Classic Motorcycle Mechanics


It’s 1980 and Yamaha’s existing two-stroke light-middleweight sports offering is the RD400, by now in its fourth year, as the F model. Good for a steady 106mph, and a fair deal faster once a decent tuner has been at the barrels.

Good enough to be spanking everything in proddie racing, but then what opposition does it have? Suzuki has launched the instantly forgettable GS425 four-stroke twin, Kawasaki is hanging on with the KH400 (once quite a sharp racer, but no more), and Honda had replaced the jewel-like CB400F with the altogether more mundane CB400 Super Dream, no faster than the F, but a lot more dull. So, Yamaha had that light-middleweight sports category sewn up in 1980, but far from doing nothing, Yamaha instead pushed the whole game clear into the next century. The history books will tell you that at a time when USA legislators were vilifying the two-stroke, with sales there on the wane, Yamaha took the brave step of tasking their newly-formed European design team to come up with a new two-stroke sports model.

That European team had a lot of British bods in it, not least Paul Butler who was Product Planning Manager at Yamaha Europe. Butler had worked with Kenny Roberts in his early GP years and later would be part of the Marlboro Roberts team set up. Today he’s an IRTA boss and race director for MotoGP.

Butler had alongside him another planner in the form of Bob Trigg, pulled from the burning wreckage of Norton Villiers

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