Dennis Noyes Tribute

Eighties motorbikes tests




Close your eyes and imagine yourself at the controls of Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha 500 …in sixth gear with an open throttle on the Jarama straight away, a roar of a purebred; and now rapid breaking for the final straight. Incredible power brakes but with a perfect feel, you downshift, fifth, fourth, third and you enter, still braking, on the final stretch passing the first vertex, rising and opening the throttle for the exit, rear wheel at the limit of its grip, and the front lifts up!   And you keep the front tire up in a long wheelie until you shift into fourth just at the entrance of the fast curve.  And you finish up first and outstanding.

You were the hero of the film.

Pleasant dreams.  But now Yamaha offers you the opportunity to dream with you eyes open.  They aren’t putting you on the track or in the crowded stands, but they are putting you on a bike that turn you into the hero of “your” movie.  The Yamaha RD 500 LC, a bike so exotic, so “real” that the mere idea of making a bike like this seemed impossible when the first rumors began to fly about a “Roberts Replica” in Japan. However, with the marketing of the RD 500 LC, Yamaha has accomplished its impossible mission.  And by a stroke luck, Jaime and I have been able to test it in Germany.         

“We have a Little surprise for you,” Knut Briel of Motorrad Reisen & Sport told me.  I had arrived in Germany to test a production bike that the Japanese were about to introduce in the Spanish market, but I had to change the test schedule when they showed me the “little surprise,” ... a Yamaha RD 500 LC, the only one in Germany and of the half dozen that were at that moment in Europe.  And more important still, this Yamaha bike was broken in, carburized, ready for a real test.

Two years ago John Nutting, editor in chief of the magazine, Which Bike? from London, learned about the RD 500 LC Prototype during a trip to Japan, but instead of just publishing mere rumors, John did something more spectacular.  In the photo lab for Which Bike? they used a Protar scale model of the Kenny Roberts Yamaha to make a small street RD 500 and shot a photo montage that fooled more than one person.   According to John it was a spy photo of the bike during exclusive tests in Japan, Yamaha didn’t think the joke was funny, because the details were accurate ... a two stroke V4 50 degrees, with reed valves and exhaust valves, six gears and a maximum speed of around 230 k /h.  Yamaha firmly denied the existence of such project, and Which Bike? recognized that it was a photo of a Protar model. But the idea of ​​a "Roberts Replica" didn’t seem so far-fetched given that the latest version of the RD 350 LC was already undergoing factory tests with important improvements and a smoother delivery of power thanks to the use of exhaust valves. But, did Yamaha dare to go against the current by launching a two stroke 500cc at the height of an era of four stroke large displacement engines?

No other factory would have dared, but Yamaha did, and we must recognize that the brand of the tuning  fork, with this superb creation, has forced me to say that I no longer hate two stroke bikes. All my life, maybe because I was riding in England during the last ten years or so of the British industry, I have had an aversion to the noise, odor and technical concept of a two-stroke engine. In England I was taught to refer to two-stroke engines always as "bloody two strokes" (something like "damn two strokes" as "bloody", bleeding, is a slight British blasphemy referring to the blood of the Virgin Mary) and as a rider of an Aermacchi 350 4T, I spent several years fighting always in vain against the Yamaha 350 air-cooled engine, just like when I started in Spain 13 years ago with my Ducati.  24 hours against the Montesa, Ossa and TSS bikes of men like the late Jorge Navarrete, Ricardo Tormo, Paco Calafat, Miguel Angel Cortes, Ivan Alcazar, etc.. And among my friends at the time, I remember two of them very seriously asked me why I didn’t buy a TSS, but I told both Jaime Alguersuari and Andrés Pérez Rubio ... "Never, ever". As if they had asked me to commit treason. To each lunatic, his own madness…mine has been four-stroke motorcycles, the Norton, the Ducati or the Aermacchi.

However, after a couple of kilometers at the controls of the DR, I had to recognize that this time Yamaha had worked a miracle ... a 2 stroke with energy, kick, power, but also with finesse, smoothness and if there is no low power range at least there is at least good power at middle speeds.  And with a German price of only 11,000 DM (632,800 pesetas) compared to a price of nearly 20,000 (1,200,000 pesetas.) for the Honda VF 1000 R. The RD 500 LC promises to be the most affordable super sports bike, and because of this popular in Europe.   From the first look, the bike is gorgeous, compact and excellently finished, and even on the second, it looks a Grand Prix motorcycle, as if someone had placed turning signals and a headlight on an Eddie Lawson 500.

From the controls, the feeling is of having gotten onto a world championship 500, but with the instrument board of a touring bike.  It has a kick start, something that I really like on a truly sporty bike like the Ducati Hailwood Replica, for example.  However, with a difference.  With the red and green Ducati you must have eaten well and you have to give it a lethal kick to hear the roar of the Conti exhausts. With the Yamaha you don’t have to stand up on the lever and walk down with all the strength you have. The DR is started with a kick soft and slow, and the roar of the four tailpipes sharp and beautiful race ... just inside the sound standards, but certainly a sound that makes you heart beat, you're sitting on the site of Kenny Roberts, semi-high handlebars and footrests and delayed, a huge white tank and red, and when you give gas the bike accelerates with roaring ... Yamaha!

With the Yamaha you don’t have to stand up on the pedal and jump down with all the strength you have. The DR is started with a soft and slow kick, and the roar of the four sharp and beautiful racing tailpipes  ... barely under the sound limit, but certainly a sound that will make your heart beat, you're sitting on the site of Kenny Roberts, semi-high handlebars and footrests that are high and farther back, a huge red and white fuel tank, and when you give the bike gas it accelerates with a roar of ... Yamaha!

You crouch down over the wide tank, and each time you shift through the low gears you feel as if the front wheel is barely touching the ground.

And when it comes to the curves, you find that this Yamaha is simply unimaginably agile… with a dry weigh of  less than 200 kg and a wheelbase of only 1.380 cm.  Brakes so good that it’s hard to believe that you can fill them so quickly. And with anti-dive system that works, preserving the geometry during braking on fast curves, keeping the fork from bottoming out during the most abrupt stops ...Even when the rear wheel is in the air!.

Madness.  A long straight run after a second gear curve.  (I'm on the outskirts of Cologne, a sunny day in spring) and no traffic in sight.  Clutchless shifting at over 10,000 rpm. The front wheel lifts up in third and stays up for about 50 meters ... and that roar!. It's the sound that accompanies the Grand Prix film I'm making. I have a Spencer right behind me ... fourth, 10,000 rpm a slope, and the bike is light in front and shimmies a bit at 200 km/h., but you don’t have to cut back, this is a racing bike, racing bike reactions, and it gives you the confidence of a racing bike.  Already in sixth, the two-lane road does not seem as wide or as narrow as at first sight. I see curves where before everything seemed straight ...but I want to reach the maximum rpm in 6th, and the Yamaha continues to accelerate. The maximum power of 88 hp comes at 9,500 rpm, and changing to sixth at 10,000 rpm without clutch and almost without cutting, the motor only loses about 800 rpm and at 9,200 rpm, 700 rpm beyond the maximum torque (6.8 mkp at 8,500 rpm) acceleration remains strong, up to 10,000 rpm. I straighten up to feel the force of the wind at about 235 km/h on the gauge that are actually real 223 km/h, and even at full throttle in sixth gear the brakes are so powerful that I would say that the Yamaha’s deceleration is even more exciting than its acceleration.

I put myself now in the position of the reader and ask, "But of what use is a bike like that? Can you tour on it? Can you ride down the street with it?" And above all, "how much fuel does it consume?" Well, it's hard to imagine this bike equipped with a set of Krauser bags with  a passenger and a bag on the fuel tank, but as an everyday bike, even in the city, it is easy to handle, even manageable ... As long as you are careful when you give it gas above 7500 rpm.

If we take a look at the results of the Yamaha RD 500 LC bench test, we see that up to 7000 rpm the bike behaves like a civilized touring bike, but between 7000 rpm and 8000 rpm there is an increase in the order of 21 hp, an increase in power of almost 40 hp. When you get to 7000 rpm it is important to have very clear ideas about where you want to go. In water, the next day, I found that at 7,000 rpm low and middle gears, the bike fishtailed right away. Here are the statistics for the bench test:

The fuel consumption is not horrible. I would say that the consumption is normal for a high performance sports bike. In South Africa, in a race of production bikes won by Yamaha against bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja, the Yamaha FJ 1100 and the Honda VF 1000 R (on a very winding circuit) the winning RD was one of the bikes that consumed the least amount of fuel. In our test, and with mixed driving, the average was 7.5 liters per 100, but this included a few hours of sports driving in the mountains.

Jaime, who tested the 500 of Marc Fontan, got off it impressed. The thing is that Yamaha has managed to give a street bike the feel, the roar (without the decibels) and the flavor of a Grand Prix motorcycle without making it a dangerous and impossible to ride monster.

If Yamaha-Semsa decides to make some units of the Yamaha RD 500 LC available for some select teams in Formula-1 silhouettes, we of the "fat bikes" have many problems with them, especially on tracks such as Lugo and Albacete ... even on the slippery asphalt urban circuit of Albacete, the RD should be driven with very, very delicate hands.

However, that way we fall into the trap of considering the RD as if it were a race-client relationship.

It's not. The 88 hp and 223 km/h are not "brilliant" performances. There are bikes with almost 40 hp more, bikes capable of almost 40 km/h. more, but with the "handicap" of about 50 kilograms more in running order.  A Yamaha FJ 1100, a Kawasaki Ninja or a Honda VF 1000 R leave behind the RD on a straightaway and are not difficult to handle on curves, but with course changes, with braking, with sequences of linked curves, the DR rider will not lose the smile that he is wearing inside, while the 120/125 hp superbike riders will always have a serious look on their faces ...If not frightened! And this is the beauty of the Yamaha. It lets you master it, provided you remember the kick that is waiting for you between 7000 rpm and 9500 rpm.  A bike that at first seemed, on paper, like madness ... 500 cc. two-stroke 90 hp loose on the streets ... it becomes at heart perhaps the bike that is most secure and easy to ride quickly in the mountains of the new generation of Japanese superbikes. I will remain a lifelong fan of my four stroke bikes because of personal tastes, habits, experience ... but after trying the Yamaha RD 500 LC I'll never say "bloody two-stroke" again.

They look like photos of a racing bike. Here in the series, we have the technical solutions of Robert’s Yamaha ... Yamaha reed valve, rotary valve pioneers at the time of Read and Ivy , they remain faithful to classical intake but mechanically operated exhaust valves. Cylinders in V at 50 degrees and water cooling. The gearbox is a semi-closed ratio, especially the last two gears. The first is long, up to 90 km/h. and this requires you to make the clutch work to shift out well, also hurting the "commercially significant" acceleration figure for the 400 meter test.

The rectangular section frame is steel and clearly inspired by the Yamaha Grand Prix frame and with some resemblance to the concept of the Kobas in "U" in 1983. The rear suspension also comes in theory from the Grand Prix bike, a progressive system with shocks mounted under the engine ... a good place to avoid prejudicing the center of gravity and also the shock absorber is exposed to air.

I'm surprised a little by the 18 inch rear wheel, considering that Yamaha already has a 16 inch rear wheel on the 1100 FJ, but what is clear is that Yamaha has been successful. The shorter wheelbase, 16 inch front wheel, quick geometry and low center of gravity make the RD 500 LC the most fun street bike I've ever ridden in the mountains. Thanks to Yamaha, first for the excellent RD 350 LC  bikes and now for the fantastic RD 500 LC, the two-stroke motorcycle, an endangered species and about to disappear from the streets, is back and appears to have a future even in our times of expensive fuel and anti-pollution legislation. Due to the success of the RD 350 LC, the other Japanese brands have returned to work seriously on the two-stroke street sports bike, and there is a selection of really amazing 250 cc two stroke bikes, and while Yamaha is already marketing the RD 500 LC, we know that Suzuki is working with the Gamma 500 based on the great World Champion bike from the age of Sheene, Luchinelli and Uncini, while there is talk of a V-3 Spencer Replica.   However, if the other brands return to the two-stroke engine, it is because Yamaha has always stayed true to its principles, and with this amazing Yamaha RD 500 LC they have achieved the impossible ..they have made a civilized two-stroke sports bike at midrange speeds with strong push (without being brutal kick) with acceptable fuel consumption, but without excessively watering down its true essence of two stroke sports bike.

And if I have not gone into more details it is because at the moment Semsa Yamaha has no intention of marketing the RD 500 LC in Spain.  What a pity ...