Never Underestimate an RD: Yamaha RD350 Restomod

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

“Don’t let anyone work on your bike who wasn’t born before it was made.”

That’s the motto of Charlie Medeiros of ForPlay Racing — a garage-based repair and restoration shop in Los Gatos, California, specializing in Yamaha RD machinery:

“We’ve been building and restoring vintage Yamaha two-stroke street bikes under the radar for the last 18 years or so.”

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

Charlie got his first RD350 the mid-70s, in high school, and it wasn’t very long before he found his love of racing:

“During one of those ‘I’m-faster-than-you’ conversations with my best bud, it was decided to take our RDs out to a local club race where it would be safer to settle our dispute. That first race was all I needed — I was hooked. Little did I know that one race would lead to a lifelong love of racing Yamaha motorcycles.”

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

In ’77, he bought a TD3 production racer, and soon fell under the wing of Roland Cushway aka “The Professor,” who taught him the fine art of building fast, reliable, race-winning bikes. In the years to come, Charlie’s RD repair and restoration business would take off.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

The bike you see here is a 1975 RD350 that Charlie picked up a few years ago in very rough condition. It probably would have continued to gather dust if Charlie didn’t have such an awesome wife:

“My inspiration for this build came from my wife; I was showing her my latest project and she said, ‘Why don’t you build one for yourself? You build all these cool bikes for other people.’ What more could a builder ask for! Best wife ever!”

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

So Charlie set out to build the bike he wanted in high school, a resto-modded RD that might look largely stock on the surface, but is anything but:

“My concept was to build an RD350 that looked somewhat stock until you really looked at it, but above all it had to be eye-catching. I wanted it to look different from the complex builds I’ve seen over the last several years — you know, something a regular guy could actually build in his garage that didn’t need a 5 figure budget…”

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

The bike is running a race-spec engine, complete with Wasserman pistons, Vito’s crankshaft, DG heads (modified/ported by Scott Clough), VForce4 reeds, 32mm Mikuni VM carbs, Banshee boost bottle, J&L stainless steel expansion chambers, and more. Other highlights include Boriani alloy rims, a genuine DG aluminum swingarm, and that beautiful Portuguese orange paint from VM Paints.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

Charlie says some of his buddies might take him on the straights, but few can hang with him and his two-stroke giant-killer in the corners up in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains:

“I really love riding my R6, but I’d rather ride my RD — it has a soul. Remember: never underestimate an old man on a RD.”

Below, Charlie gives us the full story on the build.

Yamaha RD350 “BUMSRSH”: In the Builder’s Words…

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

My name is Charlie and I own a small garage-based repair and restoration shop in Los Gatos, California called ForPlay Racing. We’ve been building and restoring vintage Yamaha two-stroke street bikes under the radar for the last 18 years or so. I’ve been involved with motorcycling since the mid-70s when I started riding a Yamaha RD350 in high school. Hey it was cheap transportation and my girlfriend thought it was cool to show up places on a motorcycle — remember, it was the 70s!

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

We all have ridden on the street so we know you can get pretty crazy out there. During one of those “I’m-faster-than-you” conversations with my best bud, it was decided to take our RDs out to a local club race where it would be safer to settle our dispute. That first race was all I needed — I was hooked. Little did I know that one race would lead to a lifelong love of racing Yamaha motorcycles.

Yamaha TD3 Production Racer

In 1977, I bought my first race bike, a TD3 production racer. Being a low-budget garage racer I had to learn to be a competent technician or die — literally! A few seasons in, I was introduced to Roland Cushway a.k.a. “The Professor.” He took me under his wing and taught me how to build fast, reliable bikes. I then started helping friends build their engines. One thing led to another and I started building friends’ of friends’ bikes.

Eddie Lawson’s Daytona-winning, Roland Cushway-built Yamaha TZ250

By now I had realized I was a better builder than racer. One afternoon a guy brought by a RD350 and asked me to rebuild the engine for him. I figured hey, pretty much the same as the old production racers, so I jumped at it. From that point on, my RD business took off. We now do routine maintenance to full restorations. Our motto is “don’t let anyone work on your bike who wasn’t born before it was made.”

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

My inspiration for this build came from my wife; I was showing her my latest project and she said, “Why don’t you build one for yourself? You build all these cool bikes for other people.” What more could a builder ask for! Best wife ever! Lucky for me, a few years prior I’d picked up a very rough 1975 RD350 but never had the time for it. When the plague hit and business fell way off, I had the time available.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod
The donor…

My concept was to build an RD350 that looked somewhat stock until you really looked at it, but above all it had to be eye-catching. I wanted it to look different from the complex builds I’ve seen over the last several years — you know, something a regular guy could actually build in his garage that didn’t need a 5 figure budget — but I didn’t want it to become a cookie cutter build either.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

After spending a several months gathering everything I needed, I started to build the RD I had wanted in high school. I started by turning the RD into a “kit” — during the build, nothing was left untouched. I replaced every bearing, seal, and rubber part on the bike along with updating the suspension. I had the frame reinforced and had pretty much everything powder-coated.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

The engine was built to full race specs including a Vito’s crankshaft, Wasserman pistons, VForce4 reeds, 32mm Mikuni VM carbs with Banshee boost bottle. Scott Clough modified the DG heads and performed the cylinder porting. The bike still has the oil injection system hooked up and working although I do add ~2 ounces of Blendzall (still great stuff after all these years) a gallon for upper cylinder lubrication. The stainless steel expansion chambers are by JL. I run the bike on VP C12 fuel. We figure the horsepower conservatively at 50 or so — the bike weighs in a touch over 300 lbs.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

I call the bike BUMSRSH for two reasons, first it’s a total pucker factor to ride — you need to pay close attention to the go-fast handle so you don’t get shot off. And back in the day, RDs were bum bikes — we had the Gallo’s boxed wine of street bikes, cheap not like the expensive BSAs and Triumphs. As we now know, after a few years the RDs did come into their own and humbled the bigger bikes. Yeah they were cheap, but like cheap wine, they got the job done. Now it’s 45 years later and they are still really popular.

Yamaha RD350 Restomod

I love riding it. Turns heads everywhere I go.  At stoplights guys roll down their windows and ask me, “Is that really an RD? I used to have one!” In the Santa Cruz mountains, on the way to Alice’s Restaurant for Sunday breakfast, guys can run away from me on the straights, but most can’t in the corners. I will always remember what Nicky Hayden said, “The straights are for show, the corners for dough.” I really love riding my R6, but I’d rather ride my RD — it has a soul. Remember: never underestimate an old man on a RD.

Full Modifications

1975 Yamaha RD350: Boriani alloy rims with custom-made spokes by Buchanan and Company. Genuine DG aluminum swingarm stripped and polished. Custom-made café seat by Weddell Upholstery. J&L stainless steel expansion chambers with carbon cans. Fully reworked DG heads by Scott Clough with 22cc combustion chambers using TZ350 o-ring head gaskets. Intake system: Banshee Vforce 8 pedal reeds with boost bottle, 32mm Mikuni VM round slide carburetors. Scott Clough fully race-ported cylinders using lightweight Wasserman forged pistons hooked up to a custom Vito’s Crankshaft. Vintage Smoke Dyna ignition with high-output coils. Adjustable rear gas shocks. Custom-fabricated fork spring pre-load adjuster screws. .75 kg. Progressive fork springs with updated internal valving. Custom-fabricated aluminum brake stay and rear engine mounts from Speedy Siegl. A 1979 TA-250 aluminum front fender because it looks cool. The bike has all new cables and every rubber part has been replaced. The frame, wheel hubs, triple clamps, instrument cups, and engine cases were taken to the next level by Precision Powder Coating. New original old school solvent based paint (Portuguese orange) from VM Paints. Graphics by 3m finish off the bike.

Visit ForPlayRacing.net

9 Comments

  1. Got to love them two smokes. I’ve had about every one made by the big three. Nice bike it’s must be a good and fun ride kicking the big bikes assess.

  2. Just brought home 2 . One complete seized stocker and a basket case roller. $400….Great article and lead to find local perform parts. . Thank you

  3. Brian Campbell

    I had the 250 version in the UK, it was an amazing bike.
    I love the look although the “clip on’s” would be too much for me these days, but a standard “sit up and beg” riding position would suit me a treat. It looks stock, but howls like a banshee, and old school sleeper.
    A brilliant build, thank you for this thing of beauty.

  4. With out a doubt that is one of the coolest looking RD350s I’ve seen, the beautiful lines keep your eyes flowing from front to rear. Must be a kick to ride with the way it’s been set up. Making me wish I still had my RD

  5. Dominick Boncore

    Yes sir Chuck. That machine came out beautiful!! Can’t wait to see ya again at Alice’s for a rip through the mountains. And of course a huge thank you for being my rd GURU ! See ya at the Quialridge Motorcycle Show on May 14.

  6. Billy Roth

    OMG!! I want that RD! it looks freaking fast just sitting there. I’ve owned multiple RDs in my life but none of them were close to looking the way this thing does. Absolutely well thought out and put together build, everything seems to fit well and it all works together to create a retro masterpiece. In MHO The best “stock” RD ever, total street racing sleeper. Charlie’s seems right when he said a normal guy could build something like this. BTW Bitchin licence and plate frame maybe kinda a warning?

  7. Anthony Dawson

    I used to walk past an abandoned 350 ‘Torque Induction’ side panel that was at the side of the railway track, every day whilst walking to school. Orange too! It must’ve been there for about six years. I always wondered just what ‘Torque Induction’ meant. A bit of a letdown when I found it simply refered to the reed-valves. Still, a great bike. The UK models had sixth gear blanked off. A simple mod to release 6th. Yamaha warned against this stating – from memory – you risked going from 6th to 1st in one change….
    The intricacies of extracting the last few hp from these engines, whilst keeping reliability, is fascinating. Then modern techniques blew a lot of the mystique out of the water. A ktm 125 will easily see 42bhp. A 125 Cagiva GP 58bhp. But all of the groundwork was lain by an Eastern Bloc engineer who fled to Japan and showed Suzuki the way!
    Fascinating.

  8. Great bike, build is tops, cool racing heads.
    Astetics could be improved by painting or coating the pipes black, and downsizing the HL, TL, Turn Signals. Nice seat.

  9. Hello Ric,
    Thank you for the comment, during the build I considered those options. The pipes are so beautiful, we put a high temperature clear coat on them. The head light and turn signals along with some other parts were purposely left period correct. Remember I wanted the bike to appear pretty much stock at first glance. Also due the so many riders up on hi-way 35 on the weekends the cops have no sense of humor, they pull over groups of riders at s time and tag guys for every thing they can find. I was actually ticketed for my smoked double bubble on my R6!
    Thanks
    Charlie

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