Ken Mannina's 1976 Yamaha RD400

An enthusiast's motorcycle

Ken Mannina, RD400 and RZV500R
The love for Yamahas is strong with this one.Photo: Katie Mannina

NAME: Ken Mannina
AGE: 58
HOME: San Jose, California
OCCUPATION: Commercial Banker

Two-stroke motorcycles; some people love them, some don't. They're a little polarizing. Seems the moto enthusiasts who own two-strokes exhibit a passion, or should I say affliction, for these motorcycles that we don't see between the owners of other types/brands and their bikes. Most two-stroke enthusiasts have been riding, repairing, modifying, and re-repairing their motorcycles for years... and years. We are tenacious. Perhaps as committed to the idea of the two-cycle engine as to any particular brand.

I had a Taco mini-bike at age eleven, but really learned to ride on a friend's brand new Yamaha RD350 in 1975. I was immediately taken with two-stroke power. Sixteen years old and cited for a moving violation that same day---a badge of honor---and a two-stroke hooligan was born. The thrill of riding that RD never left me. That said, I have owned many different brands of motorcycles, but have always been partial to Yamaha, the way I'm partial to Ford, preferring the underdog.

I found this '76 RD400 seven years ago with a lot of what you see done. Being named Kenny, and predisposed to Yamaha, it took me about 3½ minutes to decide to buy. Many period mods including Progressive Suspension shocks, drilled rotors, clip-ons, big coils, original 18" wheels front and rear, and a lot of weight removed. My compliments to whoever welded up the mounts for the Airtech bodywork, it sits just right. Claimed to have a Moto Carrera engine and Moto Carrera rear sets. I jetted the carbs, installed S/S brake lines and electronic ignition, had the wheels and tail section painted, and decaled it. Oil pump and tank were removed so it runs on premix, an ode to a bygone era. You have to ride it to appreciate how well a 40 year old, 350 pound bike can carve up a mountain road with a single piston, single disc front brake. It all works, especially when you're rowing the gearbox to keep this RD on the boil.

I consider the RZV500R to be the granddaddy of all Yamaha road going two-strokes. Grand Prix inspired 500cc water-cooled, twin-crank V4, full bodywork, four exhaust pipes exiting out the rear, a 16" wheel in front and 18" in back. I coveted every magazine article and sales brochure featuring these machines for ages, eventually purchasing this one bone stock nearly 20 years ago. As you know the RZV500R is the aluminum framed, detuned Japanese home market model, and has subtle features that are uniquely Japanese: The controls, the gauges, the domestic decals. I like that. But for those that have ridden this bike in stock trim, you know how ill-equipped this chassis is for this motor. So I upgraded, or shall we say modified, the swing-arm, forks, triples, brakes, and 17" wheels to 1995 YZF750. Installed a Penske shock and did the CDI and Carbs. And I had to bolt on a set of Jolly Moto Chambers. Better, safer, faster... louder? My goodness the sound of those Jolly's---like a Gatling Gun on Crystal Meth.

A two-stroke coming on the pipe is still the most exhilarating part of riding for me. The most fun I've had on both of these bikes is pretty modest---the Parade Laps at Laguna Seca Raceway during WSBK and MotoGP weekend. Maneuvering down the corkscrew, sweeping through Rainey Curve to the left, 10 to the right, downshift for 11 and settle in for the drag race up the hill to the Start/Finish. On the pipe in 2nd gear and running it up to 6th. The turbo-like rush of acceleration, the high-pitched metallic exhaust note, the blue smoke in my rear view mirror. I'm grinning from ear to ear inside my helmet because it's literally a kick in the pants!