The 2 Stroke Race Replica, Suzuki RG500 vs Yamaha RD500 vs Honda NS400R

GP action spilled over onto the streets in the mid eighties when Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki all produced showroom replicas of their 500 grand prix two strokes. Good-Bikers gets to grips with eleven cylinders of sheer excitement, and emerges with a grin the size of the Grand Canyon.

Suzuki RG500 vs Yamaha RD500 vs Honda NS400R

One of the classic car magazines is running a series on "Dream Cars". A reader chooses his motoring Pamela Anderson, the mag fixes up a test drive and the reader says if reality matches up to the fantasy. (Stop that, you at the back, you'll go blind !) Regular readers will be aware of my taste for performance two strokes, so it will come as no surprise to find out that my motorcycling babes would be a Suzuki RG500, a RD500 Yamaha or Honda's quirky NS400 triple.

Together they make up a unique snapshot of mid-eighties style as performance two stroke road bikes reached their peak by mimicking grand prix machines only just past their sell-by date.

A confirmed Yamaha fan since owning my first real bike - a brilliant black and gold YDS7 in around 1975, l made my first speed induced subscription to Mr Plocl's coffers on one of the first RD250LCs and still remember the anticipation when the 500cc version was announced.

A few years later I somehow persuaded the company I was working for to buy me a Marlboro-Liveried RD500 as a company vehicle and even used It to commute into central London for a while. I parted with it when a moto cross accident meant a few weeks in hospital and a few weeks more in plaster. I rode it unannounced to the nearest Motorcycle City shop on my way to work the day before the operation and they offered me the same amount that the company had originally paid for it. l left the bike, caught the train to the office, handed over the cheque to the boss and even/body was happy. Except me. I missed the bike badly and have hankered after having a go on one again ever since.

As I now own an NS400 there would be no point in selecting that as a dream ride. but what about an RG500 I'd heard the stories about fearsome acceleration and race track manners, but I'd never been able to get my leg over one to find out for myself.

Actually it was a bit of a cheat - I had to provide my own NS400, but there you go. The RG500 & RD500 was brought along by 27-year old man from Sutton-in-Ashfield.

Honda NS400 Ride Test !

Honda NS400R Test

As a 400 triple - the cylinders are arranged in a Vee with two pots facing forward and one vertical - the NS feels much smaller than either the Square Four (U4) RG500 or V-Four RD500 - much more like a scaled up 250 than a scaled down 500. That makes it feel much more compact and agile than the other two. Throw in perfor- mance that is nof far short of the RD, and you have got the recipe for some real fun. The compact lines mean the bike is a squeeze for taller riders, but for pint-sized jockeys like me it's perfect.

A rear seat hump is available to provide a single seat conversion, but I don't have one, so I have to make do. The scooped out saddle makes for a very low seat height however, and there's no problem slipping backwards. In fact the problem is exactly the opposite - sliding forward when the brakes are applied. The high revving, very fast engine coupled to triple disc brakes (twin calipers at the front) and lightweight makes it a superb late braker. Even my recently rebuilt motor wants to rev right up to the 10,250 RPM red line in every gear and the whole package gives you the confidence to go really deep into turns before hitting the anchors and flicking it through.

As a result a good session playing silly buggers on back lanes soon makes the wristsache as your weight is constantly being thrown forward. Of course, that sort of hard braking takes its toll and my front discs now need replacing (around £160 for the pair). I can't wait to find out what they are like when they are back up to scratch. I'm still experimenting with the adiustable front and rear suspension, but at present I have it set almost as hard as it will go, which seems to suit me fine for the sorf of use I give it short blasts round the twisty roads of Rutland that leave me with a grin from ear to ear even if the petrol bills are hard on the wallet.

Actually I couldn't tell you how economical it is as I have never bothered to carry out any mpg checks. With a bike of this kind fuel consumption is irrelevant. We're talking fun here with a capital "F" and that never comes cheap. There are plenty of CB750s out there for those who like that sort of thing.

Although I never went out looking for an NS, and almost took it over by accident, I am a convert. The acceleration, top speed, handling and braking package has exceeded my expectations. The only thing I hate is the hollow burble produced by the sausage-shaped silencers. l’d love to fit some different cans, but that costs money and My Wife has her eye on a holiday somewhere sunny, so perhaps they'll have to wait.

Even with the awful noise, the NS gives its bigger cousins some serious competition. I couldn't wait to see how they measured up.

Honda NS400 Specifications

Manufacturing : Honda Motor Company

Model : NS400R (Road-Bike)

Year of Manufacture : 1985 - 1987

Engine: 2-Stroke, Liquid-Cooled, 90º V-3 (3 Cylinders), ATAC (Auto-Controlled Torque Amplification Chamber) System

Bore x Stroke: 57 x 50.6 mm

Capacity: 387 cc

Fuel Supply System: 3 x 26 mm Keihin Carburetor

Compression ratio : 6, 7: 1

Transmission : 6-Speed Gearbox, Close-Ratio

Max Power : 72 HP @ 9500 RPM

Max Torque : 50 N.m @ 8000 RPM

Frame : Aluminium Twinspar Double-Cradle Frame

Dimension L x W x H : 2.065 x 720 x 1.150 mm

Wheelbase : 1.385 mm

Seat height : 790 mm

Dry weight : 163 kg

Fuel tank capacity : 19 L

Front Suspension  : Water-Assisted Telescopic Fork, TRAC Anti-Dive System

Rear Suspension : Adjustable monoshock with Pro-Link

Front Brakes : 2 x Disc Hydraulic Disc 256 mm, 4 piston calipers

Rear Brakes : Hydraulic Disc, Disc 220 mm, 2 Piston Caliper

Front Tires : 100/90 - 16

Rear Tires: 110/90 - 17

Yamaha RD500 Ride !

Yamaha RD500LC Test

Second stop was Yamaha's RD500. Unlike my old company bike, this one was finished in basic Yamaha livery in place of the garish day-glo orange Eddie Lawson-style Marlboro paint job.

Some readers may remember that a few racers - including Steve Parrish I seem to recall - tried to convert 5O0LCs into competitive Formula One competition bikes (road based 1000cc four strokes or 500cc two strokes), but failed miserably. The reason is that the big LC is really a road bike that borrows some principles from the racers rather than a racer fitted with lights, as is the case with the RG.

The result is a smoother, more flexible power deliver than either of the other two. Of course speed and acceleration is there once you wind up the wick, but it is also happy poodling along or being run in a high gear hence my ability to commute through London traffic all those years ago.

Whereas both the NS and particularly the RG500 kick in with a distinct power band once they get wound up, the RD never really feels as if it's going to get away from you. That doesn't mean it‘s not fast, it sure is, but it is never frenzied and it means you don't have to slip the clutch half as much as on either the NS400 or the RG.

Yamaha RD500 also feels like a road bike. The riding position is more upright than on the other two machines and it feels much heavier. As a result the handling is more ponderous and doesn’t offer the same "fickability" or confidence levels and that influences how you ride it.

Looking at the frame confirms this reservation. While the NS and RG sport chunky, solid-looking early beam-style frames, the RD’s braced square tubing looks much less sturdy, especially under the steering head. As a result you tend to be smoother and more relaxed on the RD, particularly as its rather "Wooden" single pot front disc brakes don’t provide much bite, but it was still the only bike that gave me a "moment" during our test - the rear wheel stepping out of line on the exit from a bend. Doohan might do it on purpose, but I didn't and took things a bit easier from then on.

Yamaha RD500 Specifications

Manufacturing : Yamaha

Model : RD500-LC

Production Year : 1984 - 1986

Engine: 2-Stroke, Liquid-Cooled, 50 degree V-4 (4 Cylinder), YPVS (Yamaha Powervalve System), Reed-Valve

Bore x Stroke: 56.4 x 50 mm

Cylinder capacity: 499.5 cc

Fuel Supply System: 4 x carburetor Mikuni VM26SS

Compression ratio: 6.6: 1

Transmission: 6-Speed Gearbox

Max Power: 88 HP @ 9.500 RPM

Max Torque: 67 N.m @ 8.500 RPM

Frame : Aluminium Double-Cradle Frame

Wheelbase : 1.207 mm

Dry weight : 173 kg

Fuel tank capacity : 22 L

Front Suspension : Water-Assisted Telescopic Fork, Adjustable Preload

Rear suspension: Aluminium swingarm, Linked-monoshock Absorber

Front Brakes : 2 x Hydraulic Disc (Disc 267 mm), 2 Piston Caliper

Rear brakes: Hydraulic Disc (Disc 245 mm), 2 Piston Caliper

Front Tires : 120/80 - 16

Rear Tires : 130/80 - 18

Suzuki RG500 Ride

Suzuki RG500 Gamma Test

While the RD is a compromise roadster, Suzuki's square four RG500 takes no prisoners. it’s as if one of Barry Sheene's old GP bikes had been hauled off the track, had its nose wiped and some lights stuck on.

This is a complete headcase of a bike. Nothing below 8.000 rpm, then its razor sharp exhaust note turns into a shriek as the power hits you from behind like activating a NOS at Fast Furious Movie, and the rest of the world turns into a blur until you get to the 10.000 rpm redline a few seconds later. Manic! The performance is shattering, and that comes from someone who still rides modern performance bikes. The problem is that l can’t imagine the sort of public roads where you could really ride it.

We did our test through a sequence of fairly tight turns. The NS400 was fine. the RD500 was fairly happy. Then came the RG500. Getting on the gas to power round the turns meant 8000 revs - way too fast for for the corner even in second, while screaming first gear wasn't a viable option.

On long fast sweepers it would be incredible, but by the time you're up and running with the power delivery, Mr Plod will already be showing an unhealthy interest. As our test bike's owner Steve Orrldge can vouch. He’s already been caught speeding four times on RG500. “I take it easy then as soon as I get my licence clear I get done again" he confessed.

But then again, given Steve's taste in motorcycles, his chequered relationship with their lordships' bench is probably predictable. After passing his test on a Yamaha RD125LC, he moved straight on to an RG500.

"l’d tried my mate's and ljust had to have one," he said. A couple of years later and "fancyirig a change" the RG500 made way for the nutter‘s friend - a Suzuki GSX-R1100 (“as fast as you like, but a bit heavy after the RG"). The GSX stayed around for three years, but the RG experience eventually proved too much to resist. “There was no competition on the 1100 and I missed the fun i‘d had on the RG," he said. Surprisingly the 1100 kept Steve out of the speeding courts, although he was hauled before the beak for pulling a wheelie away from the traffic lights in the East Midlands‘ bikers‘ Mecca at Matlock Bath. “I looked left and not right. There was a police bike at the side of me and I didn't see it! Result - wallet £200 lighter for ‘not being in RG500 proper control’.

It was at Matlock Bath that Steve spotted an RG500, parked up with e note attached saying the owner would swap it for a GSX-Fl. A call was made and Steve ended up with the RG plus £1600 in his pocket.

The bike was tatty, but Steve's job meant that wasn't a problem. He resprayed it in standard trim and now uses itiust for fun, having notched up just 2500 miles in the last 18 months.

They are wicked machines," he grins. “They handle great and the power comes in with a bang The only problem is feeding the four carbs. I'm always running out of petrol." Steve's bike shows the care he iavishes on it. The 10,000-mile mark rolled up while I was riding it, but it looks and feels like a nicely run- in new machine.

It kick starts easily and pulls away with much less clutch than the Honda requires, and it vibrates less than the Yamaha. There is no real performance until you get it buzzing, but then hold onto your hat, because away we go! Before you know it, you're heading into turns much faster than is healthy. Luckily the twin piston caliper front discs and single caliper rear disc are well up to the job and the beefy frame can cope with the stresses such performance throws at it, but it would be really scary to try and ride hard all the time - and I can't think of another way to ride it.

It really lives up to the old cliche of being a ‘racer for the road’. I loved it, but I can't imagine living with it Pamela Anderson might look like good fun, but can you imagine living with her’? I bet it would be hard work, and even the novelty of those pneumatic features will probably wear off In time.

Suzuki RG500 Specifications

Manufacturing: Suzuki

Model : RG500 (Road-Bike)

Production Year : 1985 - 1987

Engine: 2-Stroke, Liquid-Cooled, "Square-Four" (U-4) 4 Cylinder, SAEC (Suzuki Automatic Exhaust Control) System

Bore x Stroke: 56 x 50.6 mm

Cylinder capacity: 548 cc

Fuel Supply System: 4 x carburetor Mikuni VM28

Compression ratio: 7.0: 1

Transmission: 6-Speed Gearbox

Max Power: 95 HP @ 9.500 RPM

Max Torque: 72 N.m @ 9.000 RPM

Frame : Box Frame Twinspar

Dry weight : 156 kg

Fuel tank capacity : 17 liters (5 liters Backup Plus)

Front Suspension : Hydraulic Telescopic Fork, Anti-Dive

Rear Suspension: Dual-Shock Absorber

Front Brakes : 2 x Hydraulic Disc (Disc 260mm),  4 Piston Caliper

Rear brakes: Hydraulic Disc (Disc 210 mm), 2 Piston Caliper

Front Tires : 110/90 - 16

Rear tires: 120/90 - 17


My conclusions from this test really surprised me. I had fond memories of the RD and from what I'd heard of the RG500 I could imagine myself offering the owner my NS and wads of My Wife housekeeping to let me take it home, As it worked out I think l‘ve got the best of the bunch. The RD500 Yamaha is a nice bike, but it's nowhere near as good as I remembered it to be. Speed wise there isn't much to choose between it and the Honda, despite the NS400‘s lack of cubes, but in the handling and braking departments the NS would leave it for dead as soon as the twisty bits beckoned.

The RG is certainly the quickest of the bunch, but it's hard work and the unforgiving power delivery makes it hard to keep it working to the best effect while having a certain intimidatoiy value, I would bet that on the majority of journeys the NS would turn out to be the fastest bike from A to B. Adrenaline without drama, race style without tantrums.

All three are brilliant bikes but I couldn't believe how such different results could be achieved by three sets of engineers starting out with the same basic brief.