It’s easy to imagine any motorcyclist growing up in the ’70s 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 105 mph. 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 class, it was unmatched in performance, style, and general badassery.
This is a snapshot of the motorcycle heart and soul of Bob Marsden, from Pelham, NH. Now 49 (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.
“I’ve always preferred two-strokes to four. They’re simply serious power and serious fun.”
Some years back, while visiting lifelong friend and 50- year motorcycle race mechanic Ed Friend, Bob 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.
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.