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Reinventing Speed

Reinventing Speed

Reinventing Speed 

An RD400 lost to time and decay is reincarnated by the hands of two kindred spirits with a thirst for speed.


WORDS & IMAGES Iron & Air Staff

It's easy to imagine any motorcyclist growing up in the 70's fixating on Yamaha RD's. The bikes were fast and ferocious smokers. And their reputation was only enhanced by their close ties to Yamaha's production racers. The culmination of that history was the 1976 release of the air cooled, two-stroke twin, the RD350's bigger brother, the RD400. More suited to eating up twisty pavement than straight stretches, the RD topped out around 105mph. It wasn’t the fastest bike down the straights, but it more than made up for it leaning into the corners. The engine and frame, both born and refined on the racetrack, used thicker-wall steel tubing with track-spec geometry. In its day, it represented the pinnacle of design in its day. In its class, it was unmatched in performance, style, and general bad-assery.

This is a snapshot of the motorcycle heart and soul of Bob Marsden, from Windham, NH. Now 45 (he rode his first bike at age seven), Bob spent most of his motorcycling life irresistibly drawn to the sound, smell, and featherweight feel of the two-strokers.

Some years back, while visiting life-long friend and 50-year motorcycle race mechanic Ed Friend, Bob Marsden found himself eye-deep in weeds staring down a 1976 Yamaha RD400 that had been left to the cruel gods of New England weather, time, and backyard rust. It didn't take him long to convince his 75-year old partner-in-crime Ed to pull that lump out and start bringing it back to life — or better yet — reincarnating into a vintage racer.

Luckily for Bob, Ed (and most of us for that matter) believes in never throwing anything away when you can use or repurpose it later. Ed also happens to know a thing or two about building stuff, having spent most of his life as an aircraft and motorcycle mechanic, moving his way through dealerships, and even identifying their weak spots in production machines at the factory level for Honda.

“I’ve always preferred two-strokes to four. They're simply serious power and serious fun.”

Having raced since the age of 14, Bob had always wanted to get back on the track. Over the next three years, a series of setbacks kept the project stalled, but eventually, they arrived. And so did we — to the Loudon International Speedway up in New Hampshire this past fall, for Bob's first time back on the track in 25 years on his reimagined RD.

But Bob's story, like them all, has its twists and turns. We found out early that afternoon that Bob had to call it quits, watching him hang up his leathers and turn the smoker over to his racing partner while he visited the paddocks to take yet another IV to get him through the pain. Bob contracted a bad case of Lyme Disease a few years back, putting him in a life-threatening situation and forcing the man to slow down and pace himself. Hard to do when he's fighting another disease called speed.

The day ultimately was stamped with joy, however, as they laid down some vicious turns and filled our senses with two-stroke lust during a morning of practice. In the end, it's apparent that both the men and the machine have been race developed over the years as Bob and Ed recapture their youth, finding new life in everything they do.


Name of Bike: Yamaha vintage two-stroke road racer  Owner: Bob Marsden /B&E Vintage Cycles/D.A.R. Racing  Year/Make/Model: 1976 / Yamaha / RD-400  Fabrication: Bob Marsden / B&E Vintage Cycles  Assembly: Bob Marsden/ B&E Vintage Cycles  Build Time:  Phase 1 -10 months x 2 bikes AKA the “Twins” Phase 2 – 8 months x 1 bike  Engine: 76 Yamaha RD-400 twin cylinder 2 stroke  Carbs: B&E Vintage Cycles custom twin 38 mm Mikuni VM carbs  Exhaust: B&E Vintage Cycle’s custom built one off pipes. Finish welds by Bart Chamberlain.  Air Cleaner: B&E Vintage Cycles custom w K&N 2 into 1 high flow air cleaner.  Transmission: 1976 stock RD400 six-speed race cut.  Frame: B&E Vintage cut and modified 1976 RD400 frame mated with 1978 Yamaha XS650 rear swing-arm  Forks: Early 80,s Honda 600 front forks with anti-dive units removed, shortened tubes, custom progressive springs and re-valving for road racing with custom billet “Framecrafters” fully adjustable triple trees.  Shocks: Custom “Works” performance twin shocks.  Front Wheel: 2.15 x 18" “Excel” rim w/Buchannon HD. SS. Spokes on Honda 500 hub.  Rear Wheel: 2.50 x 18” “Excel” rim w/Buchannan HD. SS. Spokes on Yamaha RD350 rear hub.  Front Tire: Conti Road Attack CR 2 Vintage race / 100/90 R 18  Rear Tire: Conti Road Attack CR 2 Vintage race / 130/80 R 18  Front Brakes: Custom mounted twin “Brembo” calipers on modified Honda 600 discs / SS. Braided lines/ Brembo master cylinder.  Rear Brake: 75 Yamaha RD 350 rear drum with custom mounts and linkage.  Fuel Tank: 76 Yamaha RD 400 tank w/ custom race filler cap and mounts and “Pingel” high flow fuel petcock.  Handle Bars: “Woodcraft’38mm racing clip-ons w/ bar end sliders.
Hand Controls: Ducati ¼ throttle with adjustable lever, stock clutch perch with custom lever.  Hand Grips: Stock Ducati 800 SS grips  Foot Controls: B&E Vintage Cycles Custom rearsets / shifter / rear brake and linkages.  Footpegs: B&E Vintage Cycles custom footpegs w/ replaceable sliders.
Electrical: “PVL” race ignition w/ custom wiring harness.  Painter: B&E Vintage Cycles / Rick Keaser  Powdercoating: Frame and swingarm by GoodHues Custom Powder Coating.  Graphics: Hammer & Sons Custom Graphics  Polishing: B&E Custom Cycles  Seat Pan: “Fast Glass” dirt track seat pan modified by B&E Vintage Cycles.  Upholstery: B&E Vintage Cycles  Tach / Speedo: “Michron4” full digital racing unit with EGT (dual exhaust gas temp probes and displays).  Chain &Sprockets: “D.I.D.” 520 non-o-ring chain/”sprocket specialists custom sprockets.  Bodywork/Fairings: Vintage “Airtech” early 70s TZ fairing w/ TZ front fender / B&E Vintage Cycle custom mounts.  Frame Sliders: B&E Vintage Cycles custom built sliders and mounts on frame, axles and pegs.  Inner Rear Fender: B&E Vintage Cycles custom carbon fiber.  Engine Side Covers: B&E Vintage Cycles custom billet race covers.  Bike Specs: Wheelbase – 56"  Seat height – 31"  Weight – 265 lbs  Horsepower – 70+  Max RPM – 10,500  Engine Assembly: Bob Marsden / B&E Vintage Cycles  Safety Catch Pan: Bob Marsden / B&E Vintage Cycles

Bob Marsden Would Like to Thank: 
To my partner-in-crime, my best friend "Fast" Eddy Friend, for his over 50 years of vast knowledge in aircraft and motorcycle mechanics. My wife Sandy, my brother Mike, my good friend and “dumb-ass racings” solo and testing rider Joe Ruth. John Ritter for doing motor design work,  Lyn & Pat Garland of Vintage Specialties, Randy and Karsten Illg of Framecrafters, Rich Gagnon of Rich's Taylored Porting, and especially to Iron & Air Magazine for taking an interest in bringing my passion to life and also bringing us all a great publication. We should all help and support efforts such as theirs for the good of the sport whatever the style of motorcycle you ride. 

Originally featured in the sold out Issue Twelve of Iron & Air Magazine. December 2013.

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