STROKE OF LUCK. Enginethusiast’s Trophy Winning Yamaha RD400 Racer
Written by Martin Hodgson.
We’ve all done it. Scrolling through eBay or the classifieds and coming across a bike that was a project, 98% complete. The price seems great and hey, how hard could it be to finish that last 2%? Well Anthony Scott, photographer extraordinaire and man behind Enginethusiast found out that the maths doesn’t always add up. At the time he’d never had a 2-stroke and was looking for a new build to take on. So when a Yamaha RD400 came up for sale that had been treated to the beginnings of an “extensive restoration” in his home city of Portland, Oregon he snapped it up. Turns out extensive has a different meaning to some people, but the end result is a trophy winning tarmac and track warrior that Anthony calls a “Stroke of Luck.”
The Yamaha RD400 motor had just undergone a rebuild by 2 stroke gurus ‘Cycle Metric’ in Portland, with some mild porting to suit aftermarket expansion chambers. The frame had been chopped and a café style cowl fitted to the rear that followed the lines of the original tank. From afar the RD looked like “a one night and done affair” but for a measly $2,500 it was loaded onto a truck and relocated to its new home. “I remember thinking, man I’m lucky to find such an easy score,” Anthony recalls. If only he knew then what lay in store.
Anthony got together with his good friend Lance Forney who knows his way around 2-strokes and together they devised a plan. The idea was to give the bike a vintage look so the RD’s mag wheels were ditched for spoked items. An XT750 front end was purchased to make the job easier and deliver the benefit of its twin disc brakes.
But once fitted up it was realised the forks were bent and the hub was wrong; the struggles had just begun. Eventually the right bits and pieces were found with new Excel rims laced with Buchanan spokes. With an RD350 hub out the back, the drilled front discs up front and all wrapped up in modern Avon rubber it’s the perfect mix of old and new.
With the front sorted Anthony’s mind kept returning to thoughts of a mono-shock rear end. “Little Horse Cycles really hooked me up. They utilised an FZR600 spring and before I knew it I was saying goodbye dual shocks, hello sexy!” He was in love. But the conversion left a huge amount of space where the twin shocks once had been along with their supporting structures.
So an entirely new subframe was built, and it’s a piece of art! Beautiful curves of tubular steel with trellis styled supports give the ultimate in chassis rigidity. After some research, Anthony later discovered this was actually a common conversion back in the two-stroke club racing days.
With the rear end sorted in that classic racing fashion, it occurred to Anthony that he could have a bike for the track and the road all in one. So he contacted Airtech Engineering and secured a slimmed down version of a Ducati 900ss half fairing. Then he had Brett at ‘Glass from the Past’ make a custom removable number plate to cover the headlight; pull the indicators off and the street bike becomes a track machine.
But track bikes need race winning power, so HVC Cycles put together a set of their Moto GP-style chambers and coupled them with stainless mufflers to give the Yammie RD some serious powerband punch. While slowing it all down, aftermarket controls were added with braided lines and a set of new reproduction XS650 calipers.
“It seemed like things were slowly coming together at that point,” says Anthony. Then bad luck struck again. The painter did everything wrong, deviating from the agreed plan and still demanding payment. After being given no other choice, he paid the painter and began searching for another. “Up until this point, I really wanted to get the bike down to the Deus Ex Machina Bike Build Off in LA, which was a 15 hour drive from Portland. I only had two weeks left before the show,” says Anthony. Thankfully, the good people of the Portland bike scene rallied around and it would be a 24/7 rush to the finish line.
Painters like time, and lots of it! But Anthony Mautemps of Bridge City Cycles sanded down all the body work, removing the dodgy last job and redid the new paintwork in record time. The yellow and black colour scheme is a tip of the cap to the factory Yamaha race team design, while still maintaining a classy street bike appeal.
With the colour going on, Joe Tesstoire and Jeff Johnson of Second Gear worked with Anthony each evening to get the bike wired and assembled. A machined triple tree cleaned up the front end nicely. A steering damper was added for firm but precise handling and was coupled with a machined fork brace that could allow the fitment of a front fender when required.
With only time for a quick tune-up, the bike was loaded up into the same truck that had collected the RD, and the west coast pilgrimage to Deus’s Emporium of Postmodern Activities commenced. Despite being fashionably late the drive, unlike parts of the build, had gone off without a hitch. Well, apart from leaving the bike’s ignition on, meaning the bike wouldn’t start upon arrival.
But by the end of the day, and with a 2nd place trophy in hand, Anthony could be well pleased with his first smokey, strokey racer experience. A lot had happened during that “lucky and easy build.” There were some frustrating times and some big disappointments, but when it mattered most, his friends came to the rescue. Anthony admits, “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and I will.”