Yamaha RD200A Road Test
Motorcyclist Illustrated 1976
The path of progress is neither smooth nor straight.
Indeed, as proved by that of the 200 Yam on this occasion
it can prove to be most confoundedly awkward.
For many years the little twin has been a performance
leader in its class — and with good reason,
for neither Honda's CB175 and CB200, nor Suzuki's
180 have the zippy urge of this little bundle. For
all that, though, in contradiction to its elder brothers,
the 250/350 (now 400) twins, there has been a certain
laxity of purpose about the machine's chassis and
This is probably because it is, after all, little
more than a 125 (to which it is manifestly related)
stretched to its absolute extremes without positively
exceeding them. The advantages of such a policy
are numerous. For the manufacturer it allows
for the sharing of design, development and production
costs, and for the owner of the larger model it provides
him with what might be termed a power-to-weight bonus
over another similar sized machine owing no allegiance
to a smaller flyweight, inasmuch as a considerable
proportion of the major components involved with the
"stretched" model are by their nature undersized
rather than oversized.
The danger involved lies in the inability of
these same "little" chassis to adequately
substantiate the needs of the power unit. With a big,
heavy motorcycle the dangers are very real as
any rider of the old range of 500/650 British twins
will readily admit; an extreme example of component
sharing, sometimes almost pathological, to a degree
that literally, only the pistons were different between
the machines involved. In every case the 500 was the
better motorcycle, apart from any other factors, because
of the relatively unstressed and therefore better
performing chassis involved.
In the case of small machines the position changes,
primarily because without the high power and heavy
weight needed to produce those same symptoms of stress,
the overlap of engine power and chassis strength,
while still apparent, does not produce the violent
and therefore frightening reactions involved
with the bigger stuff. Indeed, it might be claimed
with some justification that a spot of instability
on a lightweight tends to increase its attractiveness
somewhat, thanks to the spirit of safe adventure it
injects into what is, after all, frequently a rather
boring strata of performance.
There are a very few extra special flyweights manufactured,
however, of such rare quality that any intrusions
contrary to the nature of the machine can only be
resented for the manner in which they debase an otherwise
If an avenue of escape presents itself though, providing
the adoption of the modification is convenient, there
is little reason not to applaud the product, but when
a needless and major change is made which virtually
eliminates the possibility of improvement then the
whole situation changes.
The RD200 is very closely related to the RD125. The
little bike exhibits all the stability and handling
talents of a born racer which, strangely enough, it
never was originally, unlike the bigger Yamaha strokers,
but the 200 has always tended to lurch around a bit,
something which has always been simple to resolve
by either enjoying the impression it created of real
racer skill and bravery in the minds of even the least
imaginative riders, or to remove the touring type
big handlebar latterly fitted by Yamaha, and replace
it with a short, flat one.
This exercise shifted the rider's weight forward
and therefore increased his damping effect on the
front tyre; simultaneously the shorter handlebar reduced
the effect of his reaction to wheel wobble on the
wheel itself besides reducing its effect through the
bar to him and thus ensured a more stable ride.
In order to appease their marketing experts, Yamaha
have succumbed at last to the abominable attractions
of disc brakes. So now adorning the front wheel of
a previously perfect drum braking system is an hydraulic
As has been said so many times previously in MCI,
if there is one thing most roadsters do not need,
especially lightweights and even more especially,
flyweights, it's disc brakes, principally because
they are not as efficient in the hands of 90 per cent
of riders for 90 per cent of the time as drum brakes
are. To Yamaha's credit, though, I must confess that
of the Japanese manufacturers their disc brakes are
We therefore have the new situation involving the
RD200 whereby it has positively undergone a retrogressive
development step if it is judged in real terms of
safe performance — and remember, there's a damn
sight more to braking than stopping a wheel turning.
So how does this involve stability, the point of the
previous discussion? Simply, like this: Due to the
bulk of highly specialised braking equipment required
on the handlebar of a bike with a conventional hydraulic
braking system, it is vital that either high
or wide handlebars are adopted to ensure adequate
clearance for the master cylinder and hose if they
are not to crowd instrument mountings. No longer is
it possible to conveniently exchange the big bar for
a short, flat one which was able to contribute so
valuably to the improvement of the 200's high speed
And so it is that, once more, for totally indefensible
reasons, another little motorcycling gem loses its
lustre. Paradoxical, isn't it, that the adoption
of an hydraulic disc brake, ostensibly intended
to improve performance, actually detracts not
merely from that which it was designed to improve,
but from what was probably the only area of another
performance characteristic which could, perhaps, have
done with a little help?
One of the two test machines I used had undergone
a certain amount of attempted improvement by way of
handlebar interchange, but the owner, Keith (many
thanks to G&S Motorcycles of Leominster), was
dissatisfied with the standard handlebar and the riding
position it forced him into adopting which he felt
was unsuited to the machine's true potential. He has
so far been unable to find a handlebar which will
fit without involving major brake system and instrument
mounting modifications. The flat bar currently used
puts the rider's weight in the right place, but so
far apart does it force the arms that the inherent
needle-sharp compactness of the machine is ruined.Such
minor criticism can only be levelled at motorcycles
of unusually good quality, for only on them do they
stand out so obviously. Given a low powered engine,
less attractive styling, or perhaps a utilitarian
performance and finish in general, the 200, whatever
its recent shortcomings, would not invoke in me the
same strength of feeling for, apart from the items
just mentioned, it still stands out a long way ahead
of its contemporaries in the flyweight classes. As
a matter of fact I prefer it to the RD250, logically
a superior motorcycle by reason of its improved chassis
and power unit performance, but there is something
about the smaller twin that is particularly endearing.
Exactly what it is I don't know, but I strongly suspect
it comes from its light weight, almost total smoothness,
light controls, responsiveness and sensitivity,
and a power development out of all proportion to its
capacity. The RD250 is expected to perform like a
racer, after all it is pretty closely related to one,
but this one is not and, despite great familiarity
with it throughout the years, each time I ride one
I am freshly surprised, even amazed by it.
Top speed, for instance, proved to be almost 90mph
(149km/h)! And just remember, we are discussing a
195cc motorcycle after all. As always I am puzzled
by the odd claims of the factory regarding its power
development which dictate that 22bhp at 7500rpm should
produce optimum results. It doesn't by a long chalk,
for both these figures should * by rights limit top
speed to 75mph (120km/h) whereas in reality there
is another ten mph at the very least on tap, during
which running period the engine spins happily through
another 1000 revs in top gear and 1500 in the intermediates,
placing top bhp maximum at around 9500 revs.
Yamaha also claim that maximum torque arrives at
7000 revs. Hmm ... I will admit that despite the commend-ably
torquey low and medium power development available
from the reed valve induced engine it could be higher
than that. If both figures were lifted by 1000 revs
from their present then I might believe them.
Not that I am grumbling mind. Despite the high maxima
the lower ones reach down a long way, road speeds
as low as 25mph (40km/h) in top gear proving to be
totally practical during city commuting runs when
cog-swapping is always something of a bind on a sporty
machine. And what is more, that engine would find
enough power from somewhere down in its steely little
guts to accelerate from that speed, if not briskly,
at least usefully. Not until 4000 revs did acceleration
in top gear become truly hard, but over that band
it required a very steep hill to slow it, even with
a pillion passenger.
At 6500 revs (65mph - 140km/h) it seemed that everything
had really slotted in and the power hit a magnificent
increase which, I must confess, encouraged me
to more often than not play around that engine speed,
up and down the gearbox, in order to enjoy the experience
to its utmost, and during which time I must further
confess to ignoring the clutch on occasion for the
delight of shifting through an almost perfectly designed
box and matching ratios. My pleasure was increased
further by the delight I found in using a five speed
gearbox, my fear being that the 200 had succumbed
to the moronic adoption of what is fast becoming a
universally accepted standard of six gears. On the
old Suzuki Super Six, when it was the only bike so
equipped, this was fine and dandy, but the slavish
copying of a totally impractical, wearying transmission
type with so many ratios reeks of madness. The 200's
five covered all situations superbly, being low enough
to deal with the most restricting traffic jams, spaced
to overlap each other's engine power development
band, yet high enough to provide not simply a decent
cruising speed, but a true maximum road speed as well,
limited only at the far extremes by engine speed.
Interestingly enough road speed in fourth gear (8.30:1)
proved to further establish my claims of a wide power
spread, and a well chosen set of ratios. With a pillion
passenger up behind, top speed was limited to a fifth
gear maximum of around 77mph (124km/h) (7700rpm),
but in fourth gear, although not actually increasing
speed by much (80mph/129km/h) those extra 1300 revs
provided a much more tenacious speed.
Unlike so many two strokes, this one did not manufacture
a lot of induction noise. Without that wearing howl
so commonplace on a lot of strokers, without
a single tremor of vibration anywhere in the speed
range and with a wide spread of power, very comfortable
smooth suspension, and such simple gear changing,
the wee Yam is very apparently one of those little
wonders that really can be all things to all (lightweight)
men. Taken a stage further, I suggest it is even better
suited to lady riders, most of whom sensibly abhor
so many of the things that once (or so it would appear
from the reaction of collectors these days) made
our own industry great.
There are very few two strokes indeed that appeal
to me, but this is one of them. Perhaps my only criticism
lies with the fuel consumption, which most certainly
does not bear comparison with the similarly sized
Hondas. The best possible obtained from the RD200
was 56mpg, and that involved a style of riding
more usually associated with district nurses on their
rounds. The average finalised to an all round mean
of 43mpg, but admittedly it was pretty fast riding.
Worst was a speed test run of only 35mpg, but as the
engine is such a small one, perhaps it should be seriously
considered, as small engines are so easily maximised.
The average excluding speed test rides was 46mpg.
Lastly — finish. As with most Yama-has it was
impeccable. Exactly which motorcycle can make claim
to being the best I don't know, put paintwork, chrome,
casting quality, lining, instrumentation, switchgear
etc, were all of the highest quality and must rank,
as do most Yamahas, as very close to top.
Yamahas,might cost a little more than other Japanese
makes, but they are probably the best engineered of
them all and the RD200 is typical of the marque.
The lights were excellent for the size and speed
of the machine they had to contend with, but most
of all, even on this diminuitive power unit, I enjoyed
the electric starter.
Owing to the total lack of rain countrywide
in August the tyres could not be fully analysed but
they provided a stable, yet sensitive, ride in dry
If someone said to me (now that the small desmo Ducatis
are out of production) I had to limit my riding
to 250cc maximum, I'd be hard put to find a better
one than this to choose.
Yamaha RD200A Specification;
- Type: Inclined air cooled transverse parallel
- All alloy construction with steel cylinder liners.
- Horizontally split crankcase. Built up crankshaft
- running on ball and roller bearings. Needle roller
- big and small ends.
- Porting: Seven piston controlled via induction
- passage reed valves.
- Capacity: 195cc.
- Bore and Stroke: 52 x 46mm.
- Compression: 7.1.1.
- Lubrication: Autolube metered injection pump into
- Claimed power: 22 bhp@ 7,500 rpm.
- 1 2v crankshaft mounted AC generator
- charging 9a/h battery.
- Clutch: Wet multi-plate.
- Gear ratios: 22.51; 13.55; 9.93; 8.30; top
- 7.28:1. Selection by leftside one down and four
up foot lever.
- Primary drive: Gear.
- Final drive: Exposed unlubricated chain
- Frame: Single, all welded loop open at base with
engine acting as structural member.
- Front: Two way damped telefork.
- Rear: Pivoted fork with two way damping and load
- Front: 2.75 Yokohama ribbed tyre on WM2 x 1 8
steel spoked rim. 7 in (177mm) stainless steel)
hydraulic disc brake.
- Rear: 3.00 in Yokohama block tyre on WM2 x 1 8
in steel spoked rim. 6.5(1 65mm) sis drum brake.
- Twin matched and illuminated speedometer and rev
counter. Neutral, charging circuit, turn signal,
main beam warning lights.
- Centre and prop stands. 2.1 5 gall steel fuel
tank including reserve. 3.5 pint oil tank. Tool
kit. Electric started. 6 in x 35/35w headlamp. Turn
- Wheelbase: 49 in (1 245mm). Clearance: (centre
stand) 6 in (1 55mm) Seat height: 30.5 in (774mm).
Kerb weight (as tested).
- Fuel consumption: Mild 40 V60 mph (64/96km/h)
52 mpg. Fast riding, 37 mpg. Around town, 47 mpg.
- Fuel quality required: 92 octane (2 star) used
- Speed: Top speed with 200 Ib rider in leathers
and lying flat, 86 mph (138 km/h). Best practical
top speed in touring position and clothes, 81 mph
- Gear speeds: (At 9000 rpm), 28; 48; 70;
78 mph (45; 77; 96; 125 km/h) top gear
85 mph (138 km/h)@ 8100 rpm.
Speedometer accuracy: 2 mph (3 km/h) fast at
30 mph (48 km/h). 3 mph (5 km/h) fast at
60 mph (96 km/h). «