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Second Hand Dream Bikes - Yamaha RD350LC, Honda RC30, Ducati 916SP used test

Whitham, Mackenzie and Urry spill the beans on owning the bike of your dreams, sometimes it’s Heaven and sometimes it’s Hell. RC30, RD350LC and 916SP revisited.

If ever a conversation is likely to spiral into a full-on argument between a bunch of riders it is the old question: ‘what’s in your dream garage?’ It’s the perfect wet Sunday-in-a-pub-topic-of-debate that will rage on like an out-of-control forest fire well into the middle of the week after. ‘Why do you want a 1993 RGV250? The SP was better.’ Or ‘urban Tiger Blade? What about the 1992?’

Because inside each one of us is a little bit of the anorak that needs satisfying. We all have personal taste, individual turn-on and offs, and specific bikes that flick our switches that don’t necessarily do the same for anyone else. Which is the beauty of the dream garage, it’s your dream garage, not anyone else’s so you can fill it with what you like.

Which is exactly what we’ve done. Jon, Niall and James have all managed to scratch that dream bike itch and ended up owning the bike that means more to them than anything else. The way they managed it might vary, but the result is the same – a bike that brings more happiness than the sum of its value.

So this secondhand test focuses on the trials and tribulations that come with owning and living with a legend. It can be a rocky ride, sometimes bordering on a nightmare, but the end result is a bike that you will treasure forever and lose countless hours simply looking at.

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Yamaha RD350LC - James Whitham

The classic stroker that launched a thousand race careers and grazed countless knees

Click to read: Yamaha RD350LC owners reviews

I’ve forgotten lots about my teenage years, but I can remember that Wednesday morning clearly. I’d picked up the week’s copy of MCN on my way to school, as was my habit at the time. I sat down in my form-room and, as usual, had time for a cursory flick through its pages before Mr Livesy strode in and took the register. This particular Wednesday was different though. as I thumbed through the comic I turned a page to reveal a huge advert for the new Yamaha 350LC. It was a picture of Barry Sheene stood behind the sexiest thing I’d ever seen, and that included anything I’d witnessed in the discarded copies of Razzle we used to search for down the back lanes.

As I stared at the picture I knew two things. Firstly, legend or not, Bazzer should really have worn some socks underneath his trademark deck-shoes, white toweling ones would’ve been the ones to go for at the time. and secondly, every other bike in the world was now instantly, and officially out of date, this thing looked so perfect.

I was 14 at the time and already going to watch some club racing. My dad had a mate who’s 17 year old son Dave (Leach) had just started competing with a local club on a Suzuki X7 and most Sundays I’d ride in the back of his Transit to Cadwell or Carnaby and watch him do his stuff. Future TT winner Dave had also seen the ad, and had his deposit down for one the same day.

From that June (1980) and for the next four or five years, if you rode in the 250 or 400cc production classes, and you weren’t on an LC, then you weren’t gonna win, it was as simple as that! The poor old X7 had been out less than 18 months, but compared to the LC it may as well have been steam powered.

By the time I started racing a 125cc Honda two years later I was friendly with loads of lads who raced LCs and although I never owned one at the time I borrowed them on many occasions so I could cram another couple of races into the day. a good 350LC, ridden with a bit of spirit, would hold it’s own in almost any class, and was a match for any of the big four-stroke proddy bikes of the time, especially on a twisty circuit.

The 1980 example I have now I bought 10 years ago for 600 quid. It was a good runner in ‘average’ nick, but the main attraction for me was that it was dead standard and completely unmolested, no cheesy expansion chambers, no rear-sets, and nobody had attacked it with a tube of ‘autosol’ metal polish. I then spent 6 months, and another 1,000 quid making it as mint as I could. Back then it was a lot easier to restore one because it was just before they became sought after and although some parts, particularly standard exhaust pipes, were getting a bit thin on the ground, most spares were still available brand new through the dealer network without much bother.

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A lot of the components that make up an LC - frame, cases, head and barrels - even the brake calipers and master cylinder are painted black and therefore easy to strip back and make like new. you need to be careful to use the right finish if you want an original looking bike. The frame is gloss and most of the rest has a satin look to it. Some of the finishes used by Yamaha were weird and hard to replicate. The rear brake lever, the kick-start and a lot of the fasteners were corrosion proofed in a kind of green colour, I struggled to get a match anywhere and so bought new. And that’s the main problem if you decide to restore one now, the new stuff is fast running, or in some cases has run out. New Yamaha pipes are now rarer than an honest politician, and consequently very expensive, if you can find some. I reckon it’d cost you the top side of two grand, plus bike, plus hours trawling the net to source the parts if you want to restore one these days.

Once you have one sorted they are a doddle to maintain and as reliable as the Japanese rail network. Compared to today’s machinery there just isn’t a lot to go wrong and here’s the best bit about an LC, they’re still lots of fun to ride.

They’re fast enough to be fun without having to look for speed cameras all the time, and the handling and brakes are perfect for the amount of power and weight they have. almost every modern bike is better than an LC in every respect but, 28 years on, Yamaha’s iconic stroker still, as a package, looks and feels dead right. That two-stroke rush when it hits the power you can never tire of. I’ve never got off mine without a smile on my face, well except for the time I was helped off by an old lady doing a U-turn in front of me, but that’s another story. If you call at any café or pub where bike people stop, it will be the LC with the crowd round it, not the latest Blade or GSX-R. And pretty much every bloke you speak to over a certain age will have an LC story or two, even if it’s shitting himself on the back with his mate when he was 15.

Big hair and day-glow lycra may, with luck, have gone forever, but in my opinion, a nice 350LC is as thrilling and rewarding to ride now as it was in the early ‘80s.

People say that a particular song or even smell can take them straight back to a specific time in their lives. When I ride my LC up the road on a clear spring morning, lean down to push the choke in, and feel the motor gurgle a bit and then clear its self and start to sing as the bike takes off I’m 17 again, except with a lot less acne. as far as I’m concerned, over the years there has only ever been three or four machines that have changed the way we think about bikes. and the RD350LC is definitely one of ’em.

The reality of ownership:

Owning an RD is a fairly cheap experience, as long as you don’t have to fix it. Some parts such as bars, pistons etc are fairly easy to get hold off, but others are as rare as rocking horse shit. Want some new plastics? Forget it, you have to get onto eBay and be prepared to pay upwards of £50 per panel and then get it painted in the colours you want. And it’s the same for the rest of the plastics. Exhausts? Dent one and you are look at a very big bill or some specialised work getting the ding out, you won’t find a new one on a dealer’s shelves. The good news is that servicing an RD is a DIY job and very cheap, manuals cost around £10 and a fairly competent home mechanic should be fine doing the job. Tyres are still readily available and even though synthetic two- stroke oil costs £10 a litre RDs aren’t that thirsty. The best news, however, is the insurance. Around £100 a year fully comprehensive.

Where to get your RD:

If you are looking at a project bike then eBay is a good starter. RDs pop up all the time but many aren’t standard and have aftermarket pipes and the like fitted. Go as stock as possible because parts can be tricky to get. Engines are easy to fix, so don’t be worried about a seized bike, but make sure it sparks, electrical parts are very pricey. For a mint one look at classic auctions or specialised magazines for private ads. Unfortunately people know RDs are sought after and prices are starting to reflect this.

Other options:

The RD250LC isn’t as popular as the 350LC and so is a bit cheaper. Air-cooled fans can look at the RD400, which is starting to go up in value, or the later YPVS model. The Power Valve has a smoother engine and is still relatively freely available. Early naked bikes (N) are the best, but some people have a soft spot for the uglier fully faired F models.

Costs:

A mint 350LC can cost close to £3,000 but a used and unrestored bike will be closer to £1,000 on eBay if it is not standard or £1,500 if it is basically stock, MOT’d and running. It can be worth buying a scrap bike (£400 area) for spares.

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Honda RC30 - Niall Mackenzie

The legendary superbike that was built like a Swiss watch and won races

Click to read: Honda RC30 owners reviews

When I’m asked what is the best race bike I’ve ever ridden, my answer is unquestionably the Honda RVF750. It had smooth power but was rapid, handled like a dream and was ultra stable into the bargain. The first time I rode one was practicing for the Suzuka 8 Hour in 1987 while I was contracted to HRC in 500 GPs. I was easily fastest in the first three sessions before being asked to sit out the fourth so that Wayne Gardner could take pole position. Gardner was known as Mr 100% in Japan at the time so our mad but likeable boss Mr. Oguma (and the man I needed to sign my next contract) insisted he should get the front row glory. So starting from 2nd I enjoyed pushing Gardner hard in the race, but then my teammate binned it after five hours so that was that, or as my Japanese mechanics said that day; ‘Niall San, that’s lacing’.

Just before the race, I visited the factory where I was shown sketches of an ‘RVF for the road’ named the RC30 destined to be launched the following year. as it looked just like an RVF with indicators I thought these must be some fanciful concept drawings so I expected the final version would possibly be just another boring road bike. I was so wrong.

So, in January 1988, and just like when I saw the first press pictures of the Yamaha RD350LC, some inner voice told me I needed to own a red, white and blue RC30.

Without even seeing it in the flesh I also knew I would relish looking at, listening to and riding this motorcycle. Owning one became even more attractive when I found out that as I was a spoiled Honda rider, I could have around 40% off the eight grand asking price so my indulgence suddenly looked like a decent investment. In the spring of 1988 I collected my bike from Jim Allan motorcycles in Falkirk and to this day that completely standard European spec (Japanese models were limited to 100bhp) RC30 is still in my possession.

Being a Honda it will come as no surprise that living with an RC30 is no more difficult than living with a C90. Unlike other homologation specials it has no weaknesses (Yamaha R7 big end shells spring to mind) so change the oil and filter regularly and it will run forever. Apart from flat batteries the only problem I’ve had was self-inflicted when I had to replace a set of clogged main jets due to six-month-old fuel turning to treacle. And like most iconic bikes, apart from the round headlights, its looks have stood the test of time. From the simple dash, down to the single sided swing arm I believe it is the one of the most beautiful and effective no nonsense motorcycles ever built.

The key to RC30s success on the road and racetrack is most definitely its rideability. It has very linear power so while it will never pull your arms out the sockets, it can be ridden hard with confidence. I would describe the handling as light as opposed to sharp so you don’t get any unexpected nervous changes of direction. The riding position plays a big part in this as although the seat appears to slope up and backwards you actually sit more in the bike, which gives the rider good feel and control. The location of the handlebars and foot pegs feel quite similar to my K8 GSX-R750.

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However the 20 year old Honda would still give the Suzuki a run when it comes to low and high speed agility. Which has just reminded me I need to change the 1988 original Bridgestones as they gave me a few frights during this test. The rear Excedra G558 and front Cyrox 08 even sound prehistoric so something made in this millennium might be a good idea. The suspension is by Showa and gives good feedback for everyday riding and light track use, but I know the norm was kitted forks and an upgraded rear shock should you want to go racing. It still has standard brake pads and they work well but now we are 20 years down the road some more modern sintered pads mated with the discs would greatly improve stopping power.

The light clutch and slick gear change compliments the bark of the smooth engine. There is no low rpm ‘muffled’ feel like so many modern superbikes seem to have now in an attempt to keep the emissions people happy. From 1,500rpm the 112bhp, grunty motor pulls freely all the way to the red line at 12,500rpm. It may not have the midrange of a Fireblade, so more gear shifting is required to maintain momentum, but this only adds to the fun.

Occasionally I consider selling this bike but then when I fire it up and I bottle out. There is nothing like the sound of the V4 RC30 and with that noise come memories of special era when life was mostly good. after the 1988 GP season was finished, for fun I entered and won a round of F1 World Championship at Donington on a kitted RC30. The next week I took the same bike to Knockhill and managed another two wins after some elbow bashing with a young Steve Hislop, the full time Honda UK star at the time.

On the negative side (and I tend to blank this one from my memory) I did half a season with Honda UK in 1991 on some ex-Whitham RC30s that were total junk before disappearing to Japan to save my career.

So that’s it. My dream bike for all kinds of reasons and should I survive the recession, one that I’ll hopefully keep forever.

The reality of ownership:

The RC30 is a Honda, and therefore will run sweet as a nut for just about as long as you care to try it. The engine is very solid and a lot of the consumable parts such as oil filters etc are over the counter at Honda dealers. Servicing isn’t that expensive either, it’s just like a VFR after all. Original plastics are very tricky to find but cheap aftermarket replacements are freely available and are almost worth getting painted up so you can keep the stock ones in a safe place. If left in a garage for a long period of time the carbs can get gunked up, but again this isn’t a big job to sort out. Insurance isn’t that bad, especially as the RC is on the verge of classic bike insurance now, making it even cheaper!

Where to get your RC30:

RC30s pop up all the time in classified ads and aren’t that hard to get hold of. The owners club is always a good point to start if you want to be absolutely positive you are buying a good bike and there is still eBay. Parallel bike importers such as DK Motorcycles quite often have RC30s arrive in their crates from Japan, so give them a call if you aren’t fussed about having a UK spec machine. Make sure, however, when you buy that you get the original wheels. Often RC30s have their wheels changed for 17-inch items, which improves the handling but you need the original ones in the deal when it comes to re-sale. The same goes for aftermarket fairings and exhausts.

Other options:

Don’t fancy the RC30, well how about the RC45? Honda launched the RC45 with a whopping £18,000 price tag in 1995. It was a catastrophic amount of money and because of this the RC never really gained the cult following that the RC30 did. As a bike the RC45 is far superior and a stunning ride, but purists will always sway towards the RC30.

Costs:

An RC30 with 0 miles on the clock recently sold for over £20,000, but semi-used examples are more likely to go for £14,000 if the mileage is very low or nearer £10,000 if they have done over the 8,000 miles area. Import bikes from Japan are likely to be closer to £8,000 and a tatty one can be as little as £6,000.

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Ducati 916SP - Jon Urry

The legendary Italian sportsbike that started Ducati’s WSB domination is a bargain today

Click to read: Ducati 916SP owners reviews

When Ducati’s 916 was launched in late 1994 I was an impressionable 17 year old who had just spent the last three months working in the local Little Chef everyday to afford a £600 yamaha RD400. At that time the RD was sex on a stick, especially compared to the hideous Kawasaki Z250 I had been throwing into various Cotswold hedges, but the Ducati was something completely different. It was stunning, exotic, sensual and with a price tag of nearly £12,000 was totally unobtainable. Then a year later the £18,000 916SP came out and my love affair started.

I promised myself that one day I would own a 916. But it couldn’t just be any 916, it had to be an SP and it had to be the first year of production model. I freely admit that my desire was bordering on the obsessive, but I have my reasons. When Ducati were taken over in 1997 by the Texas-Pacific group they changed the logo on the side from the large ‘Ducati Desmoquattro 916’ proudly adorning the bike’s flank to the small, embarrassed-looking lettering signifying the model’s designation at the top of the fairing. Which, in my view, looks horrible. Then there is the retro side of me. I like original, the first and not any subsequent copies. I’m a bit odd like that. I can’t stand the ‘new’ Mini or Beetle, because I like the original ones. I know the 998R is by far and away the best 916 variant, but I want the original, the bike that sent me wobbly-kneed all those years ago. But getting one was quite another matter.

For about the last four years, ever since the bank manager deemed me worth of loaning money too, I’ve half-heartedly chased up a 916SP. If I spoke to a Ducati dealer I’d ask if they had one in and gave them my number just in case one arrived. Each time the response was ‘hen’s teeth mate,’ and a price of upwards of £6,000 was mentioned. I wanted the bike, but couldn’t afford to splash that much cash on basically an ornament. Why do I call it that? I’ve always wanted to put a 916SP in my front room. I admit to being tragic, but I want to look at it as much as ride it. I love the styling of the bike and while I would ride it on dry, warm, days I freely admit that most of its life it will live indoors. Does this make me odd? Probably, but I don’t care.

Then a few weeks ago I was playing around on the internet trying to kill the last few minutes of work when I typed in ‘Ducati 916SP for sale’ and a classified advertisement popped up.

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The bike claimed to be an SP but the price tag was only £3,799. There must be a mistake. The dealer was closed so I spent a worried night imagining the bike being sold and first thing the next morning called the guy up and asked a few questions. The bike was in good condition, not much of a service history, 22,000 miles on the clock, original but with a few extras bolted on. I told him to hold it, booked a van with my next phone call and asked the bank if I could extend my over-draft to £4,500 with the one after. 24-hours later I was looking at the bike.

At this point I freely admit that all sense left me and I turned giddy. I was having the bike from the moment I saw it. I knew it, the dealer knew it, and I lost all sense. I was so excited I missed seeing a small crack in the fairing, but I held it together enough to check it was definitely an SP, took it on a quick test ride and entered my PIN number for the largest single transaction I have ever made. I was shaking most of the way home, partly with excitement and partly because I was still worried about what I had done.

But the problem seeing things I need to change, just to bring it back to standard. I’m already on eBay looking for heel plates, standard indicators, a clutch cover and a standard screen, I’m dreaming of a re-spray, shock rebuilds and engine servicing. Dear God, what has happened to me? I’m on a slippery slope, but I don’t care. It’s often said, but owning a 916SP is like having a mistress with very expensive tastes, and I’m hooked on her seductive charms...

The reality of ownership:

The reality of owning a 916SP is that this is only the start of a very expensive journey. Getting the engine fully serviced is a bill upwards of £500, including new belts which are £100 a pair. For a top to toe service all over the bike you are looking at nearer to £1,000. Belts need changing every two years even if you don’t ride it, although some dealers say simply checking the tension is sufficient. Then there is insurance. The mention of the letters SP after Ducati seems to bump the insurance up quite a few quid. And if it breaks, well, let’s just say it gets catastrophic. The only bonus is that parts are very easy to get as most of Ducati’s range is interchangable. Monster parts fit 916s, mirrors are the same through the whole 916 range and footpegs are the same.

Where to get your SP:

Keep an eye on the classified ads, but look outside the ‘usual’ sources. SP variants and exotic bikes are often owned by rich lads and pop up for sale on car web-sites or in car magazines as part-exes for Ferraris and the like. Often these dealers don’t know what they have and the price reflects this. The owners tend not to ride them much and service them religiously, which is ideal.

Other options:

Don’t fancy the original 916SP (SP2 and SP3 are the same)? Well the 916SPS (1997-2000) has a bigger capacity 996cc engine and is very sought after. The 996SPS (1998- 2000) has five spoke wheels and different fork legs and calipers, the 996R (2000-2002) has a 998cc Testastretta engine and the 998R (2002-2003) is the final 916 variant and the daddy with close to 140bhp at the rear wheel.

Costs:

A tidy 916SP will cost around £4,500, 916SPS near £5,500, a 996SPS £7-8,000 a 996R and 998R close to £10,000.

What’s different?

An SP has higher compression pistons, more aggressive cams, bigger valves, lightened gears, different con-rods, twin injectors and a bigger-bore exhaust over a stock 916. And a white seat unit...

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To go with your dream bike you also have to imagine your dream day: 7am on a June Sunday morning, it’s already 20 degrees with a heat-wave day forecast and your two best riding mates will be around in 20 minutes. Pop the garage door and there she is, the smell of Turtle Wax in the air. after a cup of tea you change into your leathers and warm the bike for the ride ahead. Sod the neighbours.

In today’s sterile world, this is what it’s all about. not sheer speed (you’re over that now, anyway) it’s all about the quality of the ride. and it’s personal, too. you always wanted to own one of these bikes, you put in the money and the graft, now it’s time to get out there and enjoy it. Because the one factor that joins all three of these bikes is that they mean something very special to their owners. you can go for the simple solution, pay top dollar, and get a bike that has either been restored professionally or lovingly cherished from day one. Or you can put the work in yourself.

Following Whitham’s route of stripping a bike and rebuilding it is not only a very time consuming project, more often than not the sums don’t add up. almost without fail you’ll find that you will pour more money into restoring a bike than it’s worth at the end of it all. That’s just a fact of life. But think of that extra cost as an investment in your own pleasure. no longer will you look at that bike as a few bits of metal, they will be bits of metal that you personally put sweat and tears into and that fact is worth a few quid in itself. niall was very lucky and bought the right bike at the right time. you could do the same, but only if you can spot a future classic. Our tips are fairly obvious, 1992 Blades are already very rare, early GSX-Rs are still obtainable but tatty, mint first model R1s are just waiting to get expensive and a risky bet would be a Ducati 999. It’s undeniably a model that caused a reaction.

Or you can just be very, very patient and be ready to react at the drop of a hat, like Jon. There is more than an element of luck involved, but patience, determination and a small smattering of good fortune can pay dividends. as long as you have access to a deposit then you can secure a bike. just be careful. no matter how good a bike looks take your time, because there are others out there. you may have to wait a few more years, but that’s better than being lumbered with a lemon.

One man’s fantasy bike is another man’s poison. These three bikes are just examples of what’s out there. Is the reality worth the effort? absolutely 100% yes. Owning a bike you used to lust over as a young man can never be a disappointing experience because you are not just riding a bike, you are riding something that means a great deal to you personally. So while the cost of the machine might be thousands, the experience is priceless.

Specifications

1980 Yamaha RD350LC

Price: £3,000
Engine: 347cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin two-stroke
Power: 47bhp @ 8,500rpm
Torque: 28 lb.ft @ 8,000rpm
Front suspension: RWU, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: 267mm discs, one-piston calipers
Rear brake: 266mm disc, one-piston caliper
Wet weight: 143kg (Claimed)
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 15.9 litres
Top speed: 114mph
Colours: Blue/White, Red/White, Black

1988 Honda RC30

Price: £15,000
Engine: 748cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve V4
Power: 110bhp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: 60 lb.ft @ 6,000rpm
Front suspension: RWU, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 310mm stainless steel discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 245mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 185kg (Claimed)
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 18 litres
Top speed: 142mph
Colours: Blue/WhIte/Red

1996 Ducati 916SP

Price: £3,500
Engine: 916cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve Desmo V-twin
Power: 120bhp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 74 lb.ft @ 6,000rpm
Front suspension: Showa USD, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Ohlins monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 200mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 188kg (Claimed)
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 16 litres
Top speed: 166mph
Colours: Red