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Yamaha RZ500/RD500

Yamaha RZ500

The road to redemption

March 2022, by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Yamaha RZ500

Yamaha's RZ/RD500 V4 two-stroke series is one of those models that's had a wild old ride across the decades. It caused huge excitement when first launched back in 1984, then seemed to disappear without trace, and more recently has seen a massive revival as a much-desired classic.

Though nominally listed at $4800, which quickly rose to $5200, by the time the first retail examples arrived in Australia in the third quarter of 1984 – and it was never big volumes – they were selling at a significant premium as buyers clamored to be the first on the block with the new toy.

Eddie Lawson Yamaha

And they of course had that most important ingredient: An identifiable connection to the top Yamaha 500cc Grands Prix machinery of the day, ridden by the likes of Eddie Lawson (above). Like the real thing, they were a 500-class V4.

Yamaha RZ500

With a claimed 88 horses (64kW) for a dry weight of 180 kilos, they had serious power for the day in a diminutive and light package. Not since Honda’s 750-Four, or Kawasaki’s first-gen Z900, had four exhaust pipes generated such excitement. And on this bike, they exited on two decks.

In reality, a well-ridden Kawasaki GPz900R would see off an RZ in most road situations, thanks to a broader spread of power and roughly equivalent top end. However the Kwaka couldn't match the RZ's GP bike 'attitude'  and resultant street cred.

When it came to the fabled Castrol 6-Hour production race of 1984 (see story below), RZ500s – though nothing else quite like them had existed before – were billed to fill a third of the starting grid. And they won.

In a 1984 road test Two Wheels magazine noted:

"Perfection is elusive and the RZ does suffer from the odd sixteen-inch front wheel induced head shake, but the bike is better than the majority of current small-wheel models over rough roads and only a little worse than the best behaved of the bunch, the CBX750 and GPz900R. All in all the RZ is a brilliant handler, an extremely well-balanced and confidence-inspiring motorcycle."

Yamaha RZ500 brochure

However all was not well over the longer-term. As the bikes wore and maintenance may have been less than perfect, they showed some handling 'teeth', particularly over choppy road surfaces. RZ500s earned a reputation for being flighty, and even downright unstable at times. Tyre choice and wear was often the culprit when it came to unruly behavior.

As the machines aged, and the initial glow of ownership wore off, they also developed a reputation for being a relatively expensive and complex mechanical package to refurbish. Whether this is entirely deserved is questionable.

In truth, the engines have proven to be reasonably robust, however correct synchronisation of the YPVS powervalve system, plus correct jetting and a well-sealed induction system are critical.

Watching from the sidelines, you got the impression that this and Suzuki's slightly later and arguably better-sorted RG500 (see our model profile) were a flash in the pan. The relatively few examples that were sold here in most cases seemed to end up languishing under a dust sheet in a corner of the shed, forgotten, unloved and suspected of being uneconomical to recommission.

However around a decade ago the mid-eighties strokers started to experience something of a revival, with the RZ500 leading the charge. Values climbed from negligible to mid-teens in relatively short order and, in the last few years, have risen strongly. Bids in the mid to high Au$30k range for excellent examples can be expected.

Yamaha RZ500

For example, Bring a Trailer in January 2022 sold the RZ500 shown above for Au$35,000 (US$26,000, GB£20,000). It claimed ultra-low mileage (40km) and came with both the stock exhausts and an aftermarket set of expansion chambers.

As a classic buy, it's pretty easy to make a case for RZ500 ownership. While the power claim may seem very tame by current standards, they're still an exhilarating ride and – as recent history has suggested – a good example should at least hold its value. Plus, they have that wonderful connection to what turned out to be a golden era of premium class two-stroke grands prix.


Two Wheels Yamaha RZ500

See the contemporary road test from Classic Two Wheels

Also see this very tidy RZ500 restomod with a greatly improved chassis.


The RZV500R

Yamaha RZV500

A variant of the RZ/RD theme is this, the domestic model RZV500R which was an up-spec version that has found popularity as a grey import.

The chassis is based around a hand-made aluminium frame rather than the stock steel unit. It boasts air preload and rebound damping adjustment on the front fork, along with a temp gauge that doubles as a fuel gauge at the press of a button.

However they have a down side, which is they're detuned to 64 versus 80hp to meet what were then local rules. Deresticting them involved rejetting the carburettors and removing restrictor plates in the exhausts.

Values seem to be roughly on a par with a standard RZ/RD, though you will sometimes see a premium being paid. (Pic from Shannons)


Yamaha RZ500

Pic: Yamaha News in 1984 celebrating the RZ500's win in the Castrol 6-Hour

Castrol Six-Hour Winner
Once upon a time…or that’s how the story should start, I guess. There was a fabulous production motorcycle race called the Castrol 6-Hour, run by the Willoughby Club out of Sydney. It ran from 1970 through to 1987.

Back in the early days, it was broadcast by the ABC with enthusiasts such as Will Hagon and John Smailes doing commentary. This was a major event. It started as an extraordinary endurance test around Amaroo Park, and then moved to Oran Park for the final three years.

It became a hugely influential challenge, much like the (then) Bathurst 500/1000 for cars. The rules were intended to highlight showroom motorcycles, running street tyres.

Motorcycle manufacturers fought over honours and, for several years, it was as much about the tyres as it was the motorcycles. If Pirelli won, for example, it shouted it from the rooftops and sold shiploads of Phantoms as a result.

In 1984, the field was extraordinary and read like a who’s who of fast riders. Names like Gardner, Phillis, Feeney, Baldwin and Merkel (yep, the Americans), Dowson, Pace, Willing, Campbell, Oldfield, Heyes, Gall, Chivas, Holden, Sayle, Middlemiss…where do you stop?

Three motorcycles dominated the entries: Honda VF1000R, Kawasaki GPz900R and Yamaha RZ500. Eleven of the 30 provisional entries were RZs.

It was the last-minute pairing of Michael Dowson and Richard Scott who won, on an RZ500 backed by then Dunlop importer Emerson Sport. The result was controversial, as Wayne Gardner and John Pace were on the same lap on their VF1000R, but the race was cut short to fit TV commitments.

Both bikes were on vapour when it came to fuel and some felt the Honda might have won if the extra couple of laps had been run.

Who came third? Neil Chivas and Robert Holden on (of all things) a Suzuki Katana 750, four laps down.

(Recommended reading: The Castrol Six Hour Production Race, authored by Jim Scaysbrook and published by Rennicks. Motociclo has them for sale.)

Yamaha RZ500

Pukka GP connection
Exciting to ride
Light and flickable

Not so good
Unstable if not properly set up
Very high fuel consumption


Yamaha RZ500/RD500 (standard)


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, 50-degree V-four red valve two-stroke with YPVS (powervalve)


BORE & STROKE: 56.4 x 50mm


FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x 26mm Mikuni


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Perimeter square-section steel

FRONT SUSPENSION: Conventional 37mm telescopic fork, air-assist, spring preload adjustable, anti-dive

REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock with spring preload and rebound damping adjustment

FRONT BRAKE: 267mm discs with two-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE: 245mm disc with two-piston caliper


DRY/WET WEIGHT: 180/199kg



FRONT: Cast aluminium 120/80-16
REAR: Cast aluminium 130/80-18


POWER: 64kW @ 9500rpm
TORQUE: 68Nm @ 8500rpm

PRICE NEW: $5200 plus ORC



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