Yamaha's RD350LC set an all new standard when released and in the right hands was the fastest thing on two wheels through the twisties... Words and images: Tony 'Pommie' Wilding

Despite testing the latest and greatest technologically packed motorcycles, it’s no secret that we have an unhealthy obsession with any bike that smokes and the Yamaha RDLC is close to one that is at the top of our list. Check this restored one done a few years back.

1981 Yamaha RD350LC

1981 Yamaha RD350LC, the most iconic of all the two-strokers…

When Neil was getting into bikes, the RD350 was the bike to have – much in the same way that motorcycle obsessed school kids today will fantasise over the new R1 or S 1000 RR.

But back in 1980 when the RD250 and 350LC were released, they set a benchmark for motorcycles around the world, and if you were lucky enough to have one at the time and were a decent rider, then no one would catch you in the twisties.

The RD350LC set a benchmark for motorcycles around the world

The RD350LC set a benchmark for motorcycles around the world

When Neil’s wife went back to the UK for a holiday, it was the perfect time to sneak this newly acquired 1981 model RD350 into the shed. Neil had bought the bike from a bloke in Geelong and it wasn’t in the best condition. It was actually sold as running but with the tank rusted through, it was obvious it hadn’t run for a while. The whole bike was shabby and in desperate need of a clean up.


Like most restorations, the first job on the menu was for Neil to strip the bike bare. Then after many hours of paint stripping, cleaning and sanding, he repainted the frame in black. Neil is from Western Australia and by his own admission, it’s not the best place to live if you’re into two-stroke renovation.

The original tank was rusted out with a donor necessary

The original tank was rusted out with a donor necessary

Although, this didn’t stop him from hunting down a donor bike (boxes of parts rather than a full bike) to help with the build. “After I finished the frame, I stripped the forks and fitted new seals and new oil,” says Neil. “I then installed new bearings in the swingarm and resprayed it. Once that was done, I refurbished the yokes and cleaned up the forks then reinstalled them to get the bike back to a rolling chassis”.

NG Brakes

The engine was mostly original and in reasonable condition but like most two-strokes that have been sitting for years, it needed stripping to replace all the seals that had perished. The bores had previously been taken out to 1mm overbore but they had some score marks on them, so Neil just had them horned out and cleaned then fitted a new set of rings for the pistons.

The engine needed stripping to replace all the seals and the bores were honed

The engine needed stripping to replace all the seals and the bores were honed

With the engine back together, Neil stripped and cleaned the carbs – you can imagine what they looked like with all the rust from the tank filtering its way through… With the engine done, it was put back into the frame and the newly painted exhaust pipes were fitted.

Suzuki 2022

Luckily the petrol tank from the donor bike had faired the years better than his own, so he sent it off along with the other panels to be painted back to the original white. Neil had also found a new set of graphics for the bike – the Internet is a wonderful thing!

The wheels were stripped, polished and repainted

The RD350’s wheels were stripped, polished and repainted

At the same time, Neil stripped and polished the wheels, repainted the centres black and had new hoops fitted. Once the panels were back from the painters, the only other things that needed doing was fitting the lights and sorting all the wiring out – this was tricky as the loom was old and wired up wrong…

As you can imagine, Neil was more than excited when he finally kicked his bike back to life – yes you do kick them, that’s the lever on the right side of the engine…

Neil was ecstatic when he finally got to kick the restored machine to life for the first time

Neil was ecstatic when he finally got to kick the restored machine to life for the first time

“The whole family were there waiting for me to fail and kick myself into an exhausted heap,” say’s Neil. The end result is an iconic bike that’s been brought back from the dead and Neil loves it, “It’s a brilliant bike, I love the powerband and the smell of the two-stroke exhaust smoke – I just can’t get enough of it.

“I can’t say how much I’ve spent on the bike just in case my wife reads this but I can say it has taken around 160 hours to build. I still want to tune the engine to get some more horsepower out of it and maybe an RGV front and rear-end but that’s pricey stuff.

1981 Yamaha RD350LC

Future plans included an RGV front and rear end… when finances allow

“I have recently purchased a set of R6 calipers and the mounting brackets and would like to get a set of exhausts and an airfilter soon. I just love riding the bike, I’ve just recently got it registered and I must say, it’s a bit more wobbly in the handling department compared to a more modern bike but it’s still a load of fun!”

NG Brakes

RD350LC Parts Bought

Front and rear tyres, oil pump cover, chain and sprockets, all decals, mirrors, ignition switch, clutch and brake levers, horns and brackets, indicators, front and rear footrests, kick start and gear lever rubbers, panel grommets, fork seals, hand grips, battery, airfilter, radiator surround, all seals and gaskets, fuel hoses, breather piping, rear sub-frame, front indicator stems and a centre stand.

160 hours went into restoring Neil's RD350

160 hours went into restoring Neil’s RD350

Refurbished Parts

All body panels and tank and everything that had paint on it or required polishing.

Special Thanks:

Roy for all his help, Pete for the donor bike and my kids Jordan and Sophie for their help with the bike and keeping their mum distracted.

Yamaha RD350LC Gallery

Shannons March

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