Yamaha RD350: The Icon, the legend, and the rumours

Yamaha RD350 was India’s first performance bike and here’s what led to its gradual demise
Escorts Yamaha RD350, India's first performance bike
Escorts Yamaha RD350, India's first performance bikeTeam Evo India

Yamaha RD350 was one of the most powerful sets of two-wheelers to cruise through the streets of India in the late 1900s, and also the country’s first performance-oriented bike. The in-line, two-stroke, 347cc, two-cylinder engine was de-tuned for the Indian markets to produce lesser power of about 30.5bhp on the high torque version and 27bhp on the low torque version. Whereas the Japanese version of the same produced around 40bhp.

The RD350 from Japan was introduced in the Indian markets under the name Yamaha Rajdoot RD350 by the Escorts Group from 1983 to 1989. Despite the common notion, RD stands for ‘Race derived’ and not Rajdoot. It was given the name ‘Rapid death’ because of the frequent accidents involving the bike.

The specs on RD350 in India and Japan
The specs on RD350 in India and JapanImage Credits: Maxabout Bikes via Pinterest

India is a country that gives more importance to utility and economy. In an attempt to achieve a better fuel economy, the RD was detuned for the Indian market. This attempt was rather unfruitful, as the fuel economy of the RD compared to its then competitors Yezdi Roadking, Jawa 350, and Royal Enfield Bullet was still very less.

The RD350B in Japan was a revolutionary bike as it was amongst the first in its class to feature a front disc brake, which was not a very common thing back at that time. In India, the front disc brake was replaced with a drum brake system to reduce the pricing. In doing so the safety of the rider was compromised, which became another reason for the failure of the bike. RD350 was considered powerful in its time and the removal of the front disc for the Indian market made it more difficult to tame. The inadequate braking system caused accidents, making it earn the title of ‘Racing death’. The RD could go 0-100 in about 7 seconds and reached a top speed of around 160 kmph in the top gear, which at the time was impressive levels of performance the average Indian rider was not accustomed to or ready for.

Old advertisement of the Yamaha RD350
Old advertisement of the Yamaha RD350Image Credits: Dorin Blanaru via Pinterest

The most popular rumour is that it was banned on the Indian roads because of its performance. The truth is that the performance, high price tag (Rs 18,000 when it launched in 1983 and Rs 30,000 by the time it discontinued, which was really expensive), low fuel economy, and the inadequate braking performance made it a product that did not attract buyers, and eventually caused Yamaha to pull the plug on the RD 350.

Despite all the flaws, the RD has amassed a major cult following leading to high demand for the bike in the used market even today. There are plenty of RD350 biker clubs in India even today, cherishing the first performance bike of India that paved the way for performance-oriented bikes in the country.

At present, a restored RD350 can sell for an amount anywhere around Rs 2 lakh and even its scrap materials are being sold for a high value. The Yamaha RD350 was one of those machines that was way ahead of its time. It set the platform for performance motorcycles and to this day, people are willing to spend big bucks to get their hands on one and restore it to all its glory. This one is gone but definitely not forgotten!

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