Our Bikes Yamaha RD350LC
“It’s both my pride and joy, and shame and embarrassment”
Loved and neglected in equal measure, Phil’s RD350 LC is a portal in time back to his early 20s.
I’m not sure if this is a tale of a life-long love affair, or of a curse, an albatross, a millstone around my ever-fattening neck. Maybe you can help me decide…
Like many middle-aged motorcyclists there’s one bike with which I’ve a stronger emotional attachment than any other. For me, and many others of my 50-year-old generation, it’s Yamaha’s iconic, early ‘80s LC. The ‘why’ is simple: my biking and adult life blossomed with my LC: first a 250, then a 350 that transported me into my early 20s and the bigger world. I went to Uni on it, saw Sheene at the Brit GP on it and I ventured into France for my first solo foreign travels on it. It encapsulates my youth.
Then, 20-odd years later, again like many middle-aged motorcyclists, some menopausal yearning for nostalgia swept over me manifested most by an irresistible urge to re-acquire key evocative objects from my youth. The LC, naturally, was top of the list, but plenty of others (Scalextric, vintage skateboards, old magazines) came and went via the devil’s conduit that is eBay, too…
The bike you see before you is the result. And it’s both my pride and joy and shame and embarrassment at the same time.
Bought impulsively as a 40th birthday present to myself in March 2004 for a bargain, by today’s standards, £430, it was then nothing like you see it now. First, it worked (the journey back home from Boston was both my maiden and so far only ride on it, but we’ll come back to that), but, more importantly to me, cosmetically and originality-wise it’s completely different, too.
Incorrect YPVS pipes were quickly swapped for genuine LC items (for 100-quid odd off, again, eBay – the auction site’s rise in the 2000s has a lot to answer for); the often hacked-down rear mudguard was replaced with an unabused example; correct bars were sourced along with a radiator shroud and front mudguard and, most significantly of all, a knackered white/red bodykit switched, for around £175, for a vitally desirable white/blue one.
And why so ‘vitally desirable’? Because I’d worked out by this point I didn’t just want a ‘good LC’ to restore at all– I wanted to recreate MY LC, warts ‘n’ all, do a reincarnation of EFR 39W or KJX 563W (which the RAC ‘regfinder’ website told me no longer existed, boo), and both those bikes were white/blue.
With hindsight, I should’ve known it was never going to end well…
This newly more focused quest demanded further changes. Mine had white (Holts, sprayed by me) wheels. So I sent them off to a powder coater and ordered new Avons. Mine also gained a Pro Am fairing kit (I vividly remember the excitement of its arrival, in the summer of ’82, priced £92 in a box from Warwick Motorcycles), but with prices now in the 1000s scabby, pattern examples would have to do which were then resprayed and re-stickered, gained a dash and bracket from Meadspeed and screen edge trim found for £9 on the web.
Then, as the months turned into years, turning the engine over became forgotten, a second child arrived, components were thrown together with the aim of ‘doing it properly later’ and dust gathered.
By 2008, the LC looked good (at a cursory glance at least) but in truth was now neglected and non-running. The engine hadn’t been started in years, the battery was flat, a new ignition switch hadn’t been wired in and the exhausts had been thrown on.
Chassis-wise, it was little better. When bought, I knew it was actually a 250 partially converted to 350 spec. That’s one of the reasons it was cheap so I didn’t mind. It was a common practice and my old KJX was too.
This one, however, hadn’t been finished. The 350 top end, rear wheel and V5 were all correct, but the second front disc, horn and larger master cylinder were all missing. The extra caliper, replacement master cylinder and lines were found but again, on discovering the caliper threads in the left hand leg were stripped, I never got around to fitting them properly. You’ll notice a theme is developing.
There was more: During this period one of the forks had mysteriously dumped its oil, my secondhand centrestand (another part regularly binned) refused to fit and I’d also contrived to nip the front innertube and scratch my new white rims when refitting the tyres.
And if all of this is starting to sound like a catalogue of ineptitude I can’t disagree. I never claimed to be anything other than a useless and lazy mechanic. Instead I merely offer two excuses.
First, by late 2009 two young children and a marriage on the rocks had forced the LC way down the priority list. With three house moves, new relationships and all that goes with it since (decorating, homework, sanity…), the LC project is yet to fully recover…
And second, and perhaps most telling of all, I’m spoilt. Spoilt by having one of the best jobs in the world which means I not just get to ride bikes day-in-day-out, I’ve also, in the last decade or so, had the opportunity on at least four occasions to ride and test some of the best LCs anywhere.
Now, you may think that a good thing and I won’t argue, it is. In fact it’s effing brilliant. But when it comes to motivation to get my LC finished, it’s actually effing disastrous.
An example: the most recent (and probably best) of all of these LCs was that belonging to LC Club membership sec Laurence Catchpole back in June. And I came away both impressed and depressed all at once.
Impressed because his bike, a £9000 labour of love over five years, is simply amazing: as good as any LC could ever be. And in being so it fulfilled my dream of being transported emotionally back 20-odd years.
But depressed, too, because by riding it, much of my quest had been sated. I don’t need to ride my bike now, even if, miraculously, it ended up anywhere near as good (which it won’t, £9000 and five years are two commodities I simply don’t have).
So there’s the rub, the curse, the albatross. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my LC; I love my eye falling upon its seductive curves every time I open the garage door and the memories it evokes. But I also know full well 90% of that love is for it as an ornament, as a keepsake. And as a result I’ve no great desire to get it going and, yes, that’s something of an embarrassment, too.
Maybe that will change. The other week, starting to get ‘on top of’ my new garage, I rediscovered my box of LC bits and was reminded of jobs needing doing. The twin horns bought years ago still haven’t been fitted; the indicators wired up; the front tyre fixed, the centre stand sorted. I also keep finding myself web-searching for odds and ends: the under seat tool tray, bar clamp plugs and more.
Maybe there is a flame still burning away, however small. Maybe I will restart it this winter after all…
1981 YAMAHA RD350LC, £1500 (on a good day, hopefully £4K when it’s finished)
Claimed weight 143kg
Seat height 785mm
Miles Supposedly 30K odd
Servicing to date N/a
Mods to date: loads, see above