Lightweight Giant-Killer: Yamaha R5 350 Café Racer

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

Crane Moto’s 295-lb two-stroke giant-killer… 

In 1970, Yamaha introduced the R5 350, featuring a steel duplex cradle frame derived from the company’s Grand Prix chassis and a 36-hp two-stroke parallel-twin engine — features that made the 350cc roadster a two-stroke David to the four-stroke Goliaths of the day:

“With the throttle cracked wide open it would run as fast as bikes twice its size. Get the revs up over four grand, and the R5 350 became a different machine — and it produced performance numbers to prove it, consistently running the quarter mile in the low 14 second range. That was on a par with Triumph’s 650cc 4-stroke T120, then a benchmark for performance.” –Motorcycle Classics

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

What’s more, the R5 like the twisties as much as the drag strip, proving itself on the circuit while remaining surprisingly adept as a daily rider:

“Power delivery, braking ability, ride quality, and handling all worked together on the Yamaha R5 to create a motorcycle that shone not just on highways and backroads but particularly on racetracks where amateur club riders would modify their R5’s for production-class road racing.” –Timeless 2 Wheels

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

After only three years, the soon-to-be iconic RD350 succeeded the R5, featuring a sixth speed in the transmission, reed-valve cylinders, and a front disc brake.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

Enter our new friend Jesse Crane (@crane_moto), a Wisconsin-based motorcycle fanatic and chassis engineer for a major motorcycle manufacturer. Though he’s owned more than 50 motorcycles in his 40 years, Jesse had a very specific objective for this ’71 R5, which he bought as a seized-up basket case in the summer of 2021:

“The goal with the build was to get below 300 pounds with a full fuel tank. I am happy to say this R5 came in at 295 pounds fully fueled up.”

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

As a chassis engineer, Jesse knows the benefits of the old Colin Chapman: add lightness. For less unsprung weight, Jesse put his truing stand to use for the first time, lacing up a set of lightweight aluminum rims to the lightly polished OEM hubs…trued to within 0.005” runout! Meanwhile, the donor’s missing tank and seat were completed with an RD350 tank and lightweight café tail, and the frame was detabbed.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

On the engine side, the R5 is sporting some choice RD upgrades, including an RD350 top end with reed valves, RD350 seven-plate clutch conversion, and RD350 engine side covers. Those slick chambers come courtesy of DG, and Jesse cut, bent, and rewelded the OEM kickstarter to clear the rear-sets and match the shape of the engine case — pretty trick!

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

The bike looks killer, but it’s the way it rides that’s the best treat. Jesse says there’s nothing quite like hustling a lightweight two-stroke through the mountains:

“In the Fall of 2022 myself and a friend took our Yamaha 2-Strokes down to the Tail of the Dragon in the Smokey Mountains…there is just something about the handling of a sub-300 pound motorcycle.”

Below, we talk to Jesse for the full story on this 295-lb giant-killer!

Yamaha R5 Café Racer: Builder Interview

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

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

I am a 40 year old mechanical engineer living near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have been an automotive/motorcycle fanatic since I can remember and have a history of owning close to 50 motorcycles over the years. At the moment I own 7 motorcycles in varying states of completeness, three of which are mini moto race bikes. My son and I race in the Road America SuperMoto series, and last year we took home a trophy in every class we entered.

In addition to the ’71 R5 I also have a ’75 RD350 that is still currently being built and a ’76 XS360 basketcase future project. The ’75 RD350 was actually the donor bike for a lot of the parts currently on the R5. The RD350 is a ground-up build, so a lot of the parts were used to build this R5. My garage is nothing special, and all custom parts were made with an angle grinder, hand drill, and a DC TIG welder. I do have a truing stand though, and laced/trued these aluminum wheels myself. I also installed the tires myself with a cheap set of spoons.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer


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

1971 Yamaha R5.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

• Tell us about the build.

I bought this bike in the summer of 2021. The engine was seized, and it was missing the fuel tank and seat. It was a basket case but had a clean and clear Wisconsin title.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

I had a donor RD350 tank and custom café tail laying around, so I got to work. An RD350 top end was used along with RD350 pistons. This converted the R5’s piston port engine to a reed valve engine of the RD350’s. DG expansion chambers were added along with Keihin PWK 30mm flat slide carburetors.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

The goal with the build was to get below 300 pounds with a full fuel tank. I am happy to say this R5 came in at 295 pounds fully fueled up. In the Fall of 2022 myself and a friend took our Yamaha 2-Strokes down to the Tail of the Dragon in the Smokey Mountains.

• Can you tell us what the bike is like to ride?

With a 52″ wheelbase the R5 is quick to turn in and light on its feet. The aluminum rims help keep the unsprung weight down, letting the suspension function more efficiently. The added hydraulic steering damper keeps high speed stability in check, and the bike is very stable at 85+ mph. The 350cc 2-stroke (now reed valve) engine has the stereotypical 2-stroke power delivery and comes on like a light switch at higher rpms. The light weight helps low rpm power delivery and it doesn’t feel sluggish coming off the line at all. The chassis is definitely what I like the most about the bike though. There is just something about the handling of a sub-300 pound motorcycle. The only remaining weak link of the chassis are the stock brakes, even though I have installed EBC shoes in the front and rear.

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

My biggest accomplishment with the R5 build was achieving a sub-300 pound wet weight. Being a chassis engineer for a motorcycle company, I understand how important lightweighting is and how much of an impact weight can make on how a bike rides and feels.

This R5 project was also my first try at lacing and truing wheels. I felt over my head when I started the project, but plenty of YouTube videos helped me whenever I felt stuck. I am happy to report that I achieved under 0.006″ lateral and radial runout when truing.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

The custom/modified kick starter is also pretty trick. It is an OEM kickstarter that I cut, bent, and welded into its final shape. The new shape of the kickstarter clears the rearsets and matches the shape of the chassis better than what I see on typical R5/RD350 builds.

Yamaha R5 Cafe Racer

• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

I would like to thank my fantastic wife, Kayla Crane, for putting up with my motorcycle obsession and allowing countless garage hours building all the race bikes and cafe racers of the past. I would also like to thank my buddy Cody Zainey, who visited from Indianapolis on a few occasions to help wrench/build this R5 over the past two years.

Build Sheet


  • Frame de-tabbed
  • Custom rearsets and clubman handlebars
  • 320mm rear rear shocks
  • 6.5 LED headlight with custom fork-mounted headlight brackets
  • OEM wheels hubs lightly polished
  • Lightweight aluminum rims with new spokes (laced and trued by myself to within 0.005” runout)
  • Shinko 712 tires
  • Removed original friction type steering damper and fitted a hydraulic damper
  • Still using original odometer…only 7437 miles showing


  • RD350 top end with reed valves
  • 30mm flat slide Keihin carburetors
  • RD350 7-plate clutch converstion
  • RD350 engine side covers
  • Custom kickstart lever to integrate with engine
  • DG expansion chambers

Follow the Builder

Photo Album: Flikr
Instagram: @crane_moto


  1. Bikes were so beautifully simple in those days.

  2. David Tong

    Where’s the battery or magneto?

  3. David Tong

    Where is the battery or magneto to power this thing?

    • Jesse Crane

      The bike is running the full points system from a RD350. Rectifier, regulator, and small 12V/5A battery are under the seat hump.

    • Nathan Kreigline

      Change out those pod filters with the metal backs to foam uni filters. The jetting will be easier and smoother throttle response.

      • Jesse Crane

        I had issues with these conical metal back pod filters when trying to use the VM28 Mikuni OEM carbs, but not so with the PWK30 carbs. I have also tried full foam filters and velocity stacks on both the VM28 and the PWK30 carbs…..and the best tuning I have been able to achieve is the PWK30 with these pods.

  4. Jay Phinizy

    This is a very well set up R5/RD. Actually, the way to go is to insert an RD 400 gear cluster – it can be done without too much hassle, and the slightly closer ratios of the 400 make it a delight.

    I actually prefer piston port cylinders and had fun racing an R5 for years at Loudon, Mid Ohio and Mosport. Tuned, it can practically speaking replicate the venerable TR3 “Giant Killer”. Thin powerband, though.

  5. John Gregory

    The Yamaha was a great bike but the 14 second Bonnie was not the fastest stock bike. At Sunset Motors we took our first Commando Fastback out of the box and rode 250. Miles. Wayne Bodven never rode aNorton before but he set a stock record of 13:01 @ 98 mph at the 1968 Cordova, IL nationals. The 69 Commando S could run 12:90s

    • bikebound

      Agreed the Bonnie wasn’t the fastest thing. I think Motorcycle Classics was just saying the Bonnie was a benchmark, a known point of reference for motorcycle performance at the time.

  6. The rd350 and 400 had the same gear ratio except for the very first year of the 400 had a close ratio 5th and 6th gear and a smaller rear sprocket. The bike in the picture looks all Rd except for the front wheel and forks that thing a joke.My RD will smoke that toilet.

    • bikebound

      Talk doesn’t cook rice.

      • I was one of the first to own the RD350 back in Michigan.
        I traded in my Honda Trail 55.
        The Blue Streak as we called it was fast. Garrett than anything on the road at the time. Faster than any bike on the road. Faster than the Triumph Bonneville 650.
        Nothing near it till the Yamaha 500 TRI.
        36 HP out of a 350 was unheard of at the time and still a record for a production bike.
        It was the big brother of the Yamaha Twin 100, another screaming machine.
        My brother bought a Twin 100 and the RD 350 back in the early 2000’s that were in pristine condition, then sold them a few years later at a jamboree in Ohio.
        To bad, but everything good must come to an end.
        Those were the days.
        Just a reminder it’s a fact, the original 350 Three Port was faster then the 350 5 port that followed. Don’t know why, but it was.
        Great memories.

  7. beautiful – finally a real cafe racer that catches the essence of the words “cafe racer”
    Modifying your standard bike to be the fastest between cafes using what you had – faster and lighter!
    awesome – well done

  8. James V Reed

    Beautifully simple. What I loved about my Suzuki X-6 that I built into a cafe racer in 1967 and have loved about 2-stroke twins ever since. Since then I;ve owned and raced all Yamaha production road racers from the TD-1 to the TZ-750. Currently putting the finishing touches on my R-5 I’ve had since 1980. Engine wise it is fully TZ ized with G model parts. Frame is raked, lowered with extended swing arm and TZ-350B forks. Is headed to Bonneville in August.
    Kudos again to Jesse for building what is in my estimation the perfect cafe racer.

  9. Beautiful customisation, I had a couple of RD350 , one of my favourite bikes.

    Could I ask you the brand of the headlight that is fitted.


  10. Pingback: Race Bike, for the Street: Yamaha RD350 Café Racer – BikeBound

  11. I made my road racing debut in the production class with my purchased new in Okinawa Japan DMV licensed R5B club racing. That bike stayed with a modified CB750 up to 90MPH before he started easing away from me. I have a no title RD350 I intend to restore as a vintage road racer soon.

  12. Bought mine from Mr. Yamaha in Wood River Illinois $900. Still in the box. They had a gentleman from California that was a magician on the RDs. Never had so much fun. Liked it so much. I bought a Daytona special 400 when they came out. I still think of those days. I’ll be 67 years old and still ride.

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