NIALL MACKENZIE ‘THE 350LC CHANGED MY LIFE’
THE BIKES THAT MADE US RD250 & 350LC
Few bikes have as much written about them, were so significant to a whole generation of adolescent youth, or been so smashed, trashed, abused, ruined, stolen and, now, restored, as Yamaha’s LC.
So it should be no surprise that the stroker twin did not just touch and shape so many motorcycling lives but that some of them are so well known.
Indeed, former 500GP star and double BSB champ Niall Mackenzie credits the Yamaha for launching his whole racing career. As he told MCN: “I never had the intention of racing but just liked helping out. It was the Yamaha 350LC that changed that. As soon as I saw the bike in MCN I knew I had to have one. I’d passed my test on a Yamaha DT175 and sold that for the LC then in 1981 I did my first race on the LC and finished third. I won my next race and started to realise I was OK at riding. The 350LC changed my life.”
Nor is he the only one. Former endurance world champ and WSB racer Terry Rymer, also credits the
LC – this time the 250 version – for getting his race career going “In 1983 I went to Garozzo Motorcycles and bought a 250LC to go racing,” he told MCN. “I turned up at Brands to test with my dad’s mate’s race licence, had my finger over the picture and this old boy said ‘sign here’ and I was out on track. It was the best thing ever.” While on top of the 250 and 400cc cub racing production classes, where the 250 and 350LC reigned supreme, there was also the RDLC Pro-am series which spring-boarded names such as Rob Mcelnea and Alan Carter.
But if the LC was the perfect production racer, thanks mostly to a Tz-inspired pioneering liquid-cooled (and thus ultra-tunable) motor (see left), it was also the most alluring, magical and attainable street bike for a whole generation during British biking's peak years of the early-to-mid-’80s.
Conceived as replacements for the already hugely popular air-cooled RD250/400, the two LCS were simply inspired for a whole host of reasons. First, and probably most importantly, they were simply the fastest bikes of their classes – and back then these were vital classes. As fastest L-plate qualifying 250, the junior version was the most lusted after learner bike to a generation of 17-year-olds. As a 47bhp, 110mph 350, its bigger brother, meanwhile, was a true giant killer more than capable of embarrassing not just 550s but 750s and 1000s.
Second, the LCS, came with gamechanging tech and were the most advanced and futuristic bikes of their day. Liquid cooling and monoshock rear-ends maybe routine today; in 1980, against a backdrop of aircooled XS and GSS, they were revolutionary.
And thirdly, and perhaps best of all, as the LCS were conceived as European bikes, their development was led by Yamaha Europe, headed at the time by Brit Paul Butler (who’d later manage Kenny Roberts’ GP team). This is turn encouraged bold styling with the involvement of Brit designer John Mockett and a striking colour palette. Brash white was bold enough after years of metalflake motorbikes; black in place of chrome was plain brilliant; while even the clocks and Italic wheels were strokes of genius. The LC wasn’t just beautiful, it looked like nothing else. No wonder they were in demand.
That popularity led to a whole subculture: LC accessories and LC clobber spawned ‘LC Johnnies’ and LC gangs of mates. MCN reader Phil Langley was among them: “Along with two friends, I bought one of the first 250LCS in the country (with consecutive reg numbers, natch!) and passed my test on it. The following summer we rode them through the Alps to Italy. To this day, the ride to Grasse is my best ever.”
Simon Cherry was another: “I had a 350LC, white with blue stripes, Pro Am cockpit fairing and a bellypan. At the age of 18, I was a dog with a big tail. It went like a rocket, handled and embarrassed many a superbike on country roads. I wish I still owned it.”
Today, through the LC’S revived popularity as restored classics to that same generation now in their 40s and 50s, some of us still do. Mackenzie has a restored example, as does his former team-mate and now race commentator James Whitham (see below). So do many more. As Niall himself has said: “It’s the only bike in my whole life that I have seen once and known I had to own it.” The LC does that to you.
‘I never had the intention of racing – the LC changed that’