward to when I turned 18, bought my 1997 Honda Civic and that turned into a money pit. Motors, turbos, wheels, suspension, paint, you name it.

Times got tough for a few years, and I was without a garage or a place to work, and the car obsession became expensive. Had to part with my car and move on. At that time, I worked with some old bike builders, and got to talking to them about building a bike one day. I figured that bikes were smaller projects that took up way less room than vehicles. By then I had a new place and a garage to work in. Being a retired body technician, bikes felt easy for me to transition to.

I currently work out of a single garage, and have three bikes, sometimes more, stuffed in there. The shop is a simple set up, and I am a bit limited for specialty tools. I have most of what I need but things like metal breaks and lathes are not in my arsenal. Have to sublet out for some things – thank god for good friends!

Motorcycle community – this is likely my favorite part of motorcycles. I have met some of the greatest people in my life due to riding/building bikes. I am an advocate for the Motosocial here in Winnipeg and love attending the events. The coordinators locally are second to none, and they make everyone feel welcome. The motorcycle community is growing rapidly in this city/province, and I couldn’t feel more privileged to be a part of this group.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

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

This bike is a 1980 Yamaha RD400 Daytona. Yes, it is a Daytona! I catch a lot of flak for “ruining” a Daytona, but believe me, it was not pretty. I found it in rural Manitoba, left outside by a barn!

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

• Why was this bike built?

This is one of my bikes, and I wanted a two-stroke street bike. I am pretty much hooked on the two-strokes now, and am currently restoring a 1985 RZ350R.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

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

I was originally hooked on the café racer look, mainly due to the straight lines of the 70s bikes, and I am still huge on the café look. I wanted to build something with that straight horizontal café line, and make the back end look like it was somewhat floating. That is why I went with the 76-78 tank, and built the rear seat cowl to match. I also wanted some modern tech on it, so went with Motogadget parts, a mono shock set up and a hydraulic clutch slave.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

• What custom work was done to the bike?

Motor completely rebuild and coated, DG radial heads and some mild porting. HVC Cycle GP pipes.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

The frame is chopped off in the rear and I built my own subframe and seat cowl. The swing arm is extended 2.5 inches and reinforced. The mono shock is off of a modern 1000. Motogaget components, Cognito moto parts, wiring from scratch, lithium battery, colors are all painted, and the clear is a flat clear. No decals on this one. All parts have been reworked/refurbed/recoated.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

• Does the bike have a nickname?

As a matter of fact, it does not!

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?

This bike is like riding a lightweight monster, that wants to lift the front end when it comes to 6-7k, but won’t that easy. With the swing arm extended, and be being a big guy, it stays planted. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to hold on. It really comes to life and starts to scream in the higher RPMs, and it makes a lot of heads turn. It’s hard not to bring the RPMs up, and rip it from light to light. Riding it slow does it no justice.

Yamaha RD400 Cafe Racer

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

The tail cowl on this bike with the rear subframe and the mono shock sets this apart from other RD’s. The cowl is a make from steel and is a one-off part. I would also say that the oil tank in the back is a nice touch as well. I get a lot of questions about the rear end on this bike!

Follow the Builder: @bikeshop_dm

Photo cred @vnzn_foto



  1. Nevyl Banks

    I just love everything you have done in this project. It looks GREAT. Radial heads, seat/tail section, monoshock and paintwork. All just perfect. I am going to look thru ebay and gumtree to see if I can find something similar for my next project. Here in Australia I think we had twin disc front ends on the 350/400 RDs. Good pictures too. Two strokes rock!!!

  2. Aaron Lopas

    Thats truly one of the nicest smaller bike builds Ive seen – the Tank seat rear tail combo flows super smoothly and the monoshock and swingarm are killer – congrats, well done

  3. Richard Horton

    Why extend the swinging arm? You have made a bike that will not flick through esses part of the joy of an RD.

  4. Dean Gobey

    Awesome build, great looks and good workmanship all round.

  5. Great work, beautiful bike.

  6. Great style. Love the lines. The Monoshock coversion and tail unit makes it sing 🙂
    Love to see pic of shock mount on swing arm

  7. Somebody sent me a link to this page as I’m an RD nut. I did an F along the same lines as this bike a few years back (still got it) Although I did a really good job of it I can honestly say your bike is far better. I can always point out poor workmanship and bad taste but this I honestly can’t. Excellent work.

  8. Ken Almony

    I have a bunch of Daytona parts. I need a frame to start a build. Do you know of a stock frame or custom frame for sale. Been looking !!! No luck!! Thanks Ken

  9. What front fender is that and from where?

Leave a Reply to Rob Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *