If motorcycles have earned the reputation as “widow-makers” then two motorcycles in particular can lay claim to being the most lethal assassins. Both are ’70s Japanese bikes from the golden age of two-strokes; the Kawasaki H2 750 is the Ivan Drago-style killer that will get right in your face and club you to death. But it’s the Yamaha RD400 that takes on the true Assassin’s creed, dispatching of its kill in a millisecond without the prey ever having seen what was coming. In Argentina, the land of bike builder extraordinaire and founder of Lucky Custom, Lucas Layum, the RD400 has been known since its birth as “la Mata Hombre”, quite literally “the Man Killer”. But such is the allure of the RD and its intoxicating two-stroke engine, that men will risk death to ride them and when they look this good it’s easy to see why.
The Seventies might have seen the introduction of the four-stroke Japanese superbikes but for a young lad looking to emulate his race day heroes it was a decade built on two-stroke smoke. The Kawasaki’s had brutal power and beautiful lines, the Suzuki’s offered a level of durability not known to most smokers but it was Yamaha’s RD range that offered the most charisma. Forget your heated grips, traction control and smooth fuel injection when you jump aboard an RD400 and get it up to speed it’s a white knuckle, eyes on stalks experience and that’s before you’ve even pinned the throttle. So when Sean Skinner of MotoRelic in Hamilton, Virginia, was approached by a friend to do a custom rebuild on his 1977 Yamaha RD400 he jumped at the opportunity. The end result is a screaming Yammy that looks better than any factory offering and delivers all of that two-stroke insanity in one hell of a beautiful package.
The Father and Son relationship may just be the biggest reason many young men find their way into the world of motorcycling. For Jared Morris and his Dad Bob that relationship extended even further and they shared this Yamaha RD400 not just as a bike to ride but as a bike they would slowly build together. The RD could be heard screaming through the neighbourhood as Jared tested out the latest changes and modifications they’d made before ripping it back apart and making it that little bit better. When Bob fell ill Jared continued the build but with the pressures of life there just wasn’t the time to give the RD the attention it deserved. When Bob, a former Flat Track Racer, sadly passed away, Jared thought of the best way he knew to honour his Dad.
It’s hard to deny that Yamaha made some exceptional motorcycles in the ‘70s. Two of those machines are arguably ‘ride before you die’ bikes; namely the insane RD two-strokes and the now legendary TZ racers of ‘King’ Kenny Roberts. So when Dallas bike builder Isiah Booth of City of Hate Cycles was commissioned to build a raffle bike for the Tenth Annual Dallas Rockers vs Mods gathering, he decided there was no better way to honour these two legends of the ’70s than to combine them into one hell of a machine. To get it done he found a 1977 RD400 and teamed up with Jason Small of Small Time Moto to build a very special race themed machine, nicknamed the ‘Giant Killer.’
Motorcyclists have a place in their heart forever enamoured with the first bike they loved. It could be an oily Chinese pit bike, a reliable Japanese commuter or a ratty chook* chaser used for chores around a back paddock. But that first bike, no matter how unreliable, common or dangerous, that bike stays with you. For Sheldon, it was the gloriously volatile RD400. Riding around on the back of his fathers’ RD in the late 70’s gave him an itch that could only be scratched years later with a little help from Brisbane-based workshop Ellaspede.
Written by Jason Cormier. Jason is a freelance writer and accomplished shade-tree mechanic based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is the editor of Odd-Bike.com, a selection of odd, exotic, unusual, and rare motorcycles from around the world.
In a modest garage a few miles east of San Francisco, there is a man who builds motorcycles. This might not sound particularly exceptional, as there are men building bikes in many garages in many cities, and some of them are exceptional enough to get profiled on sites like this. Julian Farnam is a different sort of builder though, and he has built a different sort of bike. He is a consummate tinkerer, a man who puts together unique machines of his own design in his spare time. It’s not his day job, but he is damn good at what he does – producing some of the most interesting and thoughtfully designed custom bikes you’ll come across anywhere. The bike we are featuring today is one of Julian’s odd creations, a raked and chopped Yamaha RD400 that applies one of Julian’s favourite concepts – alternative front suspensions. More remarkable is that the CHOPPRD, as Julian has christened it, was built in his spare time over a 30 day period for a total budget that could not exceed $1000 – that includes the donor bike and all the parts and modifications that go with it.
What is it about small bikes? Most bikers will get the bug sooner or later. But just think about it for a moment. In no other area of transportation do you see this phenomena. Cars? With the notable exception of the Mini, you don’t see your average boy racer pining over something with less cylinders and a fraction of the go of their current buzz boxes. And how often do you think your average fighter pilot lays awake at night thinking about that bitchin’ ultra-light he wants to trade down to? Not to blummin’ likely. But things seem a little different with bikes. There’s an undeniable “thing” with the more delicate members of the species. They are small, light, chuckable and they let us feel a little like our favourite racing heroes with levels of horsepower that won’t punish those of us with more enthusiastic right hands. No need to tell this to Craig Marleau from Millville, California. He’s already there, and to prove it he’s banged out this stonking little two-stroke Yamaha to prove a point. Um, Craig? Point taken, my man. Point taken.
When it comes to creativity, Icon are the leaders of the pack. Not only in their helmet and bike designs, but also in their press releases and photography. This is how Icon’s talented Design Director Kurt Walter describes their latest project – the ‘dirty cafe racer’:
She wanted me dead, that was clear. I could come up with no other reasoning for why she conducted herself in such a hostile manner. With her carbon cans barking like a tortured lap dog the Snakecharmer was hellbound on delivering pain. And not the kind of pain that you just walk off. No, she wanted to deliver the kind of pain that burns for weeks. Where every shower is a constant reminder of your failures. The kind of pain that forces you to sleep on your stomach eschewing blanket or even sheet. The type of pain that your wife not only doesn’t care about, but actively mocks. And who could blame her?